Normally, Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma would be the perfect man to end what has been a tough homestand on the right note. But Sunday is just as much as about getting him on track as it is the team.
Iwakuma's last start was the shortest of his career, as he lasted just 2 1/3 inning while surrendering five runs on six hits to the Red Sox.
The Mariners managed to persevere for a 8-6 victory that day, but the poor outing brought Iwakuma's career ERA against Boston up to 10.20 in four starts.
The rest of August had been much kinder to Iwakuma, though. In his previous four starts this month, Iwakuma had only allowed two runs and a total of three walks. The Mariners also won three of his four starts, which is good news considering Saturday's 3-1 loss dropped them 1 1/2 games back in the race for the second the American League Wild Card spot.
Just like Iwakuma, Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark will be facing his opponent for the first time Sunday.
Roark has only one win in his last five starts. Last time out, he logged his eighth loss despite limiting the Phillies to two runs on five hits and a walk in six innings of work.
Roark has only allowed more than three runs twice in his last 10 starts dating back to July 4. In six of those games, he gave the Nationals seven innings while allowing just one run or fewer.
That Nationals currently have the best winning percentage in the National League, but a win Sunday would go a long way into securing momentum for their upcoming series against the Dodgers, a team hot on their heels for that lead spot.
Nationals: Frandsen proving his worth in utility role
Infielder Kevin Frandsen didn't find his way into the game Saturday. Consider that one of the few times he hasn't made his presence felt off the bench this season.
Time after time, Nationals manager Matt Williams has proved that whenever he needs a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement, Frandsen is his man.
As a pinch-hitter this season, Frandsen's hitting .268. And since the All-Star break, he's raking at a .349 (15-for-43) clip.
"He concentrates on giving professional at-bats," Williams said. "He can do a lot of things with the bat. He can move a guy over, he can bunt, we can hit-and-run with him. He can get a base hit. He can do a lot of things. He is a very valuable piece of the team."
Frandsen, who joined the Nationals shortly before Opening Day after the Phillies outrighted him, couldn't be happier with his part-time role with the team.
"Saying how much I like being a National would be an understatement," Frandsen said. "But at the same time, I look at the bigger picture. I look at the people involved in the whole thing, and it has been a pretty incredible experience, because everyone wants to win, everyone wants to do it the right way, as far as communicating, working hard."
Mariners: Zunino gets a mental day
Catcher Mike Zunino didn't find himself on Saturday's lineup card after he finished Friday's 8-3 loss to the Nationals 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts.
The uninspiring performance dropped his season average to .203 and his August average to .153 (9-for-53). This month alone, he's struck out 28 times, but that hasn't affected his game-changing defense behind the plate.
"He's done a remarkable job of separating offense and defense and handling the pitching staff, regardless of whether the offense is going well or not," acting manager Trent Jewett said. "Is there frustration? I'm sure. As long as it doesn't show defensively, it's a feather in his cap."
Jesus Sucre got the start in Zunino's place Saturday and finished with two of the Mariners' eight hits. Seattle also is expected to call up a third catcher when the rosters expand Monday, to offer Zunino and Sucre additional relief down the stretch.
• Right-hander Rafael Soariano registered his 30th save Saturday, his fourth season with at least 30 games saved.
• The Mariners' No. 3-6 batters finished 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts in Saturday's 3-1 loss.
Cody Ulm is an associate reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.