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Nationals vs. Pirates Series Preview: Nats must make a statement before All-Star Break

The Washington Nationals took three of four from the Miami Marlins. Now, are they back to their old selves?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Nationals (45-44) vs. Pirates (41-48) series info:

Game 1: Monday, July 9 at 7:05 p.m. EDT (ESPN/106.7 The Fan)

Game 2: Tuesday, July 10 at 7:05 p.m. EDT (MASN2/106.7)

Game 3: Wednesday, July 11 at 12:35 p.m. EDT (MASN/106.7)

Pitching matchups:

Monday: Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 5.52) vs. Ivan Nova (4-6, 4.48)

Tuesday: Jeremy Hellickson (2-1, 3.81) vs. TBA

Wednesday: Gio Gonzalez (6-5, 3.76) vs. Trevor Williams (6-7, 4.60)

What to watch for:

Do the Nats have momentum?

First, the team fell to a game under .500. Then came a players-only meeting. Two dramatic wins, a blowout one and one getaway game loss later, the Nationals appear to be clicking on all cylinders heading into their series with Pittsburgh.

However, the four-game series did come against the Miami Marlins, who happen to be owners of the worst record in the National League. The Nats only have the Pirates and Mets left on the schedule before the All-Star Break but will need to keep their collective foot on the gas pedal to make a statement and keep themselves in the playoff hunt.

What does Washington have in Jefry Rodriguez?

In his two starts this season, Rodriguez has allowed nine earned runs in as many innings. He’s by no means the team’s preferred option to take the mound Monday, but the injury of Stephen Strasburg and a lack of starter depth in the minors paved the way for Rodriguez to get his taste of the majors.

With young arms like Wil Crowe, Seth Romero and Mason Denaburg in the lower ranks of the Nats’ minor-league system and an upcoming offseason that features several prominent pitchers, this might be Rodriguez’s only shot to prove he belongs at the major-league level. He’s going to need to show that his MLB debut (4.2 IP, 0 ER) was no fluke, and quickly.

Remember him?

The Pirates acquired reliever Felipe Rivero — who has since changed his last name to Vazquez — from the Nationals in the Mark Melancon deal back in 2016. In the two years since, Vazquez has proven to be an effective closer for Pittsburgh, completing 39 saves to the tune of a 2.24 ERA.

Vazquez will be the sole representative of the Bucs at the All-Star Game this season. He joins the Oakland AthleticsBlake Treinen and Tampa Bay RaysWilson Ramos as former Nationals to earn nods for the Midsummer Classic.

Series history:

The Nationals lead the all-time series (2005-present) 50-40, but Pittsburgh has held the edge at PNC Park by a mark of 24-18. Washington completed a four-game sweep over the Pirates earlier this season in D.C.