What to watch: Nationals look to bust out of slump against Padres

The Nationals have dropped two games to the Padres already. Can they salvage a win in game three? Here are three things to watch for.

  • Will the bullpen ever solve their season-long woes?

The Nationals entered the 10th inning tied with the Padres 2-2, but a group of relievers led by Wander Suero proceded to allow six runs off a combination of walks and hard contact. The Nationals have gotten stellar pitching performances from their starts on both Friday and Saturday, yet don’t have a win to show for it.

There’s only so many times we can keep pointing to the bullpen. At a certain point, things need to change, and it’s on the pitchers themselves. If it doesn’t change, the season will get very long, very fast.

  • How will Carter Kieboom adjust to his first slump?

The rookie shortstop has just one hit in his two games with the Nationals so far, and while that hit was a home run, it’s not the start most envisioned for the team’s top prospect.

With Anthony Rendon working his way back to the lineup and Howie Kendrick crushing the ball lately, Kieboom may not need to play a major role, even with Trea Turner still out for the foreseeable future. But if that’s the case, then it may make more sense to let him play every day in AAA rather than sit on the bench in the Majors.

If the bat picks up soon, it won’t be an issue. But just two games in (an admittedly small sample size) he hasn’t looked comfortable at the plate yet. 

  • How will Jeremy Hellickson pitch?

The Nationals have seen Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer throw well in the last two games, but as mentioned above, don’t have a win in the series yet. Can Hellickson continue the string of strong starts against San Diego? There’s a steep drop in talent between Scherzer/Strasburg and most other pitchers. Hellickson is no exception. 

He struggled in his most recent start, but can be excused given the offense-friendly conditions in Coors Field. A return to form (or at least stability) from Hellickson would go a long way towards the Natiionals ending their recent slide.

Download the MyTeams app for coverage from NBC Sports Washington of the Nationals/Padres game on Sunday. The game broadcast will be at 1:35 PM ET on 106.7 the Fan and MASN.

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