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The Washington Nationals are looking to push their way out of the cellar in a tightly packed National League East as they prepare to host the Cincinnati Reds in a three-game series starting Tuesday night.

The Nationals had their first day off in two weeks on Monday after sweeping the Baltimore Orioles and have won four of their past five games, including 6-5 over the Orioles on Sunday.

Max Scherzer (4-2, 2.24 ERA) will try to keep the Nats’ surge going when he opposes fellow right-hander Tyler Mahle (2-2, 4.20) of the Reds.

Scherzer is 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 55 strikeouts in five starts against Cincinnati while pitching for the Nationals.

Scherzer wasn’t happy with his most recent outing, however, after he gave up two runs and five hits in five innings with eight strikeouts and four walks despite picking up the win against the Cubs last Wednesday.

Scherzer had given up only two runs over his previous three starts combined.

“I just didn’t execute when I should have executed,” he said after that start. “I always shoulder the blame when it comes to walks.”

The Nationals’ offense bailed Washington out early on Sunday after Patrick Corbin gave up three runs in the first inning against the Orioles. Kyle Schwarber’s two-run homer sparked a quick four-run bottom half of the inning, and Trea Turner added two hits and a fourth-inning sacrifice that gave Washington the lead for good.

“It was great to see our offense after that first, put up four runs and get the lead back,” Corbin said.

The Reds are spiraling toward the National League Central basement, losing six of their past seven as their pitching continues to struggle.

“It sucks, man,” the Reds’ Nick Castellanos said. “It’s embarrassing, honestly. No other way to put it than that.”

The Reds had the National League’s worst ERA (5.15) entering the week. Cincinnati’s starters have a combined 4.92 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.

Luis Castillo has lost his past six starts, including Sunday’s 9-4 defeat against Milwaukee, during which he gave up five runs on five hits and four walks in five innings. Castillo is 1-7 with a 7.61 ERA over his first 10 starts.

“It was another bad day,” Castillo said. “What can I say? Every bad moment we know is going to end eventually. Being frustrated all the time isn’t good for me. We are continuing the process. We will get there.”

Mahle is 1-1 with a 12.15 ERA in two career starts against the Nationals and lasted only two innings against the Giants last Thursday after surrendering seven runs on seven hits and two walks.

On the plus side for Cincinnati, Jesse Winker became the first Reds batter with five homers in a three-game series since Willie Greene from Sept. 24-26, 1996. Winker hit three in Friday’s 9-4 win over the Brewers.

There was more good news as Joey Votto (fractured left thumb) could join the Reds on their next road trip to continue treatment and baseball activity as his recent X-ray showed sufficient healing.

The Nationals placed Victor Robles on the 10-day injured list retroactive to last Thursday with a sprained right ankle, and right-hander Will Harris also is on the list with inflammation in his right hand. Washington recalled right-hander Kyle McGowin from Triple-A Rochester on Sunday.

–Field Level Media