Washington, DC (SportsNetwork.com) - Chris Archer was not sharp, but his bullpen picked him up in the Tampa Bay Rays' 5-3 win over the Washington Nationals Thursday.
Tampa Bay's ace entered the game with a minuscule 0.51 ERA in five road starts, but the Nationals got to him early, and Archer (8-4) finished with three runs allowed on eight hits and two walks in five innings.
After Archer's departure, four relievers combined to throw four scoreless innings, including Brad Boxberger, who earned his 16th save.
Joey Butler's sixth home run of the season helped the Rays win three out of four in this four-game home-and-home series.
Doug Fister (2-3) made his return to the Nationals' rotation after missing time with forearm soreness and ran out of gas, eventually being charged with five runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Washington led 3-1 entering the sixth inning before letting the game get away and potentially losing its best player. Butler's home run to start the inning pulled the Rays within one, and with two runners on, Asdrubal Cabrera grounded a ball through the right side of the infield. Bryce Harper picked up the ball and prepared to throw, but he slipped with an apparent left leg injury. As he fell, his throw sailed wide of home plate into the Rays' dugout, allowing two runs to score.
Harper walked off the field under his own power, and Fister's night was also done. David DeJesus greeted reliever Blake Treinen with a triple to score Cabrera.
"He's got a mild left hamstring strain," said Nationals manager Matt Williams of Harper. "We'll see how he is (Friday)."
Washington's offense was mostly quiet the rest of the way. Kevin Jepsen worked out of a jam with two runners on base in the seventh, and Jake McGee recovered in the eighth after allowing a leadoff double to Danny Espinosa.
Before his injury, Harper had an impact early in the game. With two runners on base, he ripped a ground ball off Archer's leg. The ball popped into the air and dropped into left field, allowing the first run of the game to score. Wilson Ramos walked, and the Rays conceded a second run on Espinosa's groundout.
Tampa Bay cut its deficit in half in the following half inning when Cabrera, Steven Souza and Jake Elmore hit consecutive singles.
Archer continued to struggle early and gave the run back in the second. Runners were on the corners when he struck out Anthony Rendon, but Kevin Kiermaier could not complete a diving catch on Yunel Escobar's hit to shallow right-center field that gave the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
To activate Fister from the DL, Washington optioned pitcher Taylor Hill to Triple-A Syracuse ... Escobar went 5-for-5 for his third five-hit game of the season ... There was a 17-minute rain delay in the middle of the fourth inning ... Washington stranded 10 runners on base ... Starting Friday, Washington hosts Pittsburgh for three games and Tampa Bay travels to Cleveland for a three-game set.