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Rays use bullpen effort to blank Nationals

WASHINGTON -- What a difference a day makes. After collecting a team-record 23 hits and scoring 16 runs on Tuesday against the Rays in St. Petersburg, the Nationals had a tough time getting to first base as they were blanked by the Rays, 5-0, at Nationals Park on Wednesday night.

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The Rays used a bullpen by committee to hold down the Nationals, beginning with right-hander Steve Geltz, who fired two perfect frames before giving way to Matt Andriese. The righty ended up the winning pitcher by throwing four shutout innings and allowing two hits.

"If anybody had that formula, we would certainly do something about it," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "We would love to get 23 hits every day, score a whole bunch of runs. Unfortunately, the way baseball is, that doesn't happen. That's why we play 162 [games]. There is another [game] tomorrow and we have to be ready for that."

The Nationals struggled in the field as well, committing three errors that contributed to two unearned runs.

With the victory, the Rays improved their record to 37-30 and remain in first place in the American League East, while Washington dropped to 34-32 and remain 1 1/2 games behind the Mets in the National League East.

Video: [email protected]: Casali hits no-doubter for first MLB home run

Welcome back, Steven: The last time Steven Souza Jr. was an active player in Nationals Park, he wore a Washington uniform and made a miraculous diving catch to cap Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter. Back for the first time as a member of the Rays, he notched the game's first hit in the second before smashing his 13th home run of the year to break a scoreless tie in the fifth. He also reminded Nats fans of how handy he can be with his glove, making a sliding catch after a long run into foul territory. He finished the game 3-for-4 with two runs.

"It was a slider," Souza said, recounting the homer. "He threw a slider earlier, 0-0. He's got a great slider, that one just didn't break as much. It hung up a little bit, and I just tried to barrel it and a good thing happened." More >

Video: [email protected]: Souza makes fantastic sliding catch in right

Where did all the hits go? After Tuesday's offensive eruption, the Nationals had a mere two knocks against five Rays pitchers and had a runner in scoring position only once, in the fifth inning. More >

Video: [email protected]: Geltz strikes out Harper to end the 1st

No luck for Zimm: Zimmermann saw his personal skid reach three games after pitching seven innings and allowing three runs on on eight hits with eight strikeouts. Two of the three runs came on solo home runs by Souza and Curt Casali, his first career long ball. The third run scored on an error by shortstop Ian Desmond, who was unable to turn a double play off the bat of Logan Forsythe. This start was far better than the previous one against the Brewers in which he allowed six runs in 3 1/3 innings.

"I thought it was good. A couple of solo home runs. I could live with that," Zimmermann said. "Just two mistakes to those two guys. They are powerful guys, they made you pay and I fell behind, 3-1, to Casali. I went with the fastball, I usually go with the slider. I made a mistake and he put the bat on the ball."

Video: [email protected]: Zimmermann fans eight Rays over seven innings

Slippery when wet: Souza bunted to the left side of the infield with two outs in the top of the eighth inning as a steady rain continued to fall at Nationals Park. Pitcher Blake Treinen fielded the ball and threw it into the outfield as it slipped from his control. Bryce Harper had similar trouble handling the baseball, throwing it into the Rays dugout as he tried to cut down David DeJesus at the plate. Souza then came around to score and the Nats went ahead 5-0.

"If it's dry, I'm probably not even thinking about it, to be honest with you," Souza said. "Two outs, it's not normal. But I thought if I got it down and maybe it could be a close play. It's tough to throw a wet ball in the rain, and then getting off the mound was going to be tough in general."

Video: [email protected]: Souza bunts for hit, scores after two errors

"What a nice applause the crowd gave him for a young player that's only spent a year here. That was pretty impressive to see. You can tell a lot of baseball fans here, probably appreciate the same things that we appreciate about him."
-- Rays manager Kevin Cash, on the crowd's reception prior to Souza's first at-bat

Video: [email protected]: Souza gets round of applause from Nats fans

The Rays are the first team to allow 16 runs or more and throw a shutout the next game since the Cubs on June 27 and 29, 2012. The Rays are the first AL team to do this since the White Sox on May 21-22, 2009.

At 9:19 p.m. ET, midway through the eighth inning, the Rays and Nationals entered a rain delay. Play resumed 27 minutes later, with Rays reliever Ronald Belisario making his 2015 debut. More >

Video: [email protected]: Belisario retires Lobaton on a groundout

Rays: Chris Archer will make his Major League-leading 15th start Thursday in the last of a four-game home-and-home set between the Rays and Nationals. Archer is 7-4 with a 2.00 ERA.

Nationals: Right-hander Doug Fister takes the mound for the first time since mid-May, when he suffered a right flexor strain against the Padres. Fister rejoined the team on Monday and had a bullpen session without having any problems.

Watch every out-of-market regular season game live on MLB.TV.

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for Bill Ladson is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats.