By Lewis Gould
Kyle Schwarber led off the first inning with his 12th home run in 10 games to help the Nats to a 4-3 victory over the Rays.
And he needs a rest, so he’ll likely pass on this year’s Home RunDerby on July 12 at Denver’s Coors Field.
Schwarber tied Albert Belle in 1995 for the most home runs over a 10-game span since at least 1901. He has 16 home runs in 18 games since being moved into the leadoff spot in the Nationals’ batting order on June 8.
Schwarber drove Rich Hill’s first pitch, an 83 mph fastball, 434 feet off the upper-deck facade in right for his major league-leading seventh leadoff home run — all in June. Schwarber’s 16 home runs this month are the second-most in any June behind Sammy Sosa’s 20 in 1998.
“I felt really good at the plate and was happy to put it out in that situation,” Schwarber said. “And yeah, just smiling. Just keep riding the wave.”
The 28-year-old Schwarber is batting .253 with 25 homers and 53 RBI. He is tied in home runs with San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr., three shy of the major league-leading total of the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani and one back of Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
“It’s kind of a joke at this point,” Nationals starter Joe Ross said. “It’s like every time he goes up there, he hits a ball 350, 370 to right field.”
Schwarber became a free agent Dec. 2 when the Chicago Cubs failed to offer a 2021 contract. He agreed in January to a $10 million, one-year contract with the Nationals calling for a $7 million salary, a deal that includes an $11.5 million mutual option for 2022 with a $3 million buyout.
Juan Soto followed two batters later with a two-run drive, and Victor Robles added a solo homer in the second for a 4-0 lead off Hill (6-3), who said catcher Mike Zunino spotted him tipping his pitches during the first two innings.
“I’m glad we caught it,” said Hill, who allowed eight hits over six innings. “I was able to go out there and execute for the next few innings and give us a chance. But it sucked putting us in that position early on.”
Washington has won three straight and 13 of 16 and at 39-38 has a winning record for the first time since beating Atlanta on opening day.
Ross (5-7) gave up two runs and six hits in 6 1/3 innings for his third win in his four outings.
Brad Hand allowed Zunino’s 17th homer leading off the ninth, then got three straight outs for his 18th save in 20 chances.
Brandon Lowe hit his 16th homer in the fifth, and Kevin Kiermaier doubled in a run in the sixth.