As the Reds began the season's second half with seven straight losses, they searched for the perfect combination of pitching, offense and defense.
The skid came to a halt Saturday afternoon when all three came together for a 1-0 win over the National League East-leading Nationals. The next step will rest with Mat Latos in Sunday's rubber match.
Latos knows all too well about the lack of offense and defense, as the right-hander took a loss his last time out in Milwaukee, allowing five runs (four earned), while watching his defense commit two errors and left fielder Chris Heisey lose another two balls. Nonetheless, Latos put the loss on himself.
"You can't fault the guys for trying," said Latos, who retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. "It all boils down to me not executing pitches."
While the Nationals push for the series win -- they are 11-2-2 in series since May 30 -- they will rely on right-hander Doug Fister, who is looking to win his fourth straight start and fifth straight decision. In his last outing at Coors Field in Colorado, Fister allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings to collect his ninth win of the season.
"With some of the conditions, obviously, you know you have to keep the ball down," Fister said. "That's something we focused on a lot tonight."
Fister's sinking fastball kept hitters at bay until the sixth inning in that outing, when the Rockies cut a 4-0 deficit in half on base hits by Nolan Arenado and Ben Paulsen. Fister said he twisted his ankle while avoiding a hard-hit ground ball up the middle by Carlos Gonzalez earlier in the sixth inning. The injury will not stop him from making the start on Sunday.
Nationals: Shakeup at second base as Espinosa sits
Second baseman Danny Espinosa didn't start for the second game in a row on Saturday. After starting Zach Walters on Friday, manager Matt Williams decided to give Kevin Frandsen the start.
Although Espinosa isn't having a good year at the plate, batting .214 in 85 games, general manager Mike Rizzo said recently that he still believes in him.
"Why not? He has great skills," Rizzo said. "He is a Gold Glove-caliber defender. He has a plus-plus arm. He is a lot of trouble for the third-base coach ... because he is one of the best relay guys in all of baseball. He is a guy who has power, steals bases and runs the bases extremely well. He is a guy we have been counting on since Day 1 in Spring Training. He is a key cog on our ballclub."
Reds: Hannahan returns, but not yet activated
Jack Hannahan was back from Triple-A Louisville and at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on Saturday, awaiting activation from the disabled list.
Hannahan, who has been recovering from shoulder surgery in October, took batting practice and infield work at first base. When activated, he would be a lefty bat off the bench and part of the rotation at first base that's been filling in for Joey Votto.
In 12 rehab appearances, Hannahan hit .300 (12-for-40), picking up three hits Friday for Louisville.
"He's been swinging the bat well," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We want to make sure that when he's activated, he's able to be a regular part of what we're doing and we're not trying to rehabilitate him at this level on a 25-man roster."
• Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche is 4-for-13 in his career against Latos with a home run, three RBIs and four walks.
• Reds hitters haven't found much success against Fister, going 7-for-42 (.167) against the right-hander overall.
Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.