WASHINGTON — While the crowd at Nationals Park was worried about the home team's star slugger Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Rays left town with a two-game sweep.
The Rays used a four-run sixth inning, keyed by Joey Butler's home run and David DeJesus' two-run triple, to beat Washington 5-3 and maintain their lead in the AL East.
Bryce Harper, Washington's All-Star outfielder, left in the sixth inning with a mild left hamstring strain after being injured on a play that helped key the Rays' rally.
Chris Archer (8-4) allowed three runs and eight hits over five innings, striking out three.
Logan Forsythe went 2 for 3 with a double and a run scored. Evan Longoria and Asdrubal Cabrera had two hits each for Tampa, which took the two games in Washington after splitting two with the Nationals in Florida.
"I think taking three of four from anybody is big," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "This team, they've got a lot of good players. They've got good pitching. We were fortunate to come out of here with three wins."
Brad Boxberger pitched the ninth for his 16th save, part of a major league-leading 30 total recorded by Rays' bullpen.
Doug Fister (2-3) allowed five runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings in his first start since May 14. Yunel Escobar went 5 for 5, including a double and an RBI, for the Nationals.
Butler led off the sixth with a home run to right to close the deficit to 3-2.
"It was a low-scoring game at that point," Butler said. "Any run was a good one."
Four batters later, Harper fell on the wet grass while trying to throw home on Cabrera's single. As he planted to throw, his right leg slipped and his left leg buckled, and the throw sailed into the Rays bullpen, allowing the tying run to score.
Harper eventually left under his own power but did not return to the game. When play resumed, DeJesus tripled on a sharp line drive to center field, scoring Cabrera and Steven Souza Jr. to make it 5-3.
The Nationals took a 2-0 lead in the first. Harper singled off Archer's leg to drive in Denard Span before Danny Espinosa's fielder's choice brought in another run.
"I think, I got a little too slider-happy in the first inning," said Archer, whose eight hits allowed were a season high. "They were good sliders but just way off the plate. Almost non-competitive pitches."
The Rays made it 2-1 in the second on three consecutive singles, the last from Jake Elmore that scored Souza. In the bottom half, Escobar's bloop single — the fifth off Archer in two innings — scored Michael A. Taylor from third to make it 3-1.
Last year's Little League World Series sensation Mo'ne Davis and her Philadelphia-based Anderson Monarchs travel baseball team visited Nationals Park, and spent pregame time with INF Anthony Rendon and RHP Joe Ross, among others.
Rays: Pregame rain prevented OF John Jaso (left wrist contusion) from taking on-field batting practice for the first time this season. "We wanted him out there and it didn't work out," Cash said. "He'll probably go ahead and take 500 swings now in the cage."
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (neck tightness) was throwing on the field the day after a rehab start, and will throw a bullpen in the next couple days. ... RHP Aaron Barrett (biceps strain) hasn't returned to throwing after going on the DL last Friday, manager Matt Williams said.
Rays: A five-game road trip continues when RHP Nathan Karns (3-3, 3.67) faces Cleveland RHP Carlos Carrasco (8-5, 4.38)
Nationals: Ross, a 22-year-old rookie (1-1, 3.46), gets his third career start against Pittsburgh Pirates RHP A.J. Burnett, who will be making career start No. 418.