WASHINGTON - At first, Nathan Eovaldi was slightly disheartened.

Though happy to take the extra rest -- as most pitchers are -- the 25-year-old righthander, who originally was scheduled to start Sunday against the Royals, wanted a crack at the defending American League champions.

"I'm a little disappointed I'm not going to face these guys just because they've swung the bats so well," Eovaldi said before Sunday's game, a 6-0 loss started by Chris Capuano, recently activated from the disabled list.

But Eovaldi, whose quiet demeanor belies how competitive an individual he is, also knew that getting pushed back meant another significant challenge:

The Nationals on Tuesday night.

"They're one of the teams that's hot right now," Eovaldi said. "They're swinging the bats really well."

Eovaldi, 3-1 with a 4.14 ERA this season, is looking forward to facing a Nationals lineup that features 22-year-old Bryce Harper -- who entered Monday leading the National League in home runs (14), RBIs (37), walks (36), runs (36) and on-base plus slugging percentage (1.206) -- the same way he was excited about facing the deep Royals.

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"If a team's swinging good, I feel it always adds that extra intensity to the game, and you're extra focused," Eovaldi said. "You're more locked in. You want to face the best."

After a 9-13 start, the Nationals, just about everyone's NL East preseason favorite, have gone 13-4. They are 22-17, one game behind the first-place Mets (23-16).

"I faced them enough to know how to get them out," said Eovaldi, a former Marlin.

Of course, the righthander, 2-4 with 4.76 ERA in seven career starts against the Nationals -- including 1-2 with a 4.01 ERA in four starts for Miami last season -- understands that knowing and doing can be two different things.

"You have to execute the pitches," he said. "That's what it always comes down to."

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Eovaldi has been mostly successful doing so this season, his first in the AL after spending the first four years of his career in the NL.

There have been some bumps but also some impressive outings, such as in Detroit on April 21, when he allowed one run in seven innings of a 5-2 victory, and at Fenway Park on May 2, when he allowed two runs in 62/3 innings in a 4-2 victory.

And it could be argued that in terms of stuff, Eovaldi's best outing was the first six innings of what turned out be his first defeat of the season, a 4-2 loss to the Rays last Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Eovaldi allowed two weakly hit infield singles and needed only 70 pitches during the first six innings before some shoddy defense helped the Rays tie the score and eventually take the lead.

The outing had Eovaldi counting down the days until his next start -- a countdown that ended up with a couple of more days tacked on.

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"It's all about the long run. It's always good to give your arm a break," Eovaldi said. "Whenever they offer you some extra days, you take it . . . but I feel great, 100 percent. I feel like every outing I've been getting better and better."

Whitley to have TJ surgery. Chase Whitley, who left Thursday's start in St. Petersburg with what was diagnosed as a right elbow sprain, was evaluated Monday by team physician Christopher Ahmad, who recommended Tommy John surgery. Ahmad will perform the surgery Tuesday at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital . . . Masahiro Tanaka threw a 29-pitch bullpen session at Nationals Park on Monday and appears ready for a rehab start Thursday.