On the Home Run Derby and the much-needed break

Is the Home Run Derby still going on?

I half-expected to wake up this morning and still see some sort of swing-off or bonus round going on at Target Field in Minnesota.

The hour-long rain delay before the Derby didn't help matters last night, but my goodness, does that event seem to go on forever. They might have cut down the number of outs in each round from 10 to seven, but that still didn't seem to help much.

There are just too many participants, in my opinion, and too many players advance out of the first round. I also hate seeing Giancarlo Stanton put on an absolute show in his first chance to take some hacks, only to then have to sit around forever, get cold and fail to hit a single home run in his next round.

I still enjoy watching the Home Run Derby, largely because I love seeing other players react to some of the monster homers that are launched into orbit. That never gets old. But the format is still flawed, and hopefully someone can come up with a creative way to make the event shorter and keep the energy flowing from start to finish.

Today marks day two of the four-day break throughout Major League Baseball, and across the league, players are reveling in their downtime.

This is a chance not just for players to relax with their families and enjoy some time at home, but also to recharge their batteries and let their various bumps and bruises have time to heal.

Playing every day is no picnic, and the Nationals have a handful of guys who have suited up for nearly every single game to this point.

desmond home pointing.jpgIan Desmond has played in 91 of the Nats' 93 games, and will use the time off to let a sore right hand heal up. Jayson Werth (the oldest player on the Nats' roster at 35) has appeared in 90 games to this point. Anthony Rendon has played in 89 games and already has nearly 400 plate appearances. If you discount the seven games Denard Span missed in mid-April due to a concussion, he's played in all but two contests. Adam LaRoche, 34, missed 14 games while on the disabled list, but has appeared in all 44 games the Nats have played since he came off the DL, including both games of a doubleheader in Chicago a few weeks ago.

As Ryan Zimmerman told me in our walk-off interview following Sunday's win over the Phillies, "four days (off) is always needed." But given that the Nats have already played 93 games and have a few veterans with more than 800 innings already under their belts, this time off is incredibly valuable.

"It's gonna be good," Werth said Sunday. "I was joking with (Tyler Clippard, who was selected as a late addition to the NL All-Star team): 'Congratulations, but sorry to hear.' Sometimes the four days off can be beneficial. I think when you play hard every day and you get to this point, you look forward to the four days and then you come back ready to buckle it down for the second half."

Yes, Werth, LaRoche and Desmond have gotten a heavy workload in the first half, but Matt Williams has played those guys so frequently for multiple reasons.

First of all, with Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos on the DL for much of the first half, the Nats needed their other big bats in the lineup as much as possible. Williams might have planned to give Werth and Span days off from time to time, but when Harper was injured, he needed to fill one outfield spot on an everyday basis. The Nats had hoped to have Zimmerman spell LaRoche at first base on occasion, but when Zimmerman fractured his thumb in April, that plan was shot.

Now that Williams has everyone healthy, he wants to run his top lineup out there and see what these guys can do. And you can't really blame him for doing that. These are the eight position players Williams thought he'd be putting in the lineup most days, and now that he has all eight, he wants to give them some run.

For Werth, LaRoche and some of the guys with more mileage on their legs and innings under their belts, these four days off are huge. They can heal up, kick back and get some much-needed rest.

Sixty-nine games remain in the regular season, and they all hope more ballgames will follow after that.

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