After 20 games in 20 days, finally a break for weary Nationals

MIAMI - It began nearly three weeks ago in Oakland, with Bryce Harper serving his suspension, Jayson Werth and Koda Glover healthy, the Nationals coming off a sweep in San Francisco and the NBA Finals just getting underway next door.

Max-Scherzer-throwing-gray-sidebar.jpgIt finally ended yesterday afternoon in Miami, with Max Scherzer losing a no-hitter (and the game) in the bottom of the eighth, Anthony Rendon returning to the lineup after suffering a neck stinger and Ryan Raburn (who wasn't even on the roster at the beginning of this stretch) accounting for the Nats' lone run on a homer.

A lot can happen in 20 days, especially when there's a ballgame played every one of those days. The Nationals club that at long last gets to enjoy a day off has been through plenty since their last one of these (spent in the cool Northern California summer).

It wasn't a perfect stretch, not by any means. The Nats wound up going 10-10, with a four-game losing streak mucking things up in the middle of it all. But given the circumstances, the injuries and the demanding schedule, it wasn't a bad stretch at all.

And if nothing else, Dusty Baker learned a thing or two about his team along the way.

"You learn about their perseverance," the manager said. "You learn about their desire to win. And also you learn if you don't hear any complaints. They know what they have to do. I haven't heard anybody say anything about anything, other than just playing and winning. We play hard. Sometimes I wish we would play a little smarter, but we at least play hard."

The Nationals' depth certainly was tested during this 20-game string that included road series against the Athletics and Dodgers, a makeup game against the Orioles, an originally scheduled homestand against the Rangers and Braves and then a second road trip to face the Mets and Marlins.

Werth (bruised foot), Glover (lower back strain) and Shawn Kelley (strained trapezius) all landed on the disabled list during this streak. Rendon and Michael A. Taylor were unavailable at times due to injuries as well. By the time they reached yesterday's finale at Marlins Park, Baker fielded a lineup that included only three regulars (Harper, Rendon and Trea Turner).

Some of that was by design. Catcher Matt Wieters would normally get a day game after a night game off anyway. Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy, meanwhile, got planned days off after starting all week.

Even so, there isn't a member of the roster (or coaching staff) who isn't appreciating the lack of a game on the schedule today. Especially when considering what still awaits them: 17 straight games before the All-Star break.

"It will be very valuable," Baker said. "It will be a mental day off as well as a physical day off. Because we've got 17 after this. I like that most of my teams finish strong in the first half. You've got to push through the half. You don't play up to it, you push through it. So after tomorrow, it's a countdown to the real vacation ... except for the All-Star guys."

Though they face another long stretch now, the Nationals do get to spend most of it at home. They'll host the Reds and Cubs, then make a quick trip to St. Louis before closing out the season's first half at home against the Mets and Braves.

That may sound fortuitous, but the Nationals actually have proven so far in 2017 to be a much better team away from South Capitol Street. They're 25-15 on the road (better than everyone in the National League except for the Rockies) but a modest 18-14 at home (the fifth-best mark in the NL).

"We've played well on the road," Baker said. "But it's time to get our home record together and try to establish home superiority."

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