Harvey savors first chance to close game for Nats

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LOS ANGELES – As the eighth inning became the ninth inning Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, the Nationals suddenly holding a 4-3 lead following Luis García’s dramatic home run, Hunter Harvey looked around the bullpen and tried to figure out who was about to be told to start warming up.

With Kyle Finnegan and Carl Edwards Jr. both unavailable after pitching the previous two nights, Harvey’s attention immediately turned to Steve Cishek, the 36-year-old veteran with 133 saves on his big league resume.

“I was about 100 percent sure it was going to be Cishek,” Harvey said this morning. “That was my guess. He’s been around for 11 years. He’s got a bunch of saves. I was sure he was going to be the guy. So when they called down and said it was going to be me … it’s kind of crazy to even think I’m even getting this opportunity.”

Harvey indeed was manager Davey Martinez’s choice to close the game. The 27-year-old right-hander’s heart started racing at the thought of entering for his first major league save opportunity, before a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium, of all places.

And though the Nationals lineup actually took the save opportunity away by tacking on four runs in the top of the ninth to extend the lead to 8-3, Harvey’s experience wasn’t diminished in the least. He retired the side, getting Mookie Betts to ground to third for the final out of one the team’s biggest wins of this otherwise dismal season.

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Game 100 lineups: Nats at Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES – The Nationals have not had a four-game winning streak this season. They have not swept a series against any opponent since June 2020, when they took three straight from the Pirates and then later won a two-game mini-series over the Rays. They haven’t swept a road series over anybody since August 2019, when they marched into Wrigley Field and won three straight against the Cubs.

So, naturally, all of those droughts could end this afternoon at none other than Dodger Stadium. Hey, at this point, why not?

If they are going to pull off the unthinkable, the Nationals will need to continue to hit the way they did Tuesday night (though preferably without waiting until the eighth inning to get going). Davey Martinez is sticking with Victor Robles in the leadoff spot, a look that has certainly worked the last two nights. Nelson Cruz returns to the lineup after pinch-hitting Tuesday and finally snapping an 0-for-15 slump with a two-run double. Tres Barrera gets the start behind the plate against Dodgers lefty Andrew Heaney, giving Keibert Ruiz a well-deserved day off.

Patrick Corbin will start for the Nats, and on paper that doesn’t look like a great matchup against a Los Angeles lineup that again opens with Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman. But Corbin does have a few memorable moments in this ballpark in his career. Maybe he can channel some of that old magic and at least give his team a chance today before handing it over to a bullpen that hasn’t allowed a run in its last 15 1/3 innings.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Where:
Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 3:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Sunny, 78 degrees, wind 4 mph out to center field

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García's dramatic homer lifts Nats to another win in L.A. (updated)

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LOS ANGELES – Luis García stepped into Dodger Stadium for the first time Monday night, and like many of his young teammates, was struck more than anything by the bass-thumping sound system at this venerable ballpark.

By the time he found himself rounding the bases in the top of the eighth tonight, the primary sound the Nationals shortstop heard was the chorus of boos from a sellout throng of 53,302, the largest crowd to watch a major league game this season.

García’s two-run homer, a no-doubt blast to right off left-hander Garrett Cleavinger, lifted the Nats to another improbable victory over the Dodgers, this one by the eventual count of 8-3 thanks to four tack-on runs in the ninth. Winners of three in a row, a team that had just lost 17 of 19 will return here Wednesday afternoon with a chance to sweep their first series of the year, no matter the opponent.

"You know what? I've always said this: If our starting pitchers can keep us in the game, we'll score some runs, and our bullpen's been pretty good," said manager Davey Martinez, who earned his 300th career win. "They're playing well right now, and I'm proud of the guys. Because all year long we've fallen short, but they don't quit. And I love that about them." 

It’s been impossible to watch these games the last two nights, complete with lockdown relief pitching and score-flipping homers, and not hearken back to games played between these same franchises in this same ballpark two Octobers ago. García’s homer tonight (one of the 22-year-old’s three hits in the game) certainly resembled the one Juan Soto mashed off Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS.

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Slumping Cruz gets night off as trade deadline looms

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LOS ANGELES – It wasn’t that long ago that Nelson Cruz seemed to have found his swing and was on a sustained productive stretch at the plate.

After homering at Texas on June 26, Cruz was on a 44-game run that included a .315 batting average, .395 on-base percentage and .503 slugging percentage, raising his season slash line to .252/.334/.394.

And then the bottom fell out. Over his last 19 games, Cruz has hit a paltry .157 with a .253 on-base percentage, .171 slugging percentage and one extra-base hit (a double). That has left his season numbers back at .231/.317/.346.

“His timing is a little off,” manager Davey Martinez said before tonight’s game against the Dodgers. “He’s a little late getting his foot down. I know he came out early today to hit, so it’s something he wanted to work on. But he’s been doing this for so many years, he knows himself really well. He knows his swing really well.”

Cruz may know his swing well, but the 42-year-old may be running out of time to fix it and ensure he maintains some trade value heading into next week’s league-wide deadline.

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Game 99 lineups: Nats at Dodgers

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LOS ANGELES – What’s that you say? The Nationals have a chance tonight at a three-game winning streak? Why yes, that’s exactly what’s at stake this evening when they face the Dodgers in the second game of this series.

It’s going to take another stellar effort to beat L.A., of course, and that starts with the pitching staff, most notably starter Josiah Gray. After using up five relievers to pull off Monday night’s 4-1 victory – and having now used both Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan on back-to-back days – the Nats need quality and length tonight from Gray, who makes his return to Chavez Ravine.

The former Dodgers prospect made his first two career big league appearances here last summer (prior to the trade) and didn’t fare so well. He also didn’t fare so well when he faced the Dodgers in D.C. earlier this season, giving up seven runs in three innings, with three homers hit off him. Gray feels like he’s been able to shake off those jitters since, and heads into tonight’s start feeling better about the state of things, though he has struggled in two of his last three outings after a fantastic June.

The lineup looks similar to Monday’s arrangement, with Victor Robles batting leadoff again (as Davey Martinez promised). The most notable change, though, is the absence of Nelson Cruz. It’s been a miserable open to the second half for the 42-year-old, who is 0-for-14 with two walks and five strikeouts since the All-Star break. Obviously, he’s a name who has been on the trading block all year, though the way he’s been performing makes you wonder just how much interest there’s going to be in him now.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Where:
Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 10:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB Network (outside D.C. and L.A. markets), MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Clear, 71 degrees, wind 7 mph out to center field

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Lack of win doesn't diminish Espino's strong start

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LOS ANGELES – It was a pretty sizeable mismatch on paper. On one side, Tony Gonsolin, owner of an 11-0 record and 2.02 ERA in 18 starts. On the other side, Paolo Espino, owner of an 0-3 record and 3.57 ERA in 27 games (only seven of them starts).

What transpired Monday at Dodger Stadium, though, was a friendly reminder that anything can happen on any given night in baseball. And though it hasn’t happened all that often to the Nationals this season, it’s still possible to happen at any given moment.

On this night, Espino was the better pitcher. The 35-year-old journeyman allowed just one run over his four-plus innings, scattering four hits while striking out two and recording quick outs. Gonsolin, meanwhile, carried a no-hitter into the fourth but quickly unraveled, surrendering a leadoff homer to Yadiel Hernandez, then four straight two-out hits that allowed the Nats to open up a 4-1 lead they would hold all night en route to victory.

Thus did the Nationals become the first team this season to defeat Gonsolin. Yes, the same Nationals team that entered with a major-league-worst 32-65 record.

“You know what, he still is terrific,” manager Davey Martinez said of Gonsolin, now 11-1 with a 2.26 ERA. “He’s got good stuff. He mixes all his pitches in, he works quick. Today, we got an opportunity to score some runs off him, and we came through.”

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Bullpen leads the way in Nats' win over Dodgers (updated)

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LOS ANGELES – Juan Soto, to no one’s surprise, found himself the center of attention again today at Dodger Stadium. One week ago, the Nationals star was celebrating victory in the Home Run Derby on this very field before an appreciative crowd. Tonight, he was left to try to ignore the awkward pleas of some among the gathering of 48,647 for him to trade in his curly W for Dodger blue.

By night’s end, though, that large gathering could only trudge out of this old ballyard muttering to themselves about how Soto and his Nationals teammates had just dismantled their boys to the tune of a 4-1 victory that included clutch hits and a whole lot of dominant relief pitching by a visiting team that entered with half as many wins as their star-laden opponents.

"It gets the team a lot more excited, especially after we did what we did against the pitcher of his caliber, with those great numbers," left fielder Yadiel Hernandez said of his team's ability to hand Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin his first loss of the season in his 18th start. "We were able to score those runs, and it creates more excitement for us to keep going and hopefully have more games like this."

Soto played his role in the Nats’ fifth-inning rally, chopping a two-run triple over first baseman Freddie Freeman’s head, but there were countless other contributors on this night, most notably the five relievers who each tossed a scoreless inning to make the win possible.

Turning to his bullpen in the fifth despite starter Paolo Espino’s success (and low pitch count), Davey Martinez asked the quintet of Andres Machado, Victor Arano, Hunter Harvey, Carl Edwards Jr. and Kyle Finnegan to close it out. And then watched as they did just that.

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Robles to get another crack at leading off

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LOS ANGELES – Davey Martinez has tried all manner of lineup combinations this season, trying to find some arrangement that produces runs in bunches while keeping Juan Soto and Josh Bell in a position to drive in as many runs as possible. Tonight, the Nationals manager decided to go back to an idea he last toyed with in 2021: Victor Robles leading off.

Yes, for the first time this season Robles is the Nats’ No. 1 hitter for tonight’s series opener against the Dodgers. It’s a role the organization has always hoped he would seize, but to date he hasn’t.

Now, on the heels of a solid weekend in Arizona, Robles is getting another shot atop the order.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” Martinez said. “He’s swinging the bat well. You think about what he does when he gets on base. He causes a bunch of havoc. So I talked to him today, and I told him I want you to lead off.”

This isn’t expected to be a one-and-done opportunity for Robles, either. Martinez said he intends to stick with this look for the foreseeable future, hoping the 25-year-old center fielder makes the most of it.

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Game 98 lineups: Nats at Dodgers

Juan Soto Home Run Derby smile

LOS ANGELES – Dodger Stadium has been the site of more than a few memorable moments in Nationals history, both good ones and bad ones. What do the next three days have in store? Probably nothing as meaningful as the night of Oct. 9, 2019, when the Nats got over the hump and won their first playoff series. But hopefully nothing too devastating, either. We shall see.

Juan Soto, of course, will be the center of attention here, just as he was one week ago when he won the Home Run Derby in this very ballpark. It’ll be interesting to see what the crowd reaction is to the young star. Perhaps some Dodger faithful will be cheering him on, hoping to make a good impression on him?

Soto will be batting third tonight, after batting second Sunday in a 4-3 win over the Diamondbacks. Victor Robles has been bumped up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season, with everyone else getting bumped down a spot from where they were Sunday, including Ehire Adrianza at third base instead of Maikel Franco. Will have to ask if anything unusual is going on there.

Paolo Espino gets the ball for his first start of the second half. It’s an awfully tough challenge, facing a Dodgers lineup that opens up with Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman. Espino’s best hope for success: Keep the walks to a minimum, and keep the ball in the yard.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Where:
Dodger Stadium
Gametime: 10:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB Network (outside D.C. and L.A. markets), MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 72 degrees, wind 7 mph out to center field

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Finnegan works overtime in first outing as closer

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PHOENIX – As he arrived at the mound at Chase Field late Sunday afternoon, Kyle Finnegan understood the magnitude of the moment, and the challenge he now faced. The Nationals held a 4-3 lead over the Diamondbacks, who had just loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth off Steve Cishek, who after recording the first out of the inning now handed the ball to his bullpen mate, hoping he could somehow escape the ultimate jam without allowing the tying run to score.

Nervewracking? Sure. But also thrilling for Finnegan, who indeed escaped the jam, doing it in the most efficient way possible when he got Arizona cleanup hitter Christian Walker to ground into a 6-4-3 double play on his very first pitch.

“That’s why you play the game, to make a pitch like that and to turn around and see us make a great play like that,” Finnegan said. “You come into the dugout, and it’s exciting. It hasn’t been going our way lately, and to get a win like that where we fight to the last out and it was a great game by both sides, that’s what it’s all about.”

These indeed are the moments high-leverage relievers live for. And Finnegan has been involved in plenty of them this season, though few of them recently. Despite taking over as Nats closer nearly two weeks ago after Tanner Rainey went down with a potentially major elbow injury, Finnegan had yet to find himself in a save situation until Sunday’s series finale against the Diamondbacks.

And this was no ordinary save situation. Summoned by manager Davey Martinez in the bottom of the eighth, Finnegan not only needed to get out of the bases-loaded jam, he then needed to return to record the final three outs in the bottom of the ninth.

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Nats overcome early mistakes to pull off late win (updated)

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PHOENIX – So little about the Nationals’ performance this afternoon at Chase Field was inspired. There were egregious outs run into on the bases, errors committed in the field, long innings defined by deep counts and walks issued.

And yet when it really mattered in the end, the Nats found a way to do just enough to put themselves in position to win. They got a clutch double from Josh Bell in the seventh (and an overturned call on a quirky play that went their way for once). They got a clutch hit by Keibert Ruiz in the eighth to give themselves a rare lead. And then they rode their new closer for five outs to emerge with a 4-3 victory that felt oh so good, no matter how bad this game actually looked at times.

Thus did the Nationals avoid a weekend sweep in Arizona and win for only the third time in their last 20 games. The outcome changes nothing about the broader picture for this floundering franchise, but for one afternoon it was OK to smile.

"We haven't had a lot of comeback wins this year," starter Erick Fedde said. "So those are the ones that are big confidence boosters. And I think the more you do it, the easier it is to have a recurrence. It's good for us. I hope to see more wins like that for us."

The go-ahead rally was ignited by Lane Thomas, pinch-hitting for Yadiel Hernandez to open the eighth. Facing All-Star left-hander Joe Mantiply, Thomas lined a hit to left-center, then hustled his way into second for a double to set the stage. Luis García put down a well placed sacrifice bunt to advance him to third, then Ruiz laced an RBI single to right for his third hit of a game that also included a walk drawn.

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Nats shrug off Bumgarner's criticism of Robles

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PHOENIX – It seemed innocent enough, a solo homer by Victor Robles off Madison Bumgarner in the eighth inning for what proved to be the final run in the Nationals’ 7-2 loss to the Diamondbacks.

Bumgarner, though, is ever mindful of what’s going on around him, especially when it involves someone from the opposing team hitting a home run off him. The 32-year-old left-hander has a storied legacy that may land him in Cooperstown some day because of his workhorse approach to pitching and dominant performances in multiple October runs with the Giants.

His legacy, though, also includes a significant history of tiffs with opponents he believes didn’t celebrate home runs off him in an appropriate manner, most notably the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig and Max Muncy.

And late Saturday night, Victor Robles joined that list.

“He’s a clown,” Bumgarner told reporters in the Diamondbacks clubhouse after the game. “Golly. No shame. No shame. Like, it’s 7-1, you hit your third homer of the year and you act like Barry Bonds breaking the record. Clean it up. I don’t care about giving up the run. Hell, we won 7-2, 8-2, whatever it was. It’s frustrating. I’m the old grumpy guy, I know, but that type of stuff, it didn’t use to happen. That’s ridiculous.”

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Game 97 lineups: Nats at D-backs

Nelson Cruz Swing Gray

PHOENIX – The Nationals’ schedule this month has been unrelenting, and it will continue to be that way in the coming days, with series against the Dodgers, Cardinals and Mets next up. That made this weekend’s series with the Diamondbacks a potential ease-in for the Nats. Of course, that’s not how things have worked out so far.

The Nationals have lost the first two games this weekend by a combined 14 runs. Neither has been a particularly competitive or entertaining game. They can only hope today’s finale has a better outcome.

Davey Martinez, ever searching for some lineup that can produce runs in bunches, especially early in games, has moved Juan Soto back up to the No. 2 spot, with Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz behind him. We’ll see if it makes any difference, but it would sure help if César Hernández got on base a couple times to give Soto an opportunity to do some damage against Arizona right-hander Corbin Martin, just recalled from Triple-A Reno.

Erick Fedde gets the ball for the Nats, facing a Diamondbacks lineup that roughed him up back in April to the tune of seven runs (six earned) in only 3 1/3 innings. Fedde did dominate at Chase Field last season, though, tossing seven scoreless innings in one of the best starts of his career.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Where:
Chase Field

Gametime: 4:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

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Soto's streak ends as Nats lose another game (updated)

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PHOENIX – What does it take for the Nationals to win a baseball game right now? It takes everything going right.

It takes a quality performance from the starting pitcher. It takes a sustained offensive attack from the early innings through the late ones. And it takes shutdown work from the bullpen.

Remove any one part of that formula, and victory becomes awfully difficult. Remove two, and it is almost impossible. Remove all three, and … well, you get the Nationals on most nights in July 2022.

The Nats did none of those things well tonight in a 7-2 loss to the Diamondbacks. But in fairness, they haven’t done most of those things well at any point this month. They’ve now lost 17 of their last 19 games to fall to an abysmal 31-65 on the season.

Now consider this: The worst month in club history was July 2008, when the Nationals went 5-19 (a .208 winning percentage) during what wound up a 102-loss season. This team needs to win four of its next seven games (against the D-backs, Dodgers and Cardinals, mind you) to avoid establishing a new low point.

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Why Rogers remains at Triple-A, why García has tonight off

Luis Garcia swing blue

PHOENIX – As he made his way back from a left shoulder impingement, Josh Rogers probably figured he’d be back on the Nationals roster as soon as he was deemed healthy, whether in their rotation or their bullpen.

Instead, a healthy Rogers now finds himself in the rotation at Triple-A Rochester. Though they formally activated him off the 15-day injured list Friday, the Nats also optioned Rogers to the minors, deciding not to put him in the big leagues for now.

That decision, manager Davey Martinez said, was made because the club both wants Rogers to work on some specific things but also wants to make sure he gets regular work as a starter in case a need does arise at the major league level.

“I know he wanted to develop a changeup. He’s working on a different breaking ball,” Martinez said. “But more so than anything, it’s to keep him stretched out. I think we’ve got to keep him stretched out. The more starters we can have in the minor leagues, the better we’re going to be here in the long run. We’ve got to keep an eye on innings with some of our guys. You just don’t know what’s going to happen down the road. So we want to keep him stretched out.”

The Nationals rotation, at the moment, consists of veterans Patrick Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez and Paolo Espino, plus Erick Fedde and Josiah Gray. In Gray’s case, there is the possibility the organization shuts him down at some point out of concern for his workload in his first full big league season. That could open the door for Rogers to return.

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Game 96 lineups: Nats at Diamondbacks

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PHOENIX – We’ve got a dandy of a pitching matchup tonight. Er, a dandy of a matchup if you want to go back in time a bit. Way back in October 2012, Madison Bumgarner started Game 2 of the World Series for the Giants, then Aníbal Sánchez started Game 3 for the Tigers. Ten years later, these two wily veterans go head-to-head in a game of far less significance when the Diamondbacks and Nationals resume their weekend series.

Sánchez makes his second start since coming back from a long-term neck injury. The 38-year-old right-hander had his moments against the Braves but was done in by a late homer off Michael Harris II’s bat, leaving him with a pitching line that included five innings and four runs allowed. We’ll see how he handles tonight’s assignment, knowing there’s probably less pressure on him this time around.

Bumgarner (still only 32, even though it feels like he’s much older than that) owns a 3.89 ERA in 19 starts for Arizona, but that number has slowly risen over the last two months. Over his last 12 starts, the lefty is 3-8 with a 4.77 ERA.

The Nationals are going with a lineup designed to have a better shot facing a left-hander than a right-hander. That means Lane Thomas is in left field (and batting second), with Maikel Franco batting sixth and Ehire Adrianza getting the start at shortstop instead of Luis García.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Where:
Chase Field

Gametime: 8:10 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 FM, MLB.com
Weather: Indoors

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Second half opens in familiar fashion for Nats (updated)

corbin blue

PHOENIX – The Nationals returned from a four-day break this evening, hoping both for a fresh start to the second half of the season while also trying to maintain some semblance of the positive vibes they displayed during their unexpected victory in the first-half finale.

They got neither during a 10-1 trouncing at the hands of the Diamondbacks. There was no carryover from Sunday’s win over the Braves, not on the mound or at the plate. And there was nothing fresh about this game, only a whole lot of familiar sights from their miserable first half to the season.

On the mound, there was yet another ragged start by Patrick Corbin, who allowed five runs in five innings (four of them coming during one sequence in the bottom of the third). At the plate, there was yet another paltry performance against a good-but-not-great opposing starter, in this case Zac Gallen, who didn’t surrender his first hit until there were two outs in the sixth.

It all felt entirely appropriate for a Nationals club that has played this exact same game far too many times en route to a major-league-worst 31-64 record, including a whopping 16 losses over the last 18 games.

"Unfortunately it wasn't our day," second baseman César Hernández said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "I think a lot of us, we had a few days off, and our timing was a little off. That's part of the game. Maybe we didn't have luck today."

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Nats sign top draft picks, place Clippard on IL

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PHOENIX – The Nationals signed nine of their top-10 draft picks today, including first rounder Elijah Green, who should immediately be classified as one of the top prospects in an organization still trying to stockpile more young talent.

Green, the fifth overall selection in Sunday’s first round, represents the highest draft pick the Nationals have had since they took Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper No. 1 overall in back-to-back years in 2009-10, not to mention their first top-10 selection since Anthony Rendon went sixth in 2011.

Terms of Green’s deal weren’t immediately known, but the expected value of the signing bonus for the No. 5 pick was $6.49 million. The 18-year-old outfielder had committed to play next spring at the University of Miami, but as expected he’ll immediately become a professional and begin his trek up through the minor leagues.

Green, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound center fielder with right-handed power and a strong arm, was drafted out of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The son of former NFL tight end Eric Green, he was described by Nationals vice president of scouting operations Kris Kline as a player who “could be an impactful superstar” if he develops as hoped.

Green will be at Nationals Park on July 29 to be introduced to the crowd before the team’s next home game.

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Game 95 lineups: Nats at Diamondbacks

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PHOENIX – Hello from the Valley of the Sun, where the temperatures have been in the 110s all week. Fortunately, it won’t be anywhere close to that inside Chase Field tonight when the Nationals open the second half of the season against the Diamondbacks.

The All-Star break allowed Davey Martinez to rearrange his rotation however he preferred, and he chose to open up tonight with Patrick Corbin, followed by Aníbal Sánchez on Saturday and Erick Fedde on Sunday. That means the team is using this opportunity to give Josiah Gray an extended break before he presumably pitches next week at the Dodgers, perhaps saving up some of his innings to ensure he’s good to finish the season.

So it’s Corbin tonight facing his former team, though not for the first time. He’s made two previous starts against the Diamondbacks (once in 2019, once earlier this year) and was rocked in each of them to the tune of 14 earned runs in only 7 1/3 innings.

The Nationals go up against right-hander Zac Gallen, with a lineup that includes César Hernández leading off and Keibert Ruiz batting second ahead of Juan Soto, Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz. We’ve seen Martinez tinker with the top two spots in his lineup a lot in recent weeks. Until he finds something that works, he may have to continue to tinker.

The bullpen has a couple new (but actually familiar) faces for this series. Víctor Arano was activated off the injured list, his first appearance on the active roster since he hurt his knee back on June 5. They also recalled Hunter Harvey from Triple-A Rochester, bringing back the hard-throwing right-hander quickly after sending him down before the All-Star break. They were able to do that because he’s replacing an injured teammate: Tyler Clippard, who was placed on the 15-day IL (retroactive to July 19) with a left groin strain.

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As break ends, Nats try to shift focus back to field

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PHOENIX – The All-Star break should be a time for rest and relaxation, a chance to get away from it all and clear your mind before gearing back up for the second half of the season. For the Nationals, this All-Star break wasn’t at all about rest, and nobody was able to relax.

The last four days have seen the franchise under the bright spotlight of the baseball world, all because of the sudden possibility Juan Soto could be dealt before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, with just about every other team in the sport trying to figure out if it has enough top prospects who could be packaged together to get the Nats to say yes.

There also, of course, was the MLB Draft, which began Sunday night and continued through Tuesday, using up a large chunk of front offices’ time and energy during what traditionally has been a welcome break from the grind.

Now, though, the break is over. The second half begins tonight. And for the Nationals, that means the focus potentially turns back to the field. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Let’s not forget these guys lost 15 of their last 17 games heading into the All-Star break. And one of those wins came Sunday in the first-half finale, in a bullpen game started by Erasmo Ramirez against a Braves team that seemed content to just coast into the break.

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