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Nats fall 7-4 to Marlins, home field advantage still up for grabs

The Nationals may yet secure home field advantage over the Dodgers in next week’s National League Division Series. But they aren’t quite there yet, and they’re going to bring this race right down to the final weekend of the regular season. With a 7-4 loss to the Marlins tonight, the Nationals missed an opportunity to potentially ensure Games 1, 2 and 5 of the NLDS

Baker: No platoon for Zimmerman in NLDS (Nationals lose 7-4)

It’s no secret that Ryan Zimmerman has been the Nationals’ most disappointing player this season, and Dusty Baker has given his veteran first baseman no shortage of opportunities to try to hit his way out of a months-long funk. With the postseason now nearly upon the Nats, there has perhaps been some reason to wonder whether Zimmerman will actually be part of the Nationals starting

Harper returns to lineup, Heisey away following birth of child

Bryce Harper wanted to return to the Nationals lineup Wednesday night. Dusty Baker made his young slugger wait two more days, just to be safe. Harper, who jammed his right thumb on an awkward slide into third base Sunday in Pittsburgh after the Pirates’ Jung Ho Kang pretended to tag him even as the ball sailed wide, was dealing with swelling and some pain in

Game 160 lineups: Nats vs. Marlins

The final weekend of the regular season has arrived, and so it is now, as Dusty Baker described it the other day: “Hero Time.” That means it’s time to play through nagging ailments and push yourself to do more than you might have during the vast majority of the season. In that vein, Bryce Harper is back in the lineup tonight. Harper had missed the

Thursday morning Q&A from rainy D.C.

It was only five days ago when the Nationals were spraying champagne and beer all over each other in the clubhouse at PNC Park, celebrating their third division title in five years and looking ahead to what they hoped would be a deep October run. That feels like more than five days ago because a lot has happened since then, and most of it has

Gonzalez’s difficult week ends with another loss

There is no way to truly know what emotions swirled through Gio Gonzalez’s mind this evening when he took the mound at Nationals Park, only three days removed from learning his friend and fellow big league pitcher Jose Fernandez had been killed in a boating accident in Miami. Gonzalez, who will be leaving the club Thursday to attend Fernandez’s funeral, has declined so far to

Nationals drop rain-shortened 3-0 game to Diamondbacks

Given the discouraging forecast - not only for tonight but for Thursday, as well - the Nationals had to feel fortunate to get five full innings in against the Diamondbacks this evening. If only the score at the end of those five innings didn’t favor Arizona. The Nationals were left to suffer a 3-0 loss after the game was called in the top of the

Would Nats make up games on Monday? (Nats lose 3-0)

The Nationals may well need to complete this week’s series against the Diamondbacks in order to determine home field advantage for the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. And it may well require a return trip to D.C. from the Diamondbacks on Monday to get those games in. With rain already falling in the area and expected to continue well into Friday, the Nationals

Nationals won’t work on NLDS rotation, roster til later in week

The Dodgers wasted no time revealing their planned rotation for the National League Division Series, announcing Tuesday afternoon that ace Clayton Kershaw will start Game 1 against the Nationals, with fellow left-hander Rich Hill in Game 2, right-hander Kenta Maeda in Game 3 and possibly rookie left-hander Julio Urias in Game 4. The Nationals, who clinched their berth in the NLDS a day before the

Game 158 lineups: Nats vs. Diamondbacks

So, here are the answers to the two questions on everyone’s mind right now: 1) It’s going to rain this evening. Hard. And it’s not supposed to stop until Friday morning. 2) According to a Major League Baseball official, any postponed games that could impact home field advantage for the National League Division Series must be played before the postseason begins. What that means: The

Solis impresses in return to big league mound

Sammy Solis hadn’t faced a big league hitter in 43 days, so the left-hander was perhaps a bit jittery when he took the mound in the seventh inning at Nationals Park last night and promptly threw a first-pitch fastball to the Diamondbacks’ Socrates Brito that sailed more than a foot over the top of the strike zone. “I would say a few butterflies in there,”

Rendon’s 19th homer sets up Scherzer’s 19th win

Max Scherzer was cruising. After a shaky start to his night that included a leadoff homer in the first and a pair of doubles off the center field wall in the third, the Nationals ace had retired 11 of the last 13 Diamondbacks batters he’d faced, eight of them via strikeout. But with the Nats trailing by two runs in the bottom of the sixth

Cole suspended five games for retaliation pitch (Nats win 4-2)

Major League Baseball has suspended A.J. Cole five games for intentionally throwing at Jung Ho Kang’s head during the Nationals game Sunday in Pittsburgh. Cole, who also was fined an undisclosed amount, has appealed the suspension, so he remains on the Nationals active roster until a hearing can be held and ruled upon. He’s tentatively lined up to start Friday night against the Marlins, his

Ramos tears ACL again, Nats try to replace All-Star catcher

The reaction among everyone in the Nationals dugout Monday night when Wilson Ramos crumpled to the ground and motioned for a trainer suggested an immediate recognition of the severity of what had just happened. Confirmation, though, came this afternoon when an MRI of Ramos’ right knee indeed revealed a torn ACL, a crushing blow for the All-Star catcher, who suddenly will enter free agency coming

Game 157 lineups: Nats vs. Diamondbacks (torn ACL for Ramos)

We just got word just yet on Wilson Ramos’ MRI, and it’s not good: He has torn the ACL in his right knee and will have surgery sometime in the next week, ending his season (and potentially his Nationals career, since he’s going to be a free agent). Plenty more coming on that, but in the meantime the club has called up Spencer Kieboom from

Baker’s challenge: balancing rest vs. home field advantage

Dusty Baker faces a tricky challenge over the next week. His Nationals have already clinched the National League East title, and some key regulars are dealing with nagging injuries and could use some rest. (And that was true even before Wilson Ramos suffered a potentially serious knee injury last night.) Yet his team needs a strong week to hold off the Dodgers and secure home

Nats not worried about Harper’s thumb, expect Murphy for NLDS

The Nationals don’t yet have test results on Bryce Harper’s left thumb, but the sense around the club remains that the right fielder’s injury isn’t serious. Harper is out of the lineup for tonight’s series opener against the Diamondbacks, and the Nationals may take the precautionary route and give him more time to heal before putting him back on the field, given the fact they’ve

Game 156 lineups: Nats vs. Diamondbacks

And so we have reached the final week of the regular season, and thus the final homestand of the regular season. Way back when, we probably figured these would be meaningful games, with the Nationals engaged in a tense pennant race down to the wire. In reality, their run to the National League East title was much easier than that, and they clinched Saturday night

On the Nats’ resilient win in Pittsburgh, NLDS vs. Dodgers

PITTSBURGH - The events of the third inning - Jung Ho Kang’s fake tag, Bryce Harper’s awkward slide and injured left thumb as a result, A.J. Cole’s fastball behind Kang’s back and the benches-clearing skirmish that ensued - stole the spotlight yesterday at PNC Park. Perhaps lost in that, however, was a fairly remarkable 10-7 victory by the Nationals over the Pirates. Which shouldn’t be

Harper day-to-day, Nationals upset with Kang’s fake tag

PITTSBURGH - As he slid awkwardly into third base, jamming his left thumb in the process, Bryce Harper immediately thought the worst. He tore the ligament in that same thumb on a similar play two years ago, and if he had just done it again, Harper knew that was the end of his season. No playoffs in 2016. All because of a fake tag by

Nationals emerge with wild 10-7 victory over Pirates

PITTSBURGH - This was supposed to be a low-key, low-stress, quick Sunday at the ballpark for the Nationals, who after clinching the National League East title last night rested most of their regulars and essentially acknowledged they would get back to serious work Monday when they return home for the final week of the regular season. Turns out this was anything but a low-key, low-stress

Harper injured on fake tag, benches empty (Nationals win 10-7)

PITTSBURGH - Bryce Harper left today’s series finale in the third inning after suffering an apparent left hand injury during an awkward slide into third base prompted by a fake tag from Jung Ho Kang that eventually prompted a benches-clearing scuffle between the Nationals and Pirates. Harper led off the top of the third with a hit down the right field line, then tried to

Nationals mourn Fernandez, recall pitcher’s talent and joy

PITTSBURGH - The joy of the Nationals’ division-clinching celebration last night came to a screeching halt this morning as players learned the news that stunned the entire baseball world: Jose Fernandez’s death from a boating accident in Miami. The Marlins ace was a well-known figure throughout the Nationals clubhouse, mostly as one of the toughest competitors they had to face on a regular basis, including

Game 155 lineups: Nats at Pirates

PITTSBURGH - After clinching their third National League East title in five seasons last night, the Nationals will rest a fair amount of their regulars for today’s finale of a three-game series against the Pirates. But make no mistake, there is still something to play for: home field advantage in the National League Division Series, which the Nats would prefer to open at home against,

After two years on the outside, Baker rewarded with division title

PITTSBURGH - It’s easy to forget now, after 90 wins, a division title and all the praise heaped upon him, but Dusty Baker was out of baseball the last two years. Fired by the Reds after losing the 2013 National League wild card game to the Pirates, the manager of two decades and key baseball figure of more than four decades was suddenly on the

From the sting of 2015 to division champs of 2016

PITTSBURGH - Max Scherzer stood off to one side of the now-trashed visitors clubhouse at PNC Park, soaked in champagne and beer, puffing on a cigar, a man enjoying every moment of this celebration. The right-hander has been a division champion before, five times in the last six years, to be exact. It’s that one exception to the rule, though, that lingered with him. Just

No drama: Nationals are 2016 NL East champs

PITTSBURGH - The 2016 Nationals won the National League East without drama, without wild pendulum swings, without the kind of indelible memories (both good and bad) that so often define championship seasons. No, this was a methodical march to a division title by a ballclub that simply was very good throughout and wore down its opponents along the way. And now, at last, these guys

Is tonight the night? (Nationals win, Mets losing)

PITTSBURGH - The Nationals are trying to take care of business early tonight. So are the Phillies. And that could result in a very satisfying conclusion to the evening for everybody dressed in red at PNC Park. The Nats burst out of the gates, scoring three runs in the top of the first to take a quick lead on the Pirates. Meanwhile in New York,

Sunday’s starter could depend on tonight’s outcome

PITTSBURGH - The Nationals will hold off naming Sunday’s starting pitcher until after tonight’s game, a decision that could hinge on whether or not they pop any champagne corks in the clubhouse later this evening. If the Nationals clinch the NL East title tonight - their magic number remains two entering the game - manager Dusty Baker probably will rest most of his regulars in

Game 154 lineups: Nats at Pirates

PITTSBURGH - It has cooled off considerably here in the last 24 hours. It was actually pretty warm and muggy yesterday, but now it’s cool and breezy. It almost feels like, you know, fall. Which, of course, it now is. It also feels like the kind of weather you associate with postseason baseball. So perhaps tonight is the night the Nationals officially ensure they’ll be

More on Petit, Gonzalez, Harper and Zimmerman

PITTSBURGH - The primary focus of last night’s game was on the bottom of the ninth, when Mark Melancon blew his first save with the Nationals on Sean Rodriguez’s two-out double past a possibly mis-positioned Trea Turner in center field. But there was a lot more to the Nats’ 6-5 11-inning loss than that, so let’s recap some other important (or mildly interesting) developments ...

Ninth-inning gaffe leaves Nationals waiting another day

PITTSBURGH - The plastic curtains were taped up high above the lockers inside the visitors’ clubhouse at PNC Park, even after the Nationals suffered a gut punch of a 6-5 11-inning loss to the Pirates tonight, even after the Mets had earlier beaten the Phillies in convincing fashion to prevent any possibility of a celebration here. The clubhouse crew, however, went through the trouble to

Melancon blows first save, Nats clincher put on hold

PITTSBURGH - The National League East lead has come surprisingly easily to the Nationals, who after a brief, four-day stint in early May have held a firm grasp on first place in the division every single moment since. The actual clinching of that title? That is requiring a bit more work and patience than hoped. Two things needed to happen tonight for the Nationals to

Baker wants players to fully celebrate clincher (Nats lose 6-5 in 11)

PITTSBURGH - They weren’t obvious to the naked eye, but they were there this afternoon, tucked away on the fringes of the visitors’ clubhouse at PNC Park: boxes of champagne. The Nationals know they’ll be popping those things open at some point, perhaps as soon as tonight if they can beat the Pirates and the Phillies can beat the Mets at Citi Field. Yet there

Murphy shut down for weekend with buttocks strain

PITTSBURGH - The Nationals are shutting down Daniel Murphy for at least the weekend after an MRI on the MVP candidate’s left leg revealed a buttocks strain, manager Dusty Baker said. Murphy hasn’t been in the Nationals lineup since Saturday in Atlanta, when he appeared to hurt himself running the bases. He did take two pinch-hit at-bats during this week’s series in Miami, but would

Game 153 lineups: Nats at Pirates

PITTSBURGH - Hello from PNC Park, splendid as ever, and the possible site tonight of something special. Not for the home club, which has held a couple of celebrations here the last few years, but for the Nationals, who tonight have a chance to clinch a division title. The Nationals’ magic number, as surely you know by now, is two. In order to clinch the

Nationals have chance to clinch NL East title tonight

From the moment they were eliminated from playoff contention 363 days ago, this was the Nationals’ primary focus. They reshaped their roster over the winter. They fired one manager, almost hired another, then wound up with yet another in the end. They watched key free agents depart. They made a couple of calculated moves to address those vacancies. They reported to spring training in Viera

Time to start watching the Dodgers with a scouting eye

No, the Nationals haven’t clinched the National League East title. Yet. The champagne celebration has been pushed back just a bit. But it will happen, probably sometime this weekend in Pittsburgh. Maybe not until early next week when the team comes home to face the Diamondbacks. And so while one eye obviously should be kept on the immediate task at hand, it’s OK to start

More on Sunday’s rain-shortened loss in Atlanta

ATLANTA - A few more thoughts after Sunday’s rain-shortened, 6-2 loss to the Braves ... * The Nationals wanted to try to get the entire game in. They weren’t pushing for the umps to call it in the seventh inning. But conditions got to the point where Dusty Baker didn’t feel comfortable letting his players re-take the field. As the second rain delay dragged on

Ross sharp, but Nats fall 6-2 to Braves in rain-shortened game

ATLANTA - The Nationals had to be pleased with Joe Ross’ return to the mound after a long stint on the disabled list. The rest of the club’s performance today against the Braves? Not so much. Ross looked sharp during a planned three-inning start, his first appearance in a big league game since right shoulder inflammation sidelined him in early July. But the bullpen gave

Baker trying out options in eighth inning (Nationals lose 6-2)

ATLANTA - The Nationals solved their ninth-inning problem when they acquired Mark Melancon at the trade deadline. But as the regular season reaches its final two weeks, they’re still trying to figure out who’s going to get through the eighth inning to get the ball to their new closer. Shawn Kelley held a firm grasp on the primary setup role through most of the season,

Game 149 lineups: Nats at Braves

ATLANTA - You know, the Nationals’ final game at Turner Field just wouldn’t be complete without the threat of rain. They’ve sat through far too many delays at this park over the years to remember, so what’s one more if it happens today? Hopefully, that won’t be the case and the Nationals and Braves can get this game in without any problems. It’s actually important

Ross ready to return, hopes to make Nats’ postseason rotation

ATLANTA - For 2 1/2 months, Joe Ross has watched the rest of the Nationals from afar, wanting to play a role in their march toward a division title but unable to contribute. Inflammation in his right shoulder lingered much longer than anyone initially expected when he was placed on the disabled list July 3. At long last, Ross will get his chance to contribute

Nationals try to separate process from results in Gonzalez’s loss

ATLANTA - Dusty Baker seemed to realize midway through his answer about Gio Gonzalez’s ragged start during today’s 7-3 loss to the Braves that some on the outside might be rolling their eyes. “He made some good pitches,” the Nationals manager insisted. “I mean, you didn’t see those balls blooping in there, and stuff? You can’t do anything about that. He made his pitch.” Baker

Gonzalez roughed up by Braves again during 7-3 loss

ATLANTA - Gio Gonzalez can’t beat the Braves. Which has to leave the Nationals seriously wondering if they can trust the left-hander to beat a much better opponent in the playoffs. Gonzalez was roughed up yet against by Atlanta this afternoon, lasting just 4 1/3 innings and giving up six runs during the Nationals’ 7-3 loss at Turner Field. It was Gonzalez’s third start vs.

Murphy ties club records for hits, doubles (Nationals lose 7-3)

ATLANTA - Daniel Murphy’s remarkable first season with the Nationals is now cementing its place in the club’s record book. With a third-inning double this afternoon against the Braves, Murphy tied a pair of Nationals records. His 184 hits have matched Denard Span’s total from 2014. And his 47 doubles have matched Ryan Zimmerman’s total from 2006. Oh, by the way, there are still 14

Ross will start Sunday, Strasburg plays catch

ATLANTA - There may be no bigger “X” factor for the Nationals heading into the postseason than Joe Ross, who could wind up being anything from the club’s No. 3 starter in October to an option out of the bullpen to not even making the roster at all. The Nationals will use the next two weeks to decide how, or if, Ross will figure into

Game 148 lineups: Nats at Braves

ATLANTA - After a quick turnaround from last night’s 7-2 victory, the Nationals are right back at it today with a Saturday matinee against the Braves, looking to move one step closer to the National League East title. The magic number, lest you forget, is currently six. The Mets host the Twins later tonight. Gio Gonzalez gets the start today, and each of the left-hander’s

Turner dazzles again: “This guy can do absolutely everything”

ATLANTA - It would be easy to assume that Trea Turner has already shown the Nationals the best he has to offer. Shoot, how could he be any better than he already has been through 58 games this season? But then Turner goes and has a game like he did tonight. He went 4-for-5. He scored four runs. He homered. He doubled. He drove in

Scherzer, Turner lead Nats to 7-2 victory; magic number is six

ATLANTA - Max Scherzer didn’t have his best stuff, but the Nationals ace gutted his way through seven strong innings, took advantage of some stellar defense behind him and rode his team’s latest offensive outburst against the Braves to a 7-2 victory tonight at Turner Field. Scherzer allowed two runs over seven innings, the 18th time he has done that or better this season, tops

Baker rejoins club, Espinosa on his way (Nationals win 7-2)

ATLANTA - Dusty Baker is back in the Nationals dugout tonight, back with his team after spending two days at home in California following the death of a family member. Baker arrived at Turner Field shortly after 4 p.m., luggage in tow after an all-day flight from the West Coast. He said he was able to watch Wednesday’s game (a 1-0 victory over the Mets)

Ross could return from DL to pitch Sunday for Nationals

ATLANTA - The Nationals haven’t announced yet who will start Sunday’s series finale against the Braves, but it looks like the club plans to get Joe Ross into the game in some capacity. Ross, who has been on the disabled list since July 3 with right shoulder inflammation, has made three minor league rehab starts and threw 60 pitches in a simulated game last weekend.

Game 147 lineups: Nats at Braves

ATLANTA - Hello yet again from Turner Field, where it seems like the Nationals occupy the visitors’ dugout every couple of weeks. This, of course, is the team’s final trip to this ballpark, with the Braves moving to their new digs in the northwest suburbs next spring. There won’t be many tears shed among the Nats players, coaches (or media members) about this development. Tonight

Friday morning Q&A from Atlanta

ATLANTA - We’ve reached the home stretch at last. The Nationals tonight open their final road trip of the season. And by the time they return home for the final week of the season, they’re very likely to be National League East champions. The actual clinching can’t happen this weekend in Atlanta. The best the Nats could do is reduce their magic number to one

More on Roark, Ramos and others

More stats, thoughts and quotes after yesterday’s 1-0 victory over the Mets, which sent the Nationals off on their final road trip of the regular season owning a commanding 10-game lead in the National League East, with the magic number down to seven ... * Tanner Roark knows he’s going to have to step up as the Nats’ No. 2 starter for the postseason with

With Mets in rear-view mirror, Nationals closing in on NL East title

They won’t admit it, because they know better than to do such a thing and tempt the baseball gods. But let’s deal in reality here, and the reality is this: The Nationals wrapped up the National League East title this week. No, they haven’t mathematically clinched anything yet. But after today’s 1-0 win over the Mets, their second in three days against their division rivals,

Roark, Ramos power Nats to 1-0 win, 10-game lead over Mets

Tanner Roark churned out his customary seven innings of scoreless ball. All the Nationals had to do was score one run somehow, some way to ensure the effort from their bulldog right-hander wasn’t wasted. Enter Wilson Ramos, who took care of business with one mighty swing in the bottom of the seventh to move his team another step closer to the National League East crown.

Speier managing for Baker with “heavy heart” (Nats win 1-0)

Chris Speier has been through this before, filling in temporarily as manager of Dusty Baker’s team when the latter had to leave for personal reasons. The longtime big league coach stepped in for 11 games in Sept. 2012 when Baker (managing the Reds at the time) landed in the hospital with what eventually was discovered to be a mini-stroke. So when he learned a few

Nationals open 2017 at home vs. Marlins, face Orioles in May

The Nationals will open the 2017 season at home against the Marlins, will meet the Orioles in early May for their traditional home-and-home Beltways Series and face the entire American League West in interleague play. Major League Baseball revealed next season’s schedule this afternoon. It begins Monday, April 3 when the Nationals host Miami, the third time in 11 years those teams have opened a

Baker leaves Nats following death in family, will return Friday

Dusty Baker has left the Nationals temporarily due to a death in the family and won’t manage today’s series finale against the Mets, the club announced. Bench coach Chris Speier will assume managerial duties for the game. Baker is expected to rejoin the team in Atlanta and manage Friday night’s series opener against the Braves. This will be the first game Baker has missed since

Baker, Nats try to process emotional swings after late drama

There were no shortage of emotional reactions the Nationals could have tonight in the wake of their wild 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Mets. The final 30 minutes of this game alone ran the full gamut, from despair to hope to flat-out belief to confusion to despair again to hope again to exhaustion in the end. From Dusty Baker’s standpoint, the most important reaction to

Nationals rally vs. Familia in ninth, but fall 4-3 to Mets in 10th

If the Nationals are going to make noise in October, they’re going to have to beat some elite opposing arms. Like Noah Syndergaard, one of the top starters in the game right now. Or Jeurys Familia, one of the top closers in baseball. They couldn’t do it to Syndergaard tonight, managing just four hits in seven innings. They nearly did it to Familia, rallying from

Baker has no plans to bench struggling Zimmerman

Dusty Baker hears the question a lot these days, from all variety of sources: At some point, is he going to bench Ryan Zimmerman, who is mired in a season-long slump? Baker understands why people ask him that. But his response is clear: He’s going to keep playing Zimmerman as much as possible, because he knows the Nationals’ chances of success are far greater with

Game 145 lineups: Nats vs. Mets

After taking care of business last night with an 8-1 trouncing of the Mets, the Nationals did the bare minimum they needed to do in this series: Avoid getting swept. Anything they do from here on out is just gravy. But since they now lead the division by 10 games with 18 to play, with their magic number down to nine, why not go for

Harper getting walked again, but teammates delivering this time

Here’s yet another sign that Bryce Harper has nearly made it all the way back from his months-long slump at the plate: Teams are intentionally walking him again. That was the strategy early this season for opposing clubs facing the reigning National League MVP. Harper was intentionally walked 13 times in his first 43 games. But as he slid into his funk, the strategy changed.

Latos seizes surprise opportunity before hamstring injury

Mat Latos didn’t know if this opportunity would come, certainly not this season. Ditched by the White Sox in June, the odds of the journeyman right-hander starting a key pennant race game for a first-place club in mid-September seemed ludicrous. Yet there was Latos tonight, not only taking the mound in the top of the first inning for the Nationals in their series opener with

Nationals trounce Mets 8-1, reduce magic number to nine

Given a surprise opportunity to start a mid-September ballgame for a first-place club trying to put the finishing touches on its chief division rival, Mat Latos delivered both on the mound and at the plate. Unfortunately, what was shaping up to be a memorable night for the 28-year-old journeyman ended prematurely when he was forced to depart the Nationals’ 8-1 victory over the Mets in

Latos gets start tonight, but Ross could be ready by weekend

It’s looking like Joe Ross will be ready to rejoin the Nationals rotation later this week when his turn comes up. Until then, they’ll take their chances with short-term insurance policies like Mat Latos and A.J. Cole. Ross emerged from his simulated game Saturday with no problems and, according to manager Dusty Baker, looks ready to pitch in his first big league game in more

Game 144 lineups: Nats vs. Mets

It’s one of the biggest games of the season, a mid-September matchup of the first- and second-place teams in the National League East, one of them trying to move closer to the division title, the other trying to continue a late surge toward a wild card berth that looked implausible only a couple weeks ago. And the pitching matchup for the opener between the Nationals

With division title getting closer, Nats face Mets for final time

For months, this week loomed large on the calendar. It’s the final regular season meeting between the Nationals and Mets, and there was every reason to believe it would be a critical series between two rivals battling for the National League East title. That’s not quite what it will actually be, though. Yes, the next three days do represent one of the more significant series

Gonzalez steps up when asked, leads Nats over Phillies

Dusty Baker isn’t mincing words. He’s challenging Gio Gonzalez to step it up during Stephen Strasburg’s absence and give the Nationals the quality starter they desperately need right now to round out their rotation. Suffice it to say, Baker was one happy man this afternoon after watching the left-hander toss seven innings of one-run ball during a 3-2 victory over the Phillies. “He seemed like

Nationals eke out another tight victory over Phillies 3-2

It required a little more late drama than they would have preferred, but the Nationals won another tight, low-scoring ballgame against the Phillies today, eking out a 3-2 victory to maintain some momentum heading into this week’s series with the Mets. Gio Gonzalez tossed seven strong innings, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon delivered key RBI doubles and the Nationals bullpen hung on for dear life

Latos will start opener vs. Mets, Cole on Tuesday (updated)

The Nationals wrap up their 19-game season series with the Mets this week, but they’ll do so without having named two of their three scheduled starting pitchers. The Nats, for now, are listing both Monday and Tuesday’s starters as “TBA,” with only Wednesday starter Tanner Roark officially named. Stephen Strasburg would have been lined up to start the opener against New York, but the right-hander

Game 143 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies

Few members of the Nationals roster are going to be under the microscope more over the season’s final three weeks than Gio Gonzalez, who (in the wake of Stephen Strasburg’s injury) is going to be asked to step up and assume a prominent role in a likely postseason rotation. A strong outing today against the Phillies would be an encouraging development. The Nationals lineup, meanwhile,

Baker curious to see how Glover responds to rough outing

Dusty Baker has suggested for several weeks he would like to see how Koda Glover handles a late-inning situation. On more than one occasion, Baker has mentioned he hopes Glover does for the 2016 Nationals what Francisco Rodriguez did for the 2002 Angels: hold the setup role for a World Series champion only a month after making his major league debut. So when Friday night’s

“Perfect” Turner savors first career game-winning homer

There are the base hits, 77 of them already in only 223 at-bats, good for a .345 batting average that would stand right alongside league leader Daniel Murphy if only he had been in the big leagues all season. There are the stolen bases (21 of them) and the runs (39 of them) in only 52 games, evidence of his blazing speed. There is the

Turner’s pair of homers give Nationals dramatic 5-4 victory

Trea Turner was supposed to inject speed and energy to the top of the Nationals lineup. Who knew he’d inject a whole lot of power as well? Turner blasted two home runs in the game’s final three innings tonight, including a walk-off homer to straightaway center field that gave the Nationals a dramatic 5-4 victory over the Phillies and added another chapter to the rookie’s

Roark tries to continue dominance of Phillies (Nats win 5-4)

Tanner Roark has enjoyed a standout season on the mound that may earn the Nationals right-hander some down-ballot votes for the National League Cy Young Award. Roark has been effective against just about everybody, but stick the Phillies in the batter’s box and he really reaches for the stars. Roark tonight is looking to improve to 4-0 against Philadelphia this season and potentially lower his

Solis hits “roadblock,” but new lefties stepping up in Nats bullpen

It has been one of the bigger questions facing the Nationals all season: Which left-handed reliever (or relievers) can they trust when crunch-time arrives? The answer to that question has changed several times in five months. Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez were the primary left-handers in the Nationals bullpen back in April, but then Sammy Solis emerged as manager Dusty Baker’s top southpaw as May

Game 141 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies

On the heels of a bit of a clunker last night, the Nationals are back to work tonight against the Phillies. Tanner Roark, whose role within the rotation has become a bit more important in the last 48 hours, gets the start and will look to rediscover the consistency he displayed for most of the season before a couple of hiccups in recent weeks. Rookie

Friday morning Q&A from D.C.

Just when it looked like the Nationals’ slow-and-steady march to the National League East title was going to proceed unabated, an all-too-familiar sight potentially altered the remainder of this season in dramatic fashion. We’ve seen Stephen Strasburg wince after throwing pitches before. And we’ve seen him leave games due to injury after only a few innings. But not since that awful August 2010 night in

Nationals can only shrug off rare loss to Philly

If the Nationals are fortunate enough to have reason to create a 2016 Year-in-Review video, tonight’s 4-1 loss to the Phillies most certainly won’t merit even a passing reference. Perhaps the most notable thing about this game was the mere fact that the Nationals lost to the Phillies. That hadn’t happened since April 28, after which the Nats won nine consecutive matchups with their rebuilding

Nats bats can’t find holes during 4-1 loss to Phillies

They hit the ball hard all night. But hard contact doesn’t guarantee base hits, only a better chance of base hits. And the Nationals were guaranteed nothing tonight against the Phillies and handed a 4-1 loss despite a sustained barrage of line drives that found just about every fielder wearing a glove. Rookie right-hander Alec Asher tossed two-hit ball over six innings, earning his first

Now in spotlight, Cole gives up pair of homers (Nationals lose 4-1)

With Stephen Strasburg shelved again for at least a while and perhaps the rest of the season, A.J. Cole suddenly finds himself in an unlikely spotlight. The Nationals need someone to fill these starting slots while Strasburg is out with a strained flexor mass in his right elbow and Joe Ross is still rehabbing from shoulder inflammation. And right now, Cole is the man getting

Strasburg has flexor mass strain, ligament is “good”

An MRI taken of Stephen Strasburg’s elbow today revealed what Nationals officials described as a best-case scenario given the circumstances, though an injury that still might prevent the right-hander from returning to pitch this season. Strasburg has “a little strain in his flexor mass,” according to Nationals head athletic trainer Paul Lessard, who added the pitcher’s elbow ligament is “good.” The club isn’t offering a

Game 140 lineups: Nats vs. Phillies

There is a healthy amount of anticipation and concern at Nationals Park this afternoon, as everyone awaits an update on Stephen Strasburg’s elbow. Dusty Baker is scheduled to meet with reporters at 4 p.m., though I’d offer one word of caution: It’s possible the Nats won’t provide a definitive diagnosis this afternoon, especially if the MRI results need to be viewed by outside doctors (which

Five straight winning seasons is no small feat for Nationals

Lost amid the chaos that was last night’s game, from Stephen Strasburg’s injury to an 11-inning contest that didn’t end until 12:41 a.m., was this little nugget: The Nationals, by virtue of their 5-4 victory over the Braves, earned their 82nd win of the year. Yes, that clinches a winning record in 2016. And it means this franchise has now had five consecutive winning seasons.

MRI scheduled after Strasburg felt “pinch in the back of his elbow”

Stephen Strasburg “felt a pinch in the back of his elbow” and will undergo an MRI on Thursday morning to determine the extent to which the Nationals right-hander is injured, manager Dusty Baker said. Speaking at nearly 1 a.m., about 15 minutes after his team wrapped up a 5-4 11-inning, rain-delayed victory over the Braves, and about four hours after Strasburg departed in the top

Strasburg injured, but Nats rally to beat Braves 5-4 in 11

The status of Stephen Strasburg’s right arm - which is very much an open question at this moment - has far more significance to the remainder of the Nationals season than the outcome of tonight’s series finale against the Braves. But the game wasn’t called off after Strasburg walked off the mound in apparent pain two batters into the top of the third. They all

Strasburg leaves in third inning with apparent injury

What should have been among the most encouraging moments of the season’s final month - Stephen Strasburg returning to the mound after a brief stint on the disabled list - instead turned into a potential nightmare scenario for the Nationals and their $175 million right-hander, who had to depart in the top of the third inning with an apparent injury that left the ballpark in

Strasburg’s return underway after rain delay (Nats win in 11th)

Stephen Strasburg is going to have to wait a bit longer to make his return to the mound. The start of the Nationals’ series finale against the Braves, featuring Strasburg’s first start in three weeks, has been delayed by a line of thunderstorms that has been hovering near South Capitol Street for several hours but has yet to produce significant precipitation at Nationals Park. The

After unexpected DL stint, for Drew “it’s definitely time to go”

When Stephen Drew came down with the flu shortly after the All-Star break, the veteran infielder couldn’t have anticipated he wouldn’t be able to make a full return to the Nationals for another seven weeks. Then again, how could anyone have anticipated that seemingly innocent illness would lead to an inner-ear condition that left Drew with extreme bouts of dizziness that resembled vertigo and made

Game 139 lineups: Nats vs. Braves (Strasburg, Drew return)

With their lead in the National League East a comfortable 8 1/2 games and their magic number at 16, there is some, but not a ton, of drama left to the Nationals’ season. While the actual end result of every game does matter most in the end, at this point you could argue there are more important individual matters still at stake over the final

Harper joins 20-20 club for first time in big league career

To his already hefty list of accomplishments in a brief major league career, Bryce Harper can now add another achievement: He has joined the 20-20 club for the first time. With a successful swipe of second base during last night’s 9-7 victory over the Braves, Harper notched his 20th steal of the season. He already had 23 homers, which makes him the newest member of

Contributions abound in come-from-behind win by Nationals

It’s generally not a manager’s preference to summon his bullpen two batters into the fourth inning. Nor is that generally a surefire path to victory. Let’s just say Dusty Baker and the Nationals were feeling fortunate to emerge from tonight’s nailbiter against the Braves with a 9-7 come-from-behind victory that did not come easily for the home team. “You got to believe and think it,

Rendon, bullpen save the day as Nationals rally to 9-7 victory

They weathered a laborious (and brief) start from Gio Gonzalez, used Anthony Rendon’s grand slam to get back in the game, rode their expanded bullpen through a string of scoreless innings and then watched as their lineup sealed the deal late. Suffice it to say that the Nationals’ 9-7 victory over the Braves tonight had a little bit of everything. Tied in the bottom of

Nationals still mum on Wednesday night’s starter

The Nationals are remaining mum about the identity of Wednesday night’s starting pitcher, though Dusty Baker hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Stephen Strasburg coming off the disabled list to face the Braves. Strasburg appeared lined up to make that start, his first since landing on the DL with a sore elbow on Aug. 21. But the right-hander threw off the bullpen mound at Nationals

Game 138 lineups: Nats vs. Braves (Giolito, Difo recalled)

It hasn’t drawn a lot of attention, but Gio Gonzalez has been pretty darn consistent over the last month and a half, righting a season that had threatened to go off the rails. In nine starts since the All-Star break, the left-hander is 5-1 with a 3.00 ERA. Six of those have been quality starts. And in five of his last starts, he has issued

Nats frustrated by weekend woes with men on base

NEW YORK - The Nationals, in the big picture, have not been particularly bad at hitting with runners in scoring position this season. They rank fifth in the National League in that category, ahead of fellow contenders like the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers and Mets. But it does seem like when they go cold in those situations, they go ice cold. And it doesn’t get any

Lopez still learning what it takes to beat big league lineups

NEW YORK - Reynaldo Lopez has made six big league starts. Two of them have ended in victories for both the rookie right-hander and the Nationals. Each of those, however, came against the Braves, owners of the worst record in the National League and earlier today officially eliminated from the race for a division title. Lopez’s four other starts all have come against teams contending

Nationals drop second straight (plus series) to Mets 5-1

NEW YORK - Reynaldo Lopez still doesn’t look quite ready for the big stage. The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, looked lost with runners in scoring position this weekend. Lopez labored again tonight against a quality opponent, lasting only four innings in a nationally televised Sunday night game against the Mets. Fellow rookie right-hander Seth Lugo had no such stage fright in mowing down the Nationals over

Rookie starters being tested on Sunday night (Nationals lose 5-1)

NEW YORK - The Nationals and Mets already were looking at a late night with an 8:08 p.m. start on Sunday Night Baseball and then travel to Washington and Cincinnati, respectively, for Labor Day matinee games. The way both lineups have made Reynaldo Lopez and Seth Lugo work early, they’re going to be even sleepier than initially feared when they get to the park Monday.

Strasburg on track to return Wednesday vs. Braves

NEW YORK - Stephen Strasburg is on track to rejoin the Nationals rotation Wednesday night, though the rehabbing right-hander hasn’t been 100 percent cleared for that assignment yet. Strasburg threw off the bullpen mound at Citi Field this afternoon, his fourth such session in the last week, and reported no issues. That lines him up to pitch Wednesday, which appears to be the Nationals’ plan

Game 136 lineups: Nats at Mets

NEW YORK - So, about that massive hurricane that was supposed to wreak havoc with tonight’s series finale at Citi Field ... yeah, that was a whole lotta nothing. As I type this from the press box, staring out at the stadium, there isn’t a cloud in the sky. There’s a bit of a breeze, but hardly anything of consequence. In other words, the Nationals

Sunday morning Q&A from New York

NEW YORK - Sorry for the sporadic execution of what at one time was a weekly Thursday Q&A feature here - even one of the Nationals players asked me yesterday when I was going to do another one of these - but the schedule recently hasn’t been real conducive. The good news is that the Nationals’ first Sunday Night Baseball appearance of the season does

Lack of production from bottom of lineup remains a concern

NEW YORK - Tonight’s 3-1 loss to the Mets shouldn’t have a dramatic impact on the Nationals’ ultimate fortunes. They still lead the National League East by 9 1/2 games with 27 to play. Their magic number remains 18. But the manner in which the Nats lost this game might raise some red flags and may offer some evidence of one of the club’s few

Nationals can’t deliver big hits in 3-1 loss to Mets

NEW YORK - Unable to convert countless opportunities with men on base, or keep the Mets from delivering themselves in clutch situations, the Nationals took a 3-1 loss tonight at Citi Field to momentarily halt the expansion of their hefty division lead. The Mets got a big two-run single from Curtis Granderson off Tanner Roark, added another insurance run later and rode their pitching staff

Streak of first-inning success continues (Nationals lose 3-1)

NEW YORK - The Nationals seem to have this top-of-the-first thing down pretty well now. For the fifth time in as many games on their current road trip, the Nationals scored in their opening frame, handing their starting pitcher a lead before he ever took the mound. They jumped on the Mets again tonight, taking a quick 1-0 lead after loading the bases against rookie

Nats will give Scherzer extra day off, start Lopez on Sunday

NEW YORK - The Nationals will give Max Scherzer an extra day off, bumping his originally scheduled start from Sunday night against the Mets to Monday afternoon against the Braves. Reynaldo Lopez, who will be recalled from Triple-A Syracuse, will start the series finale at Citi Field in Scherzer’s place ... provided the weather cooperates. (The edges of Tropical Storm Hermine could impact the New

Game 135 lineups: Nats at Mets (Turner wins rookie of month)

NEW YORK - They took last night’s series opener in impressive fashion. Now the Nationals try to take the series from the Mets and expand their growing lead in the National League East beyond their current 10 1/2-game cushion. It’ll be Tanner Roark on the mound tonight at Citi Field, and he has been awfully good against the Mets this season (one earned run, five

Power to left field offers further evidence of Harper’s resurgence

NEW YORK - Want the surest sign yet that Bryce Harper has at long last snapped out of his months-long slump? He’s now racking up opposite-field doubles. There has been mounting evidence of Harper’s resurgence over the last couple of weeks, ever since he took five days off to rest an ailing neck injury. But the last few days have bolstered the argument, and Friday

Rookies shine brightest for Nationals in key win over Mets

NEW YORK - The 2016 Nationals are built to win, first and foremost, with experienced stars. Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman are supposed to lead the way and (in the best-case scenario) lead this franchise to the promised land come October. But Mike Rizzo is, at his core, a development guy. And so the general manager has

Nats take opener from Mets 4-1, reduce magic number to 18

NEW YORK - While fellow prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez leapfrogged him on the organizational depth chart and got the first opportunities to pitch for the Nationals this summer, A.J. Cole hung around and waited for his turn. Who would have guessed “Option C” would prove more reliable at this point? Cole turned in another impressive performance tonight, holding the Mets to one run

Rizzo on rehabbing players, den Dekker DFA (Nationals win 4-1)

NEW YORK - Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross have both passed recent tests on their injured arms and both remain on track to rejoin the Nationals’ active roster within the next week or so. Strasburg threw another bullpen session this afternoon at Citi Field, his third in the last week. He continues to ramp things up, but given the fact he hasn’t missed much time

Burnett and Latos appreciative of chance to return to majors

NEW YORK - Sean Burnett and Mat Latos each has been a successful big league pitcher, yet each found himself on the outside looking in all summer, for different reasons. So when each pitcher found himself inside the visitors clubhouse at Citi Field this afternoon, a Nationals uniform waiting in each locker, there were no shortage of emotions, not to mention some genuine gratitude for

Game 134 lineups: Nats at Mets

NEW YORK - The Nationals clubhouse at Citi Field is going to much more crowded than usual today, what with seven players added to the roster in the first round of September call-ups. And several of these guys (ie. Sean Burnett, Trevor Gott, Matt Grace) could get some significant opportunities down the stretch, potentially making their cases for spots on the postseason roster. As for

Burnett, Latos among September call-ups (den Dekker DFA)

NEW YORK - The Nationals will have their first set of September reinforcements at their disposal for tonight’s series opener against the Mets, including a pair of well-known veterans getting a shot at redemption. The club promoted seven players to the big league roster this afternoon: left-handers Sean Burnett and Matt Grace; right-handers Mat Latos, Trevor Gott and Rafael Martin; catcher Pedro Severino; and outfielder

September keys for the Nats as the home stretch arrives

And so September has arrived at last and the baseball season has reached the home stretch. If it feels like this has been a long time coming ... well, it has. Think about how much has happened since the Nationals left Viera for the final time and came north to open what most hoped - but weren’t certain - would be a promising season. Things

Late-summer acquisitions have boosted bullpen

PHILADELPHIA - The Nationals entered late July with a bullpen that, while successful in the big picture, featured some significant question marks. Did they need a new closer? Did they need more reliable left-handed help? Did they need a burst of energy from another young arm? One month later, as the calendar now shifts from August to September, the Nationals bullpen has been tweaked. General

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