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den Dekker gets the big hit as Nats win Strasburg's 2016 debut

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den Dekker gets the big hit as Nats win Strasburg's 2016 debut

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field in their second game of 2016:

How it happened: Sometimes big plays can come from the places you least expect and that was true for the Nationals on Wednesday. Left off the Opening Day roster, Matt den Dekker was called up earlier on Wednesday afternoon to replace Ben Revere, and he arrived just in time to notch the go-ahead RBI in the Nats' 3-1 win over the Braves. That made the difference on a night the Nationals' offense otherwise struggled, and it helped award Stephen Strasburg the win in his first appearance of the 2016 season. Jonathan Papelbon also recorded his second save just in time for his official return to Nationals Park for the home opener. Will that make the home fans be nice to him during introductions? We'll see.

What it means: The Nationals are off to a good start with two wins against a team they should beat up on a lot this season. The opener may have been a difficult one to pull out, but the Nats can now turn to their first homestand against the Marlins and then Braves again. The Braves will play four at Nationals Park before the Nats go to Philly.

den Dekker comes through: With Revere landing on the disabled list earlier with a right oblique strain, den Dekker was called up from Triple-A Syracuse to take his place and a late arrival at the stadium prevented him from taking his normal batting practice. But that apparently did not matter, as the outfielder came up huge as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. He delivered the most costly strike against Braves' starter Bud Norris, a two-RBI double off the wall in right-center field. den Dekker brought home both Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa to give the Nationals a 3-1 lead.

Strasburg sets record in strong outing: Strasburg may look on the three walks he issued with regret, but overall it was a very solid season debut for the Nationals' right-hander. Strasburg went six innings, allowing just one run off six hits with four strikeouts. The lone run he gave up was in the fourth inning on an RBI single by A.J. Pierzynski. That hit came after back-to-back walks to Nick Markakis and Hector Olivera. Strasburg's second strikeout broke Jordan Zimmermann's all-time team record for career strikeouts. The previous mark was 903, but Strasburg now has the most with 906.

Rivero and Kelley much better this time: We saw Nats relievers Felipe Rivero and Shawn Kelley combine to pitch an inning for the second straight game, but this time the results were much different. Kelley again faced one batter, this time starting off the seventh inning by getting Olivera to fly out. Rivero took over from there and got a quick groundout by Pierzynski before he struck out Gordon Beckham. Rivero then went back out there for the eighth and got three uneventful outs. It was a nice rebound for the pair of Nats' pitchers who had a lot of time to think about their disappointing debuts with the off-day on Tuesday.

Early impressions of new-look Braves: The Braves underwent another offseason of significant change and through just two games it's hard to get a full read on them, despite the fact they played the Nats closely. Here are a few thoughts, however. For one, Ender Inciarte is pretty darn good. He was acquired in the Shelby Miller trade with Arizona that also netted the Braves Dansby Swanson, the reigning No. 1 overall pick. Inciarte is an elite defensive center fielder and hit .303 last year. Bud Norris ran into some trouble in the seventh, but overall had a nice debut. He may be back to his 2014 form. Erick Aybar, though, might be a problem for Atlanta at shortstop. There is a noticeable drop-off from Andrelton Simmons, whom they traded to the Angels this winter. Then again, there's a drop-off from Simmons to just about every other MLB shortstop when it comes to defense.

Up next: The Nationals return to Washington for their 2016 home opener. Tanner Roark gets the ball for the Nats, while lefty Adam Conley is set to start for Miami. The Marlins are still searching for their first win of the season after dropping two to the Detroit Tigers.

[RELATED: Mets minority owner & comedian Bill Maher rips Bryce Harper]

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm