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Duke, Garcia added to bullpen

Duke, Garcia added to bullpen

As well as each was pitching all summer at Class AAA Syracuse, neither Zach Duke nor Christian Garcia ever gave serious thought to the possibility of getting promoted to join the Nationals before season's end.

Not that they hadn't performed well enough to merit consideration for a promotion. But with the Nationals posting baseball's best record behind the sport's best pitching staff -- and considering neither held a spot on the organization's 40-man roster -- they knew the odds were slim at best their services would be needed at the big-league level.

That only made the experience of donning Nationals caps and jerseys for the first time this morning sweeter for both players. Each had his contract purchased and was promoted to Washington for the remainder of the season.

"I knew the way these guys were throwing up here that for me to get called up there'd have to be an injury -- or probably two or three injuries -- so I didn't expect to be called up," Duke said. "It was pretty shocking and very overwhelming. ... I'm just so thankful for it."

"To be with guys as talented as everybody in here, it's an honor just to be able to put their jersey on," Garcia said. "Knowing they're in first place, trying to clinch a playoff spot, it's an honor."

Each player's promotion is testament to perseverance, because each took a long road to reach this juncture.

Duke, 29, owns 48 big-league wins and a 2009 All-Star selection with the Pirates, but after getting released by the Astros at the end of spring training had only one offer for a minor-league contract: from the Nationals. He reported to Syracuse and proceeded to go 15-5 with a 3.51 ERA in 26 starts.

There's no room for Duke in the Nationals' rotation; even with Stephen Strasburg's pending shutdown, only fellow lefty John Lannan will be needed to make a couple of spot starts down the stretch. But manager Davey Johnson plans to use Duke out of his bullpen, perhaps needing the left-hander to record a key out or two at some point.

Duke, who has some relief experience with the Diamondbacks, insists he'll contribute any way he can, ecstatic simply to be given the opportunity to don a major-league uniform again after not knowing if it would ever happen again.

"When you get released from a team like Houston who has the worst record in baseball, it doesn't look really good for you," he said. "The Nationals still believed in me, gave me a shot, and it worked out."

Garcia, 27, is a big leaguer for the first time after a long and arduous road that included two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow. A third-round pick of the Yankees in the 2004 draft, he signed with the Nationals last year and worked his way up from short-season Class A Auburn to Class AAA, where he posted a 0.56 ERA in 27 games.

Having made a career-high 45 relief appearances this season, Garcia is in uncharted waters. He's not worried, though, about fatigue down the stretch, certainly not given the opportunity he's now been given.

"I feel great," he said. "I feel healthy, 100 percent. I'm not tired at all. I think I just got another shot of life getting up here."

The Nationals had only 39 players on their 40-man roster at the start of the day, so there was room for one of the additions. Another spot was created when reliever Henry Rodriguez (who had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow) was transferred to the 60-day DL.

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

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Nationals Game 5 meltdown yet another reminder why D.C. can't have nice things

On Thursday night, a Washington, D.C. pro sports team did something Washington, D.C. pro sports teams are very good at doing: fall short of making a league or championship game.

The Nationals' disastrous fifth inning against the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series was the beginning of the end, not to mention yet another in a long line of disappointing playoff results for Washington, D.C. sports teams.

You see, Washington, D.C. is the only city with at least three major pro sports teams to not have a single one make a conference or league championship game since 2000.

To make matters worse, Washington, D.C. sports teams have now lost 16 consecutive playoff games in which a win would've advanced the team to the conference or league championship. 

Think about that for a second. Four teams. Zero conference championship appearances since 1998. 

Here's the list.

Washington, D.C. sports fans are not greedy. We can't be. We've had some very good teams recently, with the type of talent, coaching and intangibles needed to win a championship. 

TRY THIS: 20 THINGS DC SPORTS FANS SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT. YES, HAPPY.

The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team won a world championship was in 1992 when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI.  The last time a major Washington, D.C. pro sports team even made a conference championship game was in 1998, when the Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, defeating the Sabres to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington, D.C. isn't allowed to have nice sports things.

Sure, we have great players and great teams, but when the playoffs roll around, all the nice things go away. We aren't privy to plucky upstarts who run the table and we aren't privy to dominant teams that make long postseason runs.

Washington, D.C. will have its day, eventually. Sure it may only be a conference championship appearance, but for us, that's fine. We don't expect world championships. We just want something to get invested in.

Early playoff exits are rarely worth the investment.

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With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

With contractual decisions looming, Nats missed chance at stress-free World Series run

"This is the year."

That's the motto for almost every D.C. sports fan when their team is headed for the postseason.

The Nats led a weak NL East the entire season and clinched a spot to play October baseball early into September.

RELATED: COUNTLESS ERRORS DOOM NATIONALS IN SEASON-ENDING LOSS

The team overcame the obstacle of being plagued with injuries and with pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer having a strong bullpen to back them up, the stars were aligning for the team to go all the way.

But now with players like Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy having contracts up for grabs in 2019, Nationals reporter Chelsea Janes says 2017 was really the last chance for the team to win a stress-free title.

"I think those questions you've raised like Bryce [Harper's] contract, [Daniel} Murphy may be leaving, you know Rizzo's contract's up after next year, I think those are the things they didn't have to deal with this year that made this such a free chance," Janes said on the Sports Junkies Friday.

"It was a free chance to just feel good and do it now and not have everyone say this is your absolute last chance, and next year it's their absolute last chance for a little while, I think."

"I mean they're not going to be awful in '19, but they're going to be different and I think they've sort of wasted their free pass here and there's legitimate and kind of unrelenting pressure on them next year to make it happen."

It's hard to make sense of what a team will look like one day after a devastating series loss. One thing that is fairly certain is that time is ticking for the Nats to make it happen with arguably the most talented group of players they've ever had.