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Gio finds his groove, bats get hot in rout over Atlanta

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Gio finds his groove, bats get hot in rout over Atlanta

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Thursday night's series opener was a blowout. Friday night's game was a nailbiting, extra-inning thriller. Now came another blowout for the Nationals against a Braves ballclub in complete disarray.

The Nationals' bats broke out once again, this time against Shelby Miller, whose hard-luck season reached a new low when he allowed seven earned runs in only 4 1/3 innings, even though six of those could be directly attributed to shaky defense behind him. Bryce Harper launched another home run, then added two doubles for good measure. Ian Desmond had three hits. Ryan Zimmerman drove in another two runs to continue his torrid RBI streak.

Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, was the sharpest he's been in weeks, tossing six scoreless innings and allowing only two hits while striking out 10 before handing things over to the Nationals bullpen, which closed this one out with ease, sending the Braves to their 11th straight loss and 18th in their last 19 games.

The Nats, on the other hand, have now won 12 of their last 18 games, keeping pressure on the Mets, who also won in a rout tonight in Miami. The deficit in the NL East remains 5 games heading into Sunday's series finale, the final precursor to next week's showdown at Nationals Park.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It feels like Harper is coming up with new ways every night to impress you at the plate. He had the 4-walk, 4-run, 0-swing game on Thursday. Then he hit the longest homer of his career Friday night. Now he put together another impressive performance in Game 3 of the weekend series. Harper went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a homer that capped what might've been the best at-bat of his career. Harper was down 0-2 to Miller, then fouled off four pitches while working the count full, then somehow managed to launch a 95-mph cutter at his knees into the Red Porch seats for his 33rd homer of the season. Later in the game, he fumed at plate umpire Jerry Meals over borderline strike calls on 3-0 and 3-1 pitches. So how did he respond? By roping a double on the 3-2 pitch.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: It's been an erratic summer for Gonzalez, who entered this one having won only once in his last seven starts. There were still some erratic moments tonight, in the form of four walks, but there was a lot more good than bad. Gonzalez tossed six innings of scoreless ball, carrying a no-hitter into the top of the sixth. He also struck out 10, using his fastball particularly well this time. For the Nationals to make a real run down the stretch, they're going to need all five of their starters performing up to capability. This was an encouraging sign Gonzalez could still have that in him.

KEY STAT: From Aug. 22, 2012-June 20, 2014, the Nationals went 7-24 against the Braves. Since then, they've gone 19-7, including 12-3 this season.

UP NEXT: The Nationals will got for the 4-game sweep at 1:35 p.m. Sunday, with Joe Ross (5-5, 3.50) facing Braves lefty Manny Bañelos (1-3, 3.33).

MORE NATIONALS: Barrett begins long road back from complex elbow surgery

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

MORE NATIONALS: FULL 2018 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

RELATED: 2018 MLB BETTING ODDS

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

It's 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