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Gio Gonzalez gives up 5 in 1st of 11-8 loss to Pirates

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USA TODAY Sports

Gio Gonzalez gives up 5 in 1st of 11-8 loss to Pirates

WASHINGTON -- Gio Gonzalez gave up five runs in the first inning of yet another concerning outing for a Washington Nationals starting pitcher, and the NL East champions wrapped up the regular season Sunday with an 11-8 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Gonzalez (15-9) needed 39 pitches across 16 arduous minutes to record the game's first three outs, while his ERA rose from 2.75 to 2.96 just in that opening inning. The Pirates batted around as the lefty walked two batters, hit Jordan Luplow to force in a run with the bases loaded and allowed Max Moroff's three-run double along with Jacob Stallings' RBI single.

This came a day after 2016 NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer left his last pre-playoffs start for Washington in the fourth inning after feeling something wrong with his right hamstring. At least Scherzer sounded optimistic about things Sunday, saying that an MRI exam showed he had only "tweaked" his muscle, not strained it.

Gonzalez wound up going only 4 1-3 innings, allowing six runs, seven hits and three walks. It was his shortest appearance of a bounce-back season after going 11-11 with a 4.57 ERA in 2016 and part of a downward trend of late: Four of Gonzalez's last five starts lasted five innings or fewer. Only one other time all year did he depart that quickly, way back on May 3.

This time, Gonzalez left after serving up three consecutive hits in the fifth.

Just to introduce another element of uncertainty from a game that didn't matter for either team, Tanner Roark -- slated to join Stephen Strasburg, Scherzer and Gonzalez in Washington's postseason rotation -- entered in the sixth and promptly gave up two runs, three hits and a walk in his one-inning tuneup.

Hardly the preferred sort of preparation before facing the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs in an NL Division series that starts in the nation's capital in less than a week.

Washington's hitters did not exactly look ready for prime time for much of the day, either: They went 0 for 7 with the bases loaded, including a strikeout and groundout by Trea Turner, and a groundout by Bryce Harper.

Angel Sanchez (1-0) earned his first big league win with two shutout innings in relief. George Kontos got the final out for his first save in 322 appearances in the majors.

Washington's Anthony Rendon hit a three-run shot off in the first, his 25th homer of the year. Michael A. Taylor added his 19th homer in the seventh; he was hit by a pitch on his right hand in the eighth.

There was a welcome sight for Washington in the seventh: Harper racing home from first -- hair in full flow -- on Adrian Sanchez's double, showing no signs of trouble from the hyperextended left knee that landed the 2015 NL MVP on the DL for 42 games.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker pulled regulars at the start of innings, letting them join teammates on the field before being substituted while spectators responded with ovations.

Right fielder Harper left in the top of the eighth, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (.303, 36 homers, 108 RBIs a year after .218, 15, 46) in the fourth, third baseman Rendon in the fifth, second baseman Daniel Murphy in the sixth and left fielder Jayson Werth in the ninth.

GOODBYE WERTH?

In the last regular-season game of Werth's $126 million, seven-year contract, he was greeted by a standing ovation from some in the announced crowd of 36,652 before his first at-bat. A video montage played on the scoreboard above center field and fans held signs saluting him, including one that read, "Thank you, Jayson." Werth doffed his batting helmet to the crowd before his final at-bat. When he jogged off the field in the ninth, Harper met him outside the dugout for a hug.

LONG DAY'S NIGHT

The time of 4 hours, 22 minutes made this the longest nine-inning regular-season game, by time, in both Pirates and Nationals history.

ATTENDANCE

The Nationals finished with a total home attendance of 2,524,980 in 2017, an average of 31,173.

UP NEXT

Pirates: Season ends with a 75-87 record, slightly worse than last year's 78-83. Pittsburgh hasn't had this few wins since going 72-90 in 2010, manager Clint Hurdle's first season.

Nationals: Host the NL Central champion Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. Washington went 97-65, two more wins than a year ago and one short of the Nationals-best 98 in 2012.

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Will Mike Rizzo continue to shape the Nationals? The Junkies believe he's too valuable to lose

Will Mike Rizzo continue to shape the Nationals? The Junkies believe he's too valuable to lose

Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Wieters aren't the only important guys within the Nationals organization becoming free agents in 2019.

President of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo is also becoming a free agent when his contract expires on October 31st.

In the final year of his five-year contract, the 57-year old is set to make $2.5 million.

RELATED: HOWIE KENDRICK RETURNING TO NATIONALS

Since joining the organization, Rizzo has turned the team into a legit World Series contender. They've won four division titles in the last six years under his guidance, but have been unable to get over the NL Division series hump. And even though that's a glaring red mark on his resume, Rizzo knows the success he's brought to the organization. 

When you look at what we accomplished,’’ Mike Rizzo said in a recent interview, “it’s really unsung and underappreciated. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished here. I like it here. I love the city. I love the team I put together. I like being a GM in the NL East. And I want to stay here. I just think I deserve to be treated like some of the best GMs in the game are, too.

Rizzo is talking about GM's like Cubs' Theo Epstein and Yankees' Brian Cashman, who've received big paydays over the last year.

I know we haven’t won the World Series, but I get tired of hearing how we can’t win the big one, or we can’t get out of the first round. We haven’t had that many chances.

Does Rizzo deserve an extension? The Sports Junkies think he does, but with GM's like the ones above cashing out, they can also see him wanting to test the open market.

"Why wouldn't they?", said Jason Bishop, noting his track record.

"There's a sense he wants to test the market," said Eric Bickel. That's the vibe I'm getting from him."

Rizzo is a weekly guest on the Junkies and has said that the organization will figure it out. However, the 2018 season may be the last time for a long time the Nats have a real shot at making a run before they lose some of their stars to other teams. If Rizzo does take that into consideration and decides to go elsewhere, the Junkies don't see him having any issues finding employment.

"If there was a time to roll, it would be after this season when you get your last run with this group," said Eric Bickel. And then If they don't pay you what you think you deserve, he'll be snatched up in 22 seconds."

RELATED: BEST OF NATS' RACING PRESIDENT TRYOUTS

If they do decide to sign him to an extension, will it be a long, drawn-out ordeal? The Junkies disagree on that one. 

"He is too valuable, Jason Bishop said. He's too valuable. You gotta ink him to a deal sometime during the season."

Luckily for D.C. sports fans, long, drawn-out extension talks aren't foreign to them.

To see their full discussion, click the media player above. 

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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick for two-years

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Nationals re-sign Howie Kendrick for two-years

WASHINGTON  -- The Nationals have agreed to a $7 million, two-year contract with outfielder Howie Kendrick, a deal subject to a successful physical.

Agent Pat Murphy confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on Monday. USA Today was first to report the deal.

Kendrick, 34, hit .293 with seven home runs and RBIs in 52 games with Washington after he was acquired from Philadelphia. The versatile right-handed hitter got just three plate appearances off the bench in the playoffs.

In 12 major league seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Dodgers, Phillies and Nationals, Kendrick is a .291 hitter with a .755 OPS. He's now primarily an outfielder for Washington after playing left field, second base, first base and other positions throughout his career.