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Gonzalez strong again, but Nats bats go cold in loss to Phillies

Gonzalez strong again, but Nats bats go cold in loss to Phillies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night at Nationals Park: 

How it happened: Wednesday was apparently turn-back-the-clock night for Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson, as the former Rookie of the Year made a vaunted Nationals lineup look adequate in their first shutout loss of the 2016 season. The right-hander had been beat around in his previous two starts, but somehow found his groove against a Nats lineup that could not provide their own starter, Gio Gonzalez, any run support. Gonzalez was also very good on Wednesday, but it's hard to win when your offense scores zero runs. The Nationals dropped their second straight game for just the second time this season and now face a potential sweep on Thursday. They have yet to be swept this season.

What it means: The Nationals are not closing this homestand like they would like and, if this is a sign of more to come, it's happening at a bad time. The Nats' road trip beginning Friday is a tough one with three games at the St. Louis Cardinals, three more at the Kansas City Royals and then four at the Chicago Cubs. Going into that type of stretch, the Nats would prefer to be riding high, but they are not trending in the right direction. And with the Mets' win over the Reds on Wednesday, the Nats are now just one game ahead of New York in the NL East.

Gio continues strong start: Gonzalez has enjoyed some good years in Washington, but never has he started a season with the Nats quite like this. The lefty put in another solid start on Wednesday night with two runs allowed (one earned) through 6 1/3 innings on five hits and three walks.. Gio now holds a 1.42 ERA after four starts with at least six innings pitched in each of those outings. That's the best ERA he's ever had through four starts in a season. He had a 1.52 ERA in 2012 at this point and that year he made the All-Star team and went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA. His third-best ERA at this juncture was 2011 when he held a 1.80 mark after four starts. That was the other year he made the All-Star team. Now, his numbers this year may be a tad misleading given the opponents he has faced. The combined record of Gio's four opponents so far is 33-50 (.397). His next two starts will be at the Royals and at the Cubs. Can he keep it up? They should prove a good test.

Zim keeps struggling: Ryan Zimmerman has at times this season looked like the perfect complement to Bryce Harper as the Nats' cleanup hitter, a guy who can protect the reigning MVP and force lineups to pick their poison. Zim, though, has gone super cold in recent days and on Wednesday went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He had an RBI in Tuesday night's game, but is now 2-for-15 in his last three outings. After beginning the season with hits in his first four games, he's now 9-for-48 (.187) in his last 12. Wednesday night saw Zimmerman strike out to end the first with Harper on second and fly out to end the sixth with Harper on first. It's not often you see Zimmerman go through a prolonged slump like this.

Hellickson too much: Hellickson set a season-high in strikeouts just 4 1/3 innings into his start and ended up going seven scoreless with two hits and three walks allowed. Hellickson finished with eight strikeouts including one against Harper, just his 10th of the season. Hellickson, in fact, set Harper, Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy all down with strikeouts in the fourth inning. It was a surprisingly dominant outing from the Phillies pitcher who entered the day holding a 5.21 ERA.

Up next: The Nationals close out there series with the Phillies on Thursday with a 4:05 p.m. first pitch. Tanner Roark (2-2, 2.63) will start for the Nats with right-hander Aaron Nola (1-2, 4.50) set to pitch for Philly.

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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

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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