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Harper heating up again

Harper heating up again

You know that prolonged slump Bryce Harper has been in for months now, the one that turned his much-ballyhooed rookie season into nothing more than a pedestrian campaign?

This just in: The kid is heating up again, and last night's two-homer performance during the Nationals' 8-4 victory in Miami was only the latest example.

Yep, over his last 11 games, Harper is hitting .293, slugging .610 and posting a .920 OPS that has suddenly turned him into a formidable threat at the plate again.

Sure, there have been some less-than-spectacular performances during that span. His golden sombrero last week against the Braves was certainly a low point. But as he displayed last night, Harper is always a threat to do something significant when he steps to the plate with bat in hand.

He's also a threat to do something that rubs someone the wrong way. That someone last night was first base umpire C.B. Bucknor, who ejected Harper after he threw his helmet to the ground upon hitting into a double play in the top of the ninth.

(By the way, was that the first-ever example of the Bryce Harper Hat Trick: two homers and an ejection? Or should that honor need to include one homer, one outfield assist and one ejection?)

Was Bucknor justified in giving the Harper the heave-ho? He didn't appear to be, unless the player said something directed at the umpire. It looked like Harper merely was upset at himself for grounding into that double play and spiked his helmet out of frustration, not a reaction to anything Bucknor did or said.

At the same time, Harper knows by now he's not being judged like any other rookie in the big leagues. His reputation precedes him, fair or unfair, and he's probably being held to a higher standard than anyone else in the sport.

It's unfortunate, but it's reality. And the sooner Harper accepts that, the better off he and the Nationals will be.

Look, he may go through slumps at the plate. But he's still doing things few 19-year-olds have ever done in this sport. The only teenagers ever to hit more than Harper's 14 home runs: Tony Conigliaro (24), Mel Ott (18) and Ken Griffey Jr. (16). He's scored more runs (69) than any teenager since 1940 and legged out more triples (six) than any since 1936.

Harper has made significant contributions to a Nationals club that has sat in first place nearly every day since he arrived, and this team is going to continue to need his contributions down the stretch.

If he can keep driving the ball the way he has over the last two weeks, and if he can keep his emotions in check, Harper will wind up playing as big a role on a pennant contender as any teenager since Mickey Mantle with the 1951 Yankees.

That's no small feat.

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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.