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Harper homers as Nationals top Marlins in series opener

Harper homers as Nationals top Marlins in series opener

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 win over the Miami Marlins on Friday night at Nationals Park: 

How it happened: Teams may not want to pitch to Bryce Harper these days, but sometimes they have little choice. That was the case on Friday night for the Marlins who watched Harper approach the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning with Anthony Rendon on first and no outs in a tied game. If they walked him, as they had already done twice on the evening, they would have been testing their luck with the go-ahead run on second and the scorching hot Daniel Murphy up to bat.

So, they instead had reliever Kyle Barraclough pitch to Harper and, well, the results were not pretty. Harper launched a two-run homer - his 11th of the season - to right field on a full count slider to set the stage for their 22nd victory of the season. 

The Marlins cut the lead to 4-3 in the eighth against Blake Treinen as Giancarlo Stanton doubled and then scored on a groundout by Chris Johnson. But Chris Heisey added another run with his fourth homer in the eighth and Felipe Rivero and Jonathan Papelbon held it down in the ninth to secure a 5-3 victory.

What it means: The Nationals are now 22-13 on the season and winners of three of their last four overall. They are 4-3 against the Marlins this season and have won three of their last four. 

Just like they Drew it up: Stephen Drew hit his second homer of the season to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth and it came at a time both managers were doing a lot of tinkering. Dusty Baker brought in Drew to pinch-hit, so Don Mattingly called on Bryan Morris to face him. Drew promptly launched a 2-1 sinker over the right field fence to make it 2-2. It was the fifth pinch-hit homer for the Nats this year. Heisey's blast gave them six on the season. Heisey already has three pinch-hit homers. This was the first time in Nats history they hit two pinch-hit homers in the same game.

Gio's up-and-down day: Gio Gonzalez was charged with zero earned runs on Friday night, and he was much better than his last time out in Chicago, but it wasn't exactly a dominant outing for the Nats' lefty. He was pulled in the sixth inning after he loaded the bases with no outs. He gave up six hits and two walks and threw total 106 pitches. Gonzalez wasn't sharp, but to his credit, the Marlins did not make very good contact off him all night. The hardest hit ball was probably a flyout by Martin Prado that Jayson Werth leaped to catch at the wall in the top of the fourth.

Murphy's costly errors: The Marlins broke a scoreless tie in the top of the fifth inning with help from two errors at second base by Daniel Murphy. Following a Marcell Ozuna leadoff walk, Murphy allowed Chris Johnson to reach when he booted a routine grounder. Two batters later he made an errant throw to first base on an infield single by Miguel Rojas that brought home two runs. The ball ricocheted off Gonzalez' glove at first base and bounced to the steps of the Nats' dugout. Ryan Zimmerman retrieved it too late as Ozuna and Johnson came home to score, both representing unearned runs. The errors helped cause Gonzalez to throw 39 pitches in the inning.

Lobaton thrown out at home: The Nats had a good chance to score in the bottom of the second after Jose Lobaton drew a two-out walk before Gonzalez roped a double to left-center field. Lobaton was waved in all the way around from first, only to be thrown out at home on a relay by Adeiny Hechavarria. It was the second time this week a Nats catcher has been caught at home after getting sent by third base coach Bob Henley, as Wilson Ramos also got gunned out on Tuesday.

What's next: The Nats have a quick turnaround before a split doubleheader on Saturday. Stephen Strasburg (5-0, 2.76) will start the 1:05 p.m. game while Tanner Roark (2-2, 2.03) will get the 7:05 night cap. Lefty Justin Nicolino (2-0, 2.79) will start the first one for the Marlins with 24-year-old Kendry Flores pitching the second one. He is getting called up from Triple-A New Orleans to make his season debut.

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

Its 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