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Harper homers, but Nats bullpen cracks in walk-off loss to Braves

Harper homers, but Nats bullpen cracks in walk-off loss to Braves

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves in extra innings on Sunday afternoon at Turner Field.

How it happened: With their bullpen already taxed, the Nationals saw a confluence of events go against their will on Sunday in their walk-off loss to the Atlanta Braves.

First, starter Gio Gonzalez' pitch count soared early, forcing him to be replaced after just 5 2/3 innings. Then, a rain delay limited his replacement, longman Yusmeiro Petit, to just 1 1/3 innings. Along the way the team played uncharacteristically bad defense to put even more pressure on their pitching staff. And then, for good measure, the game went into extra innings. None of that would be ideal on any day, but it was especially troubling after a week in which manager Dusty Baker's bullpen was taken to their max. 

The final result was a 7-6 loss for the Nationals, as Jace Peterson took Shawn Kelley deep for a solo homer in the 10th inning. That allowed the Braves to prevent the sweep and snap a three-game winning streak for the Nats.

That was the bad news, but there was some good for the Nats, particularly on offense. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman continued to hit well. Harper obliterated a three-run homer in the third inning and also singled, while Zimmerman singled, walked and scored.

That capped a big weekend for both players and the Nats' offense as a whole. Chris Heisey hit a two-run homer, his eighth of the season. Daniel Murphy drove in his 89th RBI on a fielder's choice groundball. Even Gonzalez pitched in with a career-high two hits.

Gonzalez didn't have the greatest day on the mound with four runs (3 ER) on six hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. Petit gave up two more runs, one of them earned. Blake Treinen tossed two scoreless frames, but that was before Kelley took the mound and let the game slip away.

What it means: The Nats fell to 73-50 on the season and just barely missed securing their ninth sweep of 2016.

Nats commit five errors: One of the four runs Gonzalez allowed was unearned due to an error by Trea Turner in center field. Turner botched the transfer after catching a flyball and allowed Nick Markakis to easily tag up and score from third. It's possible Turner wouldn't have made the play anyways, but he was charged with the error, his second of the season. That was, in fact, was just one of five made by the Nats as a team on Sunday. That's a season-high and the most committed by the Nats since July 15, 2011.

Danny Espinosa had two, while Murphy and Petit each had one. Espinosa now has 13 errors on the season, most on the Nats. Murphy is a distant second with seven. Espinosa is now just one error away from tying the career-high of 14 he set back in 2011. He's got the seventh-most of all NL players. Those facts are ominous, but it's important to note that this is likely just a product of him playing shortstop for a full season for the first time in his career. There are six MLB shortstops that have more errors than Espinosa right now. He may not win a Gold Glove this year, but he has not been a defensive liability by any stretch.

Harper hits No. 22: The sample size for Harper since he returned is larger than Zimmerman, as the reigning MVP has now appeared in eight games since missing a week with his neck issue. Harper has made an impact in each of those outings and since his return has hit 12-for-30 (.400) with two homers, 11 RBI, three doubles and eight runs. 

For much of the time Harper was struggling - through May, June and July - he was still getting on base, scoring runs and playing good defense. This last week-plus, though, is the most consistent production he's put together since April, when he was NL player of the month. He's reached base in all eight games and has recorded at least one RBI and a walk in seven of them.

Zimmerman stays hot: Zimmerman followed up his three-hit performance on Saturday night with another strong outing. He singled in the second inning off Braves starter Joel De La Cruz, then walked in the sixth to set up Heisey's two-run shot. Zimmerman is 4-for-8 since his return, and his numbers look good going back even further than that. Granted, there were two disabled list stints that interrupted this stretch, but Zimmerman is 12-for-35 (.343) with nine runs scored in 10 games dating back to July 5.

Up next: The Nats continue their trip with two more games on the road in Baltimore. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. on Monday night with Stephen Strasburg (15-4, 3.59) set to square off with Orioles' former fourth overall pick Dylan Bundy (6-4, 3.36).

[RELATED: Zimmerman, Lobaton activated off DL]

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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