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Harper's torrid tear continues in rout over Braves

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Harper's torrid tear continues in rout over Braves

There are the nights when Bryce Harper gets nothing to hit, takes his walks and leaves everything up to his teammates. And then there are the nights when Harper takes matters into his own hands and with several mighty swings of the bat authors yet another chapter to this remarkable season.

With a 3-for-4 evening that included a pair of doubles, a couple of runs scored and one epic at-bat resulting in a key home run, Harper did more than his share to lead the Nationals to an 8-2 thumping of the Braves on Saturday night, the club’s fourth straight win.

“It’s incredible to see him go out there and play the game he plays,” left-hander Gio Gonzalez said. “It’s almost like he’s got the cheat codes to a baseball game.”

Harper, as far as anybody knows, hasn’t put this MVP-caliber season together simply by pressing Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-B-A-Start before taking the field each night. He has done it via the more difficult combination of preparation, patience, aggressiveness, maturity and ultimately execution once he steps into the box.

And all of those traits were on full display during the bottom of the third Saturday night, during one of the 22-year-old’s best at-bats of the year.

Harper came to the plate with two out and a man on first, the Nationals having just taken a 2-0 lead on Shelby Miller, the Braves’ hard-luck right-hander who has pitched exceptionally well yet hasn’t earned a single win in his last 20 starts. Miller already struck out Harper in the bottom of the first, needing only three pitches to get him.

And Miller once again put himself in position to put away Harper, with a called strike and then a foul ball that had him down 0-2 in the count. Then the battle began. Harper took ball one way outside, then fouled off a high fastball followed by a low cutter followed by another high fastball. Miller’s next two pitches were well outside the zone, leaving the count full, before Harper fouled off another cutter on the outside corner, the ninth pitch of the at-bat.

“He kept fouling off pitches and gave himself a chance,” said Jayson Werth, who knows a thing or two about prolonging a plate appearance. “Sometimes in those at-bats there might be a pitch or a swing that wasn’t a good swing, but it was a good pitch so you fouled it off just to give yourself some life. Sometimes that can go a long way.”

Literally. Because on the 10th pitch of the at-bat, another cutter down but over the plate, Harper made contact and watched as the ball kept going and going to left-center field, ultimately landing in the Red Porch seats beyond the fence.

“What can you do?” Miller told reporters later. “He got under it. He has a lot of power.”

Even if his swings don’t always look like they’re designed for power.

“It’s difficult to say what’s going through his mind at that point, but it looks like he’s just trying to hit a single,” manager Matt Williams said. “That’s what it looked like. It didn’t look like he was trying to over-swing. It didn’t look like he was trying to pull the ball. He stayed on a 3-2 breaking ball and hit it to left-center. So for me, that’s what it looks like. And I think that’s the evolution. It’s continuing.”

Harper hadn’t enjoyed much success against Miller prior to that point; he had only 3 hits in 15 head-to-head at-bats, one walk and four strikeouts.

“I mean, he kind of owns me,” Harper said. “Or, he has in the past. I’ve seen him pretty well more and more, I guess, but he’s dang good out there. … I was trying to get a pitch in the zone to where I could do something with it. Got a pitch that I could hit and put it in the seats.”

That 2-run blast put the Nationals up 4-0 and set the tone for the rest of the game, but Harper wasn’t done. He doubled and scored off Miller in the fifth, then doubled again off ex-teammate Ross Detwiler in the seventh after a pair of borderline pitches called balls that left Harper fuming at plate umpire Jerry Meals.

Add this performance to his previous five, and Harper is now hitting .538 this week with a .720 on-base percentage, 1.951 OPS, two homers, five RBI and 11 walks.

Maybe he really does know the secret codes for dominance.

“Even a fire extinguisher can’t take him out,” Gonzalez said. “I think he’s scorching.”

MORE NATIONALS: Gio finds his groove, bats get hot in rout over Atlanta

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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