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Instant analysis: Nats 7, Pirates 4

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Instant analysis: Nats 7, Pirates 4

Game in a nutshell: Gio Gonzalez was lights-out for seven innings, striking out 10 to take over the MLB lead in that department. But the bigger story might have been the sudden outburst of power from the Nationals' often-lackluster lineup. Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady all homered, and LaRoche later added a clutch, three-run double to give the Nationals bullpen a nice cushion. Beleaguered closer Henry Rodriguez then finished it off in the ninth, earning his ninth save in 12 tries.
Hitting highlight: It seems like we write this every other night, but it bears repeating yet again: Where would the Nationals be right now without Adam LaRoche? The veteran first baseman delivered yet again, homering in the bottom of the sixth and then lacing a three-run double in the bottom of the seventh to break the game open. The 1,000th hit of LaRoche's career earned a standing ovation from the crowd of 25,942 and gave him 29 RBI for the season. That's tied with Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez for third in the National League.

Pitching highlight: The Nationals knew they were getting a good, young hurler in Gio Gonzalez, but not even GM Mike Rizzo could have expected the left-hander to be the best strikeout pitcher in baseball. With 10 Ks in seven innings against the Pirates, Gonzalez raised his season total to 60, one better than the Yankees' CC Sabathia for the major-league lead. If there was one thing to nitpick about Gio's start, though, it was the two walks he issued to light-hitting Yamaico Navarro and Rod Barajas. Both Pittsburgh batters came around to score after drawing their free passes, a good lesson for Gonzalez in the importance of keeping the ball in the strike zone.
Key stat: The only qualifying shortstop in the National League with a higher slugging percentage than Ian Desmond's .447 mark is the Cardinals' Rafael Furcal.

Up next: Jordan Zimmermann looks to even his record at 3-3 when he faces Pirates right-hander James McDonald in the finale of this abbreviated, two-game series. First pitch on Thursday is at 7:05 p.m.

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Whoa. Dusty Baker not returning as Nationals' manager. What comes next?

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Whoa. Dusty Baker not returning as Nationals' manager. What comes next?

The Washington Nationals announced Friday Dusty Baker will not return as manager of the club in 2018. 

Baker led the team to the first back-to-back division titles in franchise history, and the Nationals were 192-132 under Baker, but they failed to make it to an NLCS.

Baker is 14th in MLB history with 1,863 career wins.

The next Nationals' manager will be their seventh since they arrived in DC.

Only the Marlins have had as many.

"I'm surprised and disappointed," Baker told USA TODAY Sports. "They told me they would get back to me and I told them I was leaving town yesterday and they waited 10 days to tell me."

"I really thought this was my best year. We won at least 95 games each year and won the division back to back years but they said they wanted to go a different direction. It's hard to understand." 

The team also announced the contracts for the Major League coaching staff have also expired, and the search for a new manager will begin immediately.

RELATED: BRYCE HARPER THANKS NATIONALS' FANS FOR SUPPORT

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Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy undergoes successful knee surgery

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Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy undergoes successful knee surgery

While Nats fans were still digesting the news that Dusty Baker will not return as manager next year, the team released some more surprising news. 

Second baseman Daniel Murphy underwent knee surgery today, per an official team report. 

Washington Post reporter Chelsea Janes reported that the surgery is considered significant and the team won't put a timeline on the recovery process:

"The procedure, according to the statement released by the team, repaired articular cartilage in Murphy’s right knee. For those interested in the details, it was a debridement and microfracture surgery, and orthopedic surgeon Timothy Kremchek performed it."

"For those concerned with the implications of the procedure, those are still unclear. The statement clarified that Murphy’s rehab “will progress throughout the offseason,” as one would hope, and did not include a timetable.

RELATED: HARPER THANKS FANS FOR SUPPORT