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Marlins 3, Nats 2: Familiar storyline leads to loss

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Marlins 3, Nats 2: Familiar storyline leads to loss

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: It's only April 24, but the Nationals recognize this 3-city, 10-game road trip through the NL East presents a real opportunity to make up some ground in the division. So they took the field at Marlins Park tonight with a sharp effort, getting dominant and efficient work from Jordan Zimmermann, some stellar defense from Denard Span and others and several quality at-bats early on. But then the game was decided late in an all-too-familiar fashion.

Bryce Harper drove in each of the Nationals' first two runs, via a sacrifice fly in the fourth and a 2-out RBI single in the sixth. The latter hit tied the game after the Marlins scored two quick runs off Zimmermann in the fifth, the only blip on the right-hander's evening.

So the Nats found themselves in a tie game late, a familiar position. And the result was familiar as well, with the lineup unable to convert prime scoring opportunities and the bullpen unable to prevent the winning run from crossing the plate. This time, it was Martin Prado's RBI single off Aaron Barrett in the bottom of the eighth that proved the difference and dealt the Nationals a frustrating loss to begin this long road trip.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Harper has impressed plenty of people early this season with some quality at-bats, showing real patience at the plate. Tonight, he put four of them together in succession. He bunted for a hit to lead off the second, drove a ball to center field for a sac fly in the fourth, sent a 2-out single to right for an RBI in the sixth and then drew a 2-out walk in the eighth. If Harper can continue to put together several strong at-bats on a given night, he really is going to do some serious damage this season.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: After getting battered around by the Red Sox and then showing uncharacteristic wildness against the Phillies, Zimmermann looked much more like himself tonight. Which is to say, he worked fast, threw strikes and got quick outs. Zimmermann needed only 79 pitches to complete six innings, failing to issue any walks. His slider was devastating early on, producing three straight strikeouts of Martin Prado, Giancarlo Stanton and Michael Morse. He easily could've come back out for the seventh, but the situation dictated that Matt Williams send up a pinch-hitter.

KEY STAT: With a fourth-inning gap shot tonight, Ryan Zimmerman notched his 300th career double. That ranks third in franchise history, behind only Tim Wallach (360) and Jose Vidro (304).

UP NEXT: Game 2 of this weekend series is a late-afternoon affair, with first pitch at 4:10 p.m. Stephen Strasburg (1-1, 4.50) faces fellow right-hander Tom Koehler (1-2, 6.75).

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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

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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