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Murphy drives in go-ahead run in Nats' Opening Day win at Braves

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Murphy drives in go-ahead run in Nats' Opening Day win at Braves

ATLANTA — Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on Opening Day 2016:

How it happened: The Nationals waited six months this offseason to play another baseball game that mattered, and Dusty Baker waited two years to return to an MLB dugout, but their first game of 2016 may have provided enough action, and enough twist and turns to make up for all that time off. This one saw the Nationals lose two leads on homers against Max Scherzer, then saw their bullpen - much-maligned last season - collapse in the eighth. That was all before a game-tying sacrifice fly by Michael Taylor in the ninth and an RBI double in the 10th by offseason acquisition Daniel Murphy, the difference in a 4-3 victory at the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day of 2016.

What it means: The Nationals came away with the win, but the biggest takeaway for them may be the mess their bullpen created in the eighth inning. That's because their relief corps was their biggest weakness in 2015 and their biggest point of emphasis this offseason. Shawn Kelley was one of several veterans they signed in free agency and his first outing with the Nats was a forgettable one. He and Felipe Rivero combined for a disastrous eighth inning with Kelley walking in a run on a wild pitch. Rivero and Kelley are both considered on the short-list of relievers Baker can count on in big moments late in games. There is no reason to overanalyze one game out of 162, but the issues they faced in Game 1 may end up speaking to a larger problem.

Rivero's audition not a good one: Baker has stopped short of declaring roles for his bullpen outside of closer Jonathan Papelbon, saying several times he needs to see his relievers in game situations before sorting all of that out. He needs to see them tested. Well, Rivero got tested on Monday and his first go at it was quite rough. He pitched the eighth and began with a strikeout, but then walked Jeff Francoeur, allowed a single to Ender Inciarte and then hit Freddie Freeman on the hand to load the bases. This was with the game tied at 2-2 and it convinced Baker to pull the lefty for Kelley, who walked home a run on a pitch in the dirt. His first pitch of the at-bat against Adonis Garcia - the only batter he faced - bounced about five feet short of home.

Scherzer's homer issues persist: The biggest thing Scherzer wanted to work on this winter was cutting down on home runs, as he gave up 27 in 2015, the second-most of his career and nine more than he allowed in 2014 with the Tigers. On Monday he gave up two homers in his first 3 1/3 innings pitched. The first was to Freeman in the first inning. That was actually the first time the two stars had ever faced off in the regular season. Scherzer then served another one up to Garcia in the fourth inning.

Harper homers in first at-bat: Well, that didn't take long. Harper worked an eight-pitch at-bat in his first plate appearance of 2016 before launching a high-flying bomb to right field off Braves starter Julio Teheran. It came on an 84 mile per hour slider and was just the latest in what has become a trend for Harper. That was his fourth Opening Day homer, which is already halfway to the all-time mark held by Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Adam Dunn. He is the first Nationals player to homer on consecutive Opening Days and the third in franchise history behind Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Carter. It was Harper's 98th career home run, which inches him closer to some even more exclusive company. Harper got to No. 98 at 23 years and 171 years old. Albert Pujols hit No. 100 at 23.185, Hank Aaron got there at 23.191 and Griffey, Jr. reached the century mark at 23.206. Those three round out the 10-fastest players ever to hit their 100th career homer. 

Murphy makes instant impact: Murphy signed with the Nationals this winter after hitting seven homers in 14 games during a breakout postseason, and many wondered if that was just the beginning of a late-career power surge. Murphy had, after all, posted a career-high of 14 homers during the regular season, which gave him a total of 21 in 144 combined games. It looks like Murphy may have carried that over, as he homered in his second at-bat on Opening Day. He also walked in his first and third at-bats, and drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th.

Nats benefit from Utley Rule: The Nationals came out on the positive end of a new MLB rule in the seventh inning as a takeout slide by Nick Markakis at second base earned them a double play. Hector Olivera hit a grounder to Anthony Rendon, who fired the ball to second. Murphy made the turn, but was late on the throw. The umps, however, thought Markakis interfered and awarded the Nats an extra out.

Revere might be injured: Ben Revere was replaced by Michael Taylor in center field in the bottom of the fourth inning with what could be an injury. We know Baker wants to find ways to get Taylor playing time, possibly as a defensive replacement, but not this early in a game. It would not be surprising if Baker revealed an injury to his leadoff hitter after the game. If that is the case, it may remind fans of Opening Day 2014 when Wilson Ramos left their game against the Mets with a broken bone in his wrist and Harper took a nasty collision at second base. Just because you break camp healthy doesn't mean it will stay that way.

Up next: The Nationals have a day off before they finish their two-game series at the Atlanta Braves. Stephen Strasburg gets the start opposite Braves right-hander Bud Norris.

[RELATED: Nats' Revere on playing for Dusty Baker, wanting to meet Obama]

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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