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Nationals lineup stays red-hot in desert

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Nationals lineup stays red-hot in desert

PHOENIX — Denard Span dug in, Josh Collmenter went into his funky, tomahawk-style windup and tried to sneak an 84-mph cutter over the inner half of the plate and then the ball went soaring toward right field. The game was all of 30 seconds old, many in the Chase Field crowd of 16,406 had yet to even find their seats and already the Nationals held a 1-0 lead that boosted the already-high level of confidence brewing in the visitors’ dugout.

“When you see your leadoff guy hits a homer,” catcher Wilson Ramos said, “you say something special’s coming.”

Are 10 runs in two innings — 10 runs before they had made even five outs — special enough?

The Nationals have done their share of remarkable things over two weeks of lights-out baseball, but this stood out from the pack. In the opener of a 6-game West Coast trip, they blasted Collmenter straight out of Chase Field, gave their ace a 10-run lead and cruised the rest of Monday night to an 11-1 shellacking of the Diamondbacks.

That’s five in a row for the resurgent Nationals, who since their historic rally in Atlanta two weeks ago have won 11 of 13, turned a hand-wringing 7-13 record into a comfortable 18-15 mark and climbed to within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Mets in the NL East.

“It’s been fun, obviously,” Span said. “I think it started in Atlanta on that come-from-behind win. And I think we’ve just carried that momentum since that game and have just been finding ways to win.”

Speaking of momentum, the Nationals had plenty of it through the first two innings of Monday night’s victory. And it all began with Span, who took Collmenter’s second pitch of the game deep to right for his third homer of the season, even if he wasn’t necessarily attempting to do that.

“I’m never trying to hit home runs, to be honest with you,” he said. “He threw me … a cutter that was middle-in, and I just reacted. It’s clichéd, but I just tried to put a good swing [on it].”

Nobody sparks a lineup like a good leadoff man, and so when Span gave his team a 1-0 lead only seconds into Monday’s game, the tone for the evening was set. What transpired after that was a barrage of well-struck balls off the highly ineffective Collmenter. Yunel Escobar singled (the first of his five hits on the night). Jayson Werth drew a walk. Bryce Harper came within a couple feet of yet another home run, settling instead for a runner-advancing flyout. Ryan Zimmerman left no doubt with a towering 3-run homer to left-center, giving the Nats a 4-0 lead.

And that’s all before the second inning rolled around. That’s when they really turned it on, adding six more runs on six hits, none bigger than Ramos’ bases-clearing double down the left-field line.

“We’ve had some games where we’ve created some opportunities early and gotten one or two,” manager Matt Williams said. “But tonight we got big hits. … We got some opportunities early and took advantage.”

And nobody took more advantage of all that than Max Scherzer, who was handed the ultimate gift — a 10-run lead — but did exactly what you’re supposed to do in that situation: Go right after the opposition and not even give them a sniff of a comeback.

“The trick in these situations is, once we you get a 10-run lead like that, you can’t pitch to the scoreboard,” he said. “You’ve got to treat it like it’s a 0-0 game. The old tale is: Oh, just give them fastballs, you’re just trying to get through the lineup. No, you’ve got to still pitch. You’ve got to still throw all your off-speed. You’ve got to throw backward. You’ve got to do everything that you plan on doing before the game and still continue to do that.”

Scherzer did just that, churning out seven more quality innings, allowing only a solo homer to Jordan Pacheco to earn his third win of the season.

It’s rare that a ballclub can coast through seven innings, confident the lead it already established is large enough to hold up over a full game.

What the Nationals are doing right now, though, is rare. A lineup that averaged a meager 3.45 runs during its ragged, 20-game start to the season has now averaged 6.48 runs over is last 13 games.

And when it all comes together like it did early Monday in the hot, dry, desert air, the end result is quite something to behold.

“That was a pretty good first two innings for us,” Ramos said. “The guys are hitting very good right now. We have to keep doing the same.”

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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