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Nats back on precipice of 1st place

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Nats back on precipice of 1st place

On the morning of April 28, the Nationals appeared to be a mess, stuck in a 6-game losing streak, owning a 7-13 record and sitting a full 8 games behind the Mets in the NL East. Nobody truly believed this team wouldn't be able to make up ground over time, but everybody seemed to recognize it wouldn't happen overnight.

Turns out everybody was right. The Nationals didn't make up all that ground overnight. They did it in 17 days.

Friday night's 10-0 shellacking of the Padres, coupled with the Mets' fifth straight loss, leaves the Nationals on the precipice of first place in the NL East again. They now sit a mere 1/2-game back, having made up 7 1/2 games in the standings in only 17 days.

That's an incredibly short amount of time to make up that much ground. It's the same number of days it took the Phillies to make up 7 games on the Mets down the stretch in 2007 and capture the division title, considered one of the biggest collapses in recent baseball history.

There is so much baseball left to be played, and who knows how that will all play out. But for now, just appreciate how quickly the Nationals righted their ship, bouncing back from a 7-13 start to win 13 of their next 17 and put themselves on the brink of leapfrogging the Mets.

Some more observations from last night's game...

Bryce Harper remains red-hot
With a fourth-inning home run to right field, Harper continued his torrid streak at the plate. He now has eight homers and 18 RBI in his last nine games, eight homers in his last 32 at-bats, to go along with eight walks and a 2.000 OPS.

It's a ridiculously hot stretch for the young slugger, but it's starting to get to the point where it's turning into more than just a mere hot stretch. It does make you wonder: At what point is this no longer a streak and instead just what Bryce Harper really is?

Let's look farther back than these nine games, farther back even than this season, farther back even than last October. Let's go all the way back to last September, once Harper appeared to be fully healed from his thumb surgery earlier in the season.

Harper has played 65 games since Sept. 1, 2014, during which time he has hit .306 with 16 homers, a .421 on-base percentage, .584 slugging percentage and 1.004 OPS. Aside from batting average, he ranks in the top five in baseball in all of those categories since that date.

Point is, Harper isn't just hot right now. He's been doing this, basically, for nearly half a season's worth of games.

Jayson Werth appears to be OK after getting hit in the wrist
The sight of Werth going down in obvious pain after taking a pitch off his left wrist in the second inning was harrowing for plenty of people. That's the same wrist Werth has injured several times in his carer, including that play in right field in May 2012 in which the wrist broke.

Werth remained in the game to run the bases, but he didn't take the field for the bottom of the inning, and that surely raised some red flags. The good news, though: Matt Williams told reporters after the game that X-rays came back negative and Werth will be re-evaluated Saturday. He may need to miss a day or two, but it looks like he dodged a major injury this time.

A.J. Cole was much, much better in his second career appearance
The Nationals' resurgence came after Cole was bashed around by the Braves for nine runs in only two innings his MLB debut on April 28. Cole was sent back to Class AAA Syracuse after that game, and you couldn't help but wonder if the negative experience would weigh on him for some time.

Well, the right-hander returned Friday night, called up to take Doug Fister's roster spot, and he came in out of the bullpen in relief of Jordan Zimmermann. And did a very nice job.

Cole tossed three scoreless innings, facing only 10 total batters, allowing just one to reach base. He threw 23 of his 37 pitches for strikes and wound up earning the save (which is automatic when a reliever tosses three innings to close out a win for his team).

It's unclear how Cole will be used for now; because of a pair of off-days coming up, the Nationals only need four starters for the time being. Cole could remain and pitch out of the bullpen. More likely, he would seem to be a logical candidate for demotion when Casey Janssen comes off the DL, perhaps as soon as Tuesday.

Whatever the case, it was nice to see Cole return to a big-league mound and enjoy some real success after his disastrous debut last month.

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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