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As Nats lineup slumps, reinforcements on way

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As Nats lineup slumps, reinforcements on way

The Nationals' sustained surge throughout most of May was triggered largely by offensive output, with a lineup that averaged a stout 6.7 runs during a 20-game stretch that resulted in a 16-4 record.

That lineup, though, has turned awfully quiet in the last two weeks. The Nationals suddenly find themselves in a full-blown slump at the plate, having scored an average of only 2.4 runs over their last 13 games, resulting in a 6-7 record.

And they may have hit rock bottom Wednesday night during an 8-0 loss to the Blue Jays that included a 93-pitch complete game by veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle.

"Tonight, you can throw that one out because Mark does that," manager Matt Williams said. "He throws balls down below the strike zone. It's about getting quality pitches to hit and taking advantage of opportunities. During that long [high-scoring] stretch that we had, we really took advantage of those opportunities that were presented to us. And it hasn't been as good lately. But it could start tomorrow."

Indeed, there's certainly enough talent in the Nationals lineup to believe things could begin to turn Thursday night when the Cubs come to town for a 4-game series. More specifically, though, things could begin to turn once the club's best hitter from 2014 finally makes his 2015 debut, an event that draws closer by the day.

Anthony Rendon's long rehab, first from a sprained knee ligament and then from a strained oblique muscle, is nearly complete. The young infielder has played five games in his latest stint with Class AA Harrisburg, including both ends of a doubleheader on Wednesday. He appears to have passed every physical test along the way and now simply needs to get his body and his swing in regular-season form.

Rendon's pending return should make a huge difference to the Nationals lineup.

"Sure. It makes us longer, certainly," Williams said. "And the way he played last year, the kind of hitter he is ... he does a lot of things well for us. It gives us good on-base percentage. It gives us a guy that can hit the ball the other way well. He can move the baseball. He's got some power, we all know that. So whenever that is, he'll certainly help us."

Truth be told, the absence of Rendon since March has been less damaging to the Nationals than most would have expected. Yunel Escobar's quality offensive game (.317 average, .378 on-base percentage) and comfort at third base, along with Danny Espinosa's surprise resurgence (six homers, .767 OPS) from the left side of the plate, has helped make up for the loss.

But lest anyone forget, Rendon was one of the best players in the NL last season (he finished fifth in MVP balloting) and the best player on the Nationals, without question. He'll be hard-pressed to be deemed the Nats' best player in 2015 unless Bryce Harper goes 0 for his next 74, but he'll be an incredibly important contributor to this club.

"Hopefully, Rendon will get back pretty soon and give us a little jolt in this lineup," Harper said. "We'll get going. We've got a great team and everybody knows that. So we'll get hot and ride it out."

Rendon alone won't cure all of the Nationals' current offensive woes. Ryan Zimmerman (6 for his last 42, with a .190 slugging percentage) needs to heat up for good. Wilson Ramos (4 for his last 37, dropping his batting average from .311 to .264 in only 14 days) needs to find a level of consistency at the plate. Ian Desmond (on pace for only 12 homers and 46 RBI) needs to rediscover the power stroke that earned him three straight Silver Slugger Awards.

Get those guys on track and get Rendon back, and the Nationals should prove to be far more of an offensive threat than they've appeared to be the last couple of weeks.

"Having Rendon back will be great," Desmond said. "Denard [Span] is slowly getting his legs back under him. ... He didn't get any spring training, so for him to get his legs back under him is going to be really important for us. Zim to get hot. Harp's obviously been swinging great. So there's a lot of good signs coming. You kinda just, like tonight, gotta wait it out."

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

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Former Nats manager Jim Riggleman named interim manager of Reds

Remember Jim Riggleman, the infamous Nats manager that resigned from the position back in 2011 after a win against the Seattle Mariners? Well he's back in a managerial position.

Bryan Price was fired as manager of the Cinncinati Reds Thursday, after the team started the 2018 season 3-15. Riggleman, who spent four seasons as their bench coach, was named the interim manager to replace Price.

Riggleman was promoted to interim manager of the Nats in July of 2009, after Manny Acta was let go midseason. He stayed on as manager for 2010 and 2011, and he then resigned from the team on June 23, 2011 after a win agaisnt the Seattle Mariners. He had lead the team to a win in 11 of their last 12 games prior to stepping away.

The reason behind the dramatic exit was due to the organization not yet picking up his 2012 contract option. He had reportedly requested a conversation with the front office about his future with the organization, and was upset after they declined. At 58 years-old, he felt he deserved more respect.

He's been with the Reds organization since 2012, and has spent time managing the Padres, Cubs and Mariners, in addition to the Nationals. His career winning pct. with each team has been below-.500.

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

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Nationals fall after Mets score 9 runs in 8th inning

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes launched a grand slam during a nine-run outburst in the eighth inning that rallied the New York Mets past the Washington Nationals 11-5 on Wednesday night, preventing a three-game sweep.

Todd Frazier tied it at 4 with a two-run single and pinch-hitter Juan Lagares put New York ahead for the first time with a two-run double off ineffective setup man Ryan Madson (0-2).

Shut down by Tanner Roark for seven innings, the first-place Mets broke loose in the eighth and improved to 13-4 with a stirring victory against their NL East rivals.

Ryan Zimmerman homered twice, tripled and drove in four runs for the Nationals, who pulled off their own big comeback in the eighth inning of the series opener.

Two nights later, New York returned the favor.

Roark limited the Mets to two hits and left leading 4-2. Michael Conforto, Cespedes and Asdrubal Cabrera singled off Madson to load the bases with nobody out in the eighth. Jay Bruce fouled out before Frazier smacked a two-run single up the middle and advanced to second on the throw home.

After an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez loaded the bases again, pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores struck out. Lagares then lined a two-run double the other way, just inside the right-field line at the outer edge of the infield grass, to put the Mets up 6-4.

Sammy Solis walked Amed Rosario and Conforto to force in a run. Cespedes connected for his sixth career slam -- the third by the Mets already this season -- off A.J. Cole, sending fans into a frenzy.

Both of Cespedes' hits in the inning came on 0-2 pitches.

AJ Ramos (1-1) worked a perfect inning for his first win with the Mets since being acquired from Miami last July.

Howie Kendrick reached on an infield single for Washington in the first and Bryce Harper drew his 24th walk, most in the majors. Zimmerman, batting .121 at that point and struggling to make opponents pay for bypassing Harper, came through with a drive to left-center off Steven Matz for his second home run of the season.

Matz steadied himself after a 33-pitch first inning and retired his final 10 batters. He was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fourth after throwing 74 pitches.

Cabrera doubled to open the fourth and scored on Gonzalez's single. Zimmerman had a chance to start an inning-ending double play, but his throwing error from first base allowed another run to score on Jose Lobaton's RBI grounder as the Mets cut it to 3-2.

After Mets pitchers retired 16 in a row, Zimmerman's leadoff triple in the seventh got past a diving Bruce in right field, and Moises Sierra followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.

Zimmerman also hit a solo homer in the ninth.