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Nats' offense breaks out, bullpen holds on to avoid sweep vs. Reds

Nats' offense breaks out, bullpen holds on to avoid sweep vs. Reds

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 10-9 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday afternoon at Great American Ballpark.

How it happened: After dropping the first two games of the weekend in Cincinnati with only five runs combined in those contests, the Nationals' offense then opened Sunday's game against the Reds with three hitless innings. The Nats appeared well on their way to a sweep at the hand of one of baseball's worst teams.

Their luck, though, was bound to change and once their offense finally woke up against the Reds, Cincinnati's hapless pitching staff was no match for a sleeping giant now risen.

The Nationals scored 10 runs in a three-inning span - from the fourth through the sixth - to avoid the sweep and earn their 34th victory of the season. It was an offensive explosion that provided just enough to protect them from a late rally by the Reds in their 10-9 win.

Daniel Murphy clubbed his 10th homer of the season, Wilson Ramos hit his eighth, Bryce Harper had three hits and Ben Revere had two. The Nationals rallied from a 5-0 deficit and let their starter Tanner Roark off the hook after his shortest outing of the season.

The Nationals scored 10 unanswered runs before Felipe Rivero allowed a three-run homer to Jay Bruce in the seventh. That made it 10-8, and the Reds got even closer with another run on an RBI double by Brandon Phillips in the bottom of the ninth. Jonathan Papelbon earned his 15th save in 17 chances this season, but it was yet another eventful outing for the Nats closer, who recorded the final out on a long flyball to the warning track by Ivan De Jesus with the bases loaded. 

What it means: The Nats now sit 34-23 on the season, good enough for first place in the NL East. They go to Chicago next for the final three games of their 11-day road trip. They will not see Chris Sale or Jose Quintana, Chicago's two best pitchers, in the series.

Roark bounced early: It was a short day for Tanner Roark who made it just three innings mainly because of the runs he allowed, but partly because his spot in the lineup came up at an opportune time for Dusty Baker to make a change. The Nats had already scored three runs in the fourth inning to make it 5-3 with two outs before Clint Robinson doubled and Danny Espinosa was intentionally walked. Sensing a chance to get even closer, Baker called on Stephen Drew to pinch-hit for Roark, and it worked out. Drew singled to center field to score a run, cut the Reds' lead to one and extend the inning.

That left Roark with a final line of just three innings pitched with five earned runs allowed on seven hits and a walk. It was Roark's shortest outing of the season, but Baker may have left him in longer if it weren't for the circumstances on offense. The five earned runs allowed by Roark were more than he'd given up in his previous three starts combined. His season ERA went from 2.70 to 3.21 in this start.

Murphy homers again: The Nats' five-run fourth inning began with a single by Harper, the Nats' first hit of the afternoon against Reds starter Jon Moscot. And in the very next at-bat, they finally got on the board with a two-run homer to right field by Murphy. It was Murphy's 10th homer of the season in his 55th game with the Nats. This is the fourth time in his career he's reached double digits in homers for season. He is now on pace for 28 home runs this year, which would double his career-high of 14 set last year. Murphy also singled in the fifth inning to record his 27th multi-hit game in 55 total outings this season.

Harper breaks through: Harper had three singles on Sunday to notch his first three-hit game since April 15. It's just the second time this season he's had three hits in one game in 54 total outings. Last year he had 13 three-hit games in 153 appearances. Harper's three hits were as many as he'd posted in his previous five games combined. Harper, by the way, has not had a four-hit game since April 17, 2013. He's done it twice in his career, having also had four hits on Sept. 11, 2012 during his rookie season.

Up next: The Nats take Monday off before moving on to Chicago play the White Sox. The opener will see Joe Ross (5-4, 2.37) matched up against the White Sox' latest addition, James Shields (2-7, 4.28) who was just brought in through a trade with the Padres. This will be Shields' White Sox debut.

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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