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Nats' Papelbon looks strong, is throwing harder since return from DL

Nats' Papelbon looks strong, is throwing harder since return from DL

Evaluating the Nationals as they approach the trade deadline may be getting a whole lot more interesting.

Over the last few months there have been times where closer appeared to be a growing concern. Even as Jonathan Papelbon racked up saves, often he would find trouble in the ninth. At times, he didn't look like he still had the stuff to make batters swing and miss and many pointed it out.

But since he's returned from the disabled list, Papelbon has not only pitched two strong outings, he's looked revitalized on the mound. The 35-year-old closer landed on the DL throwing 89-91. Now he's hitting 92-93 and is more menacing because of it.

"He’s stronger, it was almost like getting a new player back," manager Dusty Baker said after the Nats' 7-4 win over the Brewers.

Papelbon saw one runner reach base in the ninth inning of Wednesday, but only because of an error. He finished with three strikeouts and no hits or walks charged to him. Of his 17 pitches, 12 were strikes. 

In his first game back on July 4, also against Milwaukee, he struck out two and also didn't give up a hit or a walk. Of his 13 pitches that afternoon, eight of them were strikes.

Papelbon needed some convincing to take a stint on the DL for his intercostal strain, but Baker believes the team is seeing the benefits of his time off.

"Those couple weeks, we didn’t like [missing him] but it’s almost like it’s helped him get his strength back," Baker explained. 

"Rarely during the course of the year do you have that time to get your strength back and fill your tank back up because when you're playing everyday everyday, just like your car goes down slowly and you really don’t have much time to, eight or six hours, whatever time to sleep is not enough time to fill back up. But Pap had two weeks, he worked extremely hard and he went down to the minor leagues and looked sharp there and so you can tell by his location that he’s sharp and he’s strong."

The Nationals still have three weeks and three days until the Aug. 1 trade deadline and will closely evaluate their roster as it approaches. Bullpen still appears to be a relative need and the sense around MLB is that they would like to add a reliever. They usually add at least one around this time of the year. Papelbon came over in 2015 and they acquired lefty Matt Thornton the year before.

Last season showed the Nationals how being complacent at the deadline can backfire. They failed to improve their offense and, with the benefit of hindsight, outfielder was their biggest need.

The Nationals instead upgraded the backend of their bullpen by bringing in Papelbon and for various reasons it did not work out. They may still need help there this season, but Papelbon so far has proven himself well through two games back in the picture.

[RELATED: Baker, Nats want more boisterous crowds]

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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