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Ramos catches Gonzalez for 1st time in months

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Ramos catches Gonzalez for 1st time in months

It was never designed to happen. It just developed organically, with Jose Lobaton becoming the equivalent of Gio Gonzalez's personal catcher over the course of the summer. Ten straight times Gonzalez took the mound to pitch, Lobaton took his spot behind the plate to catch the left-hander.

Until Wednesday night, when Wilson Ramos served as Gonzalez's batterymate and the streak ended.

The rationale behind the switch was simple enough: Ramos has suddenly turned productive at the plate in recent days, with five hits (including two homers) in his last 10 at-bats, so he would remain behind the plate no matter who was pitching Wednesday against the Padres.

"It's a function of Willie swinging the bat well, the homers he's hit, the balls he's driving," manager Matt Williams said. "We want to continue that offensive flow going as much as possible."

Gonzalez and Ramos worked together quite a bit early in the season; the two paired up six straight times to begin 2015. But then Lobaton started a game with Gonzalez and things went well, so the Nationals decided to try it again. And as it continued to work well, a pattern was established: If Gonzalez was pitching, Lobaton was catching.

The numbers speak for themselves. In eight starts with Ramos catching, Gonzalez owns a 5.12 ERA. In 15 starts with Lobaton catching, that number drops to 3.38.

"We want Gio to do well, certainly. And there's good rapport there," Williams said. "But we also want to make sure that we're putting our best foot forward, too, from an offensive perspective. So the way Willie's swinging, he's been really good. So we're going to put him back in there."

Ramos' increased production at the plate comes after a lengthy slump by the Nationals catcher, who hit .146 with a .183 on-base percentage and .184 slugging percentage during a 29-game stretch from July 6-August 21. Since then, he has found his stroke again, thanks in part to a slight adjustment in stance — he's spreading his legs out farther and crouching more — that mirrors what he did as a rookie in 2011.

"I feel very good," Ramos said. "I feel comfort. When you go up to the plate and you feel comfort, you're not scared to swing at the ball. I'm not thinking about anything right now. I'm just going up there and trying to put a good swing on the ball and try to bring runs. That's part of my job.

"I turned the page already. Bad things happened in the past. I don't care about that. I just concentrate on finishing my season strong. It's not about how you start, it's more about how you finish."

MORE NATIONALS: Nats seek first 4-game win streak in 2 months

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Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

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Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO  -- Mac Williamson hit a two-run homer in the sixth to lead the Giants past the Washington Nationals 4-2 on Monday night.

Chris Stratton (2-1) struck out five over 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits.

Williamson, playing his first home game at AT&T Park this season after being called up during the recent road trip, connected with a deep drive to right-center off Shawn Kelley after he relieved starter Gio Gonzalez (2-2). Gonzalez walked Brandon Belt to end his day before Williamson crushed the first pitch he saw from Kelley.

The 464-foot shot by Williamson is the furthest homer by the Giants this year, topping his previous 434-foot homer Friday after he was promoted to face the Angels in Anaheim. Earlier Monday, Williamson drove in his team's initial run on a fielder's choice in the fourth.

Only three home runs have travelled further in 2018, according to MLB StatCast: Franchy Cordero (489), Avisail Garcia (481) and Marcell Ozuna (479)

San Francisco kicked off a 10-game homestand by winning back-to-back games for only the second time this season and first since April 4-7. The Giants were coming off their first series victory of the season against the Angels.

The Nationals' runs came on a pair of sacrifice flies, by Howie Kendrick in the third and pinch-hitter Andrew Stevenson in the seventh.

Gonzalez allowed three runs and four hits, struck out four and walked three in five innings.

In his only other start against Washington, Stratton threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts last Aug. 13.

Hunter Strickland, who brawled with Bryce Harper during Washington's last visit to AT&T Park in late May 2017, finished for his fourth save in six chances. Harper didn't bat in the ninth.

NATS TRADE COLE

Washington traded right-hander A.J. Cole to the New York Yankees for cash. The 26-year-old Cole was 1-1 with a 13.06 ERA in four games for the Nationals and was designated for assignment last week.

BAKER REUNION

Ex-Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who guided Washington to back-to-back NL East titles before his firing after last season, visited the ballpark to see his former club.

Did he plan the visit in advance?

"Maybe," Baker said, grinning.

Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg hustled out to give Baker a big hug behind the batting cage.

"What's up Dusty, how you doing?" Strasburg said.

Baker also visited with third base coach Bob Henley, the loan holdover from his coaching staff.

Baker is now working in an advisory role to Giants CEO Larry Baer while getting to watch son, Darren, play his freshman college season at California in Berkeley.

"I am good," Baker said. "How bad can it be between Cal, San Francisco and Sacramento?"

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Adam Eaton, on the disabled list retroactive to April 9 with a bone bruise in his left ankle, won't be rushed back until he is completely pain-free. "When you see him in the lineup he'll be ready," manager Dave Martinez said. "He's coming along. When we get him back this time we don't want any issues." ... OF Brian Goodwin remains in Florida with pain in his bruised left wrist.

Giants: LHP Will Smith is eagerly anticipating his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of last season, and he could come off the DL as soon as Tuesday. He pitched twice for Class-A San Jose and three times so far for Triple-A Sacramento. He is scheduled to throw consecutive days for Sacramento on Wednesday and Thursday then another short outing Sunday. "We're close. We're getting there," Smith said, noting it will be "awesome. I'm ready to go." ... RHP closer Mark Melancon (flexor strain in pitching elbow) is scheduled to play catch during Thursday's off day. There is no timetable for his return, manager Bruce Bochy said. ... LF Hunter Pence (sprained right thumb) did some hitting and is scheduled for early batting practice Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Giants lefty Ty Blach (1-3, 4.10 ERA) will face the Nationals for the first time in his career when he pitches the middle game of the series opposite right-hander Tanner Roark (1-1, 3.24).

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Bryce Harper, broken bats, and bobbleheads: a true trifecta

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Bryce Harper, broken bats, and bobbleheads: a true trifecta

Bryce Harper can do no wrong.

Last week in a win over the New York Mets, Bryce Harper, in super-human fashion, managed to shatter his bat while still hitting a home run.

It was as incredible as you think it is. Click the link in the line above here if you don't believe us. 

In what was already a one-of-one scenario, the cherry on top has been officially added: a Bryce Harper, broken-bat bobblehead.

The company that will be producing the legendary figurines is Sports Fan Island, who have gotten the bobbleheads licensed through both the MLB and the MLBPA.

The details on the bobblehead speak for themselves, from the intricacy of the broken bat, to the flames surrounding home plate under Harper.  

Despite the fact that the bobbleheads don't officially ship until July, fans can begin to pre-order this piece of historic memorabilia for $39.99, so you may want to grab them while they're still hot. 

RELATED: 2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS- APRIL UPDATE