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Roark dominates Pirates as Nats take season-high division lead

Roark dominates Pirates as Nats take season-high division lead

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 6-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: There are few certainties in life and in baseball, but Tanner Roark going deep into a start has become essentially a sure thing for the Nationals these days.

Usually he's good for six or seven innings. In Saturday night's 6-0 win over the Pirates, Roark nearly went the distance, stopping just short of his second career complete game with eight dominant shutout innings. Roark took the mound in the top of the ninth with 102 pitches, but was replaced by Blake Treinen after he promptly gave up a single and hit a batter. That allowed the 38,861 at Nationals Park to shower Roark with praise as he walked to the dugout.

Roark has now gone at least seven innings in five straight starts. He's made it at least six innings in 16 of his 19 starts this season and through at least seven in 13 of those outings.

Roark is the best in baseball at inducing weak contact (22.7% according to FanGraphs) and that continued on Saturday. He only struck out five batters and allowed just five hits and one walk. He walked off the mound with a 2.82 season ERA.

Roark even got some rare run support. Anthony Rendon homered and also added an RBI single. Stephen Drew doubled three times, Danny Espinosa had an RBI double and even Roark himself pitched in with an RBI single.

It was another all-around effort for the first-place Nationals, who have won five straight games.

What it means: The Nationals now have a chance to earn their seventh sweep of the season on Sunday. The Nats moved to 56-36 with the win, 20 games over .500 for the first time since 2014. Both the Marlins and Mets lost on Saturday, so the Nats now hold a season-high seven-game lead in the NL East.

Rendon hits No. 10: Rendon had been mired in a mini-slump with no hits in his previous four games (16 PA) entering Saturday night, but he was a big factor in the Nats' win over Pittsburgh. He went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored. Rendon brought the Nats' first run home in the first inning on a single to left field against Cole. He then smacked a solo homer deep into the stands in left-center off reliever A.J. Schugel. That was Rendon's 10th homer of the season. This is the second time in his career he's reached double digits in home runs (2014). The Nationals are now one of only three MLB teams to have seven players with 10 homers or more this season, the Cardinals and Mariners are the others.

Drew doubles three times: Whenever Stephen Drew sees the field for the Nationals, good things usually happen. The longtime everyday player is new to his role on the bench, but he's transitioned well. On Saturday in a rare opportunity to start, he landed three doubles in his first three at-bats. He scored both times, the first thinks to a Danny Espinosa double and the second on a throwing error by Josh Harrison.

In Drew's last 22 games - 10 of them starts - he's 17-for-44 (.386) with five homers, 11 RBI, seven doubles and five walks. The Nationals are 15-7 over that stretch. That's not bad.

Aggressive baserunning pays off: With a steal in the first inning and another in the second, the Nationals tied their stolen base total from all of last season. This year they have 57 steals through 92 games, the same amount they accrued across 162 games in 2015. That is clear evidence of both Davey Lopes' expertise as their first base coach, and manager Dusty Baker's emphasis on aggressive baserunning. 

The first steal was by Jayson Werth in the first inning. He notched his fourth steal of the season and in doing so passed Carlos Beltran to move into second place all-time in career steal percentage. Werth's 86.395 percentage trails only Chase Utley, his former teammate, who holds a 87.8 career mark.

Quotable: Roark on his outing - “Two seamer was definitely working. I felt like the curveball was working as well, and change-ups to righties as well. I was doing well. Keeping them off-balance, using all four pitches to lefties and righties, it keeps them guessing even more, and that’s what I’ve been able to do a lot more this year – throw change-ups to righties."

Baker on Rendon - “I just think Anthony is going to have a great second half. I give them all challenges some point in time. He was batting behind [Bryce] Harper tonight because he doesn’t hit many double plays, he puts the ball in play, he’s a tough out."

Up next: The Nationals and Pirates finish their series with a 1:35 p.m. first pitch. Max Scherzer (10-6, 3.03) will get the start for the Nats opposite Pittsburgh right-hander Chad Kuhl (1-0, 6.08).

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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