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Ross returns, but bullpen struggles in Nats' rain-shortened loss to Braves

Ross returns, but bullpen struggles in Nats' rain-shortened loss to Braves

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 6-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon at Turner Field.

How it happened: The Nationals still appear highly likely to win the National League East division, it just may take them a little while longer than once thought to make it official.

The Nats dropped their second straight game to the Atlanta Braves to close the weekend, while the New York Mets won their third straight over the Twins. That kept the Nats' magic number to win the NL East at six for the second straight day.

This one, the final game ever for the Nats at Turner Field, featured a promising return for starter Joe Ross, but a not-so-promising performance by the Nationals' bullpen behind him. Ross went three innings with one run allowed on 51 pitches. Reynaldo Lopez then took over to give up two runs across two frames. And Rafael Martin and Marc Rzepczynski then combined to give up three more runs in the sixth inning.

The Nats' offense was largely held in check by the Braves' pitching staff. Starter Matt Wisler went 5 2/3 innings with two runs allowed before their bullpen kept the Nats scoreless the rest of the way.

Bryce Harper landed an RBI single to break his six-game hitless streak. Jayson Werth had an RBI double. Trea Turner tripled for his 100th career hit. 

Sunday's game was twice delayed by rain, then called early by the umpires in the bottom of the seventh.

The Nationals lost their first series to the Braves of this season and closed their head-to-head series at 15-4. 

What it means: The Nationals now sit 88-61 on the year. They are eight games up in the NL East.

Ross decent in return: As promised by manager Dusty Baker, Ross' return was a brief one, as the young starter will be eased back from his right shoulder injury. Ross was okay against the Braves, he gave up a run on six hits but walked nobody and struck out five in three innings of work. It was a positive step for the 23-year-old, who figures to play a key role moving forward as long as Stephen Strasburg is out with his flexor strain.

As encouraging as the results was Ross' velocity, which had been an issue in his last MLB start on July 2 and through his first minor league rehab assignment. On Sunday, Ross was still hitting 95 in the third inning as he neared the end of his appearance. 

Ross threw 51 pitches in the Nats' loss, which is lower than the 60 he tossed in a simulated game last weekend. He also threw around 60 in his last minor league outing on Sept. 5. The Nats have been slow to build his pitch count, deviating from the usual track for a starter of going up 10-20 each outing. It will be interesting to see where they cap him next time, as Ross is lined up to make only two more starts before the regular season ends.

Lopez gives up two: The Nationals lost this game in the middle innings once Baker pulled Ross and handed the ball over to his bullpen. First, it was Lopez who immediately walked Jace Peterson to begin the fourth. He then served up an RBI double to Dansby Swanson and later an RBI single to Adonis Garcia. 

Lopez looked good in his first career relief outing, on Sept. 12 when he tossed three scoreless innings against the Mets. He was nowhere near as effective on Sunday and it came against a lesser team. Lopez allowed two runs on two hits and two walks and also had a wild pitch. Lopez did have a strong fifth inning, when he struck out two in a perfect frame. But overall, it was a tough day for Lopez, whose two runs were costly.

Martin, Rzepczynski give up three: The Nats had just cut the Braves' lead to one in the top of the sixth inning on Harper and Werth's RBI knocks, but Atlanta quickly answered with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Martin faced just one batter and walked Swanson to get things started. Rzepczynski would quickly find trouble, allowing an RBI single to Garcia and an RBI double to Freddie Freeman. 

This was Rzepczynski first poor outing as a member of the Nationals. He had previous tossed nine scoreless appearances before giving up two earned against the Braves.

Up next: The Nationals move on to Miami to face the Marlins for three games. Rookie A.J. Cole (1-2, 4.71) will start for the Nats, while lefty Wei-Yin Chen (5-4, 4.99). First pitch is at 7:10 p.m.

[RELATED: Nats prospect Andrew Stevenson on first full pro season, AFL]

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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