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Ross shines, but defense and bullpen contribute to loss

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Ross shines, but defense and bullpen contribute to loss

Rookie right-hander Joe Ross had made spot starts for the Nationals before, but this was no ordinary outing. The 22-year-old starter came up to pitch in Stephen Strasburg's place on Tuesday and faced the New York Mets, the second place team in the NL East. His counterpart? Reigning NL Rookie of the Year and 2015 All-Star Jacob deGrom.

Ross, as he has been in each of his four MLB starts so far, was excellent. His supporting cast, however, was not.

Ross threw 6 1/3 innings with two earned runs on four hits and no walks. He started the game by setting down the first nine batters he faced and left with a 2.70 ERA on the season. That is with 27 strikeouts and just two walks along the way in his 26 2/3 total innings.

Defensive mistakes and an unfortunate showing by the Nats' bullpen told the story of this one, a 7-2 loss to the Mets, who are within striking distance at just two games back out of first. The Nats committed two errors, both that led to runs. They also saw catcher Wilson Ramos botch a throw attempt as Curtis Granderson stole second base in the fourth inning, a play that featured Ramos failing to get the ball out of his glove. Granderson would end up scoring New York's first run.

The game started well and ended ugly for the Nats. But they can take solace from yet another impressive showing from Ross.

"It's definitely an honor, being the guy for right now that they can call up and trust to try and win a game in such a big situation against the Mets," Ross said. "I didn't really know what to expect coming into this season, my first year with the Nationals. It was kind of whatever they had planned for me, go from there. I've been lucky to have a really good opportunity making four starts up here."

The first error came in the top of the seventh after Ross allowed a leadoff single to Wilmer Flores. Kirk Nieuwenhuis smacked a high-bouncing grounder straight down the chalk line towards first base. Clint Robinson charged and tried to backhand the ball, but it got past him and slipped into right field. That put two runners in scoring position and both would score on an Eric Campbell single allowed by Aaron Barrett, who replaced Ross.

"The ball down the line to first, Clint decided to come get it and couldn't get it," Matt Williams said. "It's not reviewable. I went out and asked the home plate umpire what he had, he said that he's fighting Wilson to get a good look at it. The first base umpire's got that call. He made the fair call. It's not a reviewable play for us, so we can't check it."

Barrett said afterwards he thought Campbell just put a good swing on a well-executed pitch.

"Looking back on it, it was the right pitch location down and away. Tip your cap," Barrett said. "He flipped it over Danny [Espionsa's] head. It is what it is. You’re gonna beat sometimes. I wanted him to beat me with my best pitch."

Campbell's single gave the Mets a 3-2 lead and they added to that margin in the ninth against Tanner Roark. Roark allowed a leadoff single to Kevin Plawecki, who advanced all the way to third on a throwing error by left fielder Matt den Dekker. His throw to second bounced past Espinosa and all the way into foul territory.

Roark then unraveled by walking Michael Cuddyer and allowing singles to Granderson and Ruben Tejada. He gave up three runs and was charged with a fourth once rookie Abel de los Santos allowed another RBI on a groundout.

"The ball was up. I don't think he was throwing it where he wanted to. A single is one thing, but we get a guy on third base there and he's under a little bit of pressure. He just couldn't throw it where he wanted to," Williams said of Roark.

"[It's] location. I think I’m trying to do too much right now. I feel like I’m underperforming and I need to pick it up," Roark added. "I just need to do better, pitch better. It’s my job to get outs. Right now, it’s hard to come by. I have to work harder and get better."

The Nats and Mets will continue their series on Wednesday in a rubber game that will pit Jordan Zimmermann (8-5, 3.27) against Noah Syndergaard (4-5, 3.05).

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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