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Scherzer struggles again as Nats fall to Phillies

Scherzer struggles again as Nats fall to Phillies

Postgame analysis of the Nationals' 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night at Nats Park: 

How it happened: If someone were to tell you entering the 2016 season that one Nationals starting pitcher would be a significant outlier in their rotation, that one pitcher's ERA would stand out high above the rest in late April, Max Scherzer would probably be the last guess. Weirdly enough, that's where the Nats stand at this point, as Scherzer once again labored through an uneven outing, this time in a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night. Scherzer allowed three runs through six up-and-down innings and Oliver Perez surrendered another in relief, as the Nats lost just their fifth game of the season. Bryce Harper had a chance to win it in the final at-bat of the bottom of the ninth with Anthony Rendon on first, but his groundout to third base sealed the loss.

What it means: These may not be your NL East doormat Phillies of yesteryear. It's only four games, but the Nats and Phillies are now 2-2 in head-to-head matchups. Tuesday night was a good one for the visitors who saw 23-year-old right-hander Vincent Velasquez hold his own against the Nats' offense, and their own lineup give Scherzer fits. They moved to 10-10 on the season, while the Nats dropped to 14-5. The Phillies may still be far away from becoming true players in the division, but they already look like a surprisingly tough team to face 19 times a year.

Scherzer's 1st inning woes: Scherzer again found trouble early in this one with two runs allowed in the first inning before he recorded his first out. He walked Odubel Herrera on just four pitches to lead the inning off, then served up a two-run bomb to right-center to Andres Blanco. Eight of Scherzer's 15 earned runs this season have come in the first inning. Three of the five homers he's given up have been in the first. He now has a 14.40 ERA in the first inning and a 2.42 mark in other frames. Scherzer now has a 4.35 ERA on the season through five starts, having allowed 15 earned runs in that stretch. This is the third time in Scherzer's career that he's allowed 14 earned runs or more in his first five starts of a season. The last time was in 2013, the year he won the AL Cy Young award. Scherzer would end up going six innings on Tuesday on 116 pitches with three runs allowed. That is technically a quality start, but this one wasn't smooth. He also gave up seven hits and four walks. He has 12 walks in five outings this season.

Harper intentionally walked twice: We may start seeing more of this, as long as Ryan Zimmerman continues to be inconsistent at the plate. Harper was intentionally walked twice on Tuesday night with two outs and a runner on base. In the third inning Zimmerman popped out to the catcher in foul territory. He then ended the seventh inning by striking out looking to reliever David Hernandez. Zimmerman did notch an RBI single in the fifth, but teams are starting to figure out he can be much more preferable to face than Harper in certain situations.

Taylor may be heating up: Michael Taylor has been languishing in the Nats' leadoff spot for much of this season, but with two singles on Tuesday, Taylor now has two consecutive multi-hit games. His batting average went above the Mendoza Line for the first time this season, as he's now batting .206 through 17 games. Taylor also walked on Tuesday and has four hits and two walks in his last eight plate appearances.

Injury scare: Reliever Matt Belisle faced just one batter in the top of the eighth inning before leaving with an apparent injury. Manager Dusty Baker, pitching coach Mike Maddux and trainer Paul Lessard all came out to check on him and watch him throw warmup pitches before Dusty called on Felipe Rivero to replace him. It's unclear what is ailing him, but he only threw three pitches before they took him out.

Up next: The Nationals continue their series against the Phillies with a 7:05 p.m. start on Wednesday night. The starters will be Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 1.42) for the Nats and Jeremy Hellickson (1-1, 5.21). Hellickson was the Phillies' Opening Day starter this year.

[RELATED: Baker has unique thoughts on HBPs: 'That's what you call a fool']

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its 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