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Bryce Harper robs a home run from the Orioles in the Beltway Series

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Bryce Harper robs a home run from the Orioles in the Beltway Series

Not only does Bryce Harper know how to hit the long ball, but he knows how to prevent other guys from hitting them as well.

On Memorial Day in the Beltway Series, Harper rose in right field making the run-saving grab just over Baltimore’s bullpen shed. A casual rise that only the five-time All-Star can make look that easy.

The victim of Harper’s robbery was Baltimore Orioles backup catcher Andrew Susac, who was looking for only the eighth home run of his career.

Maybe next time Susac should try the left field fence.

It would have been a rare run for the Orioles this season. As a team they have scored the seventh-fewest runs in all of MLB (207).

This season Harper leads the National League in home runs with 16 and is tied for third in all of the majors. On defense he maintains a perfect fielding percentage in 2018.

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Patrick Corbin is expected to be a point of separation NL East

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Patrick Corbin is expected to be a point of separation NL East

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Patrick Corbin’s spring ERA is up to 5.00. Contact on Monday by the Miami Marlins was frequent and loud. Corbin allowed nine hits in five innings. Several outs were hit hard. He’s up to 21 hits allowed in his last 13 innings.

If that sounds alarmist, it shouldn’t. It’s not preferred. It’s also a good time for spring training standards about working on things and feeling good being more important than results. Typically, that is the actual case.

“I felt pretty good,” Corbin said. “Got in a rhythm there in the middle innings. Just upset with one out in the fifth, had the pitcher 0-2 and kind of started a rally for them. But, it was good to keep continuing that pitch count. Felt like the ball was coming out better today.”

Manager Davey Martinez backed Corbin’s assessment. He liked what he saw, though, like spring training caveats, Martinez’s relentlessly positive comments need a bit of buffering when considered.

Corbin stands as the Nationals’ largest risk of the offseason. Their biggest investment in time and money went to the left-handed starter. They also moved early to acquire him in what became such a lagging market Dallas Keuchel remains unemployed on March 18. Paying Corbin $140 million removed the Nationals from the Bryce Harper pursuit. Washington’s pitching depth is limited. The weight is significant.

For the Nationals to have the best rotation in the division -- if not the league -- they need Corbin to be a not-so-distant third in the pecking order. Last year marked a third consecutive year of improvement for Corbin. Much of his success was pinned on a “curveball” which was more of a lower-speed slider.

Match Corbin, 137 ERA-plus in 2018, with the other No. 3 starters in the division: Zack Wheeler in New York, who finished with a 111 ERA-plus in 2018. Nick Pivetta in Philadelphia, 87 ERA-plus last season. Kevin Gausman in Atlanta, a 105 ERA-plus in Baltimore and Atlanta combined. The Nationals paid to have a significant gap between their third-best pitcher and that of the rest of the division.

The same metric showed Max Scherzer (168) trailing two of the top starters in the NL East: Jacob deGrom (216 in a career year) and Aaron Nola (175). Though WAR compares that group more favorably. Nola and deGrom finished at 10.0; Scherzer 9.5. In essence, it’s a wash.

Down a step to second in the rotation: Sean Newcomb at 104 in Atlanta, Noah Syndergaard at 124 in New York, Jake Arrieta 105 in Philadelphia. Stephen Strasburg landed at a career-lowing tying 114 in 2018.

Which is why Corbin is so important. The 1-2 combos around the division are close to the Nationals’ top duo (though an argument can be made for Strasburg’s potential separation; New York would take the same stance with Syndergaard). The third spot in the rotation is an expected gap. The Nationals paid for the premise. Corbin has to deliver it.

Ross stretches to new limits

Joe Ross started a split-squad game Monday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. In the past, this would not be noteworthy. In this camp, it’s a change for Ross.

“We want to stretch him out a little bit,” Martinez said before the game. “See if we can get him three up and downs, but we have to really pay attention to his pitch count. We want him to be around 45, 50 pitches.”

The Nationals continue to evaluate what they will do with the right-hander. He threw 61 pitches Monday in three innings. Prior, he was making one-inning appearances out of the bullpen. Washington could use a “long man” there. It also wants to monitor Ross’ workload this year. So, the question becomes, do they want Ross to be able to make multiple appearances in a week? Or do they want him situated as a starter who begins the season in Fresno as insurance?

“We’re still thinking about that,” Martinez said. “And we’re still thinking about Joe; what’s best for him. It’s hard to say because of his injury. I really still believe he can start. I really do. It would be nice if we can get him a little bit stretched out and see where we’re at.”

Would it be easier to control his workload if he were in a bullpen role?

“It all depends on how you use him in the bullpen and what we leave within the bullpen,” Martinez said. “If he’s going to pitch in the bullpen, then he needs to pitch. I don’t want him just to be a guy who goes out there and throws two innings one day, then [I] can’t use him for two or three days. But we’re going to weigh that here in the next week.”

Zimmerman and how speed kills

Here’s an inning for Ryan Zimmerman on Monday: Infield single; going first-to-third on a single; scoring on a safety squeeze.

Zimmerman, entering his age-35 season, accomplished all of this with maintenance welts from cupping procedures (the welts are a natural byproduct of suctioning from cupping) on both calves.

He’s appeared in nine major-league spring training games this season after playing in just one last spring. A week of games remains. Zimmerman’s spring training playing time should be in line with past years when the Nationals’ time in Florida is finished.

More moves

The Nationals made another round of cuts Monday when they optioned starting pitcher Austin Voth, reliever Jimmy Cordero, starter Kyle McGowin and reliever Tanner Rainey to Triple-A Fresno.

Reliever J.J. Hoover and outfielder Hunter Jones were re-assigned to minor-league camp.

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Trea Turner on being under-the-radar, the upcoming season and Anthony Rendon

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Trea Turner on being under-the-radar, the upcoming season and Anthony Rendon

Click play in the embedded podcast to listen to The Racing Presidents' interview with Trea Turner and click here to subscribe to the podcast.

An acronym to remember whenever thinking of Trea Turner: PTBNL.

That’s him, the Player To Be Named Later from a mid-season 2015 trade with the San Diego Padres. Joe Ross arrived first. Steven Souza went out. Eventually, after grappling with some of the stranger rules in Major League Baseball, Turner joined the Nationals. 

He’s 25 now, married and the incumbent shortstop. Fame eludes Turner for the most part, which doesn’t bother him.

“I still go under the radar quite a bit, so I don’t have to deal with that,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “Sometimes I’m not jealous. Going out in public places and not being able to have a normal meal, normal slice of pizza is not always fun. If you get recognized you’re doing something right, though, in my mind. It’s kind of a plus and minus.”

Turner sat down with NBC Sports Washington on the latest edition of The Racing Presidents podcast. He talked about being in the public eye, his best pal Anthony Rendon, and the idea of running a lot more this season. Turner’s 43 stolen bases led the National League last season. Manager Davey Martinez is asking him to run more this year. Martinez is also still deciphering how the top of the order will work with Turner and Adam Eaton.

“I have my thoughts, but there’s no conclusion on it yet,” Martinez said Monday. “I’m still doing a bunch of research on which way we want to go. But you’ll see them both up at the top of our lineup.”

Take a listen to Turner at the end of today’s episode. The guys cover several other topics beforehand:

-- The latest on Michael A. Taylor from Todd Dybas at spring training. He’s making (slight) progress.
-- How Stephen Strasburg looked in his most recent outing against the New York Mets. He was sharp early and pleasant afterward. 
-- A discussion about how the catching pair could be dispatched. Yan Gomes as the starter? Kurt Suzuki paired with Anibal Sanchez? Who will play against the Mets in the opening series?

Listen, subscribe, rate, and stay tuned for more 1-on-1 conversations with players this week when we sit down with Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle.
 

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