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Donaldson's 9th-inning single lifts Braves over Nats 4-3 despite Robles' heroics

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Donaldson's 9th-inning single lifts Braves over Nats 4-3 despite Robles' heroics

Donaldson's 9th-inning single lifts Braves over Nats 4-3

ATLANTA -- Josh Donaldson's bases-loaded single off Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning lifted the Atlanta Braves over the Washington Nationals 4-3 on Friday night after Luke Jackson allowed a tying, two-run homer to Victor Robles in the top half.

Ronald Acuna Jr., who had three hits, led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk off Rodney (0-3) and took second on Dansby Swanson's single. Freddie Freeman walked on four pitches, loading the bases.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez brought in left fielder Juan Soto as a fifth infielder, including three on the left side against the right-handed hitting Donaldson.

Donaldson hit a 2-0 pitch over Robles to center-field warning track, and the Braves boosted their NL East lead to 6 games over the second-place Nationals. Atlanta had lost its previous five home games against Washington.

Robles' homer went 446 feet to left, giving Jackson his seventh blown save in 24 chances.

Julio Teheran gave up one hit through five scoreless innings and retired 14 consecutive hitters before pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra singled with one out in the sixth. Anthony Rendon chased Teheran with a two-out RBI single.

Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin couldn't win on his 30th birthday while paired with catcher Yan Gomes, who turned 32. Corbin and Gomes became only the second pitcher-catcher tandem to start together on their birthdays since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Chicago Cubs pitcher Dave Hillman and catcher Jim Fanning did it against Pittsburgh on Sept. 14, 1957.

Corbin allowed two runs and eight hits in five innings. He struck out Ozzie Albies with the bases loaded in the first and fanned Albies to end the fifth with two out.

Albies hit a two-out double in the fourth and scored on Austin Riley's double. Freeman was 2 for 20 in his career against Corbin before his RBI single in the fifth.

Acuna's RBI double against Tanner Rainey gave the Braves a 3-1 lead.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer, on the 10-day IL since July 10 with an injury originally announced as a mid-back strain, was given a cortisone shot on Tuesday to address inflammation in the bursa sac under his right shoulder blade. Scherzer still has some discomfort and must throw a bullpen session before cleared to pitch in a game. With Scherzer unavailable, RHP Austin Voth is expected to start in Sunday night's series finale.

Braves: RHP Patrick Weigel, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017, was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to make his major league debut Saturday. RHP Wes Parsons also was recalled from Gwinnett. RHPs Kyle Wright and Touki Toussaint were optioned to Gwinnett.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-6, 3.71) is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts this season against the Braves, his former team.

Braves: Rookie RHP Mike Soroka (10-1, 2.24) will try to win his sixth straight decision on Saturday night. The 21-year-old right-hander became the youngest pitcher in franchise history to be selected an All-Star.

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If the Nationals don’t sign Rendon or Donaldson, their options at third base are slim

If the Nationals don’t sign Rendon or Donaldson, their options at third base are slim

The common thinking around the major leagues is that the Nationals are more likely to retain free agent starter Stephen Strasburg than third baseman Anthony Rendon.

It’s not very surprising, given President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo’s track record of prioritizing starting pitching when building a roster. Couple that with Strasburg’s decorated tenure in Washington that includes a rise as one of the most decorated prospects of all time as well as World Series MVP honors, and it’s easy to see why the team would want him back.

But while losing Strasburg from the rotation would be a massive loss, the team has two other starters in Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin who received Cy Young votes last season. Rendon, meanwhile, finished third in the NL MVP race after hitting .319 with 34 home runs and a league-best 126 runs batted in. Outside of 21-year-old wunderkind Juan Soto, there’s no one on the Nationals’ roster who’s ever come close to matching that production.

Rendon is rumored to be interested in a short-term, higher-salary deal, which could give the luxury-tax-weary Nationals pause about retaining him. As much as they may want him back, an average annual value in the mid-to-upper $30 million range would make it difficult for the Nationals to stay under the threshold moving forward.

If Rizzo and Co. deem Rendon to be too expensive, they’ll likely pivot to former Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson. The 2015 AL MVP was the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2019 after posting a .900 OPS with 37 homers and 100 walks in 155 games. USA TODAY reported Wednesday that Donaldson is “being heavily pursued” by Washington, only adding credence to the notion that Rendon lands elsewhere.

Yet the Nationals are far from the only suitors for Donaldson, who’s projected by FanGraphs to sign a three-year deal. The Braves, Dodgers, Twins, Rangers and Phillies are all reportedly interested in the three-time All-Star. That could be problematic for Washington, as the talent available at the hot corner takes a steep dive after the Bringer of Rain.

Rendon and Donaldson finished the 2019 season with 7.0 and 4.9 fWAR, respectively. Of the 22 other free-agent third basemen, none even finished with a mark above 3.0. The best alternative options? Eric Sogard (2.6), Todd Frazier (1.9), Asdrubal Cabrera (1.9), Brock Holt (1.3) and Starlin Castro (1.3).

Sogard, Holt and Castro aren’t natural third basemen, and they’ve never finished a full season with an OPS above .800. Frazier’s strikeout tendencies don’t fit the Nationals’ M.O. and Cabrera was designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers midway through last season before getting hot for Washington down the stretch—not to mention that both of them will be 34 on Opening Day.

On the trade market, the price tags for Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado—if they’re traded at all—would be well out of the Nationals’ comfort zone. Ditto for Miguel Andujar. The Oakland Athletics’ Marcus Semien would be an intriguing target after he posted a career year in 2019 and finished third in AL MVP voting. But he was a league-average hitter at best in his six seasons prior and only has a little more than 400 career innings under his belt at third.

It’s murky territory, one the Nationals haven’t faced at third base at all since they moved to D.C. Ryan Zimmerman was their full-time starter at third by the beginning of the 2006 season and he remained there until Rendon took over for good in 2014. In fact, the Nationals’ third basemen have combined for an .815 OPS since the start of the ’05 season. Only the Chicago Cubs (.823) and Colorado Rockies (.827) have received better production at the position over that span.

Meanwhile, third base has developed into one of the deepest offensive positions in the sport. Rendon, Donaldson, Bryant, Arenado, Manny Machado, Jose Ramirez and Alex Bregman have all finished top five in MVP voting over the last four seasons. Last year, only right fielders (.796 OPS) combined to post a higher OPS than third basemen (.789).

Third base has never been a significant question mark for the Nationals, but if they don’t go all-in for Rendon or Donaldson—or both sluggers sign elsewhere anyway—Washington is going to be hard-pressed to replace that production another way.

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Amid NL East arms race, Nationals post reminder of Zack Wheeler’s history with Juan Soto

Amid NL East arms race, Nationals post reminder of Zack Wheeler’s history with Juan Soto

The Nationals may not have yet made a major acquisition so far this winter, but no one can say they haven’t been paying attention to what the rest of their division is doing.

On Wednesday afternoon, reports of the Phillies signing free agent starter Zack Wheeler leaked across Twitter, the latest win-now move made by an NL East team in the early goings of the offseason. The Nationals didn’t make a move of similar caliber, but they did use the deal as an opportunity to remind Philadelphia just what star outfielder Juan Soto could do against Wheeler.

Petty? Maybe. But the Nationals’ social media team saw the opportunity to troll two teams with one tweet. If you’re not going to be petty as the reigning World Series champs, when else can you?

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