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Hunter Strickland is gone, but he provided the most ironic moment in Nationals history

Hunter Strickland is gone, but he provided the most ironic moment in Nationals history

The trajectory of Hunter Strickland’s relationship with Washington, D.C, has been an interesting one.

Nationals fans first became acquainted with the reliever in 2014, when he was a member of the San Francisco Giants. In his playoff debut, Strickland served up three home runs in as many appearances during the NLDS against Washington — including two off the bat of Bryce Harper, who didn’t shy away from soaking in the moment by watching the ball fly before trotting around the bases.

San Francisco won the series in four games, but Strickland held on to his grudge against Harper. Three years later, the Giants reliever plunked him and sparked a brawl that resulted in the ejections and subsequent suspensions of both players.

That figured to be the end of the drama, especially after the 2018-19 offseason saw Strickland sign with the Seattle Mariners of the American League and Harper leave Washington for the Philadelphia Phillies. But the Nationals rekindled the fire when they traded for Strickland last July to help pad their bullpen for a playoff run.

It all set the stage for Sept. 24, when the Phillies were in D.C. for a five-game series. Strickland faced Harper in the second game of a doubleheader after insisting to reporters that the brawl was behind him. As host Tim Shovers recalled on Monday’s episode of the Nationals Talk podcast, what ensued was perhaps the most ironic moment in the history of the franchise.

“It ended up being the night that the Nats clinched a playoff berth, during that week where they won eight games in seven days,” Shovers said. “It’s 6-4 after six, in comes Hunter Strickland on the mound as the Nats are nine outs away and they also need the Cubs to lose in Pittsburgh.

“Up comes and pinch hits for the Philadelphia Phillies in Nationals Park to face Hunter Strickland wearing a W is Bryce Harper, who then homers off of him — almost identical to the home run he hit off of him in Game 1 of the 2014 division series. It is the most ironic moment in Washington Nationals history. I defy you to come up with second place. I’m always going to associate that moment with Strickland and Harper and we’ll see if they ever have an at-bat against each other again.”

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Is there any moment that can compare? One that comes to mind is former Nationals starter John Lannan putting together one of the best performances of his career against Washington. Once their Opening Day starter, Lannan lost out to Ross Detwiler for the fifth-starter job in 2012 before being unceremoniously demoted to the minors and non-tendered the following offseason.

He signed with the Phillies in 2013 and faced the Nationals three times, including a July 8 start in which he tossed eight shutout innings. While Lannan doesn’t carry the pedigree of Harper, watching him shut down the Nationals’ lineup was still an odd moment for fans to see.

Have any ideas that might top the list of most ironic moments in Nationals history? Send them to Nationals Insider Todd Dybas’ mailbag for the chance to have your suggestion mentioned on an episode of the Nationals Talk podcast.

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Sean Doolittle says Nationals players will continue to support minor leaguers

Sean Doolittle says Nationals players will continue to support minor leaguers

Though the Nationals reversed course on their pay cut for minor-league players, Sean Doolittle still plans on lending his support.

Last week, just hours after it was reported that the Nationals would be reducing the pay rate for minor-league players from $400 per week to $300 for the month of June, Sean Doolittle announced that the major leaguers would cover those cuts.

A short time later, the team announced that it would revert back to the weekly $400 salary for the month of June. While that is good news and something that pleased Doolittle, it does not mean he and other players are done helping minor leaguers in the organization.

On Wednesday Doolittle tweeted out a statement sharing his excitement for the increased pay rates. Additionally, he noted that Nationals players will continue to offer financial help for other players in the organization.

"Nationals players are partnering with More Than Baseball to contribute funds that will offer further assistance and financial support to any minor leaguers who were in the Nationals organization as of March 1."

More Than Baseball is a non-profit organization that aims to provide minor-league baseball players across the country and world with resources to succeed both on and off the field. 

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As the back-and-forth drama plays out regarding the 2020 MLB season, it can be easy to find the negatives in the baseball community at the current moment. However, the gestures by Doolittle and the Nationals players show the good, and once again demonstrate Doolittle's ability to be a powerful voice in a complicated time

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MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

The NBA appeared to pull things together Wednesday, following the NHL.

Basketball is expected to return July 31 in Orlando with an inventive, though truncated, format. A quick eight-game wrap to the regular season will be followed by the playoffs, according to ESPN. All in one place. The NHL will not start training camp before July 1. It has not determined when the playoffs may begin. The league shelved the regular season but will use “hub cities” for a playoff tournament when they deem it safe. No date has been set yet.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is trying to launch itself via a much quicker, and earlier, timeline.

Officials want to play at the end of June or start of July. They are currently haggling to get there.

Multiple reports earlier in the week said the league was considering a 50-game schedule. This is not an authentic pursuit of playing just 50 games. Rather, it was a fist clench from league commissioner Rob Manfred against the players’ insistence their prorated salaries will be the lone salary cut. Manfred is suggesting if that is true, then he has the right to dictate scheduling.

The players previously suggested a 114-game schedule. The number between the two proposals -- 82 -- remains the most-likely outcome.

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But, baseball continued its jousting and contorting and time loss Wednesday, jeopardizing the entire process. After rejecting the 114-game proposal, the owners said they would not send a counter, according to The Athletic. Further, the league said it has started talks with owners about playing a shorter season without fans, The Athletic reported. This brings the 50-game scenario back into play.

The calendar is not baseball’s friend in the near-term or around the bend. Pushing the season further into the fall and winter increases risk and logistical problems. It also cuts the offseason down.

Blitzing toward a start time with multiple questions about health and the coronavirus still unanswered delivers another set of problems. Baseball needs to race to a start so it can have a legitimate season and acceptable chance at a finish. Most of the prospective money for the season would be delivered by the playoffs. Playing without a postseason would fall into the “something-is-better-than-nothing” category, but barely. Playing a short season would also only amplify the risk-reward questions for the players. Why put so much on the line for 50 games? Or even 82?

And, don’t think both sides are not currently keeping score for the winter of 2021, after the current collective bargaining agreement expires. A brutish labor fight was already coming. Rule changes, perhaps league realignment, the typical eye-gouging over the splits of cash. The core of mistrust for players remains in place: The owners have not shown their full financial situation. Until that changes, both sides will be shouting from bunkers, no-man’s land in between them, whispering to each other how vile the other side is. Agreements are hard to come by in those circumstances.

Sunday marks the close to the first week of June. Players want three weeks of spring training. They also want to start the season sometime between June 30 and July 4. Which means if they can’t suddenly construct a bridge in the next handful of days, they have a week to pull everything together. The other leagues used creativity, an expanded timetable and risk reduction to present viable ways forward. Baseball has deployed none of that to this point.

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