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Nationals cruise to easy win behind another dominant Scherzer performance

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Nationals cruise to easy win behind another dominant Scherzer performance

The Washington Nationals took down the San Diego Padres, 4-1, Saturday night to improve to 29-35 on the season. Here are five observations from the game.

1. When the Nationals need a win, the best guy they can turn to on the mound is Max Scherzer. And as it has so many times over the years, it worked out well for them Saturday night.

Coming off a 120-pitch effort in his last outing, Scherzer shut down the Padres lineup through seven dominant innings. It took just 101 pitches to get through it, striking out nine and allowing just seven baserunners.

The Nationals ace has been electric all season long. Scherzer induced just 10 swinging strikes on the night, about 30% lower than his normal number.

It didn’t matter, as he got 28 called strikes on the night, and the contact he induced was generally weak.

Scherzer is now 9-0 in his last 11 starts in National League West ballparks. Whatever the reason, pitching on the west coast seems to agree with Mad Max.

His stellar night wasn’t without concern, though. In the second inning, a comebacker to the mound struck off Scherzer’s left calf. Throughout the evening, the ace could be seen grimacing and stretching his leg, though he obviously managed to fight through the pain when on the mound.

The last thing in the world the Nats want is for another injury, especially not for their best pitcher. The fact that Scherzer stayed in the game well beyond the play should ease long term concern, but it’s still worth mentioning nonetheless.

2. Today’s daily bullpen update is brought to you by Tanner Rainey’s filthy stuff. The fireballer threw nine fastballs and eight sliders, getting multiple swinging strikes with both.

Both pitches worked to great effect Saturday night, as his eighth inning was clean. Two strikeouts and no baserunners will play for any reliever, especially for a Nats bullpen desperate for clean innings wherever they can find them.

Rainey still needs some seasoning, but nights like this highlight just how dominant his stuff can be when he harnesses it. A few more outings like this and the Nats may have their new setup man.

Wander Suero came on with a four-run lead in the ninth inning to close out the game. He struggled with his command. The last thing the Nats wanted to see was a leadoff walk, but that’s exactly what Suero did on just five pitches.

After a groundball was not hit hard enough to turn two, Suero got the second out of the inning. Then, with a runner on second, he allowed an RBI single to right field to cost the Nationals their shutout and create a save situation.

Davey Martinez didn’t want to risk it, deciding to bring in Sean Doolittle to get the final out, which he did on just one pitch.

One pitch, one out? Easily the most efficient save of Doolittle’s career.

3. Brian Dozier cannot be stopped this month.

Well, maybe he can. The powerful second baseman went just 1-for-4 Saturday night. But the one was a majestic home run to left-center, already his third home run in five full June games.

This was his first game this month without multiple hits. Again, it’s a small sample size. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

Both Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon have struggled a bit this series. The two sluggers are a combined 3-for-22 in San Diego with just two walks. With the two best hitters in the heart of the lineup in small slumps, Dozier’s hot streak has been especially welcome.

When he gets going, Dozier is one of the few hitters in baseball truly capable of single-handedly carrying an offense. The Nats certainly don’t hope it comes down to that. And there’s no reason to expect it to; Soto and Rendon will heat up soon enough.

But in the meantime? Keep enjoying The Brian Dozier Fireworks Show.

4. In a relatively simple win, there isn’t an obvious play that serves as the turning point. But the bottom of the second comes close.

After an Eric Hosmer single, Franmil Reyes roped a line drive to shortstop. The ball bounced off the outstretched glove of Trea Turner and bounced over to second base. It was ruled a hit, probably deservingly, but it was a play that could have been made.

The next batter, Josh Naylor, hit the ball that ricocheted off Scherzer’s calf. The pitcher was able to make the play and record the first out of the inning, but the runners advanced to second and third.

Ian Kinsler then hit a sharp grounder to Anthony Rendon at third, and Hosmer decided to run home, despite not being forced and having enough time to get back to the bag.

Rendon threw home and caught Hosmer in a rundown, eventually tagging him out. With two down, the Nationals issued an intentional walk to bring up the pitcher’s spot in the lineup and got out of the inning with their 1-0 lead intact.

In a vacuum, none of the plays would stand out. But back-to-back-to-back, they looked strange, and could easily have led to a Padres lead. Instead, the Nats kept San Diego off the board.

5. After a couple of tough losses to begin the four-game set in San Diego, the Nationals find themselves with a chance to come out with a split. Having Stephen Strasburg on the mound should make that easier.

This is important for a team still looking to make noise in the division race. Winning nine of 11 games was helpful, but it would be deflating to turn around and immediately lose a big series with another postseason hopeful.

Thanks to the hole Washington dug itself in April and May, one hot stretch isn’t going to be enough. Winning series after series is what will get them back in the thick of things, and the win Saturday night helps the cause.

With so many close games this season, it’s also nice to see an uneventful win.

The Nationals lead baseball in wins after trailing in the 8th inning and are second in losses after winning in the 8th inning. Needless to say, it’s been a stressful season for Nats fans. A straightforward, easy victory sure is nice every so often.

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Nationals' Sean Doolittle makes statement on death of George Floyd

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Nationals' Sean Doolittle makes statement on death of George Floyd

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle released a statement on Twitter on the death of George Floyd. 

Floyd, a black man, died in police custody after a police officer kept his knee on his neck for several minutes. His death has sparked civil unrest in Minneapolis, MN and in several other areas across the country.

Doolittle's screengrab text read: 

Racism is America's Original Sin. It was here before we even forged a nation, and has been pased down from generation to generation. And we still struggle to acknowledge that it even exists, much less atone for it. The generational trauma of racism and violence is killing black men and women before our eyes. We are told it is done in the name of, "law and order", but there is nothing lawful nor orderly about these murders.

My heart is heavy knowing that George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others should still be alive. We must not look away from the racism and the violence. We must never condone racism or extrajudicial violence in the name of "law and order." We must take action and call it out for what it is. We must recognize our shared humanity and atone for our Original Sin or else we will continue to curse future generations with it. RIP George Floyd. 

Earlier this week Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal was among several athletes that tweeted about Floyd's death.

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Max Scherzer continues to try to steer the union on a united front

Max Scherzer continues to try to steer the union on a united front

Blake Snell and Trevor Bauer have been examples A and B of what the union does not want to do during tenuous negotiations with Major League Baseball.

Public sentiment will not leak over to the players. They are the relatable ones, the ones fans scream at and for, the ones who have their jerseys or baseball cards bought. They are the emotional bond to the game. Not the owners. They’re a pack of men behind the curtain.

Which is why Snell and Bauer operating on their own runs counter to the union’s better interests -- and focus. A focus largely headed by the measured comments of Max Scherzer, or other prominent union representatives like St. Louis’ Andrew Miller.

Snell kicked off the what-not-to-do examples when he said the short-sighted and ill-informed, if accurate, “I gotta get my money” two weeks ago. That notion fed right into the perspective of player greed and the owners virtually high-fived. They stretched their inherent public relations lead thanks to Snell’s misstep.

Bauer made his inappropriate contribution where measured response goes to dies: Twitter. Bauer tweeted, “Hearing a LOT of rumors about a certain player agent meddling in MLBPA affairs. If true -- and at this point, these are only rumors -- I have one thing to say...Scott Boras, rep your clients however you want to, but keep your damn personal agenda out of union business.”

The rumors were true according to an Associated Press report. Boras sent a memo to his clients -- three of whom, including Scherzer, are on the MLBPA’s eight-player executive subcommittee -- which advised them not to “bail out” the owners. Boras argued the owners made bad financial decisions outside of baseball and the players’ salaries should not be a path to financial recuperation.

So, yes, Boras -- the sports’ most powerful agent -- is giving his clients his opinion of how to proceed. This is neither surprising nor unbecoming conduct. He negotiates for billions of dollars on an annual basis and does much of it while bending public perception. He’s more someone to listen to in these scenarios than tune out.

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Bauer’s desire to keep another agent out of union business is not a sin unto itself. His agent, Rachel Luba, is not part of the process. It’s understandable he wants to curtail other agents.

However, deciding to blast a tweet about it left other union members shaking their heads. And it’s in direct contrast to the approach Scherzer and others on the sub-committee have taken.

Scherzer’s late-night tweet was a measured, considered strike, in keeping with his general approach to public statements. Union work is second only to his primary function -- make all his starts -- when he views his job. He wants to relay specific points at specific times following forethought and consideration of the ripple effects. Basically the opposite of Bauer.

Look back to what Scherzer said about negotiations between the players and league in late March when they came together for an initial deal. Think about the points he makes here to NBC Sports Washington and how Bauer’s tweet undermines the priorities.

“All the players were very well connected,” Scherzer said then. “For having such a significant issue -- I don’t think baseball has ever been shut down, so we were navigating a situation that was constantly changing every 24 hours as we were trying to understand what was going to happen. And, we were trying to understand what we wanted in a deal.

“I got to commend the rest of the players in the league and the other players in the executive committee for everybody stepping up, being connected and sharing a voice. Trying to get as educated as possible to communicate it to the whole 1,200-player group. Try to get everybody’s desires of what they wanted in the deal, done. I thought we really acted extremely well together with our union leadership of coming up with what our wants were and working together as one to be able to get that done.”

This, again, is a key concept for the players. They need to be bonded in private, and even more so in public, which is why consistent messaging matters. Scherzer is among the cat herders here. No owner will be speaking out of turn. The players would be well-served to join them.

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