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Nationals fans enjoyed Bryce Harper's struggles in return to D.C.

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Nationals fans enjoyed Bryce Harper's struggles in return to D.C.

Round two wasn’t so kind to Bryce Harper.

We all remember round one, of course. In Harper’s first return to Nationals Park, coming in in just the second series of the season, the slugging outfielder dealt a knockout punch to the Nationals.

After striking out twice against Max Scherzer, Harper recorded three hits in that first game, capping the 8-2 Phillies win with a blast to the upper deck, which he followed with an epic bat flip directly at the Nationals dugout.

Point, Harper.

Since then, however, the Phillies are winless in Washington. The Nats split that two-game set in April, and just wrapped up a rain-shortened three-game home sweep Thursday night.

This week’s series, in particular, has been a struggle for Harper. He did walk four times, including twice against a black-eyed Max Scherzer, but the outfielder recorded just a single hit in the three-game set. He also struck out three times, highlighted by an ugly swing on a Javy Guerra breaking ball in the dirt.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler summed it up succinctly when describing these at-bats from Harper: “It’s difficult to be patient in times when we're not playing good baseball.”

Even when he reached base, Harper never looked comfortable. He made multiple outs on the basepaths this series, including inning-enders at both third base and home plate.

Harper also continued to establish his disinterest in making (or keeping) fans in Washington.

During Thursday’s series finale, Harper ended an inning by catching a flyball in right field. He turned to the fans sitting near him, took the ball out of his glove, and looked around as if ready to provide a souvenir to one lucky fan.

Instead, it was a fake out. Harper kept the ball and jogged back to the dugout. Needless to say, fans were all too happy to voice their displeasure.

To be fair to Harper, he’s not the first player to mess with opposing fans. Though, in most cases, it’s not a fanbase that previously spent more than half a decade passionately supporting said player.

And he did relinquish the ball eventually, tossing it to a Phillies fan sitting near the third base dugout. Again in his defense, fans were already booing him, even before pretending to give away a ball.

But overall, it was just the latest tough series in a debut season full of them for Harper. A .243 batting average to go with an OPS of .809 isn’t what anybody in Philadelphia had in mind for his first two-plus months. His walk rate is way down and his strikeout rate is way up, and in the most home run-friendly environment in years, he’s hit just 12 long balls.

It’s not quite a terrible year, but it certainly hasn’t been great, either. If he’s going to enjoy a successful 13 years in the City of Brotherly Love, he’s eventually going to have to hit much better against his former team.

While he’s struggling, though, the Nationals are certainly happy to take advantage. The fans are, too.

After another long night for Harper, he came to the plate against Sean Doolittle with one out in the ninth inning. Fans booed him mercilessly, and then he struck out for the third time. It was like This Is Spinal Tap, and the volume had been turned up to 11.

In what, from the outside, seems like a tiring season for Harper already, it’s hard to imagine Nationals fans ever getting tired of letting their former star know exactly where he stands in their eyes. 

Series like this one just give them a little extra ammo to work with.

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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

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USA Today

Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

ATLANTA—Anibal Sanchez outpitched Mike Soroka and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, Matt Adams homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Saturday night.

Second-place Washington pulled within 5 games of the NL East-leading Braves, improving to 33-14 since May 24, best in the majors over that span. Atlanta has dropped four of five.

Sanchez (6-6) got a big assist in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Trea Turner turned a bases-loaded double play, leaping to nab Nick Markakis' liner and throwing to first to beat Josh Donaldson back to the bag.

Soroka (10-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings. He had won 10 straight decisions, best by an Atlanta pitcher since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had a 10-decision streak in 2001.

Sean Doolittle got the last five outs, facing the minimum, for his 21st save in 25 chances. He struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner at second to end the eighth and breezed through the ninth.

Washington went up 4-1 in the fifth when Sanchez reached on an infield single to third, took second on Donaldson's throwing error and scored on Turner's double. Turner took third on Adam Eaton's single and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Eaton scored on Juan Soto's single.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the eighth off A.J. Minter as Turner singled, stole second and scored on Eaton's single.

Adams went deep for the 15th time, an opposite-field homer that bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and into the stands to tie it at 1-all in the fourth.

Sanchez, who pitched for the Braves last year and helped them win the division, allowed three runs and six hits and has a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

Atlanta led 1-0 in the first when Acuna reached on an infield single, stole second base, advanced on a flyout and scored on Freddie Freeman's single.

Brian McCann's ninth homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, chased Sanchez and cut the lead to 4-3.

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NBC Sports Washington's Michael Stearman contributed to this Associated Press story.

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Nationals Roundup: Late Victor Robles magic not enough as Braves walk-off Nats

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Nationals Roundup: Late Victor Robles magic not enough as Braves walk-off Nats

As you would expect a first-place NL East team to do, the Atlanta Braves bounced back to even the series with Washington Friday night inside SunTrust Park. Josh Donaldson erased Victor Robles' game-tying, two-run home run with his walk-off single in the ninth. Atlanta improved to 59-40 and increased its lead over the Nationals to 6.5 games with a 4-3 final. 

Consider these notes as Washington grinds through a pivotal series in Atlanta: 

Player Notes:

Washington's first-year lefty didn't have his best stuff going Friday night in Atlanta. Patrick Corbin tossed just five innings allowing eight hits, two runs, two walks on 100 pitches. He struck out five Braves on his 30th birthday. 

The Nationals' third baseman has brought new meaning to the word 'consistency' all year long in his first season as an All-Star. Two games into this four-game series in Atlanta, Anthony Rendon has five hits, a walk, and 2 RBI.  

Victor Robles brought the fireworks in the ninth at SunTrust Park. The 22-year-old delivered a game-tying, two-run home run off Luke Jackson. The long-ball traveled a whopping 446 feet. 

The Fernando Rodney experience was alive and well. Davey Martinez made the questionable decision to bring his 42-year-old back out in the ninth for a second consecutive inning. It backfired. Just 14 of his 32 pitches were thrown for strikes. 

Injuries: 

SP Max Scherzer: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 25

RP Jonny Venters: Back, Expected to be out until at least Jul 26

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Justin Miller: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 20

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, Expected to be out until at least Aug 7

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, Expected to be out until at least Jul 26

Coming Up:

Saturday 7/20: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Sunday 7/21: Nationals at Braves, 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park 

Monday 7/22: Nationals vs. Rockies, 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park 

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