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Nationals find the right blueprint, pound Phillies for first decisive win of the season

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Nationals find the right blueprint, pound Phillies for first decisive win of the season

PHILADELPHIA -- The Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 15-1, on Wednesday night to move to 6-5. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Wednesday night ended up the perfect blueprint for the Nationals.

Starter Jeremy Hellickson made it through six innings. An early lead forced Philadelphia deep into its bullpen throughout the evening. Cruising to the end allowed Washington to pull multiple regulars on the way to a series win in Philadelphia.

And, this feels like the beginning of an emergence. Washington has won three of five against Philadelphia. A bullpen meltdown prevented a three-game sweep the prior series in New York. In all, the baseball is better, the lineup looks balanced and the bullpen is moving toward reasonable.

Adam Eaton had three hits Wednesday. Brian Dozier also had three, falling just short of doubling his season total of four coming into the game. Matt Adams started in order to give Ryan Zimmerman two consecutive days off (Washington doesn’t play Thursday). The Nationals were able to check every box in their easiest win of the season.

The evening also ended a run of 11 games to start the season against division rivals New York and Philadelphia.

“Those two teams we played are really good and they're going to be good all year,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We're going to go head-to-head with them. To come out of the first couple weeks after a bit of rough stretch and be 6-5 right now, of course we'd like to be 8-3 but we've got a long way to go. We're playing really good and we're going to go home and continue to play. We got a couple teams coming in that are pretty good, so we're going to take the day off, relax, rest and come back Friday ready to go.”

2. Anthony Rendon is focused. His beloved Houston Rockets start the NBA playoffs this weekend. Meanwhile, he is busy raking on the baseball field.

Rendon’s six innings Wednesday (he was removed in the midst of the blowout) were enough for two more hits, two more runs and three more RBIs. He has a .429 average, .490 OBP and .881 slugging percentage 11 games into the season. Rendon is covering fastballs up, away, and in. He’s also handling off-speed.

“It just works out that way sometimes,” Rendon said. “You try to ride this wave as long as you can, not try to get too high when you’re high because you know the lows are going to end up coming.”

The weight of a final season under contract can influence players differently. It appears to have no effect on Rendon, who is rolling along in typical fashion: low-key personality, big results.

3. Poll: Bigger news for Helllickson? A) Throwing six scoreless innings in his debut. B) Scoring from first base on a Victor Robles triple.

Both happened Wednesday.

Hellickson threw 100 pitches -- above his projected 85-90 in his first start of the season -- allowed just three hits, struck out six and walked four. Hellickson pitched six innings or more only twice last season.

The run? It was the eighth of his career. Hellickson walked to reach base. Robles hit a liner into the right-center gap, quickly tracked down Hellickson on the bases, and convinced third base coach Bob Henley to wave Hellickson toward the plate. He slid in just ahead of the throw. Robles applauded at third.

“[Henley] give me a little one, too,” Hellickson said of the signal. “Really wasn’t sure what that meant. I knew Robles was right behind me, probably. It was fun, but, probably not do that again…”

Tuesday’s 10-inning game severely thinned the Nationals’ bullpen, though a day off is coming Thursday. Hellickson moved through six without any significant danger. Putting together the final three innings with a double-digit lead became much easier because of it.

Though, there was one bullpen hiccup: Tony Sipp relieved Hellickson. After a fly ball out to left, Martinez and head trainer Paul Lessard came to the mound. A long conversation followed. Sipp, who warmed up multiple times Tuesday and Wednesday, came out of the game because of what Martinez called shoulder stiffness. Sipp said he was sore, but expects to be fine.

4. Trevor Rosenthal was back on a game mound Wednesday for the first time since Sunday. Martinez wanted another soft landing for Rosenthal, who had not recorded an out this season, and couldn’t find a better one than a 15-0 lead in the ninth inning.

Rosenthal walked Rhys Hoskins on five pitches. He started the next hitter, Andrew Knapp, 0-2, before eventually striking him out. The first out of the season -- on the 11th batter faced and 48th pitch thrown -- moved Rosenthal’s ERA from infinity to 189.00.

Rosenthal made dubious history with the out: he became the first pitcher in baseball history to record his first out in his fifth appearance.

He walked the next batter, Odubel Herrera. He walked the next batter, Cesar Hernandez with his 24th pitch. Maikel Franco’s subsequent grounder to first dropped Rosenthal’s ERA to 108.00. Aaron Altherr’s fly out to right ended the night. Rosenthal now has a 72.00 ERA.

Regardless, it was movement forward, even if the path remained bumpy.

“He got three outs,” Martinez said. “That's the key. He got three outs so let's continue to build on that and move on.”

5. Max Scherzer’s right ankle was taped Wednesday before he went to throw on flat ground.

He’s testing the ankle -- and everything else -- following a comebacker off the area Sunday in the third inning in New York. Scherzer remained on the mound until the seventh inning. He later said his leg began to stiffen once he came out of the game.

“He might want to come out [Thursday] and throw a bullpen,” Martinez said. “Kind of nice he had that extra day, so we'll see how he feels [Thursday].”

Scherzer pitched on regular rest in all three starts this season. The plan, independent of the grounder off his lower leg, was to give him an extra day off this time around. He is scheduled to pitch Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Patrick Corbin pitches Friday on an extra day of rest.

If Scherzer is not able to start Saturday, Anibal Sanchez would take his place. Though, that scenario appears unlikely.

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Losing Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg is the Nationals' biggest nightmare

Losing Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg is the Nationals' biggest nightmare

WASHINGTON -- Post a list of oh-no situations in the Nationals clubhouse and losing Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the same time would be on top of it.

That, at least temporarily, is the situation for the Nationals following Scherzer’s departure Wednesday night. A couple hours after Strasburg finished a 32-pitch simulated game in Nationals Park, Scherzer left his start one inning and 27 pitches into it. Scherzer said postgame he “tweaked” his hamstring Tuesday when sprinting in the outfield. He went on to say he doesn’t expect the issue to last.

“I’m really not concerned about this,” Scherzer said after the Nationals’ 3-1 loss to the Mets.

His right hamstring also gave him trouble before his July 29 start against Toronto. Scherzer pitched through it then, piling up 112 pitches. He could not -- or would not -- work through it Wednesday after catcher Kurt Suzuki expressed concern about the look of his pitches following the top of the first inning.

“Zook saw what my stuff was playing like -- he didn’t like it,” Scherzer said. “He just didn’t like what he saw -- how the ball was coming out of my hand. We just had a conversation: ‘Just get out of here. You’re taking on too much risk to continue to pitch.’ I didn’t injure it any further. I didn’t do anything worse. That was my limit for [Wednesday]. I wasn’t going to push past that limit.”

RELATED: AS JUAN SOTO RETURNS, BASEBALL IS REMINDED OF JUST HOW MUCH IT MISSED HIM

The Nationals have sunk their money and faith into the starting rotation. It won them a World Series last year. Its existence is a prime result of Mike Rizzo’s foundational preference in team building. The organization gave long-term contracts to Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. Paying pitchers for such an extended period can be problematic. It hasn’t been in Washington.

Though, this year, the two top ends of that approach are not available to pitch in the season’s third week. It could be temporary. Strasburg’s simulated game went well Wednesday. His return to the mound could come Sunday in Nationals Park against Baltimore or Monday in New York against the Mets. The right wrist impingement which led to a nerve problem in his hand has calmed. Multiple injections and time off stifled the pain. The main problem before? He couldn’t get a feel for his pitches.

“I was waking up in the middle of the night and my hand was asleep,” Strasburg previously said. “Kept falling asleep and I was getting these feelings, and it wasn’t really bothering me throwing. It seemed like once I tried starting to ramp up and stuff, the symptoms started to increase.”

Which was exactly the concern across the league before the season began. Too much too fast was on the mind of every manager in July. It remains so in August. Martinez thought about the idea when he saw what he termed “weird” injuries around the league. His general concern exists around the bevy of older players on the Nationals. He was also wary of pushing 21-year-old Juan Soto back to the field too soon. A short season is a short season. But, years of team control -- as is the case for Strasburg and Soto -- is the long game. Not exchanging now for later has to be part of the thought process.

“We had to ramp these guys up fairly quickly,” Martinez said. “I know with our guys -- Max, Stras, all these guys -- they worked diligently over three months. These things during the course of a year....I’ll tell you right now it’s been really, really hot here. These guys are getting after it. That might have something to do with it. Dehydration. I just hope [Thursday] Max wakes up, he feels better, we get him back Friday, we’ll see where he’s at, then go from there.

“But we’ve got to be really, really careful. We really do.”

Scherzer is toward the end of his journey. This is year six of the seven on his $210 million contract. The deal is a win if Wednesday night was his last appearance (it won’t be). Scherzer has finished in the top five of National League Cy Young voting every year in Washington. He’s been among the three finalists four times. He’s won twice.

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Scherzer also turned 36 years old nine days ago. He went through multiple injured list stints last season because of back and neck problems. And, eventually, was part of stunning World Series news when he had to be scratched from his Game 5 start after his neck locked up on him the morning prior. Scherzer said he fell out of bed and his wife, Erica, had to help dress him because he could not raise his arm above his shoulder. He was back on the mound for Game 7.

He felt his delivery was causing the problem. Scherzer said in March video showed his glove in the wrong place, straining his back. This time, his hamstring groaned during his regular running routine. These are the kind of injuries that pile up with age. Scherzer’s ability to push aside the aging process during the life of his contract is almost as impressive as the outcomes all the times he does pitch. Run, lift, prepare, post. It’s a formula which kept him on the mound with regularity for a decade.

However, the process has become more challenging since last August when his back and neck problems began. This could well be a blip, though hamstring injuries rarely are. They tend to linger and nag, much like the problems for the Nationals to start 2020, which were precisely what they wanted to avoid.

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Brian Dozier on World Series run with Nationals: ‘I’d do it again for anything’

Brian Dozier on World Series run with Nationals: ‘I’d do it again for anything’

Brian Dozier has played nine seasons in the major leagues for four different teams. He’s made the playoffs three times, made an All-Star team and won a Gold Glove. His career has been a respectable one and he’s formed particularly deep ties with the Minnesota area after playing his first six and a half seasons with the Twins.

And yet when he looks back on his playing days, it’ll be his one year with the Nationals that stands out the most. In an interview with MASN’s Dan Kolko aired Wednesday, Dozier talked about what he missed most about the team now that he’s playing against them as a member of the New York Mets.

“The team is what made it,” Dozier said. “Oldest team in baseball, all the veterans, we had fun, we knew how to have fun in the locker room, outside, all that kind of stuff and it was game on in between the lines. That was really important and it goes to show you that when you’re not playing baseball or whatever down the road, switching teams and all that, the relationships that you have and you build are off the charts and last year was probably the most fun I’ve had.”

Dozier struggled at the plate for most of the year, hitting .238 with 20 home runs and 105 strikeouts over 105 games. He lost his job as the team’s starting second baseman to midseason acquisition Asdrúbal Cabrera and had just seven plate appearances in the playoffs.

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But Dozier made his most important impact in the clubhouse. A fluent Spanish speaker, he helped a roster full of Latin Americans gel and feel comfortable letting their personalities flourish. With his own rendition of Pedro Capó’s song “Calma” and repeated shirtless playoff celebrations, he did plenty to endear himself to Nationals fans as well.

He may have only played one season in D.C., but it was a season that he won’t soon forget.

“That was fun times, man,” Dozier said. “I’d do it again for anything. For another ring.”

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