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Nationals use time against woeful Marlins to produce first three-game winning streak

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Nationals use time against woeful Marlins to produce first three-game winning streak

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the Miami Marlins, 9-6, Sunday to raise their record to 22-31. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Rain, sun, hail and a three-game winning streak showed up at Nationals Park Sunday.

The bad parts -- rain and hail -- put a temporary stall on the proceedings in the fifth inning. Erick Fedde finished his day around the same time. Another five-inning outing for him made him look like a reasonable part of a major-league rotation going forward.

The Nationals scored four runs in the third, four more in the sixth. The earlier four were more notable since they came against Miami left-hander Caleb Smith, one of the better lefties in the National League. Smith entered the game with a 2.38 ERA. His WHIP a mere 0.89. Washington chased him in just three innings.

Handling Smith produced the first three-game winning streak of the season. The Nationals are the last team in MLB to put together such a benign run of success. They also don’t care. The house was on fire when they arrived back to the District on Friday. Miami has served as the get-well (get-better?) card it is expected to be for NL East members throughout the season.

"If you look back, regardless of wins and losses – and we all want to win – the boys fight," manager Davey Martinez said. "They play hard, they’re in every game and now it’s gratifying to see us coming out on top. So, we’ll enjoy this one again and come out again tomorrow, we have another early game and do it again."

Max Scherzer pitches Monday. The Nationals could sweep.

2. Fedde was on the attack from the start. He threw eight pitches for eight strikes in a 1-2-3 first inning. His tempo, mentality and stuff were all on-point.

But, he made it just five innings. Fedde threw 83 pitches, 51 strikes.

Again, Fedde relied mainly on his sinker. He also threw a lot of curveballs.

Trouble was limited. Yan Gomes threw out Miguel Rojas when Rojas tried to move to third with one out in the third. Fedde dealt with seven baserunners total -- three of which were because of walks.

If there was a point to lament on the day, it centers on the three walks (one was intentional after he fell behind against Brian Anderson) in the final three innings.

Otherwise, solid work from Fedde in his second start since being re-inserted into the rotation. He appears to be a more effective pitcher than Jeremy Hellickson. The Nationals need to decide what to do with Hellickson (right shoulder strain) when he feels healthy. They could buy time by sending him on a rehabilitation assignment. That would allow a chance to be sure Fedde is on the track he appears to be. A choice would follow.

"Like I said before, my job here is to make it as tough for them to send me down, whether they want me in the rotation or the pen, I'm happy just to help this team get some wins," Fedde said.

3. James Borque made his major-league debut Sunday. It did not go well.

He and his ambitious mustache entered the game in the top of the ninth. The Nationals led, 9-2.

Borque was called up Saturday. Friends of his drove through the night from the Chicago area to make it to Nationals Park. His parents took a 6 a.m. flight. Patrick Corbin kept Borque in his bullpen seat with a complete game Saturday. The Nationals' expansive Sunday lead gave Borque (pronounced “Burke”) a chance to take the mound.

Borque delivered a four-pitch walk, with the fourth pitch going to the backstop, to the first batter. Fourteen-year veteran Howie Kendrick went over to talk to him.

When Borque reached 2-0 on the next batter, catcher Yan Gomes and pitching coach Paul Menhart went to talk to him.

A 4-6-3 double play delivered the first two outs. A double followed. Garrett Cooper walked. Harold Ramirez picked up an infield single when Brian Dozier could not get a throw off after a sliding stop. Brian Anderson then doubled in three runs.

That was the end for Borque. Four earned runs. Two outs.

"Burkie came into the game, and we’ve got to give him a chance, we’ve got to see what he does, he comes from Double-A," Martinez said. "The fact is, they don’t use a Major League baseball in Double-A, so we told him, ‘Hey, just throw your fastball and try to get it up.’ I’m not making excuses for the kid, but the first time out there and I like his stuff. But now he’s got to locate his fastball and you’ve got to get the ball over the plate."

4. Martinez has done well to manage Kendrick’s playing time throughout the Nationals’ struggles.

The temptation -- particularly when the injured list was populated by starters -- was to play Kendrick daily. His bat was needed, his defense was fine. Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list April 28. Matt Adams went on the disabled list May 5. Opportunities abounded.

Since Zimmerman went on the disabled list, Kendrick has appeared in 24 games. He made 16 starts, eight pinch-hit appearances and had four full days off.

Massaging playing time for the 35-year-old Kendrick was an issue when the Nationals started the season (and he was on the injured list because of a hamstring strain after coming off an Achilles tendon tear). Even with a full roster, Washington expected to be cautious with Kendrick.

Once the injuries mounted this season, and Kendrick remained hot at the plate, the easy move would have been to play him each day. Martinez played him often, but also gave him breaks. Not an easy decision. It continues to pay off. Kendrick went 3-for-5 Sunday. He’s hitting .303.

"I had conversations with Howie," Martinez said. "He lets me know when his legs are heavy. Because he's had a lot of hamstring issues and I know that. Like I said, if I can plop him in in a game where he can pinch-hit in a big moment, it means just as much to us as much as getting four at-bats."

5. Trevor Rosenthal update No. 1,896: He was in Washington on Sunday. He returns to Harrisburg on Monday to throw another inning. The Nationals thought Saturday night -- one inning pitched, no earned runs, no hits, a strikeout, 18 pitches, 10 strikes -- was better.

They want Rosenthal to make back-to-back appearances next. After that, they will re-evaluate, yet again.

Rosenthal went on the 10-day injured list April 26. He made his first rehabilitation appearance May 11. That started his 30-day clock. Rosenthal needs to come off that particular rehabilitation assignment and start another because of a new injury -- or come to the majors -- at the end of the 30 days. Rosenthal originally went on the IL because of a viral infection.

Rosenthal’s ERA at Harrisburg is 5.06.

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals hanging on with one week to go

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals hanging on with one week to go

The calendar is taking numbers with it, stripping the season down day by day, turning what was a tight wild-card race more into a fight for geography.

Washington enters the final week of the regular season with a hefty schedule ahead and its lead for the right to host the Wild-Card Game gone. The Nationals lost, 5-3, in Miami on Sunday because the bullpen blew yet another lead. As much as things have changed since April and May, one has remained constant: the Nationals’ bullpen is the worst in the league and biggest threat to team success. Their wild-card magic number is four in spite of it. 

Meanwhile, Milwaukee hung on for a 4-3 win against Pittsburgh to sweep the Pirates. The Brewers carried a perfect game through six innings. They used three pitchers -- including eventual winner Gio Gonzalez -- to do it. Milwaukee’s blistering pace the last two weeks has pulled it into a virtual tie with Washington. The Nationals are .001 ahead of Milwaukee with a game in hand. The Brewers hold the tiebreaker should it come to that once 162 games are finally complete.

The Cubs are spiraling. St. Louis scored two runs in the top of the ninth then sent Andrew Miller to the mound to finish a four-game sweep of Chicago. The Cardinals won each game by one run, reaffirming how slight the gap between the postseason and disappointment may be. Chicago manager Joe Maddon is in the final year of his contract. Even with the currency from managing the Cubs’ first World Series win since 1918, Maddon’s chances of returning on a fresh deal appear slim. If Chicago misses the playoffs, they become more unlikely, and looking back at four one-run losses to a despised rival becomes an easy spot to start the grousing.

Chicago’s six consecutive losses have turned the wild-card race into a two-team adventure. Increasingly, the main question is where the game will be played as opposed to its participants. The next seven days will determine that.

Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

Nationals, 98 percent

Brewers, 98 percent

Mets, 2 percent

Cubs, 1 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Monday, Washington opens a final eight-game homestand with Patrick Corbin on the mound and Bryce Harper in the batter’s box. Philadelphia lost Sunday to drop to 79-75. Its wild-card elimination number is a mere two, which provides the Nationals an opportunity for double satisfaction against the offseason’s “stupid money” spenders. Washington could both eliminate and clinch against Philadelphia by the middle of the week. 

The weekend delivers a tussle with Cleveland which could be meaningless or decide everything. An ideal setup would include Washington clinching its spot before the Indians arrive in town. To follow would be the question of how hard it wants to push for homefield. Can Davey Martinez rest his most-relied upon pitchers the final day of the season? Or will it be a desperate day just create another?

Watching Milwaukee will be more important. The Brewers’ magic number is down to three. Their soft schedule continues this week with visits to Cincinnati and Colorado. Sonny Gray opens the series for the Reds. Luis Castillo closes it. So, Washington can take some solace in knowing Cincinnati’s two top pitchers will be deployed against Milwaukee. However, Colorado, 67-89, is Colorado, and the final weekend against subpar competition gives Milwaukee ample chance to play at home Oct. 1. 

One week to go.

Coming up Monday:

Milwaukee off

Chicago off

Philadelphia at Washington, 7:05 p.m. Eflin (9-12, 4.00 ERA) vs. Corbin (13-7, 3.10)

Miami at New York, 7:10 p.m., Smith (9-10, 4.24) vs. Matz (10-9, 4.16)

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Local pizza chain continues to troll Bryce Harper with deal

Local pizza chain continues to troll Bryce Harper with deal

Are you a Nationals fan, a pizza lover, and still a tad bitter that Bryce Harper left the nation's capital for a mega-contract with the Phillies?

Well, you're in luck.

Philadelphia heads to Washington for a rare five-game series (Tuesday's doubleheader is a makeup game) on Monday, and barring a miracle, the final time the Phillies will face the Nationals in 2019. 

&Pizza, a Washington, D.C.-headquartered build-your-own pizza spot, is offering a promotion for every time Harper strikes out against his former team.

After every strikeout, fans will have exactly three minutes to text '#UROUT' to #200-03 in order to receive a promotional code. In return, each customer will be sent a code that will allow them to purchase a $3 pizza through online ordering or the mobile app. The full terms of the sweepstakes can be found here.

In his first season with the Phillies, Harper has had mixed results against his former club. In 48 at-bats, the 26-year-old has 12 hits (.250 average), two home runs and eight RBIs. 

But as far as team success, the Nationals have had the last laugh in the first year in the post-Harper era. Entering Sunday, with nine games remaining, the Nationals currently hold the top slot in the NL wild card race.

Things have not gone as well for the Phillies, who entered Sunday five games back of the second wild card spot with just nine games to go.

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