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Struggling teams continue to beguile the Nationals

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Struggling teams continue to beguile the Nationals

The Washington Nationals lost to the Colorado Rockies, 7-5, Monday night to drop to 10-11. Here are five observations from the game...

1. This road trip appeared to be a building opportunity before it started. No more National League East slugfest. No teams playing above their roster -- looking at you, Pittsburgh. No more windows of expected stops and starts. Forward march.

Not so. The road has burned Washington, losers of three of four against scalawags of the National League, Miami and Colorado.

Monday night, the bullpen let it go -- again. A would-be rally in the ninth was eliminated by the exquisite Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado, who turned an unassisted double play with two runners on. If anyone turns to ask why Anthony Rendon has not been an All-Star, running parallel with Arenado is the answer. He hit the go-ahead home run. He ended the game in the field. Talent pours out of his ears each morning.

The loss moves Washington back under .500. Again. Forward, back, forward, back. The National League East would be challenged to be more zany. Philadelphia is 12-10 after a Monday night loss to New York in which Bryce Harper was ejected. The Mets are 12-10 after the win. Idle Atlanta is 11-10. The four contenders continue to sit on each other’s chests.

Trouble for the Nationals is this current run was supposed to lead to daylight, not the headlamp of an oncoming train. They dropped the series in Miami. Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez are on the hook to make sure that does not happen in Colorado.

2. The Nationals bullpen entered the game when it was tied. Guess what happened then?

Matt Grace pitched a scoreless inning. He walked one. No big deal. A simple outing for Grace.

Wander Suero followed in the seventh. Arenado’s 1,000th career hit landed beyond the center field wall. No more tie game. Colorado led, 6-5.

Suero’s advanced numbers suggest he is a better pitcher than his ERA, which is now 5.79. Numbers like xFIP- (expected fielding independent pitching adjusted for the park), xFIP and hard-hit percentage portray Suero as a solid reliever. His results counter that.

Which puts Davey Martinez in a bad spot. It’s easy to quibble with his bullpen decisions at times. He also has who he has. Once in the game, someone needs to get outs. He put Suero in against the most lethal part of the Rockies’ lineup. Suero threw a cutter down and in to one of the best hitters in the league. Home run. Lead lost.

Kyle Barraclough allowed a home run, too. A solo shot by pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia. Just 376 feet, but out.

Hard to manage when so few can get outs.

3. Better for Brian Dozier. Three home runs in the last four games.

Monday brought a three-run homer and Colorado closer Wade Davis pitching around Dozier with a runner on in the ninth.

The Nationals are going to give Dozier every chance to get going for multiple reasons. First, he can hit 30 homers as the second baseman. Second, he’s easily their best defensive choice at the position. Third, he is making $9 million this season. That’s not about to be plopped on the bench in April. Last, as enticing as Carter Kieboom’s bat is, the reason he’s not in the major leagues is his defense. Only time can enhance that.

Keep an eye on Dozier’s fly ball percentage. He’s from the same school as hitting coach Kevin Long: pull and lift. His fly ball percentage coming into the night was down about six percent from his career average. If that goes up, so will his home run total.

4. Jeremy Hellickson and Coors Field is a dangerous mix. Hellickson needs to be fine -- up and down, in and out, never much on the plate -- to have success. The Denver air does no pitcher favors. It’s just that much more dangerous for a pitcher with less margin for error.

And Monday was rough: nine hits, five earned runs in five innings. A key hit came from former Nationals bench player Mark Reynolds. His two-run, fifth-inning homer tied the game. It was homer 297 for Reynolds, who tied Rickey Henderson on the all-time list via the drive to center field.

The outing also dinged an impressive string for Hellickson. He allowed three runs or fewer in 20 of his 21 starts since joining the Nationals. Monday went on the other side of that total.

5. Jake Noll is back.

One of the fun stories of spring, Noll was again summoned to the major leagues Monday in order to beef up the Nationals’ short bench. Rendon remains out of the lineup. He also remains off the 10-day injured list. Which means the roster has a dead spot.

Noll can play multiple infield positions. He’s also a right-handed bat off the bench.

Reliever Austin Adams was sent back to Triple-A Fresno to make room for Noll. The move leaves Washington with seven relievers and four available bench players.

Sunday, the Nationals were able to play with a short bench because Stephen Strasburg pitched eight innings. Going into offensively fueled Coors Field short on bench players is a bad idea. So, Noll, the unlikely 25th man on the Opening Day roster who drew a walk for a walkoff win in Game 5, has returned. But, probably not for long.


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Bryce Harper trolls Cubs fans after they call him overrated because of course he did

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Bryce Harper trolls Cubs fans after they call him overrated because of course he did

It's not just the City of Brotherly Love that heckles Bryce Harper from time to time, it's also one of the clubs he spurned during his offseason tour before settling on Philadelphia.

Prior to losing on a walk-off single to Cubs' star Javy Baez, Harper had a battle going on aside from the scheduled matchup, and that battle didn't involve any players on the opposing squads, but it did include the fans that fill their seats at Wrigley Field.

After the fans booed him all evening and labeled him overrated, the former Nats star chucked a fastball right over their heads and across the street.

Fortunately, the ball didn't break any nearby windows.

We hope. 



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Nationals bullpen finds a new way to lose a game

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Nationals bullpen finds a new way to lose a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-5, Tuesday to drop their record to 19-29. Here are five observations from the game…

1. They gave the lead back in the seventh, then again in the eighth before losing in the ninth. You know who “they” is.

A three-run homer run off Wander Suero provided the first shot against the Nationals’ league-worst bullpen. Suero threw a curveball to pinch-hitter J.D. Davis, who is hitting .429 against breaking pitches this year, and Davis hit it into the right-field stands. Not only is Davis potent against breaking pitches, but the curveball is also Suero’s worst pitch. He was beat on a curveball in the ninth inning April 14 to lose the lead. Afterward, in April, manager Davey Martinez said he was surprised by the pitch call. Yan Gomes was calling pitches that game, too. Yet, they called it Tuesday night, despite the dual emphatic counters to why that’s a good pitch in that situation.

“He got two big strikeouts with it,” Gomes said of the selection. “We were trying to expand the zone with it and just when you leave pitches up to good hitters, they're going to do some damage to it. I think [leaving pitches up] can beat anybody. We were trying to expand the zone, we left up just enough for him to hit it and J.D. did what he did. He's a good hitter and he made us pay for it.”

The Nationals rallied for two runs in the eighth to again take the lead back. Trea Turner doubled to drive in a run. Juan Soto followed with a double. Washington led, 5-4.

Matt Grace came in. He retired Robinson Cano in a lefty-lefty matchup. Hard-throwing Tanner Rainey entered to face Mets stud rookie Pete Alonso, who entered the game with 15 home runs. His 16th soared just inside the foul pole -- according to an on-field call then “inconclusive” crew chief replay review -- four pitches later. Tie game.

Both relievers failed in their execution. Suero didn’t want his pitch up. Rainey did. Neither hit the proper spot.

Rainey remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth. He walked two after picking up an out. He left. Kyle Barraclough entered. His first pitch was a broken-bat bloop toward Brian Dozier. He intentionally let it drop to try to trick the Mets into a double play. Instead, it produced an out at second.

Amed Rosario hit a one-hop grounder to shortstop. He beat the throw to first for a walk-off infield single. You read that right.

So, the line for second-guessing starts at Rainey’s initial entrance with one out in the eighth inning, when the Nationals held a 5-4 lead. Why didn’t Barraclough pitch there to hold the lead and set up Sean Doolittle for the ninth?

“I liked the matchup with Rainey, with the velocity and his slider,” Martinez said. “For me, the matchup was … and he got ahead. He just didn’t get the ball up.”

Rainey returned to the mound to start the ninth. Barraclough, who has allowed seven of eight inherited runners to score this season, could have started the inning. Instead, he came in with runners on base, then lost the game. It should be noted nothing was hit hard against Barraclough. However, the outcome was the outcome.

Also, should Turner have charged the grounder to try for a short hop against the fleet Rosario?

“Decision either stay back and catch it and make a hard throw or run and kind of make a do-or-die play,” Turner said. “I guess looking back at it, you try the other one since it didn't work out. But, felt like I gave myself a chance to make the play, complete the play and get out of the inning.”

And, for the first time, the weight of fighting back only to have the bullpen lose the game -- again -- began to show in the Nationals’ clubhouse postgame when Gomes was asked about the need to properly finish games and soon.

“I think you're nailing it but I think we don't need to, kind of a -- it's happening,” Gomes said. “I mean we can't put that aside. I think it's happening we need to figure out how to do it. I think it's just a matter of keep playing. Keep playing until the game's over and not wait for that moment to happen.

“I think mostly the seventh, eighth innings start happening or when those runs start coming in we, I mean you definitely see a drop. We were still tied and you kind of saw a drop in our...but it's kind of like, because it's happening a little bit. But I think it's one of those things man, because we do come out and battle and battle and battle. I think it kind of gets tiring to say we just need that one hit, just need to make it happen more than just wait for it to happen.”

2. Erick Fedde delivered about the best the Nationals could hope for: five innings, one run, four hits, one walk, one strikeout.

He threw 61 pitches, then was removed for a pinch-hitter in the top of the sixth.

Fedde last started April 23 for Harrisburg. After that, he joined the Nationals as a stop-gap reliever, which convinced them to turn him into a full-time reliever this season. He hopped into the rotation for injured Anibal Sanchez to start Tuesday.

The night was all about sinkers for Fedde. Thirty-one of his 61 pitches were sinkers.

Fedde is likely to make another start because the Nationals placed Jeremy Hellickson on the 10-day injured list Tuesday (more on that below). When Hellickson returns, they will have to decide who to keep in the struggling back end of the rotation.

“He looked really good,” Martinez said. “He threw groundballs, groundballs. If he keeps pitching like that, we’re going to be in good shape. We’ve got to build him back up, obviously. But he did really well.”

3. Though it’s a low bar, things are improving for Brian Dozier.

He hit a two-run homer in the top of the seventh inning to provide the Nationals a temporary lead and chase New York starter Zack Wheeler. Dozier was 5-for-12 coming into the game before his homer.

Again, this is a low bar. But for a player hitting .208, any progress is of note.

4. Trevor Rosenthal threw an inning of relief Tuesday for Double-A Harrisburg. Rosenthal walked two, threw a wild pitch, gave up a run and of his 24 pitches, just 10 were strikes.

He was though to be nearing a return to the parent club, possibly by the end of the week. The question now is if the Nationals think he needs more time.

5. Hellickson was placed on the 10-day injured list Tuesday because of a right shoulder strain. Yet, he was in center field playing long toss in the middle of the afternoon.

Hellickson said he felt discomfort in his shoulder since spring training. That prompts two questions: Why not say something prior? And, why play long toss after being placed on the injured list because of an achy shoulder?

To the first question, why now:

“Just cause it hasn’t gotten better,” Hellickson said. “We’ve been treating it every day, it hasn’t gotten better. We’ll see what rest does.”


“Just [a] shoulder strain. It feels good when I’m out there. It just doesn’t feel great in between starts. I’m not waking up too good. Like I said, it’s not getting worse, but it’s not getting better. So I’m just going to rest it for a little bit.”

To the second question, why play long toss:

“That feels good,” Hellickson said. “It’s just taking a start off to give it some rest, and not that big workload on a start day. I can take one of those off. It’s just on and off. It feels good one day, not so good the next. So give it some rest and hopefully get back to 100 percent.”

Another question: Has this affected your pitching and contributed to the 6.23 ERA?

“I felt good when I was out there,” Hellickson said. “It maybe affected my command a little bit. But I felt fine. I felt fine when I was out there. I don’t think it affected too much.”

So, the discomfort has been around since spring, has not gotten better, but feels fine when he pitches and throws long-toss but feels bad in between starts, yet hasn’t influenced his outcomes.

Kyle McGowin is a possibility to replace Hellickson in the rotation while he is on the injured list.