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Uncommon joy joins a glimpse of the future following Nationals rally

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Uncommon joy joins a glimpse of the future following Nationals rally

PHILADELPHIA -- Clubhouse and equipment manager Mike Wallace tried to coax chunks of cabbage into a dustpan with a broom not long before midnight Tuesday. A vacuum seemed a more suitable mechanism to pick up the strewn cabbage. But there was a problem with that idea.

“Too wet,” Wallace said.

So, he continued around the room, sweeping bit by bit, pulling in pieces of an early April celebration following the Nationals’ rally for a 6-5 win against the Phillies.

Wallace’s clean up duties came just 10 games into the season and on a Tuesday -- abnormal grounds for such elation. The yell heard from within the clubhouse shortly after the game -- audible in the outer hallway through closed double doors -- countered the date. It also told of the vegetable’s fate, spiked into the clubhouse carpet as a celebratory ode to a spring training cabbage race which produced the same exultant response.

“We passed the cabbage around,” manager Davey Martinez said. “The boys like their cabbage.”

Tuesday was different. The Nationals trailed 6-1 following a poor start from Stephen Strasburg. Just four innings for him, steering Martinez into the pothole-filled bullpen, lining up a likely second loss in Philadelphia and extracting any chance to win the series. Washington was on a path to a 4-6 record, Philadelphia a jump to 8-2 and a quick four-game lead over the Nationals. Even with a win, Washington would finish the night ahead of only the woebegone Miami Marlins in the National League East -- and by just 1 ½ games if it lost. It’s always early until it’s not.

Martinez is living a different life in his second season. His 2018 body of work provided baselines to grouse about. When new, no track record exists for reference. Year 2 comes with narratives and beliefs about what a manager can and can’t do. Sticking to Martinez like wet cabbage to carpet is the idea his bullpen management is suspect.

Everything he did Tuesday worked. Joe Ross for two clean innings. Matt Grace for two clean innings. Yan Gomes hit a two-run homer to bring them a little closer while the bullpen held. Martinez sent Howie Kendrick to hit in the seventh, he homered, the first pinch-hit homer of his career. Now, a one-run game existed because the bullpen went from arsonists to extinguishers for a night.

And, the final blows, a ninth-inning home run from 21-year-old Victor Robles and 10th-inning parabola from 20-year-old Juan Soto that went over the foul pole, dropped the future in front of everyone. Robles was just worried about reaching base with the team down one and just an out remaining to work with. Soto was swinging for revenge. His home run sailed over Bryce Harper’s head, hooking hard past the stands where they now cheer Harper following a bow and fist pump. Harper was asked repeatedly postgame about his view of the home run. His responses were terse, the joy of all his pregame hi-jinks stripped by Soto’s shot over his legendary hair, his homer off Strasburg long forgotten.

The result just made Soto smile. He recalled a week to the day prior, when Harper reclaimed Nationals Park and left-handed Jose Alvarez struck Soto out looking on a 3-2 fastball. Soto did not wait Tuesday. The second pitch from Alvarez was a meager 89-mph fastball at the top of the strike zone; an error Soto seized on.

“They try to throw me everything away, away, away, and wait for my pitch, wait for the miss, they going to miss one time,” Soto said. “If they miss it, they pay."

Not everyone was happy. “Juan, you suck!” chants kicked up in the bottom of the 10th. Washington led by four runs after scoring nine unanswered. Citizens Bank Park was emptying. The sounds couldn’t be missed, though they didn’t bother Soto.

"Yeah, I hear all the stuff, but I don't pay attention,” Soto said. “They keep say it and I just laugh at it."

Most projected the NL East to be a season-long rope burn for the participants. Two weeks in, that idea has proven true thanks to broad talent and quivering bullpens. The Phillies have the best offense, the Nationals the best rotation, the Braves the best young talent, the Mets a fighting chance. No one is perfect. No one flawed to the level of uncompetitive. Which is why these nights feel different and beg a question: Is this really April?

“I think we’re seeing how evenly matched these teams are in the NL East and what kind of summer it’s going to be,” Sean Doolittle said. “Each win feels maybe a little more important than in years past. There is a little bit more of a sense of urgency and a little bit more energy to early season games.”

The music boomed afterward. Soto and Robles lauded each other, a scene expected for years to come. Doolittle took a chance to joke about his rare plate appearance, a three-fastball, swing-free strikeout. “I was looking slider,” he said.

This pile of events Tuesday -- beleaguered bullpen working, comeback against the Phillies, trying to stay afloat in spite of themselves -- led to the uncommon early season postgame joy. Once most of the cabbage made its way to the trash and players to the bus, a symbol of the night rested quietly on Martinez’s office desk: A bottle of red wine next to a half-filled glass.




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Nationals 2019 World Series documentary to premiere at The Anthem

Nationals 2019 World Series documentary to premiere at The Anthem

The Nationals 2019 World Series win over the Houston Astros still feels like a dream. Now, you can re-live every thrilling, heart-pumping moment all over again with a new documentary produced by MLB Network.

The documentary, narrated by NBC TODAY Show anchor and diehard Nats fan Craig Melvin, will premiere at The Anthem Monday, Dec. 2 at 7:00 p.m. 

Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, general manager Mike Rizzo and Lerner family members are expected to be in attendance for the premiere complete with a red carpet. Fans can purchase tickets to attend via the Nationals website as of Thursday morning. Those with tickets will also get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a photo with the Commissioner's Trophy as well.

The premiere will be the first opportunity to view the documentary before anyone else, with the release date set for Tuesday, Dec. 3. Preorders are available now on the Nationals website.


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Nationals add lefty pitcher Ben Braymer to 40-man, protect him from Rule 5 Draft

Nationals add lefty pitcher Ben Braymer to 40-man, protect him from Rule 5 Draft

The Nationals had until 8 p.m. Wednesday to decide whether or not they were going to protect any of their eligible prospects from the Rule 5 Draft, but they made the call seven hours early to add left-handed pitcher Ben Braymer to their 40-man roster and thus ensure he’s on the team for 2020.

Braymer, 25, was named the Nationals’ co-Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018 before posting a 2.51 ERA in 13 starts with AA-Harrisburg this year and earning a midseason promotion to AAA-Fresno. He struggled in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League but evidently impressed the Nationals’ front office enough to earn a roster spot ahead of next season.

The Nationals drafted Braymer in the 18th round out of Auburn when he was 22 years old, making him eligible for the 2019 Rule 5 Draft. Players who sign at 18 must be added to their respective team’s 40-man roster within five seasons while those signed at 19 or older must be added within four or else they’re subjected to being taken by another club in the Rule 5 Draft.

Braymer was one of seven players among the Nationals’ top 30 prospects (via MLB Pipeline) to be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. The only eligible player ranked above him left unprotected is right-hander Sterling Sharp, who made his way up to AA-Harrisburg this season and represented the team in the Arizona Fall League.

Washington now has 31 players on its 40-man roster, leaving plenty of room for the team to make offseason moves without having to cut anyone. The Rule 5 Draft is scheduled for Dec. 12, the final day of the Winter Meetings.