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Well-rested Nationals welcome the slumping Dodgers for a weekend series

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USA TODAY Sports

Well-rested Nationals welcome the slumping Dodgers for a weekend series

WASHINGTON -- The Los Angeles Dodgers travel to Washington on Friday to take on a Nationals team that was rolling before rain idled them for most of the week.

On Thursday, the Dodgers snapped a six-game losing streak with one of their best games of the season.

Justin Turner, who returned from the disabled list this week, tied a career high with five RBIs and Kenta Maeda threw eight scoreless innings in a 7-0 win over the Miami Marlins. Turner provided a three-run double in the third inning and a two-run double in the fourth.

"As a collective group, we've done a good job of getting people on base -- we just haven't had that timely hit," Matt Kemp told the Los Angeles Times. "We got one of our best hitters back, and he had a big day for us today. I think it relaxed everybody, and you saw some good things today."

Building on that momentum won't be easy on Friday as the Dodgers (17-26) face a well-rested Nationals team that has won 13 of its last 15 games and starter Max Scherzer (7-1, 1.69).

Washington (24-18) has played 5 1/2 innings of baseball since Monday due to rain in the Washington area.

Scherzer had been slated to pitch against the Yankees Wednesday on normal rest. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer is making a strong case for No. 3.

He has won six straight decisions and hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any start. Scherzer leads the majors with 14 strikeouts per nine innings and has held opponents to a .116 batting average in four home starts this season.

"I think what separates Max is his competitiveness, the fire and energy that he pitches with, almost imposing his will at times on hitters. He's just in attack mode all the time," closer Sean Doolittle told the Washington Post.

Ross Stripling (0-1, 2.20 ERA), filling the injured Clayton Kershaw's spot in the rotation, pitches for Los Angeles. He is 0-1 lifetime in two games against Washington with a 21.60 ERA.

In his last start, he left with the lead after allowing two runs on six hits, with a career-high seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings of a loss to the Reds. Stripling batted in the fifth and was lifted in the sixth, only to watch the bullpen lose the lead in that inning.

"This was the first time Ross pitched into the sixth inning," manager Dave Roberts told mlb.com. "Up to 79 pitches, more than he's ever thrown, got a guy (JT Chargois) you're comfortable getting (Eugenio) Suarez out and it just didn't work out. We just didn't get it done."

Washington's light week was a gift for the back of the Nationals bullpen, including Sammy Solis, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and closer Doolittle, all of whom are on pace for career highs in appearances.

"Take 'em all," Kintzler told the Washington Post regarding the days off. "We need 'em."

Somebody who will be getting more days off than they want is catcher Matt Wieters, who had surgery Wednesday to repair his left hamstring, a procedure that could keep him out at least until the latter part of the season.

Backup Pedro Severino is hitting .274 with a .386 on-base percentage.

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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