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2016 Nats roster outlook: Max Scherzer more important in Year 2

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2016 Nats roster outlook: Max Scherzer more important in Year 2

Age on Opening Day 2016: 31

How acquired: Signed as free agent, Jan. 2015

2016 salary: $22.1 million

2015 stats: 33 GS, 2.79 ERA, 144 ERA+, 228.2 IP, 176 H, 74 R, 71 ER, 27 HR, 34 BB, 276 SO, 3 SHO, 14-12, 2.77 FIP, 0.918 WHIP, 10.9 SO/9, 8.12 K/BB

2016 storyline: In his first season in Washington, Max Scherzer was essentially a bonus for a team that was already known for its pitching. The Nationals already had arguably the best rotation in baseball before they signed Scherzer and his addition was expected to make them even better.

But now with Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister having left, and with a thinner crop of starters entering this season, the Nats will rely much more on Scherzer than they did - or least initially hoped to - in 2015. Scherzer was the ace last season, but now he's the leader of a less-heralded group. And with Stephen Strasburg entering a contract year, the future of the Nats' pitching staff revolves around Scherzer.

What that means for his play on the field is hard to define, but in Year 2 of his contract with the Nats, Scherzer may have an opportunity to become a more vocal leader in the clubhouse. Scherzer already said at WinterFest in 2015 that he thinks knowing his teammates better and not being the new guy anymore could have its advantages.

Best-case scenario: For Scherzer, there is really no limit to how good of a season he can have. The guy has already won a Cy Young award and he showed for most of last season how dominant he can be.

The key for Scherzer will be consistency and cutting down on his homers. That said, it would be hard for Scherzer to be better than he was overall in 2015. The guy was already an elite pitcher and he posted the best ERA and the most strikeouts of his career. If he gets any better than he was, then we are talking about a historic season and one that might get people talking about his chances for the Hall of Fame down the road.

Worst-case scenario: The Nationals move towards 2016 with question marks in their rotation for the first time in a few years. Beyond Scherzer and Strasburg, there is uncertainty at each spot.

That makes it more important for Scherzer to have a good season, because if he doesn't then they could run into problems very easily. What if Scherzer has a slightly down year? That would require others in the rotation to step up and it might be a lot to ask for Joe Ross, who is still inexperienced, and Tanner Roark, who is hoping to be much better this season than he was in 2015.

Most-likely scenario: Scherzer has been among the best pitchers in all of baseball for three years running, having finished in the top five of Cy Young voting in his league in each of those seasons. There is no reason to believe he will not continue dominating, as he is just that good.

It is reasonable, however, to expect him to take at least a minor step back without having the luxury of joining a new league and having many hitters face him for the first time. But Scherzer is so astute at making adjustments and preparing for opposing lineups that whatever effect that dynamic may have is likely to be minor.

Baseball Reference, for what it's worth, has him going 14-8 with a 3.17 ERA and 219 strikeouts in 196 innings. That would represent a regression from 2015, but still keep him on the short-list of best pitchers in the game.

[RELATED: Bryce Harper gives emotional acceptance speech for MVP award]

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.