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After bottoming out, can Nats hit reset button?

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After bottoming out, can Nats hit reset button?

If you were hoping for a closed-door meeting, for the postgame spread to be turned over, for the expletives to fly, for the panic button to be smashed with a closed fist … well, that didn’t happen Wednesday night. The tone coming out of the Nationals’ clubhouse following a hideous, 11-4 loss to the Diamondbacks was one of encouragement, of sticking together, of “having more fun.”

Oh, there will be a team meeting before Thursday afternoon’s series finale — “I think we’ll have a conversation tomorrow about where we want to go and what we want to do,” manager Matt Williams said — but the purpose won’t be to tear anybody down but rather to try to build people back up after a ragged stretch to open the season’s second half that has left this team in a suddenly precarious position.

“Laugh, and really try to enjoy the game,” right fielder Bryce Harper said, offering his prescription for what ails this team. “That’s all that matters. Try to enjoy the game, try to laugh and smile. There’s bigger things than just baseball in life. Just come in with a clean slate every single day and worry about what you can do to help your team win that day.”

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Maybe there was nothing the Nationals could do after Wednesday night’s debacle but laugh it off and turn the page. This was, in every possible way, a laugher of a ballgame. Among its most notable features…

— A ghastly (and costly) error by Aaron Barrett, who fielded Nick Ahmed’s fifth-inning sacrifice bunt and fired it down the right-field line, bringing home the two runs that gave Arizona the lead for good. “Just trying to make a good play and get rid of it as fast as I could,” the right-hander said. “It just got away. It sucks.”

— A bases-loaded walk issued by Tanner Roark later in that fifth inning.

— A strike-out-the-side inning of relief by Oliver Perez, who got Harper swinging and then Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth looking.

— A bases-loaded balk by Felipe Rivero in the top of the ninth.

— A position player, Tyler Moore, replacing the ineffective Rivero later that inning … and outperforming the rest of the Nationals bullpen by retiring two of the three batters he faced, including MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt.

And then, of course, there was the big picture at the end of the night. A Nationals club that not long ago was expected to run away with the NL East title has now lost five of its last six while watching the Mets win six in a row and open up a 2-game lead in the division.

So, how come there’s no palpable sense of panic in the clubhouse right now?

“We can’t,” catcher Jose Lobaton said. “Still a lot of games. I know we’ve got a better team. I know we can do better and better, but that’s what baseball is giving to us right now. We gotta keep working and working and try to show the fans and everybody that we’re still a good team that’s gonna be in the playoffs.”

Playoffs? Playoffs? That may feel like the last thing this team should be worried about at the moment. Winning a game or two this week would seem to be a more pressing matter.

But that’s not this team’s style. There is an inherent confidence permeating through that clubhouse. It rubs some people the wrong way. But it’s who these Nationals are. They know they haven’t played up to their potential yet, but they believe they will before it’s all said and done.

“I think it’s just a matter of time, really,” left fielder Jayson Werth said after Tuesday night’s win. “We’re a great second-half team.”

There is some truth in that. Every team every year is by definition different, but the Nationals have established a pattern over the last three years of finishing the regular season on a roll. Their winning percentages in August and September in 2012, 2013 and 2014: .617, .630, .679.

Do they have another run like that in them in 2015? Who knows, but they may need one if they’re going to emerge on top and have another shot at erasing their October demons. At the moment, the Nationals (55-51) are playing at an 84-win pace. To get to 90, they’d need to play at a 101-win pace the rest of the way, a .623 winning percentage.

“I just think coming in every single day you’ve just gotta have a good mind, try to have a positive attitude every single day,” Harper said. “Just try to go about it the right way. Our team, we’re very good, and everybody knows that. Hopefully we can keep grinding it and keep doing it and have a positive attitude every single day. Just try to enjoy the game we play.”

The Nationals will hope to start that process Thursday afternoon, when their manager closes the doors to their clubhouse, gathers everybody together and tries to get them to use the embarrassment of their latest loss — and the last couple of weeks — as a wake-up call before it’s too late.

“Can it galvanize? Yeah, we hope so,” Williams said. “That’ll be the message tomorrow, for sure. We’ve got a limited number of games left, and we’ve got to play well if we’re going to get to where we want to go. That includes everybody. We feel good about the guy going for us tomorrow [rookie right-hander Joe Ross]. We’ll see if we can get that one to get started.”

MORE NATIONALS: D'backs 11, Nats 4: Things going from bad to worse

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You’ve seen Max Scherzer’s eyes plenty, but you’ve never seen Max Scherzer’s eyes like this

You’ve seen Max Scherzer’s eyes plenty, but you’ve never seen Max Scherzer’s eyes like this

Max Scherzer is a bad, bad man with a hint of crazy. Yet, situations like this are why Scherzer is nicknamed Mad Max. 

Scherzer is pitching for the Washington Nationals a day after taking a ball off the nose during batting practice. With a broken nose and a blackened patch circling underneath his right eye, Scherzer would not let the Nationals allow him to miss a start. In fact, he was adamant about starting against the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday evening. 

The results, well… are straight out of a nightmare. 

Who, in their rightful mind, would step into a batter’s box against a guy that has blue, brown, and now black eyes? Especially when that guy is Scherzer, an already intimidating three-time Cy Young winner. 

In the first inning, he didn't lose a step. It was his highest average velocity in an opening frame since 2015.

But honestly, did anyone expect anything different from the Nationals ace? No one questions the heart of Scherzer. The only question will be for the Phillies and if they can get this image of Scherzer out of their heads when they go to bed tonight. 

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With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

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With 'Baby Shark' as his new walk-up song, Gerardo Parra broke out of his slump for the Nats

WASHINGTON - When Gerardo Parra stepped into the batter’s box for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, everyone in the ballpark knew something was different with the 32-year-old outfielder.

His walk-up song, “Baby Shark”, drew the immediate attention of everyone in attendance. And it would not be the last thing that Washington Nationals fans remembered from Parra on the day.

“I wanted to put on something different,” Parra said postgame. “My [two-year-old daughter Aaliyah Victoria] loves that song. Before the game, I tried merengue, reggaeton, hip-hop, then I said, ‘You know what, I want to put in Baby Shark.’ I'm happy for that.”

After his performance against the Phillies in a 6-2 victory, “Baby Shark” should probably stick around as his walk-up song.

Parra was 0-for-23 when he came to the plate in the fourth inning. Before then his last hit came on June 1 against Cincinnati. Quickly Parra broke that hitless streak and doubled to plate the go-ahead run for the Nationals. He took a first-pitch slider from Zach Eflin and drove home Matt Adams, giving the Nats a 2-1 advantage.

Later in the game, he followed that up with a home run in the eighth inning as the Nats hit back-to-back jacks. It gave Parra, who started in the outfield for Victor Robles, his first multi-hit game since his June 1 appearance and his fourth such game on the Nationals roster.

But paired with his walk-up song, Parra’s sixth-inning assist to get out Bryce Harper is going to make him a fan favorite.  As Harper tried to go from first-to-third on a Scott Kingery single to shallow center, Parra scooped up the ball bare-handed to throw Harper out at third base. Without it there would have been no outs with runners on the corners and Patrick Corbin nearing the end of his start. Instead, the Nats cruised through the rest of the inning to preserve the lead. The Phillies appealed the play but to no avail.

“That's the only chance I had to get Harper,” Parra said. “I know he's an aggressive player and I tried to get everything perfect. Bare-handed, throw the ball as fast as I can. I think that changed the game.”

“It’s 'Mini-me,'” manager Davey Martinez, who played 16 years in the major leagues primarily as an outfielder, said about Parra after the game. “That’s what I tell him too. He came down [to the dugout after the play] and said, ‘You didn’t do that, you never did that.’ I go, ‘Too bad I ain’t got video of it…’ It was a tough play, barehanded, coming up firing. He’s really good, he’s a good outfielder.”  

With “Baby Shark” as his walk-up song Parra went 2-for-4 with a home run and a game-changing assist in a one-run ballgame. It looks like Parra has found his new walk-up song.

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