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Behind Harper power surge, Nats outlast Marlins

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Behind Harper power surge, Nats outlast Marlins

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: No matter how much the game has changed over the decades, through deadball eras and steroid eras, there's always been something special about the 3-homer game. It's a single-game feat accomplished by some of baseball's greatest, but not all. And on this warm Wednesday afternoon on South Capitol Street, Bryce Harper added his name to the list with the best power display of his young career.

Harper homered in each of his first three at-bats, all off Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler, to stake the Nationals to a 5-2 lead and elicit a curtain call from the crowd of 31,417. He came up to bat again in the bottom of the seventh with a chance to really make history, settling instead for a mere RBI groundout that extended the Nats' lead to 7-2.

MORE NATS: HARPER BLASTS 3 HRs

That lead wasn't as safe as Matt Williams would have hoped, though. Max Scherzer, after dominating most of the afternoon, faded in the top of the eighth and served up a towering, 3-run homer to Giancarlo Stanton that trimmed the lead to 7-5. Tanner Roark had to pitch out of a jam to finish the eighth, then Drew Storen needed to strike out Stanton and Marcell Ozuna with the tying runner on base to record the save.
With that victory, the Nationals took this series from their division rivals. They've now won 7-of-9 overall and moved back within 1 game of the .500 mark.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Hmm, nothing really stands out here as a highlight. ... Wilson Ramos did double in the second inning to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Other than that ... oh yeah, that Harper kid. What can be said other than he was phenomenal. His first homer was an opposite-field shot that landed in the visitors' bullpen. His next two were absolute bombs, each landing in the second deck high above the wall in right-center. Giancarlo Stanton didn't even bother moving on the last one; he knew where it was going. A 3-homer game is remarkable in and of itself, but Harper is in some really exclusive company with this one. He's the youngest to hit three homers and drive in five runs in a game since Al Kaline on April 17, 1955.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: The final line (7 IP, 10 H, 5 ER) doesn't look great, but Scherzer was great on this day, done in by a flurry of hits in the second and then Stanton's towering homer in the eighth. In between, the right-hander struck out 10, didn't walk a batter and completely overwhelmed the Marlins lineup. Should he have been allowed to retake the mound for the eighth? That's debatable. He was sitting at 101 pitches but had retired 17 of the last 19 batters he faced. He then gave up back-to-back singles to Dee Gordon and Martin Prado, getting a mound visit from Steve McCatty. Scherzer stayed in to face Stanton, who worked the count to 3-2 and then launched a ball over the left-field wall to make this game interesting again.

KEY STAT: The only other Nationals to hit three homers in a game are Alfonso Soriano (2006), Adam Dunn (2010) and Ryan Zimmerman (2013).

UP NEXT: After 16 straight games in four cities, the Nationals get a much-deserved day off Thursday. They'll open a weekend series against the Braves on Friday, with lefties Gio Gonzalez (2-2, 3.86) and Eric Stults (1-2, 4.91) squaring off.

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Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

WASHINGTON -- Having already won their first series at Nationals Park since April 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies will go for the sweep of Washington on Sunday night.

Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.08 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 4.66).

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in 2013 and went to the Phillies in 2015 as part of the Jonathan Papelbon trade.

After struggling for three straight starts -- giving up 13 runs in 14 innings -- Pivetta allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals last time out, striking out a career-high 13 batters.

"That's some of the best stuff I've seen him have all year," catcher Andrew Knapp told mlb.com. "The curveball was electric."

Pivetta got 11 swings and misses with the curveball.

"It was nice to have it back," Pivetta told mlb.com. "It all started with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much and it worked out."

It his first start -- and second big-league appearance -- the 24-year-old Rodriguez picked up a win against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He allowed five runs, four hits and three walks in five innings.

Rodriguez and Satuday's losing pitcher, Erick Fedde, are filling in for injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phillies have outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the fist two games of the series. On Saturday, Maikel Franco had four hits and Carlos Santana homered to back Aaron Nola in a 5-3 victory.

"That was just a tremendous all-around baseball game," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Franco. "It's so interesting how we've been looking for him to be not just a hitter but a defender and a baserunner and an all-around athlete."

Franco drove in a run and scored twice, including the go-ahead run when he scored just ahead of the tag on Jesmuel Valentin's sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who have won six of seven, pounded out double-digit hits for the second day in a row in Washington.

"They have a lot of patient hitters," Fedde said of the Phillies. "I think that's what makes it tough. Guys aren't swinging at bunch of junk, so you have to attack them."

The Phillies have now won four straight series for the first time since May 2016 and are 2-0 in what will be a stretch of 10 games against the Nationals and the New York Yankees.

Anthony Rendon homered and Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for Washington, which has lost three of four while scoring nine runs.

"Look, I've got all the confidence in the world we're going to start hitting," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We'll start scoring some runs. Right now, the bullpen is a little beat up. We've got to get them going again."

Rendon is doing his part. In his las 15 games, he is batting .382 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.

Hellickson (right groin strain) will make a rehab start Sunday for Class A Potomac and then is expected to rejoin the Nationals' rotation.

Hernandez said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) is about a week from beginning a rehab assignment.

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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