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A Beltway Battle that finally matters

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A Beltway Battle that finally matters

There's a bit of a misnomer circulating around the region that this weekend's Battle of the Beltways marks the first time winning baseball teams from Washington and Baltimore have ever faced each other.

Not true. On April 16, 1970, the 4-3 Washington Senators traveled up the road to Memorial Stadium and beat the 5-2 Baltimore Orioles before a rabid throng of 4,674. Frank Howard homered off Jim Palmer. Davey Johnson went 0-for-3 with a walk.

It was a rare, shining moment for baseball in the District against its rivals from Charm City, a perennial American League contender in the 1960s and early 1970s while the Senators languished at or near the bottom of the junior circuit.

"It never was much of a rivalry, because the Orioles used to do a little whupping up on people over here," Johnson said yesterday. "But right now, I think we're evenly matched ballclubs, pretty good, young clubs. So I'm excited about it, and hopefully the fans around will be excited."

Indeed, there's plenty of reason for fans of both local baseball teams to be excited about the latest interleague matchup between the Nats (23-15) and O's (25-14), who for the first time in more than four decades find themselves squaring off while sporting winning records.

Actually, tonight's series opener would have pitted a pair of first-place clubs if not for the Nationals' 5-3 loss to the Pirates last night, which coupled with the Braves' win dropped Washington to 12-game back in the NL East.

Nevertheless, this weekend perhaps offers a glimpse into what many around baseball hoped could be the case when the Expos relocated to the District eight years ago: Two successful franchises in these two, connected markets.

There's been precious little on-field success for either the Nationals or Orioles since then. Though each did surprisingly find themselves in contention early during the summer of 2005, each wound up fading down the stretch and finishing well back of the pack.

The Nats franchise hasn't posted a winning record since it won 83 games in Montreal in 2003 (managed by former Orioles great Frank Robinson). Baltimore hasn't finished above .500 since the 1997 club (managed by Johnson) captured the AL East crown with 98 wins.

There's a strong sense around South Capitol Street that this Nationals squad will finally get over the hump this season, led by the majors' best pitching staff. There's still some skepticism over the Orioles' chances of maintaining this pace, though with each passing day they're winning over more supporters.

"I follow them," Johnson said. "I watch them on TV. I know what kind of a lineup they have. It's pretty potent. They've got some great young pitchers."

Whether this ever develops into a true rivalry remains to be seen, especially with realignment next year shaking up the way interleague games are scheduled.

For now, both sides can simply enjoy this new, winning component to an annual series that to date has meant far more to fans than to the men in uniform.

"I just hope I don't hear during the National Anthem the 'O's' too loud," Johnson said.

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Ryan Zimmerman’s ailing foot returns him to the injured list

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USA Today

Ryan Zimmerman’s ailing foot returns him to the injured list

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman is on the injured list. Again.

Zimmerman was placed on the 10-day injured list Monday because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot, which also caused him to be on the injured list earlier this season from April 28 to June 27.

Outfielder Andrew Stevenson was called up to take Zimmerman’s spot on the roster. In a separate move, veteran reliever Michael Blazek was summoned from Triple-A Fresno on Monday. Reliever Kyle McGowin was sent to Double-A Harrisburg.

Zimmerman, who turns 35 years old Sept. 28, has played just 33 games this season. He played 85 games last season. The Nationals are hopeful this “partial rupture” could go away quickly. The bigger picture view is what this means for Zimmerman next year.

The team holds an $18 million option on him. It will be declined. Zimmerman knew at the beginning of the season his health would be key to every aspect of his future, If he was healthy, he thought he could still play well. He hit .333 in July, proving that idea to be true. But, he has not remained healthy.

From the start of the year, the Nationals and Zimmerman have said they hope to work something out if the contract option is not picked up. Zimmerman joined the organization in 2005. He doesn’t seem inclined to go elsewhere. 

An oblique injury stalled Zimmerman last year. This year, his foot won’t cooperate. Zimmerman could come off the injured list Aug. 1. If he does, and plays every game the rest of the season, he would max out at 87 games played. He would be provided days off when he returns, so Zimmerman is almost assured of playing fewer games this season than last.

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Nationals' ace Max Scherzer on the cusp of a return

Nationals' ace Max Scherzer on the cusp of a return

WASHINGTON -- Everything looked normal Monday: Max Scherzer in full uniform went to right field for his warmup throws, then walked into the Nationals’ bullpen for a full pitching session. He briefly lingered to talk it over with the regular denizens of the bullpen before exiting through the back entrance and looping back to the clubhouse.

It went well. He feels good. The expectation is he will start a game “at the end of the week,” according to Davey Martinez. Scherzer declined to put a projection forth. He’s just pleased to feel well. 

“I’m getting through the ball,” Scherzer said. “I feel great. I feel 100 percent. The ball is coming out 100 percent. It’s just a matter of making sure I got all of the feel for all the executions.”

Per usual, The Next Day is at issue. Scherzer expects no problems because he threw from a mound Saturday and felt “nothing” Sunday. If he comes in Tuesday feeling good, everything should be set for possibly Thursday to return and wrap a four-game series with Colorado. 

Scherzer thought he could pitch Sunday in Atlanta. He suggested as much to Martinez and others. Mike Rizzo, Martinez and team medical staff told him no.  

“[I asked], but it wouldn’t have been smart,” Scherzer said. “You need to see me off the mound. Can’t take that chance. I always want to pitch. If this was Sept. 28, I think, yeah, they would have let me go. But when you have so much season left. You can’t take that risk. So...I get it. If I ever think I can pitch, I’m always going to want to pitch. That’s why the ball’s in the trainer’s court, the ball’s in Rizzo’s court, the ball’s in Dr. [Robin] West’s court. They have to make that call. They didn’t make that call. I completely get why.”

A cortisone shot received seven days ago has proven effective. As has advice from former teammate Shawn Kelley, who had the same injury -- inflammation of his bursa sac below his right scapula -- three days before Scherzer. They talked, the shot was recommended and it helped right on time.

Scherzer said he has an idea what caused the issue, but chose not to disclose it. Though, he was adamant it has nothing to do with his workload this season.

Despite not pitching since July 6, Scherzer still leads the National League in strikeouts. He remains a top-tier Cy Young candidate. He also is desperately needed by a Nationals team which suddenly has a bit of disarray percolating in their rotation.

Assuming Scherzer is ready to return, the Nationals need to sort out the fifth spot in their rotation. Erick Fedde was scheduled to pitch Monday before the game was postponed by Major League Baseball because of inclement weather a day after Joe Ross put together a reasonable start in Atlanta. Austin Voth (right biceps tendinitis) remains on the 10-day injured list and is building strength in his arm. He expected to throw Monday.

The next two days are mostly lined up: Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin will pitch. Fedde could pitch the 1:05 p.m. start of Wednesday's split day-night doubleheader. If Scherzer pitches Thursday, Anibal Sanchez would be bumped to Friday to open the series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Nationals could pitch Scherzer on Friday -- keeping Sanchez on turn -- and still have him to close the three-game series against Atlanta next week.

"[Tuesday] will be a big day,” Martinez said. “If Max comes in and says he has no issues, we’ll go from there.”

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