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A blast and a bloop keep red-hot Nats rolling

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A blast and a bloop keep red-hot Nats rolling

It took nearly a month, but perhaps the 2015 Nationals are beginning to forge an identity, one that bears some strong resemblance to the 2014 version of this club.

Whether overcoming injuries to key regulars, a sloppy play here and there or a late deficit, these Nationals are beginning to show a characteristic key to any successful team.

“We’re a resilient group,” Ian Desmond said following Monday night’s 6-4 win over the Marlins. “We got a lot of guys in here who believe in each other and are pulling on the same end of the rope. It’s fun to be a part of.”

The Nationals are having lots of fun right now, and deservedly so. On the heels of a wild road trip that began with four straight losses, then changed course with a record-breaking rally, they have now won six of their last seven. Stuck in last place in the NL East, a full 8 games back only seven days ago, they’re now in second place, only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Mets.

And they’ve done this thanks to some impressive performances late in games, with Monday night’s effort the latest addition to the list.

Trailing 4-2 in the eighth after the Marlins got a pair of 2-out RBI singles off rookie reliever Matt Grace, the Nationals stormed back to score four runs in the bottom of the inning, thanks to a blast by Desmond and then a perfectly placed bloop by Yunel Escobar to cap a brilliant night at the plate by the veteran infielder.

“This is the best game of my career,” Escobar said through interpreter Nilson Robledo after his first-ever 5-for-5 performance.

Escobar had already singled four times over the course of the night — a grounder up the middle, a line drive to left, a line drive to right, a hit-and-run to right — before he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth with two outs, two on and the game knotted at 4.

With first base open and the .176-hitting Jayson Werth behind him, Escobar figured the Marlins might walk him.

“I don’t think he’s going to pitch to me,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

Marlins reliever Bryan Morris did pitch to him, though, throwing a fastball high for ball one, then another fastball down that Escobar fouled off. Morris’ 1-1 pitch was up and over the outer-third of the plate, so Escobar did what he has made a career of doing: He went with the pitch and sent it into shallow right field. Tyler Moore and Denard Span scampered home, and the crowd of 24,731 rejoiced the home team’s first lead of the night.

“He doesn’t get outside himself,” manager Matt Williams said of Escobar, now hitting .311 for the season. ‘He understands situations, he understands what’s needed in that given at-bat, he’s got an idea of what the pitcher’s gonna do, he studies the previous hitters before him and simply has an approach when he goes up there.”

Escobar’s big hit was made possible only by Desmond’s big homer, which tied the game only five minutes earlier. Desmond is the exact opposite type of hitter as his fellow infielder, aggressive (often to a fault) instead of patient and taking what the pitcher gives him.

But when it works, as it did this time, the end result is a thing of beauty.

Pouncing on Morris’ first-pitch fastball, Desmond sent the ball flying to center field, bouncing it off the grassy batter’s eye beyond the fence for his second homer of the season.

“Swing hard in case you hit it,” he said with a smile. “I hope it gets up. I hit it good, but I didn’t know if it was high enough. It made it over. It was a good one.”

This has been an emotional four weeks for Desmond, who endured through a horrific stretch of errors at shortstop, then after rebounding in the field wound up in an 0-for-29 slump at the plate during the Nationals’ recent road trip. That home run, though, left Desmond 5 for his last 9, and elicited a loud ovation from the crowd, which drew him up the dugout steps for a quick curtain call.

“It was huge,” he said. “I think coming off a long road trip and to come home and have our fans, with a lot going on in the city, come out and support us and then obviously stick around after we probably frustrated them for a few innings … it paid off for them. They got to see a good W.”

The Nationals have had a bunch of good W’s lately. And that has left everyone associated with this ballclub beaming a lot more than they were through a rough opening stretch to this season.

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.

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.