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Brutal stretch for Nats has end in sight; Taylor's heating up

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Brutal stretch for Nats has end in sight; Taylor's heating up

With their 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon, the Nationals have now lost six of their 10 games since the All-Star break ended. Max Scherzer has been beaten twice during that stretch. Their offense has averaged 3.8 runs per contest. The Mets have cut the division lead back down to two games.

Although those seem like warning signs, the stretch the Nationals are playing through makes it hard to analyze any sort of collective slump.

Since the All-Star break, the Nats have faced a gauntlet of elite starting pitchers with many of their own regulars missing due to injury. It started with the Dodgers who had Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. It continued with the Mets who pitched Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. And it didn't stop against Pittsburgh, as the Pirates rolled out Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole.

The Nationals are off Monday night before picking back up Tuesday in Miami. They will face Marlins ace Jose Fernandez (3-0, 2.77) in the series opener. He returned from Tommy John surgery on July 2 and has dominated in his four starts since.

Tuesday will be the 11th game for the Nationals in the second half. Through 11 games the collective ERA of the starters they have faced and will face (Fernandez) is 2.22. Nine of them have either been All-Stars or earned Cy Young votes within the last three years. The other two are Mike Bolsinger of the Dodgers and Syndergaard of the Mets, both of whom boast sub-3.00 ERAs at this point in the season.

The Nationals just got Anthony Rendon back, but they remain without Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Denard Span. With all those names missing, it's a wonder how they beat Bolsinger, Harvey, Syndergaard and Burnett in their four second-half wins.

The good news is that after Fernandez, their schedule will ease up considerably. Of their next 32 games, 25 are against teams not currently holding playoff spots. Three of those 25 non-playoff opponents will come at the New York Mets, but they will also see the Marlins twice, the Rockies twice, the Diamondbacks for four games, the Brewers at home and the Padres at home. The Marlins and Rockies hold the second- and third-worst records in the majors.

Somewhere along that run the Nationals should get back Werth and Zimmerman, and perhaps very soon. Span is behind them, but will likely come back some time during that stretch. They could also add pieces before the non-waiver trade deadline and in August through the waiver wire.

The stage is set over the next month for the Nationals to take off and create some room between themselves and the Mets in the NL East. Anything can happen, but the next few weeks certainly appear favorable for the Nats.

Michael Taylor homers again

Rookie Michael Taylor homered for the second straight game on Sunday to push his season total to eight. He now has six hits in his last 10 at-bats with two homers and three RBI. Through 82 games played he has eight homers, 39 RBI and 11 steals.

Those numbers aren't bad at all, especially if you consider his relative inexperience at the age of 24. Sure, you'd like his average to be above .240 and his on-base percentage above .283. But there's no question Taylor's play has been a nice development for the Nationals this season.

On Sunday, Taylor also made a highlight reel catch in the bottom of the fifth inning to rob Gregory Polanco of a would-be double. He seems to be improving game-by-game at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths.

What Taylor's role is long-term is hard to tell, whether he can be a true leadoff hitter and whether he's ready to step in next season if Span walks in free agency. But for now, he could be exactly what they need once Span and Werth return from the disabled list. Taylor can make starts for either player here and there, and come October his speed (3 SB in last 5 games) could be a huge asset for the Nats.

 

 

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Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman nearing minor league rehab assignment

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Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman nearing minor league rehab assignment

Over the last few weeks, the Nationals have finally started to get healthy. Slowly but surely, they’ve added stars like Juan Soto, Trea Turner, and Anthony Rendon back to their everyday lineup, and the wins have followed.

If everything goes according to plan, they could be close to adding yet another potential impact bat. This time, it’s Ryan Zimmerman.

The first baseman, who has been on the Injured List since April 28 while dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, could begin his rehab assignment as soon as this weekend, according to his manager.

Zimmerman is getting closer to full health but is still experiencing discomfort while running. During batting practice Thursday, Zimmerman resumed baseball activities, and the plan is for him to run the bases before his minor-league assignment.

"If you're going to be out there playing, you've got to be able at least score on a normal base hit if you're on second, go first to third,” Zimmerman said Thursday. “You might not have to be 100 percent on all that, but you have to do normal, everyday activities, or you're not really helping the team.”

The priority in the minors will be playing nine full innings.

"I think the biggest thing with the rehab games is just getting on your feet for nine innings so the first time you're out there for nine innings isn't here, and you can play some games and make sure it doesn't act up,” the longtime National told reporters. “Because once you're activated and once you're between those white lines, it's game on. It's more I think for Davey [Martinez]. You don't want to put him in a bad spot. If he is managing without knowing if I have restrictions or without knowing what's going to happen, that puts him in a bad spot. That's not what you want to do."

Davey Martinez has rarely had his full complement of players in 2019. Zimmerman himself has already missed 47 games.

Of course, once he returns, the Nationals will have more decisions to make. Not only do the Nationals need to find a roster spot for Zimmerman (Gerardo Parra is a candidate to be the odd man out, despite some flashes in his time in Washington), but they also need to figure out the playing time.

Matt Adams has hit with a lot of power this season, and without the DH in the National League, is limited to first base, same as Zimmerman. Howie Kendrick has been the Nationals’ second-best hitter in 2019 and is one of the best surprises in baseball, but is also limited defensively. Kendrick has more versatility, but with Brian Dozier’s recent surge (and superior defense), the Nats will likely want to keep him there. And, of course, Rendon and Turner are entrenched on the left side of the infield.

It’s something Martinez will have to figure out, he’s already begun speaking with players about what the arrangement will look like.

For right now, it’s a problem for another day, but if Zimmerman’s rehab goes well that won’t be the case much longer.

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Nationals players believe extended safety netting is a ‘no-brainer’

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Nationals players believe extended safety netting is a ‘no-brainer’

WASHINGTON -- Visuals can change everything.

It’s happened across sports in different fashion. An issue is discussed or dismissed until a troubling incident is brought to life via video in front of everyone’s eyes.

That breaking point on extended netting arrived for Major League Baseball after Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. pulled a line drive into the stands May 29. The ball struck a four-year-old girl. But, it was Almora’s reaction, as much as anything, which made the reality so stark. He was stunned and moved to tears. The player’s reaction amplified the incident to a level which forced something to be done.

Steps will be taken at Nationals Park to prevent such an incident. The team announced Thursday it will extend the protective netting up the foul line during the All-Star break. It will end just short of the foul poles. Washington has a good window to complete the work because it goes on the road following the All-Star break. The Nationals’ final pre-break home game is July 7. They don’t return to Nationals Park until July 22.

“As players, it's something that we've pushed for and advocated for years now,” Sean Doolittle said. “I think as you see exit velocities that have continued to increase and these new stadiums that are bringing fans closer and closer to the action, you're seeing balls go into the stands at really, really high speeds. It's really scary. Max broke his nose the other day on a BP pitch that was probably 50 mph and these balls are going into the seats over 100 mph.

“So, I think, hopefully, It's a way to keep fans safe while bringing them closer to the action. As somebody that watches the vast majority of games from behind a screen or chain-linked fence, I can promise you get used to it really, really quickly. It doesn't hinder your view at all. You think the most expensive seats in the stands, they're right behind home plate. People look through a net. I promise you-you can still see the game and after five minutes you don't even notice that it's there.”

Ryan Zimmerman called it a “no-brainer.” Trea Turner wants fans to be paying more attention, in addition to the netting.

“You only have to pay attention to small snippets of the game,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “I just want people to pay attention. You can’t block everybody off from a foul pop that goes over the net, that can still hit people. You’re not going to foolproof it.”

Netting in Nationals Park will be thinner than the current netting, according to the team. It will also have sections which can be raised pregame in order to allow players to interact with fans.

The Almora incident was referenced in a letter from Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner announcing the extension. The Nationals were also witnesses to an Eloy Jiménez foul ball in Chicago which struck a young fan in Chicago on June 11.

“Jiménez hit a line drive really hard foul and I saw a girl looking towards me -- I don’t know what she was looking at but was kind of looking in the outfield direction, hit her in the side of the face,” Turner said. “I heard it hit her. What sticks in my head is when I heard the ball hit her. Not good.”

Washington becomes the second team to announce a planned extension. The White Sox were the first.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters in Seattle on June 5 he didn’t expect league-wide changes in netting this season. Manfred cited a range of reasons from ballpark framework to fan objections. In 2015, the commissioner’s office recommended teams extend netting to the end of the dugouts. Three years later, that task was completed. The next steps have slowly begun.

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