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Clippard survives harrowing 9th

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Clippard survives harrowing 9th

MIAMI -- Rarely does Tyler Clippard enter a ballgame with the Nationals leading by more than three runs. So perhaps he merely wanted to feel more at home yesterday when he entered for the bottom of the ninth holding a 4-0 lead and then immediately loaded the bases to bring the tying run to plate.

"No, I didn't want to do that at all," Clippard said with a laugh afterward.

He could afford to smile about the situation because he had somehow managed to wriggle his way out of the self-inflicted jam. After surrendering a leadoff single to Greg Dobbs and then issuing back-to-back walks to Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck, Clippard calmly struck out Justin Ruggiano. Then he got Jose Reyes to pop out to the catcher and Omar Infante to loft a foul out down the right-field line, with Bryce Harper surviving a collision with Steve Lombardozzi to snag the ball and secure the Nationals' victory.

So what really happened to Clippard during that harrowing bottom of the ninth?

"I probably took a little bit for granted the length of the previous inning," he said. "I don't think I threw enough pitches as I needed to get loose in the bullpen. That's on me. I just kind of battled out there today."

Indeed, the top of the ninth lasted only four pitches, with Marlins reliever Mike Dunn dispatching of the Nationals with ease. Still, there's some reason to question whether Clippard simply doesn't perform as well when the stakes aren't quite as high.

The stats actually support that theory. Twenty-five of his 40 appearances this season have come in what's defined as a save situation: either with the Nats leading by three or fewer runs at the start of an inning, or with the tying run on deck during an inning. In those 25 games, Clippard owns an 0.74 ERA, .120 opponents' batting average and a ridiculously low 0.740 WHIP.

However, in his 15 non-save-situation appearances, his ERA climbs to 3.60 with a .208 opponents' batting average and 1.333 WHIP.

Is there a mental switch that goes off once you find yourself in a scenario where one swing can change the outcome of the game?

"Pretty much," Clippard said. "All the other thoughts are out the window, and you're just kind of locking back in. You can't really worry about or think about what you did good or bad prior to that situation. You can't change it. You're in it."

Fortunately for the Nationals, Clippard was able to flip the switch and escape the jam. He wasn't credited with a save, because you can't create your own save situation, but he certainly saved that game from becoming a complete disaster.

"Things happen fast," he said. "At this level, that's something that I've experienced in the past. I took that experience out there and kind of just bore down, and luckily enough I made some pitches that I needed to in those big spots and got out of it."

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

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.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

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.