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Controversy around him, Harper stays mature

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Controversy around him, Harper stays mature

So, Cole Hamels happily acknowledges he plunked Bryce Harper on purpose, saying "I'm not going to deny it" and "I'm just trying to continue the old baseball."

Then Mike Rizzo lambastes the Phillies left-hander, telling the Washington Post "I've never seen a more classless, gutless chicken bleep act in my 30 years in baseball" and saying Hamels is "fake tough."

And where is Harper during all this chaos? What does the Nationals rookie have to say about the maelstrom that has developed all around him, and about the pitcher who publicly admitted throwing at him in the eighth game of his career?

"He's a great guy, great pitcher and knows how to pitch," Harper said. "He's an All-Star. It's all good."

What does it say that between a 28-year-old former World Series MVP, a 51-year-old general manager of a major-league club and a 19-year-old outfielder with one week of big-league experience, the only one showing restraint right now is the 19-year-old?

This may come as a disappointment to all those scouts, opponents and media members who have been trying to label Harper as a punk from the moment he burst onto the national scene, but the kid has been a complete model citizen since his promotion to Washington nine days ago. He couldn't be any more respectful of the game, his teammates and opponents.

Wait, Bryce Harper? Respectful? Yes, that's right.

Credit his own increased maturity. Credit the Nationals' coaching staff and player development folks. Credit his family. Maybe even credit Scott Boras. Whoever is responsible for it, Harper has arrived in the big leagues under perhaps more scrutiny than any rookie in baseball history and has handled it all with aplomb.

He's said all the right things in front of cameras and notebooks, despite plenty of attempts by reporters to get him to slip up. He's done all the right things in the clubhouse, showing he knows his place among a roomful of veterans. And he's certainly played the game the right way, displaying more hustle and baseball instincts than guys with a decade more experience.

"He's smart," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think his baseball IQ, and the way he adjusts and the things he does at his age is impressive. ... It's only the beginning of it. That's the scary part. He's only going to get better."

Harper plays the game with a boatload of emotion, but he also seems to understand how to channel that emotion into positive play. How many other big leaguers -- 19, 29 or 39 -- would have responded to Hamels' plunking last night the way Harper did?

He didn't charge the mound. He didn't try to overdo himself and make a stupid play on the bases. Instead, he hustled. He went first-to-third on Jayson Werth's routine single to left. And then (on the advice of Werth and third base coach Bo Porter) he timed Hamels' pickoff move perfectly, bolted for the plate and became the first teenager in 48 years to steal home.

"A lot of times, whether it's coaches or media, you get caught up and go: 'Wow,'" Porter said. "Is it 'wow' because he's playing the game unlike other people, or because he's playing the game the way it's supposed to be played? If you ask me, he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."

And then at the end of the night, Harper stood in front of a dozen reporters trying to get him to say something controversial and revealed what truly matters to him.

"We lost 9-3. That sucks," he said. "I don't like losing. That's the only thing that comes in my mind when we walk away from that field."

Harper is a lot of things right now. He's electric. He's talented. He's taking the baseball world by storm.

Everyone wants to proclaim him the best 19-year-old in the big leagues since A-Rod, since Griffey, since Mantle. Whether he deserves to be lumped in with those greats remains to be seen.

But this much is certain: Bryce Harper's tremendous skills on the field at 19 are being surpassed by only one thing. His maturity.

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Washington Nationals announce the addition of a bullpen cart

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USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals announce the addition of a bullpen cart

Sean Doolittle has gotten his wish - the Washington Nationals will now have a bullpen cart for the remainder of the 2018 season. 

In a release on Thursday, the Nationals announced that they will unveil a the WGL Energy Bullpen Cart on their upcoming Friday night game against the Miami Marlins. The cart will be at all remaining home games at Nationals Park.

Both the Nationals’ pitchers and opponents will be able to utilize the cart to enter a game as a reliever. The cart will transport the relief pitcher from the bullpen to their dugout instead of the traditional long trout out to the mound. 

Players are not required to use the vehicle if they do not want to. 

Earlier this season, Doolittle was the first National ever to use the bullpen cart at Chase Field, against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Afterward, he noted that although he had less time, he was not out of breath and “loved it.”

In addition to the Diamondbacks and the Detroit Tigers, the Nationals are the third active team to have a bullpen cart. Per the release, this is the first season that the bullpen cart has been used in MLB since 1995.

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Ozuna homers, Cardinals beat Nationals for 8th straight win

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Ozuna homers, Cardinals beat Nationals for 8th straight win

Marcell Ozuna homered and Austin Gomber tossed six shutout innings to lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night.

St. Louis has won a season-high eight straight. The Cardinals, who are 18-9 since the All-Star break, captured their sixth successive series after taking the first three of the four-game set.

Daniel Murphy homered in the ninth for Washington, which has lost four in a row and seven of nine to fall below .500 and nine games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The current skid began with a loss to the Cubs on a two-out, walk-off grand slam.

Ozuna homered in the second inning, his 14th of the season and his first since July 30.

Gomber (3-0), in his fourth start of the year, gave up three hits, struck out six and walked four.

Bud Norris pitched the ninth to pick up his 23rd save in 27 opportunities.

Harrison Bader and Yadier Molina added run-scoring hits for St. Louis, which improved to 19-9 since Mike Matheny was fired and replaced by interim manager Mike Shildt.

St. Louis infielder Matt Carpenter extended his on-base streak to 33 games with a walk in the fifth. It's the longest current streak in the majors. Carpenter left the game in the seventh after he was hit on the hand by a pitch from Matt Grace, but X-rays were negative.

Jeremy Hellickson (5-3) left in the fifth inning after colliding with Bader on a play at the plate following a wild pitch. Hellickson gave up three runs, two earned, on three hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out two and walked two.

Bader, who had three hits, also made a diving catch of a liner off the bat of Bryce Harper in the fourth.

The Cardinals, who have an NL-best 12-2 mark in August, remain one game behind Philadelphia for the second wild card spot. They are four games behind Chicago in the NL Central.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg threw a simulated game on Wednesday. He threw around 70 pitches and could be ready to return early next week, manager Dave Martinez said.

Cardinals: LHP Brett Cecil was activated from the 10-day disabled list on Wednesday. Cecil, who had been sidelined with inflammation in his right foot, pitched four scoreless innings in four appearances with Triple-A Memphis. LHP Tyler Webb was optioned to Memphis.

UP NEXT

RHP Tanner Roark (7-12, 4.12) will face RHP Luke Weaver (6-10, 4.66) in the finale of the four-game series on Thursday. Roark has won his last four decision, Weaver is 1-4 with a 5.13 ERA in nine career games against NL East foes.