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Early indications positive for Harper after injury

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Early indications positive for Harper after injury

Manager Matt Williams says Bryce Harper suffered only a "mild" hamstring strain during what appeared to everyone inside Nationals Park to be a serious left leg injury sustained on a freak play in right field during Thursday night's 5-3 loss to the Rays, offering up some cautious optimism about the 22-year-old MVP candidate.

"We'll see how he is tomorrow," Williams said. "It's mild, but he strained it a little bit."

Harper left the crowd of 29,242 at Nationals Park, not to mention his teammates, holding their collective breath when he crumpled to the ground and grabbed his left leg in obvious pain after slipping while making a wild throw to the plate during the top of the sixth inning.

Scooping up Asdrubal Cabrera's 1-out single, he prepared to fire toward the plate in an attempt to throw out Tampa Bay's Logan Forsythe. Harper's leg, though, gave out as he planted to make the throw on outfield grass that remained wet following a 17-minute rain delay two innings earlier. The throw sailed 40 feet wide of the intended target, landing in the third-base dugout as Harper fell to the ground in pain.

"It was really slippery out there with the rain, and my right knee gave out and then I put all my pressure on my left knee and got my hamstring, lower hamstring and the knee a little bit," Harper said. "But, I mean, it didn't feel very good. I was in pretty good pain. A little scared at the same time, because I could feel a little bit more on the lower half of it. But I'll see how I am tomorrow and go from there."

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Williams and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz rushed from the dugout to check on Harper while the crowd sat hushed. After several minutes, Harper got back up on his feet and eventually walked off the field under his own power, though with a noticeable limp.

Harper had surgery on his left knee following the 2013 season to remove a bursa sac that had plagued him for most of the summer. Given the history, he was admittedly worried when the play first happened, though he felt more encouraged after meeting with team doctors.

"You know, I've had problems with my left knee before," he said. "I've had surgery on it. So it was definitely really scary. It didn't feel all that great when I was laying there. So, pretty scary. But talked to the doc a little bit, get what he thought and then see how it felt. Very happy with what it feels like."

Harper said after the game he hadn't undergone an MRI yet.

"It's not to that point," he said. "If it still feels pretty terrible tomorrow or the next day, then we'll take that. But we're just gonna see how it feels tomorrow, see how it feels the next day and go from there."

After battling significant injuries each of the last two seasons, Harper had made it through the 2 1/2 months of this campaign missing only two games (each time after getting hit by a pitch). Healthy for the first time in a long time, he has produced huge offensive numbers, leaving Thursday's game with 22 homers, 53 RBI, a .344 batting average and MLB-leading .476 on-base percentage, .720 slugging percentage and 1.197 OPS.

For a Nationals club that currently has veterans Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list, with Denard Span and Anthony Rendon having missed the beginning of the season due to injury, the loss of Harper for any length of time would be a devastating blow.

"It's time to step up," Williams said. "Everybody. We look forward to doing that tomorrow."

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The Nationals bullpen no one expected -- or probably wanted -- is here

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The Nationals bullpen no one expected -- or probably wanted -- is here

Fernando Rodney shot off an imaginary arrow June 25, 2019, in a Nationals uniform while on the infield in Miami. He had just finished the ninth inning of a game Max Scherzer dominated. Hop in a time machine, go back to the offseason, say those words over and secure your head so it does not explode.

The current eight living in Washington’s woebegone bullpen includes half of the season’s Opening Day bullpen. Closer Sean Doolittle, Matt Grace, Wander Suero, and specialist Tony Sipp are the only ones to make it from late March to late June. None have an ERA below 3.00. One (Doolittle) has an ERA below 4.00. In normal circumstances, Grace, Suero, and Sipp would not have made it this far.

But this is not a normal bullpen year for almost anyone in baseball. It’s not even normal for a Washington organization annually confounded by how to put together a top-end relief group. In the midst of a push back toward relevancy, the Nationals brought the 42-year-old Rodney and three-time Tommy John recipient Jonny Venters into the bullpen. They joined Javy Guerra, 33, who was released by Toronto before Washington snagged him, and Tanner Rainey, who came from Triple-A out of necessity. It’s an interesting bunch.

Suero and Guerra were set to be the only bullpen members needed Wednesday in Miami during the Nationals’ 7-5 win. That was before Guerra allowed four runs in the bottom of the ninth and Doolittle had to come in to finish the game -- again.

Patrick Corbin pitched seven innings and allowed a run. Washington is a game under .500 and winners of 20 of the last 29 (that’s a .690 winning percentage; a 112-win pace across a full season).

Drag your brain back to the March 28 opener against the New York Mets. Justin Miller was back for a second season after surprising most with an effective 2018. Kyle Barraclough was lined up to be the seventh-inning reliever. Trevor Rosenthal was throwing 98 mph. 

All premises around the trio have since collapsed. Which is part of the reason Rodney and Venters are now in the mix.

From Mike Rizzo’s perspective, bringing Rodney and Venters up now makes sense. It’s low-risk. Putting them on the mound while the team is trending in the right direction -- and dealing with a soft schedule -- enables him to take a look at assets already in-house. Rizzo likely has three plans here: Give Rodney and Venters a shot. If they work, he is able to bolster the bullpen while holding onto assets. If they don’t, cutting them is a low-cost move and space opens for Fresno closer Dakota Bacus, who was named to the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday. Maybe even another dice roll with one of the remaining veterans in Fresno. If none of that works, hop into the fray for a reliever via trade.

Acquiring another reliever this season will be more of a challenge than in the past. The second wild-card spot is having the kind of influence Major League Baseball hoped it would. Coming into the night, the Nationals were three games out of the wild card. Six other teams were within 4 1/2 games of the second National League wild-card position. They need bullpen help as well, creating a competitive mish-mash. 

It’s less cramped in the American League. Four teams are within four games of the second wild-card.

Expect to hear these relief names attached to trade rumors: Ken Giles, Will Smith, Felipe Vazquez, Ty Buttrey, Hansel Robles, Shane Greene, Trevor Gott, Nick Anderson, Cam Bedrosian, and Reyes Moronta. All could be on the move before the July 31 trade deadline. The Nationals would be pleased with any of them. 

For now, they have the bullpen no one expected. Rodney has the imaginary arrows. Suero and Grace have bloated ERAs. Guerra made his 13th appearance Wednesday. Barraclough remains sidelined. Rosenthal is looking for work. 

Rizzo has overhauled half of the group. Further work remains.

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Nationals to wear throwback Expos signature powder blues on July 6

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Nationals to wear throwback Expos signature powder blues on July 6

Bring out the powder blues!

In the decade and a half since the Nationals franchise relocated from Montreal to Washington, D.C. in 2005, the Nationals have only worn throwback uniforms honoring the Washington Senators, who played in the Nation's Capitol from 1901-1960 before the franchise moved to Minnesota and became the current Minnesota Twins. They have not once worn any Expos throwbacks.

That all changes on July 6, when the Nationals will sport the signature Montreal Expos powder blue uniforms against the Kansas City Royals as the Nationals celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary, according to the Washington Post.

The uniform features powder blue jerseys and pants, with the tri-color red, white, and blue signature Expos cap.

The Royals will also be donning throwback uniforms from their inaugural 1969 season, taking the field in their original road grey uniforms with a cursive "Kansas City" across their chest in Royal blue.

The Nationals are honoring the Expos in more ways than just sporting their old uniforms. Nationals Park will also be going through a makeover, as the Expos 'M' will replace the Nationals 'Curly W' across the park for the afternoon. Additionally, concessions will offer traditional Canadian food, such as poutine, Montreal smoked brisket sandwiches and more. 

Expos legend Vladimir Guerrero will also be in attendance. Other members of the Nationals, such as manager Dave Martinez, third base coach Bob Henley, and MASN broadcaster F.P. Santangelo will be honored for their contributions to the Expos as well.

July 6 should be an exciting day at Nationals Park.

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