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Escobar becomes latest Nats injury concern

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Escobar becomes latest Nats injury concern

PHILADELPHIA — Yunel Escobar became the latest member of the Nationals’ starting lineup to succumb to injury Friday night, forced out of his team’s game against the Phillies after getting struck in the left hand by a first-inning Aaron Harang fastball.

Preliminary X-rays were negative, according to manager Matt Williams, but Escobar’s hand remained sore and swollen, leaving his status for the rest of the weekend uncertain.

Escobar declined to speak to reporters following the Nationals’ 5-2 victory but sent word through a team spokesperson that “he’ll be fine.”

The veteran infielder was facing an 0-2 count in the top of the first inning when Harang’s 89-mph fastball veered in on him, striking the back of his left hand and then caroming well off to the right. Escobar immediately went down to the ground, writhing in pain as Williams and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz emerged from the dugout to check on him.

After a lengthy exam by Kuntz, Escobar did get up and trot to first base, remaining in the game for the moment. But after the top of the inning ended and the rest of the Nationals took their positions in the field, third base remained vacant. Eventually, Danny Espinosa shifted from second base, with Dan Uggla entering to take his spot as Escobar headed for the clubhouse.

“It’s pretty swollen,” Williams said. “We’ll see how he is tomorrow. But good news on the X-ray, anyway.”

Escobar’s departure left the already-thin Nationals lineup at bare-bone levels. Jayson Werth (fractured wrist) and Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis) have been on the disabled list for weeks, and Anthony Rendon (strained quadriceps) joined them on Friday afternoon. Bryce Harper (strained hamstring) missed his second straight game Friday, while Denard Span (back spasms) was a late scratch when his recurring condition acted up again.

That left the Nationals with only two members of their projected Opening Day lineup playing in Friday’s game: shortstop Ian Desmond and catcher Wilson Ramos.

Somehow, the remaining position players (those that have come off the bench and those that have been called up from the minors to help out) managed to help lead the Nationals to their seventh straight victory.

“That’s part of the game,” said Matt den Dekker, who took over right field on Friday and clubbed his first home run of the season. “It happens. Guys get hurt, guys get banged up and need a day here and there. It’s our job to be ready.”

Things got so tenuous Friday night, the Nationals essentially were left with a 1-man bench. Harper and Span were unavailable. Uggla had to enter in the bottom of the first after Escobar went down. Backup catcher Jose Lobaton had to be saved in case something happened to starter Wilson Ramos. That left only infielder Emmanuel Burriss, promoted from Class AAA Syracuse earlier in the day after Rendon was placed on the DL.

As it was, the Nationals wound up using pitcher Doug Fister as a pinch-hitter for Max Scherzer in the top of the ninth, with Williams not wanting to burn up Burriss in that spot.

“That’s why you saw Doug pinch-hit,” Williams said. “We don’t want to get in a situation where we don’t have anybody. It’s no fun to play like that, but it certainly helps when Max is on the mound and he can go deep in a game.”

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

Remember when the Nationals put Trea Turner in centerfield so they could keep Danny Espinosa at shortstop?

Two years later it's Turner who leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR, as you surely know if you follow the Nationals on literally any social media platform. 

So while Juan Soto and Bryce Harper continue to dominate all of The Takes, it's Turner who's been the Nats' best position player this season. 

We'll start with some basics: 

Did you know that Trea Turner leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR? He's currently sitting at 2.4 WAR, above the likes of Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell, and Trevor Story, to name a few. (We'll ignore the fact that the top six shortstops in the A.L. all have a better fWAR.) He's a top-10 shortstop in baseball during one of the strongest eras in the position's history.

Even after a dreadfully slow start, Turner's still on pace to have the best season of his career. He posted a WAR of 2.9 last year and -- barring injury -- will realistically eclipse that by the All-Star game. 

At the plate, two stats jump off the page in regards to explaining Turner's stellar season. 

First, Turner is drawing a *bunch* of walks. His current BB% clip (10.6 percent) would be far and away the best of his career and up four percentage points from last year. It's a factor that helps explain - partially, at least - why his on-base percentage has risen and his BABIP has dropped. More walks mean fewer swings, fewer swings mean less contact, less contact means lower BABIP, etc. It's not the whole picture, but it's a big part of it. 

Secondly, Turner is making impressive contact on pitches out of the strike zone. FanGraphs calculates out-of-zone contact using a statistic titled O-Contact, which is a blessing considering some of the titles they choose to give their other stats. 

The average O-Contact across MLB in 2018 is 64.7 percent. Trea Turner's career O-Contact is 62.4 percent (although realistically it's closer to the high-50's - a small-sample-size from his abbreviated first season mucks up the number a bit). 

This season, Turner's posted an O-Contact of 69.3 percent. Not only is that 10 percentage points higher than his O-Contact from last season, but a top-50 clip in all of baseball. He's one spot ahead of Mike Trout!  Put both of these together with some encouraging Statcast numbers (rise in HardHit%, already matched his total 'barrels' from last season) and you can see why Turner's been thriving at the plate. 

Defensively, he's improved across the board as well. His UZR and DRS - considered the two most reliable fielding statistics, if such a thing exists - are both up from last year. He has the 10th-best UZR of all major league shortstops and ranks 1st in DRS. 

Last season, he finished 17th in both UZR and DRS (of all shortstops with at least 800 innings; Turner didn't log enough innings to be considered a qualified fielder). He ended the season with both numbers in the negative. 

You may be skeptical of defensive stats, which is fine. But if nothing else, the fact that Turner is turning literal negative stats into positive ones is encouraging. 

Lastly, Turner continues to be an elite baserunner. At this point in his career, his speed is arguably his best tool:

You'll note that purple dot allllllllllll the way on the right. That's Turner! Now, let's take a look at how his speed compares across all positions:

Essentially, Turner is faster than like, 98 percent of baseball. In fact, by Sprint Speed, he's the 6th-fastest player in the game. He also ranks 2nd across all of baseball in FanGraphs "Baserunning" measurements, only behind fellow teammate and mindbogglingly good baserunner Michael A. Taylor. 

So, Trea Turner an elite baserunner (maybe the best if you combine his raw speed with his baserunning stats), a top-5 shortstop in the field, and an All-Star at the plate. 

Juan Soto's been great and Bryce Harper is still extremely talented, but this year, Trea Turner has been the Nationals' best player. 

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