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Fellow All-Stars heap praise upon Harper

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Fellow All-Stars heap praise upon Harper

CINCINNATI — Inside a ballroom at the Cincinnati Weston on Monday sat the best players the game of baseball has to offer, dynamic young talents like Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson, recent MVPs like Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, one of the great hitters in history in Albert Pujols and 3-time World Series champion Buster Posey.

And not one of those guys will be batting third for the National League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game. Nope, the guy who gets that honor is the guy who was drawing rave reviews from just about everybody in attendance at the 86th Midsummer Classic.

The guy who will be wearing the curly W cap and blazing gold cleats when he's introduced at Great American Ball Park.

"I mean, he's the best hitter in the game," Braves right-hander Shelby Miller said.

There wasn't much dispute about that designation among the 67 other All-Stars here in town. Bryce Harper has taken that mantle over the last three months, a remarkable three months that has the baseball world abuzz.

"To see the success he's having right now, it really doesn't surprise anybody," said Miller, who has surrendered two hits to Harper (including a double) in six head-to-head at-bats this season. "He's a hell of a player. He's an athlete. He's a tough guy. Obviously being the first overall pick, a lot of expectations, and he's done well in that spotlight."

Few embrace the spotlight more than Harper, who has found himself the center of the attention since he was a teenager launching 500-foot home runs in high school showcase events and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

And few know how to genuflect toward his fellow All-Stars in a setting like this like Harper, who may be as confident as anybody in baseball history but recognizes this isn't the time or place to show it.

"I'm excited to play in a lineup with these guys, a certain group of guys that are some of the best in baseball," he said. "I'm very excited, very humble to be in this lineup. Just excited to be part of the whole thing."

And who does Harper believe is the best player in the game?

"Right now? It's gotta be Mike Trout," he said without hesitation. "Everybody knows that."

Well, maybe in 2013 and 2014 everybody knew that. Now, it's not so clear-cut.

For all his remarkable achievements, Trout hasn't ever hit .339 with 26 homers and an 1.168 OPS before the All-Star break. Neither has anybody else in the last decade, for that matter, with Derrek Lee the last player to put up those kind of first-half numbers back in 2005.

And this is a very different game today, with offensive production at its lowest point in more than two decades.

"Especially with how great pitching is these days, for him to be able to put up these kind of numbers is pretty incredible," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Very scary. You've got to give Bryce a lot of credit. He knows what he's doing at the plate. He's not just up there swinging at everything."

Harper's remarkable plate discipline impresses his fellow All-Stars more than anything else. During his first three big-league seasons, he could be counted on to chase more than a few pitches out of the strike zone. Now, he patiently watches them fly by, happy to take his walks, leading to a league-best .464 on-base percentage.

"He's obviously got a good approach this year," Miller said. "He's looking for a good pitch to hit. Not saying he hasn't done that in the past. But this year, he's got it figured out. He knows what he's doing."

And he may not be done figuring things out.

"The thing is, he's still growing," teammate Max Scherzer said. "He's still learning the game. And that's what makes him exciting to watch, because he's going to continue to get better. He's not going to necessarily hit for a higher average or hit more homers. But he's going to understand the game more. As pitchers start to figure him out, he's going to have to do things differently. And that's a game he understands. We've talked about it. It's really exciting to see him grow in certain ways."

Wait, Scherzer isn't suggesting there might still be more to Bryce Harper than we've already seen, is he?

"Oh, there's still more there," the right-hander insisted. "I firmly believe it. That's how good I think he is. He's just going to be able to do more things more consistently and understand more situations to be more productive. It's not that he's going to hit the ball now 700 feet. He's just going to understand what the pitcher's trying to do and still be able to get the job done."

Watch out, baseball. You've been warned.

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Jose Urena throws 1st complete game, Marlins rout Nationals 12-1

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Jose Urena throws 1st complete game, Marlins rout Nationals 12-1

WASHINGTON -- Jose Urena's previous start ended after one very heated pitch.

On Sunday, he went the distance.

Urena made the most of his borrowed time, pitching a two-hitter for his first complete game in the majors and leading the Miami Marlins over the Washington Nationals 12-1 on Sunday.

Urena (4-12) was suspended for six games by Major League Baseball after hitting Atlanta rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. on Wednesday. Urena was ejected from that start after throwing one fastball and appealed the penalty, keeping him eligible to play.

"I know what I did, and I know what kind of person I am and what kind of teammate," Urena said. "Just tried to execute my plan and go out there and have fun and show what I can do."

Urena, tied for the NL lead in hit batters, didn't plunk anyone on the Nationals, nor did he alter his approach. He struck out four, walked two and retired the last 16 batters. It was his first complete game in 74 big league starts.

"If you make a mistake you've got to pay," Urena said of Washington's lineup. "We tried to move their feet, make them uncomfortable at the plate. Try to attack the inside."

Right-hander Pablo Lopez was originally slated to start Sunday's game, but manager Don Mattingly opted to push him back to Tuesday and insert Urena.

The 26-year-old right-hander's next start would normally be scheduled for next weekend at home against the Braves. Urena could decide to drop the appeal, serve the suspension and miss that series -- after the game, he said he'll maintain the appeal.

Starlin Castro got a career-high five hits and scored three times. JT Riddle and J.T. Realmuto each homered and drove in three runs for Miami, with Riddle connecting for the second straight game. Isaac Galloway had three hits, including his first career homer.

It was the Marlins' first series win in Washington since 2014.

Trying to keep pace with the Braves and Phillies in the NL East, the third-place Nationals have now lost four of their last five against the last-place Marlins. The Nationals host the Phillies for three games beginning Tuesday night.

Gio Gonzalez (7-10) allowed eight runs on 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. Over his last 13 starts, Gonzalez is 1-8 with 7.07 ERA.

"I think it was in all honesty an ugly game. And everybody saw it," manager Dave Martinez said. "Gio couldn't keep us in the game and it got ugly."

Leading 3-1, the Marlins broke it open with a five-run fifth. After Riddle's sacrifice fly, the Marlins loaded the bases and Rafael Ortega hit a bases-loaded, two-run double off the glove of a diving first baseman Matt Adams to end Gonzalez's afternoon.

Realmuto greeted reliever Greg Holland with a two-run single, making it 8-1.

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Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

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USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

ST. LOUIS -- Koda Glover rewarded his manager's faith.

Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in three runs, Glover earned the save in the first opportunity since Ryan Madson was placed on the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

The Nationals won for just the third time in their last 10 games and snapped the Cardinals' season-high, eight-game winning streak.

"We needed a win today," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "Get on that plane, have a nice happy flight and come back tomorrow and be at home and be ready."

Tanner Roark (8-12) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings.

A beleaguered bullpen that had blown two leads to start the losing streak took care of the rest. Justin Miller pitched two scoreless innings before Glover closed it out.

"There's been a lot of changes (in the bullpen)," Miller said. "It's unfortunate, a couple of injuries and stuff like that, but I don't really look at it as I've got the seventh or eighth or anything like that. I'm just going out there just trying to do my job."

Glover took the loss in the series opener on Monday, giving up a game-ending homer to Paul DeJong.

"The first game of the series didn't go as I would have liked for it to have went," Glover said. "So to get put back in that situation or even a better situation to get a save, I'm happy with that outcome."

Harper drove in the game's first run with a double in the first and knocked in two more with a bases-loaded single in the fourth to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

A pair of errors helped the Nationals extend their lead to 5-1 in the fifth. St. Louis committed three errors in the game after committing just four total errors during the winning streak.

"A couple plays clearly we expect to make and will make and just didn't go our way for a little bit there," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said. "To the guys' credit they regrouped, settled down, and started playing back to the baseball they know they can play."

The Nationals had opportunities to pad the lead, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fifth while stranding nine runners in the first five innings.

"When you have an opportunity to put teams away you've got to do that," Martinez said. "Especially with how hot the Cardinals are playing right now. They're going to come back."

The Cardinals got within one in the sixth. After DeJong and Kolten Wong came up with back-to-back, two-out RBI hits, Harrison Bader hit a slow grounder to third. Anthony Rendon's throw to first got away from Ryan Zimmerman for an error, allowing Wong to score from second to cut the Nationals' lead to 5-4.

Just two of the four runs Luke Weaver (6-11) allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were earned. He gave up seven hits, including two to Roark, who scored both times.

Tyson Ross allowed one unearned run in 3 1/3 innings of relief.

Bader homered in the third and Matt Carpenter walked twice to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 34 games.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will have an MRI on his sore right wrist on Friday. RHP Joe Ross (right elbow surgery) threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings at Class A Potomac on Thursday and is hoping for a September return.

Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (right shoulder strain) will begin a rehab Friday at Double-A Springfield. RHP Adam Wainwright (right elbow inflammation) threw two scoreless innings Thursday night at High-A Palm Beach.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.19 ERA) will take the mound as the Nationals return home for a three-game series Friday night against the Miami Marlins and RHP Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA). Scherzer is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts this season against the Marlins.

Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA) kicks off a three-game series Friday night as the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers and RHP Freddy Peralta (5-3, 4.47 ERA). Flaherty struck out a career-high 13 batters in his last start against the Brewers on June 22.