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Fister's rough inning leads to Nats' 4-1 loss to Braves

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Fister's rough inning leads to Nats' 4-1 loss to Braves

By CHARLES ODUM

ATLANTA (AP) -- A.J. Pierzynski and Juan Uribe hit back-to-back homers in a four-run fourth inning and the Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals 4-1 on Wednesday night to end a streak of nine straight losses in the season series.

Rookie Matt Wisler allowed one hit in 5 1-3 scoreless innings to make up for a loss to the Nationals in his last start. Wisler had a run-scoring single in the big fourth inning, his first career hit.

Wisler (2-1) overcame five walks in his rematch against Nationals' right-hander Doug Fister (3-4), who allowed four runs in six innings.

Pierzynski hit a two-run homer to right field off Fister before Uribe followed with his shot over the wall in center.

The start of the game was delayed 2 hours, 9 minutes by rain.

The Braves beat Washington for the first time since the opening game of the season series on April 27 -- also against Fister.

Wisler and five relievers combined to allow only four hits. Jason Grilli had two strikeouts in a perfect ninth for his 22nd save.

The Nationals had runners on first and third with one out in the third and sixth innings. Each time the inning ended with a double-play grounder -- from Yunel Escobar in the third and Wilson Ramos in the sixth.

Denard Span's single off Nick Masset drove in Ian Desmond in the seventh. With two outs and runners on first and third, David Aardsma struck out Danny Espinosa.

The Nationals took only their second loss in their last 11 games, a span that included sweeps of the Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Braves sent nine batters to the plate in the four-run fourth. Cameron Maybin singled, stole second and scored on Pierzynski's fifth homer. Uribe's homer gave Atlanta back-to-back homers for the first time since April 15 against Miami.

Kelly Johnson had an infield hit and scored from second on Wisler's dribbler through the hole into right field.

HUSTLE FOR HARPER

Nationals manager Matt Williams said before the game he spoke with OF Bryce Harper about not running hard to first base on a fly ball in Tuesday night's win.

"I spoke to him today," Williams said. "It's important for him to be passionate about the way he plays. In every aspect. ... He'll be out there again today and I guarantee if he hits one in the gap he'll go hard."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman (left foot plantar fasciitis) hit and fielded grounders but still has some soreness and wasn't ready to run the bases as he continued his rehab with Class A Potomac. "He's progressing. It's still there," Williams said.

Braves: 1B Freddie Freeman (bruised right wrist) is scheduled for more treatment on Thursday. Freeman is eligible to come off the 15-day DL on Friday but is expected to need more recovery time.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer will face the Braves for the first time since joining the Nationals. Scherzer was 1-2 in six games, including four starts, against the Braves while pitching for Arizona and Detroit.

Braves: LHP Manny Banuelos is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett for his major league debut. Banuelos is 6-2 with a 2.29 ERA at Gwinnett.

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Michael A. Taylor played winter ball to work on his hitting. Here's why the Nats are hoping it makes a difference

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Michael A. Taylor played winter ball to work on his hitting. Here's why the Nats are hoping it makes a difference

Michael A. Taylor went on an unusual hunt this offseason. He traded the serenity of fishing in Colorado or Florida, among his favorite pastimes, for the noise of the Dominican Winter League.

Taylor joined Gigantes del Cibao, a rare move for a player entering his age-28 season who has played the last four years in the major leagues. The visit to the Dominican Republic did not go well. Taylor hit .143, struck out nine times and walked once in 29 plate appearances. A small sample size, but also an indicator more work is necessary.

Everyone involved with trying to unmask Taylor’s clear talent knew change was necessary. Taylor is quiet, supremely athletic and has delivered eye-popping glimpses of what he can do on the baseball field. Whether that is running down a fly ball in the gap or driving an opposite field postseason home run in a chilled Wrigley Field, he has performed at a level which displays a high ceiling. Taylor has also regularly entered disturbing droughts where he looks overmatched and uncorrectable. Fixing him at the plate, to any degree, gives the Nationals options. They could deploy him or find a future trade partner.

Initially, he was reluctant to go to the Winter League. He previously planned to work with hitting coach Kevin Long in Florida. All parties knew that would happen. The idea to fly south took further development and convincing. Eventually, Taylor agreed. Among the driving forces for the visit -- from the team’s perspective -- was Taylor’s truncated playing time in the second half of the 2018 season.

“Because of the lack of at-bats he had toward the end of the season, it’s always important to see live pitching,” President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo said in December. “We thought it was important to get him one-on-one work with Kevin and really break down his swing and kind of give Michael a fresh start going into spring training.”

Reworking Taylor’s swing began when his appearances on the field all but stopped. Juan Soto’s emergence paired with Adam Eaton’s healthy return to jettison Taylor to the bench. The timing was difficult. Taylor hit poorly in April and May when Eaton was out and an opportunity was available. His .626 OPS and 65 strikeouts in 210 plate appearances showed what happens when things are dismal for him at the plate. His .864 OPS -- despite 15 more strikeouts in just 68 plate appearances -- in June was yet another pop of what could be. Taylor stole 10 bases in 10 tries during the month, meaning he stole a base 39 percent of the time he reached safely.

Then his playing time shriveled: 48 plate appearances, 43 plate appearances, 16 plate appearances in the final three months. His OPS declined each month, too. Taylor quietly walked around the Nationals clubhouse as the season dissolved.

Long started working with him once he was off the field. They tried to shorten everything Taylor did at the plate. The priority is contact. If Rizzo is to be believed, and Taylor’s past performances have shown this to be true to an extent, Taylor is a modest dose of consistency from being a versatile weapon in the major leagues.

“I believe, seeing him as much as I have, you’re talking about a dynamic player,” Rizzo said. “With adjustments, he could be a special type of big-league player. Gold Glove-caliber defender. He’s got a plus-plus arm that’s accurate. He throws a lot of guys out. He’s a terrific base runner, he’s a great base stealer, he’s got big power. If he figures out the contact portion of it a little bit better, you’re talking about a guy who could have five tools. He’s had flashes of it in the past and he just needs to be more consistent in his approach at the plate.”

Where he fits now is unclear. Taylor, presumably, is the fourth outfielder to be deployed as a base stealing and defensive replacement late in games. Perhaps he splits time with Victor Robles in center field. If Bryce Harper returns, Taylor’s future becomes even more clouded.

What he does have is another chance and big backer in manager Davey Martinez. The Nationals made an around-the-calendar investment in Taylor in pursuit of unlocking what they believe still has a chance to exist.

What Taylor doesn’t have is much more time. He’s entering his age-28 season, fifth full year in the major leagues and closing in on the end of low-cost team control. A warm winter trip doesn’t change those facts.

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Philadelphia and DC are both likely to get a dose of Harper - the winter storm - this weekend

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Philadelphia and DC are both likely to get a dose of Harper - the winter storm - this weekend

At least one Harper is on its way to Philly. 

But despite the hopes of Phillies fans, it's not the baseball player - at least yet.

For the second time in less than two weeks, parts of the Midwest and the Northeast is set to get hit with a major winter storm - which thanks to someone with a great sense of humor or baseball knowledge or just pure coincidence - is named Winter Storm Harper.

While this storm is no way related to Bryce Harper' s free agency (officially, at least), it does have some impeccable timing. And, it is set to hit a few of the places he's reportedly considering - including Philadelphia and DC (though it may just miss Chicago according to forecasts).

On Twitter, fans - and even Harper himself - took note:

 

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