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Gonzalez heads to mound as Nats hope to sweep Marlins in opening series

Gonzalez heads to mound as Nats hope to sweep Marlins in opening series

Matt Wieters was signed by the Washington Nationals after spring training had already started.

So the veteran catcher, who had spent all of his big-league career with the Baltimore Orioles, is trying to quickly learn the patterns of the Washington pitching staff.

Wieters knows what it is like to hit against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who will start Thursday against Miami Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler in the series finale in Washington. The Nationals will be looking to sweep the three-game series after wins Monday and Wednesday, as Wieters had three hits in the second game.

Gonzalez has been with the Nationals since 2012, and each year Washington plays a home-and-home series with the Orioles.

"I remember Gio when he was younger," Wieters said. "He has definitely evolved his pitching style where he can pitch in different ways. That is something you will see as a catcher that you will have multiple options and you kind of point him in the direction for whatever we need that day."

Gonzalez has made at least 32 starts in six of the last seven years, but his ERA has risen in each of the last four seasons.

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He will be opposed by Koehler, who was 9-13 last season with a 4.33 ERA in 33 starts. The product of Stony Brook in New York is 1-2 in five career starts against the Nationals with a 4.50 ERA.

"He doesn't give in (to hitters) ever. He tries to give you as many innings as possible," Marlins closer A.J. Ramos said. "He is a competitor. He is always prepared. He has the preparation and desire. That is all we ask of starters: Go out there and keep the game close and do your best."

Koehler has given up six home runs in 32 at-bats to Bryce Harper, the Washington right fielder. He has made at least 31 starts in each of the last three seasons.

"He has been a guy that takes the ball," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "It is something you can count on. Tom is a picture of consistency for us."

The Nationals won the series opener 4-2 on Monday as Harper and pinch-hitter Adam Lind hit homers off reliever David Phelps.

In the second game Wednesday, the Marlins scored two runs in the first off right-hander Tanner Roark before the bats awoke for the Nationals.

Washington scored four times in the fourth to chase starter Dan Straily and came back to win 6-4.

"Well, he made an adjustment," manager Dusty Baker said of Roark. "He was throwing high with his fastball. This is a team that's hit him pretty good in the past. He's had some success the last couple times out, but Tanner makes adjustments. Wieters helped him make those adjustments. Wieters called a very good game for him. He went a little longer than we had thought."

Baker is encouraged by the fast start of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who hit a homer Wednesday and is batting .427 coming off the worst year of his career, when he hit .218.

"He's healthy. He feels good," Baker said. "You see his confidence growing daily. He hit a tough pitch out to right field. That's a good sign, especially this early in the year when that ball's not flying out there too much until it warms up. Anything he gives us is big, especially in the middle of that lineup. He's getting better every day."

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Davey Martinez tells great story of Gerardo Parra's rise as 'Baby Shark'

Davey Martinez tells great story of Gerardo Parra's rise as 'Baby Shark'

WASHINGTON -- As the great ice skater Chazz Michael Michaels once said, "it gets the people going."

Nationals manager Davey Martinez was enjoying the evening with his team up 7-4 in Game 4 of the NLCS on Tuesday, just nine outs away from a World Series berth, when he felt something was missing. This game needed some juice.

The crowd had gone through a frontload of emotions with seven runs in the first inning and they were in the middle of a long wait until Clinchmas. So, Martinez peered down the dugout and called on the life of the Nationals' party, Gerardo Parra.

That gave the 43,976 fans in attendance what they really came to see and hear. They wanted their favorite band to play their biggest hit; 'Baby Shark.'

"I only put him in the game today to get the fans going again," Martinez joked.

Parra, though, came through with a single to back it all up. He has become a fan favorite on the 2019 Nationals and, for the most part, his production on the field has justified the hype.

Parra's greatest asset for the Nationals, however, is not his game. It is his presence in the clubhouse as the odd-ball who zips to his locker every day on a scooter, blows a party whistle after wins and wears red-tinted sunglasses in the dugout.

He's weird, but in a good way. And he is undeniably a key ingredient to a Nats team that is now further than any D.C. baseball club has been in 86 years.

As he sat at the podium soaked in various forms of celebratory alcohol on Tuesday night, Martinez told a detailed story about Parra earlier in the season, how a conversation between the two helped Parra realize exactly what his role for the Nationals needed to be.

"There was a point in time where he was struggling real bad. He was like 2-for-30, and it was kind of -- everything was kind of down a little bit. I didn't feel that energy, and I brought him in the office, and I said, 'hey, what's going on?' And he goes, 'oh, you know, I'm not hitting. I'm not helping the team.' I go, 'no, no, no.' I said, 'I don't care if you're 2-for-100, your job is to bring the energy every single day. That's who you are.' I said, 'you play that music loud. You pump up the guys.' I said, 'you're the guy that brings that energy every day,' and he just looked at me, and he goes, 'you're right.' He said, 'I'm not doing my job.' I said, 'well, go do your job'," Martinez recalled.

"Needless to say, after that, he started hitting again, and he came back to my office a few days later, and he goes, 'hey, thank you. I didn't realize that I need to have fun too, not worry about' -- I said, 'yeah, hey, bring it every day.'"

Parra has been the symbol of the Nationals' clubhouse chemistry this season which has been hailed as a strength. Major League Baseball is an everyday grind of 162 games and Parra has helped everyone on the team remember on a daily basis that it is just a game.

Martinez and the Nationals believe that approach overall is a big reason why they were able to overcome a 19-31 record to make the playoffs and now the World Series. Parra, though it may not show up in wins above replacement, has been invaluable.

"What he's done in that clubhouse has really changed the way these guys go about their business. I mean, it was business. There wasn't a whole lot of -- he made it fun for this team," Martinez said.

"Those guys up there, every one of his teammates love him, love him. All the fans love him. He's just that guy. He's the Parra Shark."

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Sorry Nats fans, you can't buy the exact same sunglasses as Gerardo Parra and Aníbal Sánchez

Sorry Nats fans, you can't buy the exact same sunglasses as Gerardo Parra and Aníbal Sánchez

Gerardo Parra first broke out his rose-tinted sunglasses in the middle of July, at a time when the Washington Nationals were still hovering around .500 after their seemingly disastrous 19-31 start to the season. 

Then Aníbal Sánchez joined in with some yellow-tinted glasses and the fun-loving pair, and the Nationals, began to garner more and more attention from fans.

Both were signed by the Nationals as free agents: Sánchez in December 2018, and Parra in early May of this year. 

While they've each proven smart pickups -- just look at Sánchez' near no-hitter in the NLCS Game 1 -- it's their uplifting attitude that has really helped get the Nationals to where they are: their first franchise World Series. 

After the craze surrounding Parra's "Baby Shark" walkup song, fans are now searching where to find glasses to match the two fan favorites.

When googling Parra, the fourth-most-googled phrase is "Gerardo Parra sunglasses." The same can be said for Sánchez. 

Alas, from the photos online, Parra and Sánchez's sunglasses are made by the Pepsi-run sparkling water brand bubly, meaning they're likely a promotional item not available to the general public. 

There are similar glasses online, however. A Reddit thread was created in August to help Nationals fans find similar glasses, and some lookalikes pop up in the Google search "bubly sunglasses." 

So, while you can't rock the exact same glasses, there are still options for joining in the fun!

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