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Hamels handles Harper, Nats

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Hamels handles Harper, Nats

PHILADELPHIA -- Lost amid the intentional plunking, the acknowledgement of the intentional plunking and the backlash that followed the intentional plunking was one minor fact.

Cole Hamels is good. Really good.

"He's one the best pitchers in baseball," Bryce Harper said. "He's 7-1 for a reason."

Hamels is indeed 7-1 now thanks to another dominant performance against the Nationals Wednesday night, resulting in a 4-1 victory for the Phillies.

While everyone else wanted to see what would happen when Hamels and Harper squared off for the first time since their emotionally charged encounter on national television 2 12 weeks ago, the Philadelphia left-hander just went out and did what he does best.

Hamels carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, escaped a potential jam in that frame, then departed after eight scoreless, lowering his ERA to 2.17 in the process.

"It wasn't in my head at all," Hamels said of his tiff with Harper. "I had nine guys that I had to face, so it wasn't on my mind."

As was the case earlier this month in the District, the Nationals went up against Hamels with an opportunity to sweep the Phillies and make a definitive statement against the franchise they've sought to overtake in the NL East the last five years. And as was the case in that previous encounter, they were shut down by the lefty, unable to get comfortable at the plate against his assortment of pitches.

"When he's throwing 93-95 and has got that cutter working, his change-up can be devastating," said Danny Espinosa, who broke up the no-hitter attempt with a sixth-inning double. "He was throwing hard tonight, and his change-up was around 82. So when you have that much of a difference between your fastball and your changeup, that's kind of tough."

Perhaps the only member of the Nationals lineup who didn't look fazed against Hamels was Harper, who went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk and struck a flyball to deep left field in the top of the first that didn't quite carry enough. Said Harper: "I think I should've hit that ball out."

The 19-year-old's single to right in the sixth, on the heels of Espinosa's double, looked like it might get the Nationals on the board at last. But third base coach Bo Porter waved Espinosa around, and Hunter Pence fired a bullet to the plate to get him on a bang-bang play.

Espinosa got up limping a bit, and he had his lower right leg wrapped in ice after the game, though he insisted he was fine.

Porter's decision to send Espinosa was perhaps a questionable one, and it looked worse when Ryan Zimmerman followed with what would have been an RBI single. Manager Davey Johnson, though, seemed more upset that Harper didn't advance to second on the throw home, a move that might have allowed him to score on the subsequent Zimmerman single.

"I think Harper should have been on second base," Johnson said. "High throw. We would've been in better position."

The Nationals had one more opportunity to get to Hamels when Jesus Flores tripled to open the eighth, though they stranded him on third base, with Harper grounding out to end the inning and send Hamels to the dugout to a standing ovation from the crowd of 43,926.

At that point, the Nationals trailed 4-0, starter Edwin Jackson having surrendered three runs and closer-turned-mopup man Henry Rodriguez having served up a homer to Shane Victorino.

They did get one run back in the ninth when Adam LaRoche homered off Jonathan Papelbon, but it was far too little and far too late to alter the outcome of this game.

Thus, the Nationals missed yet another opportunity to sweep a series. Despite putting themselves in position to do it nine times already this season, they've yet to finish the job.

"We wish we could've got that sweep, definitely," Harper said. "But to get two out of three against them, I think, was huge."

At the end of the night, the Nationals can still boast about taking four of six games from the Phillies so far this season, not to mention their standing atop the NL East and Philadelphia's current standing at the bottom of the division.

"I think it's close. I think we've got them, though," said Phillies manager Charlie Manual, not particularly known as a math whiz.

For all the attention thrust upon this burgeoning rivalry with Philadelphia, the Nationals know they face an even bigger test this weekend in Atlanta against a Braves club that could be tied with them for first place come gametime Friday.

"The NL East is really good," Harper said. "Great pitching, great hitting. Everybody tries to battle every day. The Phillies are who we're probably going to go after the next couple years. They're good. And we're good. It's all good. Whatever."

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What to make of the Strasburg-Scherzer shouting match in the Nationals' dugout

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USA Today Sports

What to make of the Strasburg-Scherzer shouting match in the Nationals' dugout

Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer had a heated exchange in the Nationals dugout Friday night.

It was another not-so-great moment in an otherwise unspectacular season for the Nats so far.

Things like this often appear worse than they are based on what we can see, not hear, on television. In any case, it has fans and pundits talking about a perceived off-the-field issue instead of the actual game. There's nothing "good" about this, but there are important factors that are "bad" and ones that are "not bad."

Davey Martinez, Strasburg and Scherzer already said this has been settled and wasn't a big deal in the first place, but for a manager who's already faced some scrutiny this year for how he manages his pitchers, having two of them go at it in the dugout isn't ideal.

It also doesn't present the best optics for a team that came out of the All-Star Break 5.5 games back of the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals need to build some momentum heading into the dog days of summer, and after a lackluster first half, this isn't how anybody would want to start the second half.

This was also Strasburg's first start back from a month-long stint on the disabled list. Ryan Zimmerman just rejoined the club as well. Things are shaping up to make for a solid second-half run, but all this does is detract from that.

The Nationals also just hosted the first All-Star Game in Washington since 1969. Having something like this happen in the dugout where everybody can see it takes away from some of that good publicity.

But there are also positives, or at least non-negatives, to take from this. Scherzer has always been ultracompetitive, and as the best pitcher on the staff, he needs to harness that into leadership. With Strasburg coming off a rough inning, Scherzer may have thought he needed a little tough love from a veteran. There's nothing wrong with that. Strasburg, to his credit, has never been one to focus too much on himself, so if there's anyone who can take something like this constructively, it'd be him.

This isn't Jonathan Paplebon fighting Bryce Harper for not running out a pop fly the day after the Nats were eliminated from playoff contention. These are two veteran guys who play the same position who are both competitive and want to win. It's akin to an older brother pushing his younger brother to do better. Strasburg even hinted at the family aspect after the game.

In the end, there's really nothing to see here. Frustration is part of the game. Talking it out is a part of remedying the frustration.

What really matters is tracking down the Braves and the Phillies. The Nationals can get started on that Sunday in the second game of a rain-shortened two-game series against the Braves.

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Saturday's Nationals game rained out, to be postponed

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Saturday's Nationals game rained out, to be postponed

Following a dicey matchup between the Nats and Braves Friday night which featured a heated argument between Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are getting a much-needed opportunity to regroup.

The Washington Nationals' official Twitter account announced that Saturday evening's matchup will be postponed due to inclement weather just after 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

The Nationals had planned to host "JMU Night" at the ballpark as a part of their "College Day" series, and due to more forecasted inclement weather Sunday, the Nationals decided to call the game off sooner rather than later.

The Nationals have yet to announce when the game will be made up.

If Sunday's game is played as scheduled, Max Scherzer will start.

This post will be updated when more information regarding a makeup date has been announced.

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