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Harper bounces back after costly error

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Harper bounces back after costly error

It ended up being Bryce Harpers best game so far as a major league player, but it didnt begin that way.

With zero outs in the second inning, Baltimores Wilson Betemit hit a long fly ball to left field off Stephen Strasburg. Harper, playing in center, tracked it down in left fielder Tyler Moores range and called him off. A little wind and perhaps some sun got in the way and Harper missed the ball with his glove by about an inch. Betemit reached second to lead off a two-run inning that left the Nats down 3-0 after two.

I probably should have let Tyler take it, but I thought I had a good beat on it, Harper said.

The wind took it a little bit. It got me, but I should have caught it and I take full responsibility for that.

Manager Davey Johnson said afterwards he considered it a physical error, that he would have been more upset of Harper made a poor mental play. Johnson didnt necessarily agree with Harper calling off Moore, but wasnt entirely bothered by the move.

Bryce got a little over aggressive, Tyler Moore was actually under it and the wind was blowing the ball away from Harper, Johnson said.

I dont know if he took his eye off the ball a little bit to avoid Tyler, but I heard him yell all the way from in the dugout.

Harper rebounded just an inning later and redeemed himself with the team and specifically Strasburg in a big way. After the Nationals ace led off the third inning with a single off Wei-Yin Chen, Danny Espinosa moved him to third with a double.

Harper then took a high breaking ball inside and pulled it to right field, just out of Nick Markakis range. Markakis got his glove on the ball but lost it as his knee hit the field on the way down. Both runners scored as Harper stopped safely at third for his second triple of the season.

I was trying to get a pitch up, he was throwing a lot of off-speed stuff. He left the pitch up that I could drive a little bit and Markakis made a great play, Harper said.

Luckily for us, he dropped it. To be able to get something going I think was pretty huge.

The score sparked a three-run inning and an overall 180 degree turnaround for the Nationals. Washington scored two runs the next inning, another in the fifth, and cruised to a 9-3 victory over the Orioles in front of 41,918 at Nationals Park.

Harper ended the day with three runs scored, two RBI, and a walk; a well-rounded game for MLBs youngest player. On this day he showed not even a costly mistake can throw him off and prevent him from making a positive impact on a game.

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low. 

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