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Harper conducting himself like All-Star

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Harper conducting himself like All-Star

Bryce Harper hasn't played like an All-Star for the last three weeks. Since homering in Toronto on June 12 and then uttering his now famous "Clown question, bro" quote, he's hitting just .205 with one homer, three RBI, 20 strikeouts and a .558 OPS.

Harper may not have played like an All-Star during that time, but he's sure conducted himself like one.

As more and more attention is thrust upon him, and as the Nationals become one of the most-compelling teams in baseball, Harper continues to be tested off the field. And he continues to pass every single test.

He could've snapped at that reporter who asked him what kind of beer he would drink after homering in Canada. Instead, he displayed both maturity and snark with his perfect response that created an instant catch-phrase used even by the majority leader of the U.S. Senate.

Harper could have made a major faux pas when the Yankees came to town and said something that indicated his desire to someday play for his favorite team growing up. Instead, he kept his focus on the Nationals, resisted the urge to hobnob around the batting cage with A-Rod and CC and Derek and eventually professed his desire to spend his entire career in Washington.

And when MLB's All-Star teams were announced yesterday and Harper learned he was among five players on the "Final Vote" ballot, he could have bragged about his own case for a ticket to Kansas City. Instead, he repeatedly insisted the retiring Chipper Jones should win the vote.

"He should have already been in the All-Star Game, no matter what," Harper said following yesterday's 8-4 win in Atlanta. "He's an All-Star and has been an All-Star for 20 years. I think Chip should be there and ... if I had to vote, Chip's going."

Talk about knowing the right thing to say. Harper couldn't have handled that sticky situation any better. Would he like to be an All-Star at 19? Absolutely. But he understands there will be plenty more opportunities to play in the Midsummer Classic before his career ends, and he understands this is Jones' last opportunity to do it.

It's that kind of humility and respect for the game that has made Harper so popular among both his teammates and his contemporaries. Shoot, even Cole Hamels said he voted for the guy he intentionally plunked two months ago on his All-Star ballot.

"19 years old," left-hander Gio Gonzalez said. "That says it all."

Fans have until 4 p.m. Thursday to decide whether to vote for Harper, Jones or the other three NL players on the ballot (Michael Bourn, Aaron Hill, Aaron Freese). Harper's teammates say he's worthy of a spot on the roster.

"I think he's got a pretty good chance," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Obviously he's a fan favorite everywhere he goes. Even though they boo him, I know they still love him."

Truth be told, a quiet vacation in mid-July might be more valuable to Harper than a whirlwind few days in Kansas City. He's been dealing with some lower back soreness for several weeks. He's struggled at times at the plate. The physical and mental grind of his first big-league season might be starting to take its toll.

Asked yesterday if he thinks Harper has a shot to win the final vote, manager Davey Johnson replied: "Yeah, I do, but I hope not. I hope he gets the rest. I've been playing him everyday, every inning. I hope he gets the rest."

Harper didn't necessarily disagree with his skipper.

"It'd be great," he said of an All-Star selection. "I think it'd be a lot of fun to be out there around guys like that and stuff. But taking some time off and going home for four or five days, I think, would be good also."

As has so often been the case since he arrived in the big leagues, Harper keeps saying all the right things.

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Nationals look to halt red hot Tampa Bay Rays in 2-game series at Tropicana Field

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals look to halt red hot Tampa Bay Rays in 2-game series at Tropicana Field

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays, routinely using relievers as starters to deal with a rash of injuries, are pitching their way to victories.

The Rays (37-40) go into a two-game interleague series against the Washington Nationals with the momentum of a three-game sweep of the American League East-leading Yankees. New York hadn't lost three games in a row at any point all season, but the Rays pulled it off, capped with a 7-6 win in 12 innings on Sunday at Tropicana Field.

"That's the best team in the league right now, them and the Astros ... I think coming home from that we had confidence and it all carried over into that series," said Rays rookie first baseman Jake Bauers, who won the game in the 12th inning.

Since beginning their experimental use of relievers as "openers" to start games, the Rays have a 3.07 ERA, and entering Sunday's game, that edged the Yankees for the best ERA in baseball since May 19. They've won five of seven games to again challenge .500, and Sunday's walkoff home run by Bauers was their second this season, after totaling one in three seasons from 2015 to 2017.

The Nationals (41-35) had gone 3-9 in their last 12 games before Sunday night's rain-delayed game against the Phillies, dropping into third place in the National League East. They'll send out Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08 ERA), who has no wins in his last four starts and his ERA has risen from a sterling 2.10 to 3.08.

Gonzalez lasted only four innings in his last outing, giving up five hits and two runs against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. For his career against the Rays, he's 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA, though he's only faced Tampa Bay once since 2012. That was a rough 2015 start at Tropicana Field, lasting 3 1/3 innings and giving up five earned runs on eight hits, walking more batters than he struck out. For his career at Tropicana, he has an 11.25 ERA.

The Rays will have an actual starter on the mound in Blake Snell (9-4, 2.48), who is in line for an All-Star appearance after the first three months of his season. He has just one loss in his last seven starts, and while he has never faced the Nationals, he has generally fared well in interleague play, going 3-2 with a 2.33 ERA in eight career starts.

Tampa Bay, hoping to build on its current momentum, has a tough week ahead, with two games against Washington, then another four against Houston to close out the homestand.

Washington goes from St. Petersburg to a weekend four-game series at the Philadelphia Phillies before returning home for a week.

The Rays got a head start with a Sunday afternoon game and the Nationals saw their prime-time game delayed by rain, keeping them on the field beyond midnight and still needing to fly to Florida for the two-game stopover.

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Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

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USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.