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Harper returns unexpectedly, homers against Pirates

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Harper returns unexpectedly, homers against Pirates

Hours before Max Scherzer made history against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Nationals revealed the surprising news that Bryce Harper was back in the lineup just 36 hours after suffering what first appeared to be a very scary injury.

Harper left Thursday's game after falling to the ground on a throw attempt and grimaced in pain as teammates and head trainer Lee Kuntz ran to his aid. It was diagnosed as a mild hamstring and no timetable was given.

But then Harper texted manager Matt Williams Saturday morning and said he was ready to play, so he did. And, in true Harper fashion, he played well.

Harper homered in his second at-bat on a hanging slider by Pirates' starter Francisco Liriano. He smoked it 436 feet to straightaway center field.

Harper established a career-high with the swing, as it was his 23rd homer of the season. He hit 22 as a rookie back in 2012.

"I felt alright. I was in the lineup. That’s what I wanted to do," Harper said. "This team needs me and I’m gonna cowboy up every single day I can play and if I can’t go that day then I’ll let ‘em know."

"We trust our guys that when they tell us they are ok to go, they are ok to go," Williams added.

"It's nice to see that he's healthy. I was definitely scared," Danny Espinosa said. "I didn't really know what happened, if it was his knee at first, or what happened. Fortunately it was just a minor strain and he was able to come back today and show that he's alright."

Harper now has 10 homers in the 14 games Scherzer has pitched this season. That means Harper has homered in 71 percent of Scherzer's outings.

Harper says that may not be a coincidence.

"Going out there and seeing a guy pitch like that every single day. Seeing a guy going every single start wanting to win, things like that. It just gets you locked in even more," he said. "I just put some good swings on some balls and was able to get a lot done. I told him ‘you keep pitching like that, I’ll keep hitting homers.’"

Harper admittedly feeds off Scherzer, and Scherzer said it went both ways on Saturday. Harper's homer helped fire Scherzer up.

"It just shows you how much of a competitor he is. His leg's all bruised up, his hammy's tight and he's out there competing, battling through injury," Scherzer explained.

"When I see somebody else going out there and competing like that, obviously hitting a home run, it just motivates you to keep competing as hard as you can. And I think it just kind of keeps going back and forth. The more he does it, the more I want to do it. The more I do it, the more he wants to do it. So I feel like the rest of the team picks up on it as well."

Harper also added an RBI single in the sixth inning. His return is obviously a great sign for the Nationals, who are already missing regulars Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. Barring a setback, he's all systems go.

"We need him. We need him to be in there," Williams said. "Came out of it fine, so I don’t anticipate any further issues with it."

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

Remember when the Nationals put Trea Turner in centerfield so they could keep Danny Espinosa at shortstop?

Two years later it's Turner who leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR, as you surely know if you follow the Nationals on literally any social media platform. 

So while Juan Soto and Bryce Harper continue to dominate all of The Takes, it's Turner who's been the Nats' best position player this season. 

We'll start with some basics: 

Did you know that Trea Turner leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR? He's currently sitting at 2.4 WAR, above the likes of Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell, and Trevor Story, to name a few. (We'll ignore the fact that the top six shortstops in the A.L. all have a better fWAR.) He's a top-10 shortstop in baseball during one of the strongest eras in the position's history.

Even after a dreadfully slow start, Turner's still on pace to have the best season of his career. He posted a WAR of 2.9 last year and -- barring injury -- will realistically eclipse that by the All-Star game. 

At the plate, two stats jump off the page in regards to explaining Turner's stellar season. 

First, Turner is drawing a *bunch* of walks. His current BB% clip (10.6 percent) would be far and away the best of his career and up four percentage points from last year. It's a factor that helps explain - partially, at least - why his on-base percentage has risen and his BABIP has dropped. More walks mean fewer swings, fewer swings mean less contact, less contact means lower BABIP, etc. It's not the whole picture, but it's a big part of it. 

Secondly, Turner is making impressive contact on pitches out of the strike zone. FanGraphs calculates out-of-zone contact using a statistic titled O-Contact, which is a blessing considering some of the titles they choose to give their other stats. 

The average O-Contact across MLB in 2018 is 64.7 percent. Trea Turner's career O-Contact is 62.4 percent (although realistically it's closer to the high-50's - a small-sample-size from his abbreviated first season mucks up the number a bit). 

This season, Turner's posted an O-Contact of 69.3 percent. Not only is that 10 percentage points higher than his O-Contact from last season, but a top-50 clip in all of baseball. He's one spot ahead of Mike Trout!  Put both of these together with some encouraging Statcast numbers (rise in HardHit%, already matched his total 'barrels' from last season) and you can see why Turner's been thriving at the plate. 

Defensively, he's improved across the board as well. His UZR and DRS - considered the two most reliable fielding statistics, if such a thing exists - are both up from last year. He has the 10th-best UZR of all major league shortstops and ranks 1st in DRS. 

Last season, he finished 17th in both UZR and DRS (of all shortstops with at least 800 innings; Turner didn't log enough innings to be considered a qualified fielder). He ended the season with both numbers in the negative. 

You may be skeptical of defensive stats, which is fine. But if nothing else, the fact that Turner is turning literal negative stats into positive ones is encouraging. 

Lastly, Turner continues to be an elite baserunner. At this point in his career, his speed is arguably his best tool:

You'll note that purple dot allllllllllll the way on the right. That's Turner! Now, let's take a look at how his speed compares across all positions:

Essentially, Turner is faster than like, 98 percent of baseball. In fact, by Sprint Speed, he's the 6th-fastest player in the game. He also ranks 2nd across all of baseball in FanGraphs "Baserunning" measurements, only behind fellow teammate and mindbogglingly good baserunner Michael A. Taylor. 

So, Trea Turner an elite baserunner (maybe the best if you combine his raw speed with his baserunning stats), a top-5 shortstop in the field, and an All-Star at the plate. 

Juan Soto's been great and Bryce Harper is still extremely talented, but this year, Trea Turner has been the Nationals' best player. 

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