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On Harper's blasts and Nats' new-look pen

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On Harper's blasts and Nats' new-look pen

Some thoughts about the Nationals' 7-2 victory Wednesday night in Miami while watching the Mets-Brewers non-trade saga take one bizarre turn after another...

— If you were worried Bryce Harper was in a funk at the plate, don't be. No, he hadn't homered since July 18 off Kenley Jansen, but it's not like he had been completely stymied, either. In fact, Harper entered play Wednesday riding a 6-game hitting streak, having successfully reached base in 24 consecutive games.

All Harper really needed to get himself all the way back on track was a date with Tom Koehler, his favorite opposing pitcher in the world. Even before the two met Wednesday at Marlins Park, Harper already was 3-for-5 in his career against Koehler, with all three hits being home runs launched earlier this season at Nationals Park.

So, naturally, Harper did to Koehler yet again. His new, updated career stats against the right-hander: 5-for-8 with four homers. And that's before he got to face Sam Dyson later in the game and launch his second homer of the evening, this one a moonshot way into the second deck down the right-field line.

Just like that, Harper's power stroke has returned. He now has 29 homers in 93 games played (99 games for the club as a whole). If he can just get a few more at-bats against Koehler...

— He wasn't perfect, but Doug Fister was the best we've seen him in more than three weeks, holding the Marlins to to runs and four hits in six innings. Fister still gave up some hard-hit balls early on, with a bunch of outs recorded in the air and not on the ground. But as the night progressed, his sinker began to sink a bit more, leading to more groundball outs. He also struck out four batters in six innings, which is a good number by his typical standards.

Fister still has a ways to go to recapture his form from 2014. But this was an encouraging step in that direction...

Jonathan Papelbon joined his new club, though he wasn't needed to take the mound because of the 5-run victory. Still, we got a taste of what the reconfigured Nationals bullpen might look like when it matters most. And it's hard not to like what you saw.

Casey Janssen tossed a 1-2-3 seventh inning. That's seven consecutive scoreless appearances for the veteran right-hander, with a grand total of two runners reaching base against him along the way. Drew Storen then made a nice statement about how he intends to deal with his bumping from closer to setup man by retiring the side in the eighth, striking out two.

Let's see how this all plays out, but it certainly could wind up with Janssen becoming the go-to guy in the seventh, Storen in the eighth and Papelbon in the ninth. And that's not a bad thing. Collectively, those three experienced relievers have 527 major-league saves to their record.

If everyone is willing to embrace his role, this might just have a chance of working out quite well...

— What in the world is going on with the Mets right now? By all accounts, they made a major trade for Carlos Gomez on Wednesday evening, sending injured right-hander Zack Wheeler and infielder Wilmer Flores to Milwaukee in return. Gomez was informed of the deal on the Brewers' team charter and took a selfie with teammates who expressed their admiration for the now-departing center fielder. Flores heard during the Mets' game against the Padres that he was being traded but was left to keep taking the field and stepping up to bat despite moments of genuine crying while at his shortstop position.

And then the whole thing fell apart. Depending on who you believe, either the Brewers nixed the trade because of concerns about Wheeler's rehabbing elbow, or the Mets called it off after reviewing medical info on Gomez's hip.

Whatever the case, the trade never happened. And it doesn't appear it will happen before Friday afternoon's deadline. Just another day in the long, bizarre history of the New York Metropolitans.

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

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If the Nationals’ season isn’t over, it’s close

NEW YORK -- Dealing with tomorrow has often become the only palatable way for the Nationals to forget yesterday.

They lose in eye-gouging fashion, roll in the next day to reset, and, at least in New York, find a topper. That formula has them on a train home from what could have been a series for re-emergence, but instead placed them in a worse place than they started. Washington is 19-31 following a sweep in Flushing. It would have to go 71-41 (a .634 winning percentage) to reach 90 wins. If it’s not already, the season is on the verge of being over. Manager Davey Martinez disputed that idea.

“I mean we're not out of it that's for sure, I can tell you that right now," Martinez said after Thursday’s 6-4 loss. “Like I said, everyday we're close, we compete, we're in every game. Now we just got to finish games.”

A slog-filled drive from midtown to Queens delivered the tired team back to its baseball quarters Thursday morning. Sean Doolittle changed then pulled his red hood up, sitting at his locker 10 hours after he stated he was “disgusted” with himself for Wednesday’s crash. Such a devastating night has been common for the 2019 Nationals. It was not for Doolittle. He hit a batter for the first time since May 29, 2018. He allowed four earned runs in an outing for the fifth time in 348 career appearances (1.4 percent of the time he pitches). In keeping with the season, the worst-possible outcome arrived at the worst-possible time, then another terrible one followed.

Martinez remained upbeat, sipping a morning drink concoction common in his native Puerto Rico. He rewatched Wednesday's game -- a masochist’s errand this season -- as he regularly does, went to sleep around 2 a.m., awoke at 7, arrived at Citi Field around 9:45. The leash on his future has been shortened greatly by the four failing days in New York.

The Nationals wandered out for stretch and light throwing in front of an oddball scene. Thursday was “Weather Day” at Citi Field with the Big Apple-famous Mr. G hosting in his Mets jersey. Mr. G  -- known to his friends as Irv Gikofsy, New York City’s most popular weatherman -- kicked up a “Let’s go Mets!” chant down the third base line while the Nationals relievers ran routes and caught a foam football to get loose in the same part of the park. The recently re-emerged Mrs. Met, who popped back up in 2013 after decades of dormancy, used her giant noggin to nod along.

The game was another compilation of missed opportunities, bullpen disasters and bad luck. Washington left eight runners on base through the first six innings alone. The Mets’ path to runs was aided by slop and basics. Carlos Gomez single in the fifth. He ran to steal second, Yan Gomes’ throw went into center field, Gomez went on to third base. A sacrifice fly scored him.

J.D. Davis singled in the sixth. Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch. Stephen Strasburg’s wild pitch moved them both over. Another sacrifice fly scored one, a Wilson Ramos infield single scored the other. The Mets led, 3-1.

The Nationals didn’t score with runners on first and third and one out in the first. They did not score after Juan Soto’s leadoff triple in the second inning. They did not score after a one-out double in the third. They did not score with runners on second and third and one out in the fourth. They did not score with a runner on second and one out in the fifth. This is not hyperbole for effect. It’s facts. Sigh-worthy ones.

The only effective offseason signings are Kurt Suzuki and Patrick Corbin. The others have not just resided below expectations, they have been among the worst in the league at their position.

Gomes, acquired in a trade, leads the league in passed balls. He’s committed three errors in his 29 starts. Coming into Thursday, he had a 65 OPS-plus (100 is average).

Brian Dozier started the afternoon with a 73 OPS-plus and -0.5 WAR. Those two numbers would be worse if not for a recent uptick both in the field and plate from him.

And, the most egregious failure of the offseason has been Trevor Rosenthal’s saga. Martinez was asked directly Wednesday if Rosenthal simply has the “yips”. He said they still believe Rosenthal’s problems are mechanics, not thoughts, despite him throwing baseballs to the backstop in central Pennsylvania. The luxury-tax averse Nationals are paying him $6 million to do so.

Finally, Thursday was enough for Martinez to shed his tranquility. After Howie Kendrick was ejected in the top of the eighth, Martinez ran to home plate to start an argument of his own. He half-circled home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman, yelled, pointed and carried on in a manner that begged Dreckman to throw him out. He did. Martinez went from rankled to furious. He spiked his hat, kicked the dirt, and yelled some more. The event provided his third career ejection and looked to be among the final moves of a manager on the verge of returning to private life.

A strange thing followed: his team rallied for three runs to take a 4-3 lead. No matter. There’s no goodness Washington’s bullpen can’t undermine. Wander Suero gave up a three-run homer in the eighth to Gomez. New day, different reliever, same ear-bleeding outcome.

Which again made talking about tomorrow the only way to deal with the grotesqueness of today. Trouble is tomorrow may not matter anymore.

“Things are going to change,” Martinez said. “Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. There's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around.”

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

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An irate Davey Martinez ejected in 8th inning as Nats swept by Mets

Perhaps Davey Martinez senses his job security is in serious jeopardy as the team continues to underperform and slip its way down the competitive NL East division. 

The second-year Nationals manager, who's gone 101-111 since accepting the job, reached a boiling point Thursday when he was ejected in the 8th for arguing a called strike three on a Howie Kendrick check swing. 

“I just didn’t think he [Kendrick] swung. And we just got into it. All I did was tell him to ask for help. That’s why the first base umpire’s there. And he didn’t like it. I did what I had to do.”

"Things are going to change. Things are going to change. And I know that. So we just got to keep pounding away, keep playing baseball. there's good players in that clubhouse, really good players. We'll turn things around," Martinez reiterated postgame, as he so often has this season. 

Martinez, typically mild-mannered in the dugout, tied Matt Williams on the all-time career ejections as a manager list with his third Thursday. 

First-year National and MLB veteran second baseman Brian Dozier stood behind his manager after the crushing loss. 

“Davey does a really, really good job of always defending his players. Whether that be on the field to an umpire, to you guys, in the media, in the clubhouse, wherever it is, he does a really good job of that.”

The Nationals' 6-4 loss to New York marked the team's fifth straight as it falls to 19-31 on the season. They return home Friday night for a four-game set at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins. 

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