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Instant analysis: Nats 5, Mets 2

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Instant analysis: Nats 5, Mets 2

Game in a nutshell: They've failed plenty of times this season to pull off a series sweep when given the opportunity, but today the Nationals seized the opportunity and stepped on the Mets' throats. For that, they can thank Stephen Strasburg, who churned out seven dominant innings, striking out 11 while allowing only one run (Ike Davis' solo homer in the second). Strasburg's teammates bolstered him with plenty of run support, with Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa clubbing back-to-back homers in the top of the second and Adam LaRoche adding a two-run bomb in the seventh. Nothing ever comes easy for the Nationals, though, so the bullpen gave everyone a scare in the eighth when Henry Rodriguez walked both batters he faced and then Craig Stammen walked another to load the bases. No worries, because Drew Storen recorded a huge out against David Wright to end the threat, and Tyler Clippard finished off the ninth to secure the sweep and put the Nats 19 games over .500, matching their best record in eight seasons in D.C.

Hitting highlight: How much has Espinosa turned the corner from the left side of the plate? He's gone all the way around the block. With a second-inning homer and a fourth-inning double today, he's now hitting .433 (23-for-53) with six doubles, a triple, three homers and 10 RBI this month against right-handed pitchers. Espinosa has managed to remove the loop from his left-handed swing and is now attacking pitchers with a compact, powerful stroke that has allowed him to become a potent threat from both sides of the plate. The Nats couldn't be more thrilled by that development.

Pitching highlight: For weeks, Steve McCatty has been pounding the idea into Strasburg's head he needed to be more aggressive with his fastball, using that pitch even when ahead in the count to retire batters. Message received. Entering today, Strasburg had thrown his fastball 62.4 percent of the time. Today, he threw it 71.3 percent of the time. And it worked. Not only did the right-hander dominate, striking out 11 in seven innings. He also kept the ball in the strike zone, not issuing a walk and needing only 94 pitches to complete his afternoon. If Strasburg is able to make this adjustment a permanent thing, watch out.

Key stat: Over the last six games, the Nationals rotation has posted a 1.32 ERA and allowed 27 total hits over 41 innings. That streak began with Saturday's doubleheader against the Braves, which saw Edwin Jackson allow one run over seven innings in the opener and John Lannan allow two runs over seven innings in the nightcap.

Up next: With this sweep under their belts, the Nationals now head to the Great Midwest for a four-game series in Milwaukee. Right-handers Edwin Jackson and Yovani Gallardo start things off Thursday at 8:10 p.m. from Miller Park.

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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.

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Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: It's too early to make changes - at manager or otherwise

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: It's too early to make changes - at manager or otherwise

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer and Mike Rizzo met at the upper corner of the dugout railing Friday around 2 p.m. Scherzer, coming in from a bullpen session, leaned against the padded bar. Rizzo did most of the talking, at times using both hands and gesturing toward different parts of the field.

Scherzer walked into the dugout following the five-minute conversation with Rizzo. Turns out, everyone has questions and is searching for answers during this failing Nationals season.

Not long after the general manager and his Hall-of-Fame-bound starter finished their conversation, manager Davey Martinez came up the dugout steps to watch Anibal Sanchez throw a simulated game. Martinez’s emergence confirmed he was still in charge Friday. Rizzo’s words two hours later further entrenched that idea -- for now.

“We're not making any decisions with a third of the season gone,” Rizzo said when asked his confidence level with Martinez as manager. “We've got a lot of season left. Davey's not happy with what's going on, nobody's happy with what's going on, the fanbase, ownership and myself. Things got to get better. We've got to play better baseball.”

In a planned group session with reporters, Rizzo harped on a trio of points: One was the stage of the season, a second was the need to play cleaner baseball, the third centered on his hunt for bullpen help.

To the first, it’s a semantics dance. Washington, 19-31 coming into Friday following stomach-churning losses to a Mets team in disarray when the Nationals arrived at Citi Field last Sunday, are 30.9 percent into the season. Forty games is historically used as a marker for determining a team’s capabilities. The Nationals are beyond that point and in a deep corner. It’s no longer early because of the broad hole the Nationals have dug.

To the second, the call for cleaner baseball began last offseason. That it’s still being made May 24 is perhaps the most explanatory aspect of how the Nationals find themselves just 1.5 games in front of the trying-to-lose Marlins. Despite persistent harping on the concept, near-daily gaffes continue on the field. The Nationals often do early work, have extra meetings and try to drill down specific points. But, the attempts are betrayed time and again during the actual games, whether it’s baserunning, fielding or math-countering pitch selection.

To the last, Rizzo said he is in pursuit of bullpen fixes from any location: trade, waiver wire, wherever. He also expects those on the roster to perform better. This idea is akin to the demand for cleaner baseball, if with a shorter shelf life. The bullpen roared into the bottom of the league the second day of the season when it allowed seven runs across the eighth and ninth innings. It’s been atrocious since. Of the five relievers used that day, all five remain in the organization. Only Trevor Rosenthal is not on the active 25-man roster.

The three pillars of Rizzo’s discussion -- the calendar, bad baseball and tragic bullpen -- have conspired to put Martinez’s future at risk. He was more stern and explanatory in Friday’s pregame press conference before his boss delivered a proportional backing. Rizzo did not explicitly say Martinez will remain manager. He also did not say he would not. Instead, the generalist approach reigned.

“Well certainly you have to have a plan in place for all contingencies,” Rizzo said. “And like I said, we're fairly spoiled here. We've had winning records, we've been in first place for a lot of the last seven years. There's only three teams in all of baseball, I think, that have played .500 baseball over the last seven years. So we're certainly cognizant of the calendar and where we're at in the standings, and we always have a one-, three-, and five-year plan in our minds, and that'll continue.”

The question is how many of those years will include Martinez if this one continues on the same path.

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