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Instant analysis: Nats hold on to beat Braves, 5-4

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Instant analysis: Nats hold on to beat Braves, 5-4

Game in a nutshell: Apparently, the Nationals' scoring barrage this week wasn't entirely a product of Coors Field. Those bats were nearly as hot here in Atlanta, leading to a 15-hit night. Michael Morse led the charge with four hits, Ryan Zimmerman added two of his own, Ian Desmond chimed in with a two-run double and Jesus Flores clubbed a solo homer. That all put Ross Detwiler in position to earn the win, but the left-hander (after six dominant innings) crumbled in the seventh, giving all four runs back (the final two on Andrelton Simmons' homer). No worries, because Morse immediately responded with a homer off Chad Durbin in the top of the eighth, and Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard finished things off to seal a tense victory and give the Nationals a 4 12-game lead over the Braves.

Hitting highlight: What's been the key to the Nationals' sudden resurgence at the plate? How about the resurgence of Morse as a bonafide, middle-of-the-order threat? With a 4-for-4 showing tonight, Morse now has 12 hits in his last 19 at-bats. During that span, he's raised his batting average from .217 to .294. All along, the Nationals have insisted Morse just needed to see more pitches and get his timing down after missing three months with a torn lat muscle. Looks like he's got that timing down pat now, much to his team's delight.

Pitching highlightlowlight: For six innings, Detwiler was brilliant, perhaps as good as he's ever been. The left-hander was efficient (only 74 pitches to record 18 outs) and even showed some intestinal fortitude in pitching his way out of a fifth-inning jam. But then came a Stage 3 meltdown in the bottom of the seventh. Detwiler plunked Freddie Freeman. He couldn't field a comebacker from Jack Wilson. He was charged with a balk. He served up an RBI single to Martin Prado. He allowed a sacrifice fly to Michael Bourn. And then he made the biggest mistake of all: a fat, 1-2 curveball to Simmons that landed in the bleachers and tied the game 4-4. Detwiler, who has completed seven innings in only two of 56 career starts, hunched over and put his hands on knees in disgust.

Key stat: In 255 career games against the ExposNationals franchise, Chipper Jones has hit 40 homers with 60 doubles and 154 RBI.

Up next: The temperature might reach 105 degrees when Stephen Strasburg and Mike Minor take the mound at 4:05 p.m. Saturday for the second game of this series. When's the last time Strasburg pitched in anything resembling normal weather?

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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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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