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Intentional or not, Harper leads MLB in walks

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Intentional or not, Harper leads MLB in walks

MIAMI — From the day he was drafted, Bryce Harper seemed like a strong candidate to lead the majors in something before long, whether home runs, slugging percentage, outfield assists or something along those lines.

It may come as a bit of a surprise, though, that Harper currently leads all MLB hitters in a stat that has nothing to do with his power or arm or overall athletic ability. No, right now the 22-year-old leads the majors in walks.

Entering Friday night’s series opener against the Marlins, Harper has drawn 15 bases on balls, one more than the Mets’ Curtis Granderson and more than twice as many as anyone else on the Nationals roster.

So, is that the product of a concerted effort on Harper’s part to draw more walks or of the manner in which opposing teams are pitching him?

“I think it’s more pitchers not giving me pitches to hit,” he said. “I’m just trying to be as patient as I can and get my pitch to hit and not give in to what they’re doing.”

Indeed, opponents have gone out of their way at times not to pitch to Harper. He has already been intentionally walked five times in 16 games, also tops in the majors and more times than he drew intentional free passes in either of the last two seasons.

So, Ryan Zimmerman’s presence behind Harper in the Nationals’ lineup has played a role in this. Not that anyone’s complaining.

“I think they’re going to pick who they want to pitch to: me or Zim,” Harper said. “I mean, pick your poison.”

Intentional or not, Harper has done a noticeably better job so far this season forcing pitchers to come to him instead of chasing stuff thrown off the plate. And then making sure he does take a healthy cut when he gets something that looks good.

“The biggest thing is not missing the pitch I do get, and knowing if I do miss that pitch, it’s going to be a tough at-bat, because I’m probably not going to get another one,” he said. “So I’m just taking more walks, trying to be as patient as I can and committing to that pitch that I get over the plate.”

On the flip side, Harper has struck out 22 times, tied for second-most in the NL. It’s a bit of an odd combination at the moment, but one the Nationals don’t expect to continue for long.

“I think it’s probably not typical of his season,” manager Matt Williams said. “I think the strikeout numbers will come down. I think the walks will stay the same the deeper he gets into the season, the timing and the grind and all of that. I think you’ll see those numbers get a little different. I think the walks will still be there, which is important for us.”

Whether Harper can keep up this pace or not, the Nationals know an improved walk rate can only be considered a good sign for the young slugger and for the team as a whole.

“For him, it’s important for him to do that,” Williams said. “We always know that he’s got the ability to be a high on-base guy, and at the same time be a power guy and be a run producer. So that’s a pretty good package if he puts that all together.”

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John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

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USA TODAY Sports

John Gant homers, pitches Cardinals to 6-4 win over Nationals

ST. LOUIS -- Even John Gant cracked a smile.

Gant homered for his first major league hit and pitched one-run ball into the sixth inning, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Tuesday night for their season-high seventh consecutive victory.

Kolten Wong had three hits and three RBIs as St. Louis (65-55) pulled within four games of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs and moved within one game of the Philadelphia Phillies for the second NL wild card. The Cardinals also improved to 18-9 since Mike Shildt was named interim manager on July 13, the most wins for a manager through his first 27 games in franchise history.

"Things are starting to click for us," Wong said. "We're playing confident. We're out there playing aggressive and I think it's the kind of baseball Cardinals fans have been waiting for."

The Nationals (60-60) have dropped six of eight to fall eight games behind Atlanta in the NL East.

"We've just got to keep pulling the same rope, keep grinding it out, keep trying to win ballgames," Nationals slugger Bryce Harper said.

Gant (5-4) permitted four hits and struck out six in 5 1/3 innings. He has given up just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his last two starts, both wins.

The 26-year-old Gant was 0 for 30 for his career when he drove a 1-1 pitch from Gio Gonzalez (7-9) over the wall in left in the second. The two-run shot gave Washington a 3-0 lead.

"I was jogging kind of my hands in the air," said Wong, who scored on Gant's homer. "I already knew it was going out. Looking back I think he almost caught me."

Added Gant, "I thought it was going to hit the wall maybe but when I finally looked up and (Wong) was looking back at me, that's when I knew it was going over the wall."

Gant, who has a reputation for being a stoic player, admitted to smiling "once or twice" once he got back to the dugout.

Wong's solo homer made it 6-1 in the sixth, but Washington responded with three in the eighth. Harper hit a two-run shot, and Daniel Murphy singled in Anthony Rendon.

Matt Adams then struck out looking against Dakota Hudson, ending the inning, and Jordan Hicks worked the ninth for his fourth save in eight chances.

Paul DeJong also doubled and scored for St. Louis one night after he connected for a game-ending homer in a 7-6 victory. Matt Carpenter walked in the sixth to extend his on-base streak to 32 games.

"We have a 25-man roster and we have confidence in all of them," Shildt said. "They're here for a reason and guys are looking to contribute every night and in different ways."

Gonzalez was charged with five runs and five hits in four innings. The veteran left-hander is just 1-4 in his last six starts.

"I wasn't hitting my spots," Gonzalez said. "Just not being as consistent in the strike zone as I should be. It's just one of those games you can't explain."

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Nationals place Ryan Madson on 10-day DL

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Nationals place Ryan Madson on 10-day DL

Ryan Madson is the latest Washington National headed to the DL, turning the team's relief pitching rotation upside down even more than it already is. 

According to MASN's Dan Kolko, the 37-year-old is nursing a "lumbar nerve root irritation" injury and will sit out for 10 days. 

In response, the team has named Koda Glover as the closer, who was promoted from Triple-A Syracuse Wednesday. 

Glover gave up a game-ending solo blast to the Cardinals' Kevin DeJong Monday night. 

The night before, Madson was on the other end of David Bote's walk-off grand slam in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Cubs. 

As for Tuesday night, Glover's status remains unknown.

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