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Jose Lobaton making the most of his limited opportunities

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Jose Lobaton making the most of his limited opportunities

While Saturday's walk-off win will be remembered for Bryce Harper's heroics, it was the performance of a part-time bat that underscored the true depth of the Nationals' lineup. 

Backup catcher Jose Lobaton, who Matt Williams inserted into the lineup because of his previous success against Braves starter Julio Teheran, justified his manager's faith in him by posting a three-hit game, including a two-run home run to get the Nats on the board in the second inning. 

With Wilson Ramos as the club's everyday catcher, Lobaton doesn't get many opportunities to shine at or behind the dish. But in his last three games, he's gone 6-for-10 with two home runs, six RBI and three walks. 

"He understands the role," Williams said. "He understands that there may be a week where he only plays once. And then there may be a situation like today where we've got a good matchup that he plays in a game where Wilson would ordinarily play in."

"Huge," added a grinning Harper on Lobaton's home run. "Lobi came up huge in that last inning or the inning before, getting on base. He had three hits today. He's such a good pitch caller back there behind the plate, too, so he's fun to watch. He blocks the ball really well, throws the ball really well, so he's just a great catcher, great hitter."

And while Lobaton is heating up at the plate, it's his work at catcher that impresses the pitching staff the most. The best example was with Saturday's starter Doug Fister, who pitched well enough to win in 6 2/3 innings. In fact, Fister might be the primary beneficiary of Lobaton's work since the beginning of 2014. In the 12 times the pair has worked together, Fister has posted a 1.41 ERA -- by far the best mark in his career with a battery mate he's been with for more than two starts.

"Loby has this unique personality about him where he can kind of bring everybody together," Fister said. "He's a fun guy to be around. Being able to communicate with him has been easy for me. He's a great teammate. That's what we want. That's what we have around here. One of 25 guys."

Although Lobaton is perched firmly behind Ramos on the depth chart, his experience is what gives the Nats comfort that should anything happen to the starting catcher, they'd have a guy who could step in and not miss a beat. 

"Last year Wilson was out quite a bit and [Lobaton] got a chance to know these guys," Williams said. "It's not like he's stepping into a situation he hasn't been in."

[RELATED: Harper continues amazing run with walk-off homer in Nats win]

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Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

WASHINGTON -- Having already won their first series at Nationals Park since April 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies will go for the sweep of Washington on Sunday night.

Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.08 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 4.66).

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in 2013 and went to the Phillies in 2015 as part of the Jonathan Papelbon trade.

After struggling for three straight starts -- giving up 13 runs in 14 innings -- Pivetta allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals last time out, striking out a career-high 13 batters.

"That's some of the best stuff I've seen him have all year," catcher Andrew Knapp told mlb.com. "The curveball was electric."

Pivetta got 11 swings and misses with the curveball.

"It was nice to have it back," Pivetta told mlb.com. "It all started with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much and it worked out."

It his first start -- and second big-league appearance -- the 24-year-old Rodriguez picked up a win against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He allowed five runs, four hits and three walks in five innings.

Rodriguez and Satuday's losing pitcher, Erick Fedde, are filling in for injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phillies have outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the fist two games of the series. On Saturday, Maikel Franco had four hits and Carlos Santana homered to back Aaron Nola in a 5-3 victory.

"That was just a tremendous all-around baseball game," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Franco. "It's so interesting how we've been looking for him to be not just a hitter but a defender and a baserunner and an all-around athlete."

Franco drove in a run and scored twice, including the go-ahead run when he scored just ahead of the tag on Jesmuel Valentin's sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who have won six of seven, pounded out double-digit hits for the second day in a row in Washington.

"They have a lot of patient hitters," Fedde said of the Phillies. "I think that's what makes it tough. Guys aren't swinging at bunch of junk, so you have to attack them."

The Phillies have now won four straight series for the first time since May 2016 and are 2-0 in what will be a stretch of 10 games against the Nationals and the New York Yankees.

Anthony Rendon homered and Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for Washington, which has lost three of four while scoring nine runs.

"Look, I've got all the confidence in the world we're going to start hitting," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We'll start scoring some runs. Right now, the bullpen is a little beat up. We've got to get them going again."

Rendon is doing his part. In his las 15 games, he is batting .382 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.

Hellickson (right groin strain) will make a rehab start Sunday for Class A Potomac and then is expected to rejoin the Nationals' rotation.

Hernandez said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) is about a week from beginning a rehab assignment.

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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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