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Lobaton's 'entertaining' triple vs. the Twins had the Nats all smiles

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Lobaton's 'entertaining' triple vs. the Twins had the Nats all smiles

When Jose Lobaton saw his third-inning line drive carom off the right-center field scoreboard at Nationals Park on Friday night, the backup catcher had a decision to make: Either settle for the sure-fire double, or go for the glory of notching his third career triple. 

So it was a thrill for teammates to see Lobaton, known as one of the Nats' biggest clubhouse comedians, round second and begin digging for third in his typically humorous way as Twins second baseman Brian Dozier aimed to throw him out on the relay from centerfielder Byron Buxton. 

"When I was half between second and third I was like, 'Oh my god, what am I doing here?'" Lobaton said afterward.  "It was great."

Lobaton did slide safely into third — and kept going right through the bag. He'd gone far enough off the base that, while still laying on the ground, quickly turned back to touch it and avoid being tagged out by Minnesota third baseman Eduardo Nunez. He was called safe, the Nats padded a lead they wouldn't relinquish, and the dugout was all smiles.

"I couldn’t control my body and then I passed the bag," Lobaton said of the slide. "That was great, that was a good moment. That was funny for the team."

The comedic moment lingered postgame, as Bryce Harper could be heard chuckling when Lobaton began recounting the tale of his three-bagger at his locker. Harper wasn't the only one still laughing. 

"I mean, slow it down, cowboy," starter Gio Gonzalez said.

"Probably one of the most entertaining triples that you’ll ever see," added manager Dusty Baker. 

Of course, the 31-year-old's role is more than merely providing entertainment. Going back to last season, he's essentially acted as Gonzalez' primary catcher. And so far this year, whatever the pair have been working on has been successful: Gonzalez has turned in three straight quality outings to start the season, and Friday night's effort gave the 30-year-old left hander his first win of 2016.

"Lobi's just gold back there," Gonzalez said. "I like the way he calls a game, I like the way he catches." 

Prior to Friday, Gonzalez and Lobaton had worked a total in 34 games together, with the former owning a 3.31 ERA — his best mark with any catcher he's been paired with 15 times or more.  

"I’ve tried to concentrate more on being a good catcher and call a good game for Gio," Lobaton said. "But at same time want to do something good for the team." 

Which is why for Lobaton, who only gets to play every so often and whose contributions usually go unseen, maximizing opportunity is especially satisfying — no matter how funny it looks. 

“I love my job," he said. "I love what I’m doing. I try to enjoy everyday. And if I’m not playing, I try to have fun and that’s part of my game.”

[RELATED: Gonzalez, high-octane offense power Nats to win over Twins]

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Mike Trout raised the red flag about free agency, and Nationals players took notice

Mike Trout raised the red flag about free agency, and Nationals players took notice

WASHINGTON -- Mike Trout was everywhere, especially for the supposedly tough-to-market star of the game. 

Anaheim made Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million extension official Sunday. Trout was the center of a large press conference in California, hopped on MLB Network, made the rounds expected of someone who signed the largest deal in American sports history.

Trout made a telling remark at each stop: He noted watching Manny Machado and Bryce Harper slog through last winter as free agents. He then talked to both. The conversations and visual prompted him to label their situations a “red flag” when he thought about free agency.  

That term, from that player, is eye-popping, despite the heft of his current extension and others being struck around the league. It holds force even after Harper set a record with a new contract that was summarily crushed three weeks later by Trout. It also turned heads when read to players in the clubhouse before the Nationals played the New York Yankees on Monday in the final exhibition game of spring training.

“To me, that’s the red flag,” Sean Doolittle told NBC Sports Washington. “We’re not talking about a veteran guy that’s, you know...we’re talking about the face of our game. If he doesn’t want to go through the free agency process the way it’s been going for guys these past few years, like if he doesn’t think the process could benefit him and he could recognize his full value on the open market, that’s really tell you everything you need to know, right?”

Free agency, once referred to by Max Scherzer as the players’ “golden egg,” has pivoted. Players previously groused about the veteran player who was left jobless. Teams moved away from paying players 30-plus for past performance, both learning a more efficient way to run their team and more financially viable one. Younger players -- unproven players in the eyes of many major leaguers -- were receiving jobs based more on market forces and perceived value than actual value. The process rankled those already in a clubhouse.

“It’s not about players,” Ryan Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “It’s about the valuation or the way that they use it to say it’s going to change their organization. I’ve always said you have to have young guys come up and play. I get it. But my whole thing is to not sign legit big-league players, who you know what they’re going to do at the big-league level, because you have the best farm system in the league, two of those kids might be something. The other eight you’re never going to hear about them again once they leave Baseball America. I just think the percentage of people who become real big leaguers is not very high, and they hold it at a very high value.”

That portion of the debate is receding. What free agency has become is at the forefront. The recent cluster of extensions suggested players realized their best path under this collective bargaining agreement was to stay. The plight of Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel -- who remain unemployed just days before the season begins -- shows that premise is correct.

“[I do] recognize the free agent process has changed,” Scherzer said. “Teams used to covet players, marquee players, and be aggressive trying to bid on them -- don’t feel like that’s the case. That’s what I’ll say.”

Doolittle continued to churn through how the idea related to Trout. If he entered free agency, what could be the possible knock on him? 

It’s not on-field skill. It’s not how he interacts with fans. It’s not how he conducts himself off the field. 

“It would have been really fun to see him go through the free agency process,” Doolittle said.

Instead of finding out, Trout decided to take a lifetime deal to stay in Anaheim. The cash haul was enormous. The terms record-setting. The process? Not so good.

“We need to make some adjustments to the system,” Doolittle said. “Because, yeah, it’s good Manny and Bryce got those deals. It’s unfortunate it took so long. I think it’s very concerning and very notable the face of the game, one of the best players in the history of the game, didn’t want to have to go through that because of the way it’s been going.”

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Bryce Harper's old locker will go to Howie Kendrick (when he gets back)

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Bryce Harper's old locker will go to Howie Kendrick (when he gets back)

With Bryce Harper no longer in town, his locker was open for a new tenant this season. Fans speculated on which veteran would take over his spot, and now we know.

It’s Howie Kendrick.

As every Nationals fan knows by now, after a long, arduous offseason, Harper took his talents to Philadelphia. The Phillies gave him a record-breaking contract, and Harper will be spending the next 13 years of his career in the City of Brotherly Love.

Down in Florida, it wasn’t clear who might take over his locker once the team returned to the nation’s capital. Now that the team is back for an exhibition game and Opening Day this week, media members can see the new locker layout.

Kendrick, of course, is still in Florida rehabbing his hamstring. He’ll begin the season on the Injured List and will play in extended spring training while working to get back to 100 percent. The team expects him to be ready to go sooner rather than later, and even though he’s injured, he’ll still come up to be with the team for Opening Day.

Kendrick makes sense as the choice to fill Harper’s vacated locker. As a veteran entering his 14th season in the Major Leagues, Kendrick is a well-respected voice in the Nationals locker room. He’s only been with the team since midway through 2017, but at 35, he has plenty of experience in the sport.

Entering 2019, Kendrick is set to be a valuable piece for the roster as a quality bench bat who can play multiple positions. Much of his value will also come in the form of his leadership and presence in the locker room, which will now resonate from the same place it had from Harper the previous several seasons.

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