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Lombo, Espinosa both in Nats lineup

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Lombo, Espinosa both in Nats lineup

PHILADELPHIA -- Hello from the City of Brotherly Love, which probably won't be directing much love toward the visiting team tonight. Not that the Nationals would have it any other way. For perhaps the first time in eight seasons of existence, the Phillies and their fans are taking the Nats seriously. Nothing wrong with that, as long as everyone keeps things clean.

Bryce Harper surely will be the subject of plenty of vitriol, though I'm not sure he's done anything yet to warrant it. We'll see if the kid can once again channel his emotions into something positive on the field.

Harper is batting in what has become his now-regular No. 2 spot in the lineup. He'll be hitting behind Steve Lombardozzi, who gets the chance to leadoff again and play ... left field. How's that for a surprise? Danny Espinosa (who homered and doubled yesterday) will be at second base, batting sixth.

Gio Gonzalez takes the mound against Kyle Kendrick. The forecast is spotty, so check the Nats Insider live game thread for updates throughout...

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
Where: Citizens Bank Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 183
Weather: Rain, 69 degrees, Wind 7 mph RF to LF

NATIONALS (24-17)
LF Steve Lombardozzi
RF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Rick Ankiel
C Jesus Flores
LHP Gio Gonzalez

PHILLIES (21-21)
Lineup TBA
RHP Kyle Kendrick

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Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

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Craig Kimbrel could help any NL East contender solve a division-wide problem

WASHINGTON --  Progressively, the lines of desperation and declined price will have to intersect.

At least it would seem. Craig Kimbrel’s demands reportedly are receding during his extended unemployment. The needs of contenders in the National League East’s rock fight continue to increase day by day. The sides should be on a path to merge. Right?

Take this week. 

Atlanta announced closer Arodys Vizcaino underwent right shoulder surgery. He’s out for the season. This the day after his would-be replacement, A.J. Minter, gave up three earned runs in ⅔ of an inning. Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos acknowledged he heard the chants from Braves fans Tuesday night demanding he sign Kimbrel.

Philadelphia placed reliever David Robertson on the 10-day injured list because of a flexor strain (initially labeled elbow soreness). It used Hector Neris to close Wednesday afternoon. He entered with two runners on base. Neris struck out the first batter, gave up a soft single, hit Wilson Ramos to load the bases, then struck Keon Broxton to end the game. That’s an interesting path to the end.

The Mets are living similar to the Nationals. They have a closer -- Edwin Diaz -- who can be relied on. It’s getting to him which has been such a challenge. Seth Lugo (5.06 ERA), Jeurys Familia (6.48) and Robert Gsellman (3.48) are often dispatched to drag New York to the ninth inning.

All five members of the National League East are in the bottom half of bullpen ERA entering play Friday. Philadelphia is 15th, Atlanta is 22nd, Miami is 24th, New York is 27th and Washington remains last by a wide margin -- almost a run-and-a-half worse than 29th-ranked Baltimore.

The Nationals’ bullpen toiling around with the have nots is endangering the team’s season as a whole, the $190 million payroll investment, the demands of the Lerner family to be better than first-round playoff exits. But, few paths are available to fix it without relinquishing a commodity -- whether human or financial.

Multiple reports claim Kimbrel’s asking price has come down in both years and cash. It may never reach a point of intersection with the Nationals if team ownership remains steadfast against surpassing the competitive balance tax threshold for the third consecutive year. Passing the $206 million roster mark would result in a 50 percent tax on every dollar spent from there on. 

Kimbrel would also cost the Nationals a compensation draft pick and international draft money because he declined a qualifying off from Boston. In all, four layers of cost exist around Kimbrel: salary, luxury tax, a draft pick and international money.

Financial stances can change when circumstances do. Though, the Nationals’ leverage with Kimbrel has evaporated. Owning the league’s worst bullpen is not a promising negotiation point for a team preferring to restrict this final portion of spending. Imagine their pitch: “We’re desperate for your services, but don’t want to spend much.” 

Whichever lagging bullpen signs Kimbrel still needs to subsist until he is ready. In Washington’s case, it continues to hunt for solutions ahead of a six-game road trip which starts Friday in Miami. Trevor Rosenthal’s lost early season, a better way to match up with left-handed hitters, help in the middle and a way to use closer Sean Doolittle less -- he’s on pace for 86 appearances -- are all on the docket. 

“Things haven’t gone the way we envisioned them coming out of camp,” Doolittle said this week. “Part of being a reliever -- you don’t get to this level without having taken some lumps; without having taken some punches. So guys, they might be in the jungle a little bit right now, but they know how to get through this. We’re working on it. Guys are talking to each other about things they can do, whether it’s pitch selection or mechanics or straight up execution to try to get things smoothed out. 

“We’re in it as a group. As a reliever, you can’t have an ego. You have to be ready for whatever the team needs, whatever the group needs and be ready to pick your teammate up.”

Doolittle’s words could have come from the leader of any NL East bullpen. Four contenders with the same problem populate the division. One big name looms. Day by day, the tussle for a fix and leverage goes on. 

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3 things to watch as the Nationals head to Miami for the first time in 2019

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3 things to watch as the Nationals head to Miami for the first time in 2019

The Washington Nationals wrapped up their series with the San Francisco Giants by winning the final two contests to take the series. Now their sights turn back toward their division and the Miami Marlins for a three-game tilt. Here are three things to watch for:

  1. Negotiations between Anthony Rendon and the Nationals opened back up this week in their six-game homestand. How will the Nats third baseman take the added noise? He was 3-for-11, both hits being singles, in the two games following. Before the Giants series started he was batting .400 with a 1.333 OPS.
  2. From the lead-off spot Adam Eaton has been doing damage to opposing pitchers in a short amount of time. While still early, he's at .319 on the year and getting base knocks in the opening innings. Five of his 22 hits are from the first at-bat of the game to go with three walks. Getting the young pitchers rattled early in Miami will allow them to jump out to early leads. 
  3. This year's Marlins are putting up the 2018 Baltimore Orioles numbers. Through 19 games they have four wins. Two in their past 15. They've scored the fewest runs (48) in MLB. They're bad and a couple of innings pitched against the Marlins might just be what the Nats bullpen needs.  

 The game broadcast will be at 7:10 PM ET on 106.7 the Fan and MASN2. 

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