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A long day for Nats ends in a wash

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A long day for Nats ends in a wash

At the end of a 6 12-hour day at the ballpark -- a day that began with news of a trade, then saw a familiar face return from the minor leagues to win another game, then concluded with a frustrating loss to a dominant opposing pitcher -- how exactly did the Nationals feel about things?

"It's a wash," Adam LaRoche said. "It's where you move in the standings. You win one, you lose one. It could've been better, but we're all still alive after that, so we'll get them tomorrow."

That probably best summed a long afternoon and evening on South Capitol Street that saw the Nationals split a doubleheader with the Marlins, winning the opener 7-4 behind John Lannan's strong start but then losing the nightcap 5-2 when Gio Gonzalez was out-dueled by Josh Johnson.

And the 50-50 result might have been less-significant than the announcement earlier in the day the Nationals had acquired Kurt Suzuki from the Athletics, who is expected to be in the lineup Saturday night and assume No. 1 catching duties for the remainder of the season.

"He's definitely going to bring some attitude back there, in a good way," said Gonzalez, Suzuki's batterymate in Oakland from 2008-11. "He's going to keep your pitcher on their toes, constantly get 'em and go. He was taught by the best, and you're going to see, he's going to bring some positive stuff over here."

A Nationals club that has managed to overcome injuries to nearly every position on the diamond this season has not been able to thrive behind the plate since Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee in mid-May. Replacement starter Jesus Flores and his assortment of rookie backups did their best to hold down the fort, but after an 0-for-7 showing on Friday, Nationals catchers are collectively hitting .232 with a .287 on-base percentage while throwing out only 17 percent of basestealers.

Enter Suzuki, who hit only .218 in 75 games with the A's but owns a career .254 batting average and this season has thrown out 38 percent of basestealers.

"This was a deal to improve the ballclub and improve it not only for this year but for the future," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "When you get a chance to get a defensive stalwart like Suzuki and an energy guy and a makeup guy and a character guy like him, you make the deal."

Suzuki's arrival will likely push Sandy Leon back to Class AAA and push Flores back to a reserve role. Asked at the end of the night for his reaction to the trade, Flores said he hadn't yet been told by the club, even though the crowd of 32,334 was informed on the scoreboard during the doubleheader.

"I'm just in shock," Flores said. "I didn't know we had a new catcher."

Whether Suzuki (who is already signed through 2013) would have made a difference in the outcome of either games of the doublheader is debatable. He certainly would have been catching a pair of starting pitchers in top form.

Summoned from Syracuse for another fill-in start 13 days after his initial return to the Washington rotation, Lannan turned in another fine performance. The left-hander retired 13-of-14 batters at one point and carried a 3-hitter into the seventh inning before fading in the 93-degree heat.

Lannan still earned his second victory in as many starts thanks in part to a Nationals lineup that pounded out seven early runs against Miami starter Brad Hand. He then made plans to return to Syracuse for another four weeks before he's expected to be summoned again by the big-league club to take Stephen Strasburg's rotation slot down the stretch.

"He's been a big boost," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's had a rough year having to go down there, but he'll be back up here soon."

Lannan, who struggled in his one Class AAA start between big-league outings, understands what's now expected of him.

"I wish I could stay up here, but I know the deal," said the man who has started more games than any other pitcher in Nationals history. "I've got to go back down there and keep on working."

Gonzalez was even more dominant during the nightcap, striking out 10 without issuing a walk and completing eight innings for the first time this year. But the left-hander was done in by a three-run sixth that saw the Marlins produce five singles, four in a row with two outs.

"You've got to look at the cup half-full," he said. "The way I look at it as eight innings, couple of strikeouts, kept the team in the game as far as I could."

Gonzalez's best wasn't enough to topple Johnson, who carried a 3-hitter in the ninth and came within one out of a complete game.

Steve Cishek wound up recording the final out, getting Danny Espinosa to strike out for the fourth time on a long day and night of baseball that saw the Nationals stay in place at 20 games over .500 yet lose a 12-game off their lead in the NL East after the Braves beat the Astros. (They're now up 2 games over Atlanta.)

So, how again did the Nats feel about the day as a whole?

"First part was pretty good," LaRoche said. "Second part, no good."

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Among Astros’ strategies to figure out Nats starters is phone a friend

Among Astros’ strategies to figure out Nats starters is phone a friend

HOUSTON -- Houston’s scramble started Sunday, not long after Jose Altuve sent it back to the World Series for the second time in three years.

Clearing the haze from a postgame celebration came first. Next was a crash course in what the Astros were about to tangle with: the Nationals’ starting pitchers.

Any argument suggesting the Nationals have a chance in the 115th World Series centers on their rotation. If those pitchers can obtain 21 -- or more -- outs, Washington will have a solid chance. Staying away from the center of the bullpen remains paramount. Managing pitch counts to last as long as possible is crucial. It’s so important, Max Scherzer is throwing softer in the first inning simply to manage his in-game workload. 

Houston knows this. The Nationals know this. Somehow, Washington has survived to this point with the worst regular-season bullpen in postseason history. The starters have relieved in order to stay away from hole on the team. Tanner Rainey is now the third option out of the bullpen. Fernando Rodney is next. They back up Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. That’s the end of Davey Martinez’s trustworthy pitcher list.

The challenge for Houston is learning as much as possible about Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez in a short period. The Astros’ analytics department is touted as one of the best, if not the best, in baseball. There’s no information shortage. But there is a real-life experience gap.

Outfielder Michael Brantley faced Scherzer and Sánchez often when all three played in the American League Central Division. However, that was more than five years ago. Both Scherzer and Sánchez are different now.

“You can’t take too much information from something that was a few years ago,” Brantley said. “They’re great pitchers in their own right. They’re still evolving and making adjustments. We’ll watch video, we’ll study them, we’ll look at some video from the previous years, got to have a different gameplan going against them because they’re going to make adjustments just like I need to make adjustments.”

Houston’s World Series roster has faced Scherzer 92 times, Sánchez 83 times, Corbin 43 times and Strasburg just 27 times. Brantley owns more than half of those at-bats. Charts and information from the team will operate as the baseline for information. Players will also use their own preferred process to figure out Washington’s strength.

MVP-candidate Alex Bregman watched every postseason game the Nationals played. He paid particular attention to sequencing against players he felt are similar to him (he wouldn’t specify beyond middle-of-the-order, right-handed power bats).

He watched more video Sunday, then more Monday. He also grabbed his cell phone, because being in the box is so much different than watching a monitor.

“You can also call around the league and ask what other guys have seen and what they felt in the box, what they thought went wrong for them or what went right for them -- kind of pick their brain like that,” Bregman said.

Players use this tactic through the regular and postseason. As much as baseball has shifted to mathematical equations to expose tendencies and obtain advantage, players still prefer to hear from others performing the same job. 

Bregman wants to hear about sequencing and how pitches acted when coming toward a batter. Brantley is focused on tendencies against left-handed hitters, He wants to discover patterns in video from a most-recent start, as well as earlier in the year, noting an uptick in slider usage by Scherzer against left-handed hitters. He synthesizes the data next.

“I want all the information I can, and I’ll break it down to what I actually want to apply,” Brantley said. “I don’t need all the information, but I do need a lot of it to come up with my gameplan and what I want to do.”

Unlike Bregman, and many others, he will not call other players. 

“Because I want to see it through my own eyes and I want to trust my ability once I get to the plate and not have too many thought processes,” Brantley said. “Just want to be prepared.”

General philosophies apply, too. George Springer is more concerned about adjusting to what happens in real-time, or “on the fly” as he put it.

“In order to be successful, you have to understand what happened to you in that at-bat, whether it’s bad or good,” Springer said. “The good news is, you see the ball, you see what they may be doing. You know how hard they’re throwing. I know that these guys are that don’t necessarily throw their hardest in the first inning. They’re throwing 94, 95, which is still fast. By the eighth, they’re still throwing 99. You just understand kind of what the ball is going to be doing, then you have to adjust from there.”

Is he excited to face them?

“I wouldn’t say ‘excited’ is the right word to face a guy like Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg,” Springer said with a smile. “It’s a fight. It’s a grind.”

Houston’s first chance is Tuesday night against Scherzer. Strasburg follows. Corbin or Sánchez is next.

“It definitely is an advantage to have faced people before,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “But with the guys that team has, I’m not going to discount them at all. I’m pretty sure they’ll have a pretty good plan. But, yeah, I think if you’ve seen Max or Stras a hundred times or zero times, it’s not going to be fun.”

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Nationals make pitching tweaks to 25-man World Series roster

Nationals make pitching tweaks to 25-man World Series roster

HOUSTON -- The Nationals hope to never use the pitchers added to their World Series roster.

Joe Ross and Wander Suero were put on the 25-man roster, replacing Austin Voth and left-hander Roenis Elías from the National League Championship Series. Neither are expected to play a significant roll in the series.

Ross bounced between the bullpen and starting this season, as well as between the minor and major leagues. Suero led the Nationals in appearances, but was left off the NLCS rosters after allowing a home run in his only NLDS appearance. The team's trust in him is very low.

Otherwise, the roster is as expected.

Pitchers (11)
Max Scherzer
Stephen Strasburg
Patrick Corbin
Aníbal Sánchez
Joe Ross
Javy Guerra
Fernando Rodney
Wander SueroTanner Rainey
Sean Doolittle
Daniel Hudson

Infielders (7)
Ryan Zimmerman
Howie Kendrick
Trea Turner
Anthony Rendon
Matt Adams
Asdrúbal Cabrera
Brian Dozier

Outfielders (5)
Adam Eaton
Victor Robles
Juan Soto
Gerardo Parra
Michael A. Taylor

Catchers (2)
Yan Gomes
Kurt Suzuki

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