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Mets beat Nats 2-1 in epic game capped by Flores walk-off

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Mets beat Nats 2-1 in epic game capped by Flores walk-off

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: You want pennant race baseball? Here you go, folks. A few short hours after the trade deadline passed, the Nationals and Mets opened a big weekend series that will play a significant role in the outcome of this season's NL East race. And it was everything you could want it to be. And some things you never wanted it to be.

Matt Harvey carried a perfect game into the sixth inning, but the New York ace was left with no margin for error because the Nationals pitching staff managed to limit the Mets to one run (with Gio Gonzalez avoiding disaster during a walk-filled bottom of the fourth).

Harvey continued into the top of the eighth, despite a pitch count approaching 110 and command that was losing its sharpness. That's when Yunel Escobar came through with a game-tying, 2-out RBI single up the middle, dashing the Citi Field crowd's hopes and leaving Harvey with no decision. Then came Tyler Clippard, facing his old club for the first time, engaging in an epic, 13-pitch at-bat with Jayson Werth that ended on a borderline 3-2 pitch called a strike.

Aaron Barrett tossed two scoreless innings out of the Nationals bullpen, and so this game went into extras. The Nats couldn't push anything across against Mets closer Jeurys Familia, nor could they do it against Hansel Robles. Robles, though, was helped by a borderline strike three call on Bryce Harper, which left the young star screaming in umpire Jerry Meals' face ... and subsequently getting ejected, forcing Ryan Zimmerman to left field and Dan Uggla to first base for the first time in his career.

That ultimately didn't affect the outcome of the game. But Wilmer Flores sure did. The Mets infielder, who was in tears two nights ago when he thought he had been traded to Milwaukee, ended this game with a home run off Felipe Rivero that sent the crowd into a frenzy and left New York a mere 2 games behind the Nationals.

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: With Harvey fading in the eighth, two out and two on, Escobar delivered the biggest hit of the night (to that point) for the Nationals. He didn't bite at Harvey's pitches out of the zone, then managed to get on top of a high fastball and send it back up the middle for a huge, game-tying single that knocked the Mets ace out of the game. It was merely the latest quality at-bat from Escobar, who has proven quite the important acquisition for the Nationals.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: The bad news: Gonzalez was all over the place during the fourth and fifth innings, issuing four combined walks during those two frames and putting himself in all kinds of danger. The good news: Gonzalez somehow was able to emerge from all of that allowing only one run to cross the plate. (Some credit, of course, goes to Tanner Roark for bailing the starter out in the fifth.) Gonzalez was visibly upset at himself — and possibly Matt Williams — as everything played out, but the quick hook was necessary given the situation. With Harvey dealing for the Mets, Williams couldn't afford to risk pushing his starter any farther.

KEY STAT: Matt Harvey retired 30 consecutive Nationals batters over the span of two starts. The streak began after a Jose Lobaton walk in the third inning on July 20 at Nationals Park. It ended with a Jose Lobaton single in the sixth inning Friday night.

UP NEXT: The series continues at 7:10 p.m. Saturday when Joe Ross (2-3, 3.03) faces Jacob deGrom (10-6, 2.05) in another big game at Citi Field.

MORE NATIONALS: Nats' reliever to get second opinion on ailing shoulder

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

The Nationals just checked another box.

They have reached an agreement to bring back first baseman Matt Adams, pending a physical, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

The deal is for one year with a mutual option in 2020.

Adams flourished last season with the Nationals when he delivered an .842 OPS with an 118 OPS-plus in 306 at-bats as a part-time player. He was crucial since Ryan Zimmerman spent the middle of the season on the disabled list.

The Nationals later flipped Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals for “cash considerations”, which made him little more than a waiver claim for St. Louis. The Nationals just saved the remainder he was owed on his contract following the Aug. 21 transaction.

Adams, a quiet professional, fit well in the clubhouse. One on-field tear earned him a T-shirt homage to his nickname: “Big City doing Big City things” that several of his teammates wore pregame.

His role will be the same as last season: insurance for Zimmerman, as well as a power left-handed bat off the bench who will receive the occasional start if Zimmerman is healthy.

Adams’ return also enables the Nationals to shop for a true second baseman as opposed to a hybrid player like Marwin Gonzalez. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has continually moved the needle from standing pat to hunting for a starting second baseman. For now, a platoon of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick is in place.

The Nationals' largest gap remains in the rotation following the trade of Tanner Roark. They need to find 180 innings in a thin free agent pitching market to replace Roark’s production from the last three seasons.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported the agreement with Adams.

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

LAS VEGAS -- Let’s strip the name and take a blank taste test. Wednesday, the Nationals sent an average of 197 innings out the door. That’s 591 outs. It’s not something to shrug off.

Trading Tanner Roark for a reliever, a minor-league one at that, extracts a path to almost 600 outs. The Nationals need to find a new one. Choices to do so aren’t very enticing.

They are back in the starting pitching market because of Roark’s regression the last two seasons coupling with an increase in pay. He’s expected to earn around $10 million out of salary arbitration. The Nationals are gambling they can find equal effectiveness through another starter -- or two.

There’s money to allocate now. It’s not much for the remaining upper tier of free agents. It’s sufficient to bring in someone on a one- or two-year deal and perhaps apply to a more versatile bench piece than a straight backup at first base.

Washington made Patrick Corbin the highest-paid pitcher this offseason. He was priority one. In a vacuum, he may not be worth six years and $140 million. But not all players carry the same value with every franchise. The Nationals had a clear need for another potent starter, and preferably a left-handed one at that. They received the combination with Corbin.

The challenge for the Nationals is handling this market after Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn complicated it. Morton signed a two-year, $30 million deal with Tampa Bay. Lynn received a three-year, $30 million contract from the Texas Rangers. If the Nationals didn’t want to pay Roark $10 million, they surely don’t want to pay another pitcher something near what Morton and Lynn received, even if it allows more control. Roark was entering the last year of his contract.

Dallas Keuchel remains atop the available starters. By WAR, the next-best available pitcher is 34-year-old Anibal Sanchez. He put together what appears to be an outlier season in 2018 following three consecutive years of significant regression. Sanchez’s ERA-plus went 80, 73, 70 before spiking to 143 last season, the third-best mark of his 13-year career. Sanchez has also averaged just 138 innings pitched on average the last four years. That’s a lot of outs between the workload Roark handled and Sanchez has as he heads into his age-35 season.

Next on the list by WAR? Gio Gonzalez. Moving on.

After that? Not much inspiration. Left-hander Wade Miley pitched well in just 16 starts last season. He has a carer 4.26 ERA. Miley has not put together a strong full season since 2013.

Matt Harvey? Trevor Cahill? Clay Buchholz?

Brett Anderson? James Shields? Jason Hammel?

These are not exactly places to hang your hat.

However, the Nationals have little choice. Their solution to replace Roark’s outs will come from outside the organization. Depth at Triple-A Fresno is negligible. Options in Double-A to help the rotation now are non-existent.

They have one intriguing pitcher lurking: Henderson Alvarez. The Nationals signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

“Chance to make the team, if not, to pitch in Triple A for us,” Mike Rizzo said of his outlook on Alvarez.

Alvarez threw a no-hitter in 2013. He was an All-Star in 2014. Shoulder surgery was followed by shoulder discomfort, then another shoulder surgery. Alvarez didn’t pitch in 2016. He started three games for Philadelphia in 2017. He then pitched in the Mexican League in 2018, where he finished with 4.60 ERA in nine starts. The wildest of wild cards here.

Washington has also kept an eye on Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who is available through posting system.

Somewhere, they need to find another 180 innings.

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