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Midseason report card: Offense

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Midseason report card: Offense

While the Nationals' pitching staff excelled throughout the season's first half and was the primary reason for this club's 49-34 record at the All-Star break, the performance from Washington's lineup and bench were more sporadic.

Things did take a nice upward turn over the last month, especially once Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse returned to their peak forms. Those two stalwarts combined with veteran Adam LaRoche, emerging star Ian Desmond and dynamic rookie Bryce Harper to give the Nationals a formidable quintet in the heart of their lineup.

With the All-Star Game now completed and everybody enjoying two more days off before the second half opens in Miami, it's time to hand out some midseason grades. We'll start with the offense. Check back this afternoon to see how the pitching staff rated...

RICK ANKIEL -- C-He's got maybe the best outfield arm in baseball, and that counts for something. He also occasionally runs into a pitch and hits it over the fence. But that doesn't happen nearly as often as he swings through a fastball up out of the strike zone.

ROGER BERNADINA -- C-The opportunity for an everyday job may finally have run out for this talented athlete who is prone to too many streaks at the plate and too many mental mistakes in the field and on the bases.

MARK DEROSA -- D-After a spectacular spring, it looked like he'd become a major contributor. Instead, the veteran utilityman struggled to maintain a .100 batting average and then missed two months with an oblique strain.

IAN DESMOND -- AWhat a breakthrough first half for one of the organization's longest-tenured players, who leads all MLB shortstops in a bunch of offensive categories. The Nats have to hope a lingering oblique issue that kept him out of the All-Star Game doesn't become anything more serious.

DANNY ESPINOSA -- CIt almost feels like you need to give him separate grades for his right-handed game (an A) and his left-handed game (a D-). To his credit, he's shown improvements from the left side of the plate and always contributes in the field.

JESUS FLORES -- B-Pressed into a starting role after Wilson Ramos got hurt, he's done an admirable job behind the plate and at the plate. But can he hold up physically for another three months?

BRYCE HARPER -- A-Nobody expected the 19-year-old to be such a major contributor so early in the season. And nobody expected him to conduct himself in such a veteran manner. He's still prone to the occasional mistake, but he's been a real catalyst for a team that has needed the energy he brings.

ADAM LAROCHE -- BThe team's MVP through the season's first six weeks, he produced clutch hit after clutch hit. He then fell into a tailspin at the plate and has seen his average drop nearly 100 points, though he continues to drive in big runs and play sterling defense.

STEVE LOMBARDOZZI -- B-He was supposed to be a backup infielder who would get about 250-300 at-bats. Instead, the rookie became a regular in left field and in the leadoff spot. After a hot start, though, he's perhaps being exposed now and might be better served with less playing time.

TYLER MOORE -- BAfter slugging 62 homers in two years in the minors, he's flashing some of that power at the big-league level and looking more comfortable with each passing day. Davey Johnson must now find a way to keep him fresh when there's not an everyday spot for him.

MICHAEL MORSE -- Inc.Expected to duplicate his 31-homer, 95-RBI performance from a year ago, he wound up missing two months with a torn lat muscle. After a sluggish start, he's beginning to rediscover his stroke. The Nats will need him to produce over the second half.

XAVIER NADY -- DA surprise member of the Opening Day roster after signing late in March, he's done little to justify the spot. He's now rehabbing from a lingering wrist injury.

WILSON RAMOS -- Inc.Got off to a solid start and was beginning to flash his power. Then he suffered a heartbreaking, season-ending, knee injury in May.

JHONATAN SOLANO -- BLittle was known about "The Onion" before injuries to four catchers ahead of him on the depth chart led to his promotion. He's been a surprising force at the plate in limited playing time as Jesus Flores' backup.

CHAD TRACY -- BWho knew the journeyman corner infielder would become baseball's most-productive pinch-hitter? And then who knew his groin injury would prove so costly to the Nats, who hope to have him back within the next few weeks?

JAYSON WERTH -- Inc.He certainly looked more comfortable in his second year in D.C., and his play in April suggested that. Then he suffered a nasty wrist injury that will sideline him until at least August 1. What he's able to do at that point remains to be seen.

RYAN ZIMMERMAN -- C-It's tough to blame the guy for his terrible numbers for much of the first half because he was playing with a bad shoulder. But the fact remains he wasn't producing at the plate until he finally got a magic cortisone shot that has allowed him to rediscover his hitting stroke.

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Jose Urena throws 1st complete game, Marlins rout Nationals 12-1

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Jose Urena throws 1st complete game, Marlins rout Nationals 12-1

WASHINGTON -- Jose Urena's previous start ended after one very heated pitch.

On Sunday, he went the distance.

Urena made the most of his borrowed time, pitching a two-hitter for his first complete game in the majors and leading the Miami Marlins over the Washington Nationals 12-1 on Sunday.

Urena (4-12) was suspended for six games by Major League Baseball after hitting Atlanta rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. on Wednesday. Urena was ejected from that start after throwing one fastball and appealed the penalty, keeping him eligible to play.

"I know what I did, and I know what kind of person I am and what kind of teammate," Urena said. "Just tried to execute my plan and go out there and have fun and show what I can do."

Urena, tied for the NL lead in hit batters, didn't plunk anyone on the Nationals, nor did he alter his approach. He struck out four, walked two and retired the last 16 batters. It was his first complete game in 74 big league starts.

"If you make a mistake you've got to pay," Urena said of Washington's lineup. "We tried to move their feet, make them uncomfortable at the plate. Try to attack the inside."

Right-hander Pablo Lopez was originally slated to start Sunday's game, but manager Don Mattingly opted to push him back to Tuesday and insert Urena.

The 26-year-old right-hander's next start would normally be scheduled for next weekend at home against the Braves. Urena could decide to drop the appeal, serve the suspension and miss that series -- after the game, he said he'll maintain the appeal.

Starlin Castro got a career-high five hits and scored three times. JT Riddle and J.T. Realmuto each homered and drove in three runs for Miami, with Riddle connecting for the second straight game. Isaac Galloway had three hits, including his first career homer.

It was the Marlins' first series win in Washington since 2014.

Trying to keep pace with the Braves and Phillies in the NL East, the third-place Nationals have now lost four of their last five against the last-place Marlins. The Nationals host the Phillies for three games beginning Tuesday night.

Gio Gonzalez (7-10) allowed eight runs on 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. Over his last 13 starts, Gonzalez is 1-8 with 7.07 ERA.

"I think it was in all honesty an ugly game. And everybody saw it," manager Dave Martinez said. "Gio couldn't keep us in the game and it got ugly."

Leading 3-1, the Marlins broke it open with a five-run fifth. After Riddle's sacrifice fly, the Marlins loaded the bases and Rafael Ortega hit a bases-loaded, two-run double off the glove of a diving first baseman Matt Adams to end Gonzalez's afternoon.

Realmuto greeted reliever Greg Holland with a two-run single, making it 8-1.

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Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

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Bryce Harper drives in 3, Nationals snap skid, beat Cardinals 5-4

ST. LOUIS -- Koda Glover rewarded his manager's faith.

Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in three runs, Glover earned the save in the first opportunity since Ryan Madson was placed on the disabled list, and the Washington Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night.

The Nationals won for just the third time in their last 10 games and snapped the Cardinals' season-high, eight-game winning streak.

"We needed a win today," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "Get on that plane, have a nice happy flight and come back tomorrow and be at home and be ready."

Tanner Roark (8-12) gave up four runs, three earned, in six innings.

A beleaguered bullpen that had blown two leads to start the losing streak took care of the rest. Justin Miller pitched two scoreless innings before Glover closed it out.

"There's been a lot of changes (in the bullpen)," Miller said. "It's unfortunate, a couple of injuries and stuff like that, but I don't really look at it as I've got the seventh or eighth or anything like that. I'm just going out there just trying to do my job."

Glover took the loss in the series opener on Monday, giving up a game-ending homer to Paul DeJong.

"The first game of the series didn't go as I would have liked for it to have went," Glover said. "So to get put back in that situation or even a better situation to get a save, I'm happy with that outcome."

Harper drove in the game's first run with a double in the first and knocked in two more with a bases-loaded single in the fourth to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead.

A pair of errors helped the Nationals extend their lead to 5-1 in the fifth. St. Louis committed three errors in the game after committing just four total errors during the winning streak.

"A couple plays clearly we expect to make and will make and just didn't go our way for a little bit there," Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt said. "To the guys' credit they regrouped, settled down, and started playing back to the baseball they know they can play."

The Nationals had opportunities to pad the lead, leaving the bases loaded in the third and fifth while stranding nine runners in the first five innings.

"When you have an opportunity to put teams away you've got to do that," Martinez said. "Especially with how hot the Cardinals are playing right now. They're going to come back."

The Cardinals got within one in the sixth. After DeJong and Kolten Wong came up with back-to-back, two-out RBI hits, Harrison Bader hit a slow grounder to third. Anthony Rendon's throw to first got away from Ryan Zimmerman for an error, allowing Wong to score from second to cut the Nationals' lead to 5-4.

Just two of the four runs Luke Weaver (6-11) allowed in his 3 2/3 innings were earned. He gave up seven hits, including two to Roark, who scored both times.

Tyson Ross allowed one unearned run in 3 1/3 innings of relief.

Bader homered in the third and Matt Carpenter walked twice to extend his on-base streak to a career-high 34 games.

TRAINING ROOM

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will have an MRI on his sore right wrist on Friday. RHP Joe Ross (right elbow surgery) threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings at Class A Potomac on Thursday and is hoping for a September return.

Cardinals: RHP Carlos Martinez (right shoulder strain) will begin a rehab Friday at Double-A Springfield. RHP Adam Wainwright (right elbow inflammation) threw two scoreless innings Thursday night at High-A Palm Beach.

UP NEXT

Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 2.19 ERA) will take the mound as the Nationals return home for a three-game series Friday night against the Miami Marlins and RHP Dan Straily (4-5, 4.42 ERA). Scherzer is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts this season against the Marlins.

Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (6-6, 3.22 ERA) kicks off a three-game series Friday night as the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers and RHP Freddy Peralta (5-3, 4.47 ERA). Flaherty struck out a career-high 13 batters in his last start against the Brewers on June 22.