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Nationals relish a rare chance to celebrate

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Nationals relish a rare chance to celebrate

As Jayson Werth crawled on all fours to touch the plate, his forehead bloodied, his uniform askew, his hair flowing in every possible direction, the Nationals came pouring out of their dugout to celebrate.

Half of them approached Jose Lobaton, the man who lofted the sacrifice fly that made it all possible. The other half swarmed the still-dazed Werth, whose mad dash home secured the run that gave the Nationals a 5-4, 10-inning victory over the Marlins. Max Scherzer grabbed a bottle of chocolate syrup and restored the postgame celebration ritual he initiated earlier this summer.

In that moment, it didn't seem to matter that all the Nationals did was avoid falling 9 games behind the Mets in an NL East race that truthfully was settled last week. Ballplayers and ballplayers, and a walk-off win is a walk-off win, no matter the circumstances. So they celebrated.

"Just a great team win, everybody around," Scherzer said. "Everybody did their job today. Everybody had a hand in this and finding a way to get a W. Everybody made great plays all over the diamond, at the plate, on the mound. So it's exciting when that goes on."

Sure, it would've been even more dramatic had it drawn the Nationals within a couple of games of first place instead of merely holding the Mets' magic number at 8. But the Nats have long since accepted they don't control their own fate anymore, and the only thing they can do is go out there and try to win that game that night.

"I think we've handled it great," said Jonathan Papelbon, whose blown save in the top of the ninth made the extra-inning rally necessary. "We're going to continue to play games to win. And at the end of the day, we'll see what happens."

The Nationals nearly didn't win this one. Their beleaguered bullpen gave up two key runs late, with Felipe Rivero giving up a lead in the eighth before Papelbon gave up the tying run in the ninth. But they also got clutch hits — and clutch baserunning — when they really needed it to overcome those pitching problems.

That included some aggressive baserunning by rookie Trea Turner, who took third base on an eighth-inning wild pitch that barely skipped away from Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. All told, the Nationals picked up seven extra bases on wild pitches or passed balls.

"We saw that can make a huge difference," manager Matt Williams said. "That's an opportunity. Ninety feet is always important."

Turner's advance to third put him in position to score on Ian Desmond's sacrifice fly. Michael Taylor's subsequent RBI single up the middle brought home Bryce Harper with the go-ahead run.

The eventual winning rally also included some aggressive baserunning, with Werth (who led off the inning with a double) taking third when Realmuto couldn't handle a pitch up-and-in with Desmond squaring around to bunt. That set in motion the chain of events that left Lobaton at the plate with the bases loaded and one out, knowing a flyball to the outfield was needed.

The backup catcher delivered, sending the ball to medium-deep left field. Christian Yelich immediately fired home as Werth took off from third and 27,495 inside the ballpark held their breath.

"I saw him running," Lobaton said, "and I'm like: 'Please!'"

Werth knew the play was going to be close, so he did something he doesn't normally do: Slide headfirst into the plate. His helmet flew off. His face hit the dirt, scraping up his forehead. "An 8 on the crash-landing scale," he quipped.

Yelich's throw might've beat him, but Realmuto couldn't hang onto it. Which was a fortuitous thing, because Werth didn't touch the plate on his first pass. Tyler Moore, standing in the on-deck circle, yelled at him to touch it, so Werth crawled on all fours to get there and ensure plate umpire Chris Conroy gave the safe sign.

"I don't even know what happened," Werth said. "I hit my head too hard or something. I need to look at the replay. Desi's already got the Vine of it up on the team chat ... in super slow-mo. I'm sure it's good."

All was good for the Nationals at the end of this night. Sure, all they really did was delay the inevitable a bit longer. That's not on their mind right now, though.

"Look, I mean, in this clubhouse it doesn't matter if we're winning or losing or anything," Scherzer said. "We understand what it takes to play at this level. You have to play with absolutely everything you got. That's just the way it is. I don't care what the standings are, how you've been swinging the bat, how you've been throwing the ball. Every time you show up to the park and go out there and take the diamond, you got to bring it. Every single time. Because the other team is. Tonight, I thought we had a great A-effort out of everybody, and it showed."

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Nationals Roundup: Nats in danger of sweep after coughing up late lead to Mets

Nationals Roundup: Nats in danger of sweep after coughing up late lead to Mets

The Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30.

Consider these news pieces and notes as Washington limps through its four-game series in New York: 

Players Notes:

NATIONALS (19-30): 

'Mad Max' was in full effect Wednesday night, doing what he does. Max Scherzer pitched six scoreless innings of four-hit baseball while issuing two walks and striking out nine Mets. 73 of his 109 pitches were thrown for strikes. His 11-pitch 6th inning put the bullpen in a position for success. But, if you've been watching this team this season, you know what that means. 

Adam Eaton's first base hit of the series came in the form of a first-inning dinger off Jacob deGrom. That's the only run that would come across the plate for Washington Wednesday night. 

For once, it wasn't Sean Doolittle's night. The closer surrendered a bases-clearing double to Juan Lagares in the 8th and the Mets never looked back notching six unanswered runs late. 

METS (23-25): 

Jacob deGrom was once again in elite form going head-to-head against Scherzer. New York's ace threw six innings of two-hit baseball while only allowing one run (Eaton's solo shot) and walking three Nats. 63 of his 103 pitches were thrown for strikes and he struck out eight batters. 

Offensive production didn't come until the 11th hour for New York. The Juan Lagares double and Rajai Davis 3-run home run combined to tally six runs in the 8th leading the Mets to their 23rd win of the year. 

Injuries: 

SP Jeremy Hellickson: hamstring, expected to be out until at least May 31

RP Justin Miller: shoulder, expected to be out until at least May 31

SP Anibal Sanchez: hamstring, expected to be out until at least May 27

OF Andrew Stevenson: back, expected to be out until at least May 24

1B Ryan Zimmerman: foot, expected to be out until at least May 23

RP Koda Glover: elbow, expected to be out until at least May 25

RP Trevor Rosenthal: viral infection, Expected to be out until at least May 21

RP Austen Williams: shoulder, expected to be out until at least Jun 13

Coming Up:

Thursday, 5/23: Nationals @ Mets, 12:10 p.m. ET, Citi Field

Friday, 5/24: Marlins @ Nationals, 7:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park

Saturday, 5/25: Marlins @ Nationals, 4:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park 

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This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

This time, closer Sean Doolittle costs the Nationals a game

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 6-1, Wednesday to drop their record to 19-30. Here are five observations from the game...

1.  What to say when the only person to trust can’t deliver?

That’s the status for these Washington Nationals, now 11 games under .500 after Sean Doolittle's worst outing since arriving in Washington, sliding further and further away, unable to stumble into wins and only capable of hunting down ways to lose.

A night after curious bullpen usage which delivered yet another wrenching loss, and was followed Wednesday afternoon by a pep-talk focused team meeting, manager Davey Martinez dispatched his knee-quaking posse of relievers in superior fashion.

Joe Ross opened the seventh with an out. Matt Grace followed with two. Six outs to go in a 1-0 game for the league’s worst bullpen.

Kyle Barraclough started the eighth. He struck out J.D. Davis. Adeiny Hechavarria doubled, though the ball should have been caught by Juan Soto. Pete Alonso grounded out. Todd Frazier came to the plate and options arrived. A mound visit was followed by a four-pitch walk to Frazier. Doolittle entered the game to face light-hitting veteran Carlos Gomez. Stomach-churning chaos followed.

Doolittle hit Gomez with his first pitch -- his first beaned batter of the year and first since May 29, 2018. Juan Lagares doubled two pitches later to clear the bases. Wilson Ramos was intentionally walked. Pinch-hitter Rajai Davis hit a three-run homer two pitches into his at-bat.

That was the end for Doolittle, who walked off the mound with a stunned look. The one reliable piece in the league’s worst bullpen had as disastrous a night as possible, flushing Max Scherzer’s start, throwing aside rare quality work from other relievers, sending the Nationals to their fourth consecutive loss in this can’t-get-right season.

What followed was a stupefied clubhouse beginning to process just how dire the situation is on May 22.

Adam Eaton wondered where answers are and said they need to come now.

“We need to do something different sooner rather than later,” Eaton said. “We've talked about this for weeks now. Just haven't been playing good baseball.”

Martinez said he was “shocked” by Doolittle’s off-kilter outing.

“I tell them all the time: This thing will turn around,” Martinez said. “It’s going to turn around. But we have to believe that it will. We have to will it. It’s time that we just believe that we’re good enough to play here, cause we are. And we’ve got to make it happen. We’ve got to make things happen. And stay strong. Stay together. Stay strong. Pull for your teammates. And this thing will turn around.”

Doolittle had a hard time wrapping his head around his rare 12-pitch crumbling.

“I don't know, it's tough and it's a tough spot to come in and the context of how our season's going it hurts you even more,” Doolittle said. “To have Max pitch so well tonight and the guys grind it out....shoot I don't know. I'm really frustrated. I'm disgusted with myself and I let the team down. And it hurts.”

Scherzer was stern in his comments about a spiraling season.

“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Scherzer said. “Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and you can block out all the negativity that's probably going to surround us right now. You've got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control and that you have the right mindset that you're going to go out there and compete and compete at 100 percent. You have to think of all the little things you can do.”

There were those two words again: “little things.” They have conspired against the Nationals this year, undermining an-almost $200 million payroll, increasingly putting the manager’s future in jeopardy and ratcheting up calls for sweeping change. There’s been nothing little about them, and nothing the Nationals have figured out on the field or off to stop them from snuffing out the year before the season is even close to half done.

2. Scherzer needed 109 pitches to make it through six innings. The most important of those was his final one. The 11-pitch sixth gave the Nationals three fewer outs to pawn off on the bullpen. Scherzer opened the inning at 98 pitches before briskly working through Todd Frazier, Carlos Gomez and Juan Lagares.

He allowed four hits, struck out nine and walked two. The night drove Scherzer’s ERA down to 3.41. It all mattered little in the end.

“You just take it inning by inning, try to execute pitches,” Scherzer said. “I thought tonight I had a good inning out of the windup, had a good rocker step, and there were some pitches that I threw tonight that I executed well because I was nice and tall throughout my delivery. It kind of let me be able to pick up some consistency kind of early in the game and late in the game. When my delivery is right, and my slot is in the right spot, that’s when I execute all my pitches. So I felt like I was in better position tonight overall than I have been in the past.”

Why was Scherzer back to the mound after 98 pitches in five innings? Because of losses six weeks ago, three weeks ago, last week and this week. A team 10 games under .500 has to squeeze everything it can out of its ace on May 22. Time for a margin of error has eroded. What happened back then (losing series to Miami, for instance) piles up to have a grand influence on later.

3. Grace has been used as a matchup left-hander recently. He’s found that life more appealing.

Grace matched up with Cubs left-hander Anthony Rizzo and recorded an out Sunday. He faced Robinson Cano on Tuesday to pick up a ground out. Wednesday, Grace was brought in to face left-handed pinch-hitter Dominic Smith. Smith grounded out to first. Grace remained in to face Amed Rosario and recorded another ground ball out.

The Nationals are trying to put Grace in spots to get his feet back on the ground after a night as the punching bag at the end of a blowout loss against the Chicago Cubs last Friday (and a down season overall). So far, this role has been better.

4. Remember the extended minor-league assignments for after players were hurt? That’s gone. And the results are not great.

Matt Adams was activated Wednesday. Adrian Sanchez was sent to Double-A Harrisburg to make room on the 25-man roster.

Adams did all his rehabilitation work with the major-league team. He took batting practice on the field and in the batting cages before that. He also took ground balls and infield practice. What he didn’t do was go on a minor-league assignment despite not playing since May 3. The Nationals judged him ready to play because his swing looked in place against a pitching machine.

Wednesday, he made a crucial error in the first inning. Robinson Cano rolled a small ground ball to first, Adams fielded, pivoted and threw toward second base, where the runner on first was heading. The ball never came close to the bag. It went to the outfield instead, which presented the Mets with runners on second and third and one out instead of a runner on first and one out (or a chance at a longshot double play). It, most importantly, cost Scherzer more pitches.

Scherzer pitched his way out of it as he often has this season. He came into the game leading the league in FIP (fielding-independent pitching).

Trea Turner played just two games for Triple-A Potomac after missing seven weeks. Asked how many games he would have preferred to play there, Turner said one. He made two wayward throws his first game back with the Nationals.

So, instantly putting these guys back on the field -- which is every player’s preference and a spot the Nationals’ record has leveraged them into -- is not ideal.

5.  Kyle McGowin will start Friday. His visit to the rotation is expected to be temporary.

McGowin will pitch in Jeremy Hellickson’s spot. He was up to give length in the bullpen. Like Erick Fedde, he’ll be drawn away from the relievers to fill a rotation spot.

McGowin is a sinker-ball pitcher. He made one start at the end of last season. He also is currently suspended by the Pacific Coast League after a substance was found in his glove following an inspection by umpires during his last outing.

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