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Nats 7, Cubs 5: New-look lineup delivers in key win

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Nats 7, Cubs 5: New-look lineup delivers in key win

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: His lineup mired in a slump approaching two weeks, Matt Williams decided to try something different on Friday. Struggling Ryan Zimmerman was moved up to the No. 2 spot. Bryce Harper took over No. 3 duties, with fresh-off-the-DL Anthony Rendon entrusted with the cleanup spot. Whether those changes made a difference is debatable, but the end result was not. For the first time in a while, the Nationals looked like a potent offensive team.

Danny Espinosa provided the biggest blow, a 3-run homer in the bottom of the second that outproduced the Nationals' entire offensive output from the previous 24 innings. Michael Taylor and Denard Span provided key RBI in the fourth. And then the Nats added some big insurance runs late thanks to RBI doubles from Wilson Ramos and Dan Uggla.

Those extra run became helpful after Tanner Roark faded in the top of the sixth, serving up a pair of homers that turned a 5-1 lead into a 5-4 lead. The Nats bullpen clamped down after that, though, with Aaron Barrett, Casey Janssen and Blake Treinen combining to finish off the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and set the stage for Drew Storen to notch his league-leading 18th save in 19 tries (though not until he had allowed a run and brought the tying runner to the plate).

HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Funny how this game works sometimes. Espinosa appeared headed to the bench again after Rendon came off the DL on Thursday. But when Yunel Escobar injured his right wrist in the first inning, Espinosa found himself back in the game and in the lineup Friday night. And wouldn't you know he made the most of the opportunity, launching a 3-run homer in the bottom of the second. That shot sailed over the left-field bullpen, a monstrous homer that was Espinosa's seventh of the season. He later added a double down the left-field line to add to a big night at the plate.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Has time in the bullpen actually made Roark a harder-throwing, better starter? It has certainly appeared that way at times during the right-hander's three starts so far in 2015. Roark used to throw 92-93 mph. Suddenly he's throwing 95-96 mph, even when starting, as was the case Friday night. He got Kris Bryant looking at a 96 mph fastball that also tailed considerably back over the plate like a 2-seamer. He cruised for five innings, allowing one run while striking out five. Roark did hit a wall in the sixth, though, serving up another homer to Rizzo and then one to Miguel Montero before getting pulled. He's probably still working his arm up to the point where he's just as strong throwing 90-plus pitches as he used to be, but that should come over time.

KEY STAT: Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa have accounted for 45 percent of the Nats' home runs this season (25 of 56).

UP NEXT: Note the early, 12:05 p.m. start time Saturday (done to accommodate the Nats' annual charity gala later that evening). It'll be Joe Ross making his MLB debut, called up from Class AA Harrisburg, facing right-hander Jason Hammel (4-2, 2.82).

[RELATED: Escobar misses Friday's game due to sore wrist]

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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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