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Nats about to face bullpen decisions

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Nats about to face bullpen decisions

A string of injuries has forced the Nationals to reshuffle their bullpen several times over the last month, but the day is coming when those injured relievers all make their return, leaving the organization facing more reshuffling dilemmas.

Closer Drew Storen was back at Nationals Park today to be checked on by team doctors and trainers and said his rehab from elbow surgery continues to progress well.

"Everything feels great," Storen said. "Every day I've taken a step forward."

Storen worked out at the Nationals' spring training complex in Viera, Fla., last week and continued his throwing program today at Nationals Park, throwing off flat ground for the second straight day for the first time since he had surgery to remove a bone spur in his elbow in April.

The right-hander expects to start throwing off a mound in the "next couple weeks" and then should be able to begin a rehab assignment shortly after that. He continues to target the All-Star break for his return from the disabled list.

Brad Lidge, meanwhile, was back in Washington today after making his first rehab appearance last night for Class A Potomac. The outing didn't go all that well -- Lidge retired only one of four batters faced and threw only 10 of 22 pitches for strike -- but the veteran said his arm felt strong and he believes his command will continue to improve as he makes more appearances.

Lidge is scheduled to pitch for Potomac again Wednesday and Friday, at which point the Nationals will decide whether he's ready to come off the DL.

Ryan Mattheus also is moving closer to a return from the DL after missing the last two weeks with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The right-hander initially hoped he would miss only the minimum 15 days required for a DL stint, but the club would like him to take things slower. He was scheduled to throw his first bullpen session today.

Who loses their spot in the bullpen when those three pitchers are ready to come back? The Nationals could face some difficult decisions.

Their current relief corps is a bit out of whack, with four left-handers (Sean Burnett, Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Detwiler and Michael Gonzalez) and only three right-handers (Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez).

Gonzalez was promoted Sunday after making only one appearance at Class AAA Syracuse -- he had an "out" clause in his contract that would have allowed him to become a free agent if the Nationals didn't call him up by mid-June -- and has faith he'll perform well enough to merit a long-term stay.

"If I'm pitching well, I don't have to worry about anything else," the veteran lefty said. "I'm pretty sure that's how every one of these guys is taking it as well. That's the front office's headache to worry about, not really ours as ballplayers. I know if I'm out there and throwing the way I want to throw, I don't need to worry about it."

Rodriguez has struggled mightily -- his ERA over his last 14 games is 8.49, and he's put 19 men on base over his last 11 23 innings -- and is now only being used in low-pressure situations. He would seem a logical candidate for demotion, but he's out of options and would have to clear waivers before being sent to the minors.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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@MLB

Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.