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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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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

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Everything you need to know about the new and improved MLB Trade Deadline

For a long time, Major League Baseball had the best, most exciting trade deadline among the four major sports. In recent seasons, that excitement has been eclipsed by the popularity of the NBA, but baseball still stands ahead of football and hockey in terms of in-season movement.

In an effort to shake things up a bit, baseball’s trade deadline underwent some changes in the offseason.

Notably, while July 31 has always been deadline day, in past years it was a bit of a misnomer. July 31 was technically just the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in years past. The month of August has always allowed trades to be made as long as players pass through waivers. If a player is claimed off waivers, his team can either pull him back, let him go for nothing, or negotiate a deal with his claiming team only.

This obviously made for much more limited movement in August, but it was always an option. 

Not anymore. Now? July 31 the *only* deadline.

The August revocable waivers trade deadline was always a bit convoluted, and it never made much sense to have more than one deadline. So it’s logical to think the powers that be would want to simplify things for the league.

Reportedly, Major League Baseball is hoping the change will not only help simplify in-season moves, but also help jumpstart offseason activity. The thinking is if teams have even just one fewer option to improve their roster midseason, then contenders will be forced to get aggressive in the offseason.

It remains to be seen if that will come to fruition, but one forthcoming change does seem pretty obvious. The singular trade deadline should make for a much more active July.

Both buyers and sellers have to commit to a direction earlier in the season now. Last year, for example, the Nationals executed their mini-firesale in mid-August, once it had become clear they were not going to compete for the postseason. At the end of the July they were still undecided, which is why they held onto Bryce Harper.

Considering how long it can take major deals to come together, teams have to essentially decide by the All-Star break if they are in or out on competing for October. It will be especially difficult for teams to read the writing on the wall when they are hovering around .500.

As of this writing, there are 10 teams within six games of .500 in either direction, and that doesn’t include organizations like the Red Sox, Nationals and Athletics who have quality records but are way behind runaway division leaders. Will they want to trade away controllable assets for a shot at a one-game Wild Card berth?

General Managers who can forecast their team’s likelihood of competing, and respond accordingly, will be rewarded under the new system. Orioles GM Mike Elias already began his team’s sell-off, trading Andrew Cashner away weeks before the end of July. By contrast, in 2018 both Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman were moved by the Orioles with under an hour to go on deadline day.

It’s hard to perfectly predict all the ways rule changes can affect a sport, but in the case of the singular trade deadline, it’s obvious that teams are now required to commit earlier, with fewer games of information from which to work.

That’s exciting for a sport that could use some more player movement-related excitement.

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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

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USA Today

Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

ATLANTA—Anibal Sanchez outpitched Mike Soroka and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, Matt Adams homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Saturday night.

Second-place Washington pulled within 5 games of the NL East-leading Braves, improving to 33-14 since May 24, best in the majors over that span. Atlanta has dropped four of five.

Sanchez (6-6) got a big assist in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Trea Turner turned a bases-loaded double play, leaping to nab Nick Markakis' liner and throwing to first to beat Josh Donaldson back to the bag.

Soroka (10-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings. He had won 10 straight decisions, best by an Atlanta pitcher since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had a 10-decision streak in 2001.

Sean Doolittle got the last five outs, facing the minimum, for his 21st save in 25 chances. He struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner at second to end the eighth and breezed through the ninth.

Washington went up 4-1 in the fifth when Sanchez reached on an infield single to third, took second on Donaldson's throwing error and scored on Turner's double. Turner took third on Adam Eaton's single and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Eaton scored on Juan Soto's single.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the eighth off A.J. Minter as Turner singled, stole second and scored on Eaton's single.

Adams went deep for the 15th time, an opposite-field homer that bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and into the stands to tie it at 1-all in the fourth.

Sanchez, who pitched for the Braves last year and helped them win the division, allowed three runs and six hits and has a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

Atlanta led 1-0 in the first when Acuna reached on an infield single, stole second base, advanced on a flyout and scored on Freddie Freeman's single.

Brian McCann's ninth homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, chased Sanchez and cut the lead to 4-3.

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NBC Sports Washington's Michael Stearman contributed to this Associated Press story.