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Nats in April: Encouragingdiscouraging

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Nats in April: Encouragingdiscouraging

After a rough trip out west that ended with four consecutive losses to the Padres and Dodgers, the Nationals are enjoying a much-needed day of rest. So let's use this off-day, as well as the fact it's the final day of the month, to take a look at both the encouraging and discouraging developments of the season to date...

ENCOURAGING: The Nationals rotation has been, plain and simple, awesome. We're running out of superlatives to describe this group of starters, so let's just run through the stats. The rotation's collective ERA now stands at 1.78 (the Cardinals rank second in the majors at 2.57). Opponents are hitting .186 against Nationals starters. They rank second in the league with 129 strikeouts while issuing the second-fewest walks in the league (32). In 16 of 22 games to date, Nationals starters have surrendered zero or one earned run.

DISCOURAGING: Despite all those sparkling numbers, the Nationals' rotation has a collective record of 8-4. That's what happens when you've got a weak lineup and a bullpen that has blown four saves.

ENCOURAGING: Adam LaRoche just completed the best April of his career. The notorious slow starter has been the Nationals' most-productive and most-consistent player so far and enters May with a .329 average, a .415 on-base percentage, a .549 slugging percentage and a .964 OPS that ranks sixth among all qualifying hitters in the National League. Oh, and for those wondering, Prince Fielder's OPS right now is a pedestrian .832.

DISCOURAGING: With Michael Morse out since Opening Day with a strained lat muscle, the Nationals have received virtually zero production out of left field. Their combined stats from that position: a .111 average, .215 on-base percentage and .148 slugging percentage. Bryce Harper may struggle at times in his first taste of the big leagues, but he can't put up worse numbers than that, right?

ENCOURAGING: Remember when the Nationals were far and away the majors' worst-fielding club? Not anymore. They've committed only 11 errors in 22 games, tied with the Phillies and Cardinals for the fewest in the NL. If they handed out Gold Glove awards today, no fewer than five Nats would get serious consideration: LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Rick Ankiel.

DISCOURAGING: The defensive play has not been as crisp behind the plate, where Wilson Ramos has struggled. Ramos has had a difficult time holding onto throws from the outfield, he's had trouble preventing wild pitches from reaching the backstop and he's only thrown out 1 of 13 base stealers. That's in stark contrast to a year ago, when he gunned down an impressive 32 percent of runners.

ENCOURAGING: They don't get a lot of attention, but relievers Craig Stammen and Sean Burnett have been outstanding so far this season. Stammen has really taken to his first prolonged stint in the bullpen and boasts an 0.84 ERA, plus 12 strikeouts in 10 23 innings. Burnett, meanwhile, has picked up where he left off at the end of 2011. He's yet to allow a run and has put up a stellar 10-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The lefty has also stranded five of six inherited runners.

DISCOURAGING: As good as the pitching staff has been overall, the Nationals face a potentially tenuous situation in the ninth inning moving forward. Drew Storen had a bone chip removed from his right elbow and won't be ready to return until midsummer. Brad Lidge blew two of four save opportunities and now is on the DL with an abdominal strain. And Henry Rodriguez, who was brilliant for much of April, suffered a meltdown of epic proportions Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Nationals desperately need H-Rod to get back on track, because they're running out of viable options to pitch the ninth inning.

ENCOURAGING: The Nationals end April with a 14-8 record and share first place in the NL East with the Braves. Their .636 winning percentage represented their second-best month of baseball since arriving in Washington, bested only by the 20-6 (.769 winning percentage) mark the Nats produced in June 2005.

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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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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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.