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Nats beat Braves in wild game

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Nats beat Braves in wild game

Game in a nutshell: The biggest series yet for the Nationals opened with a classic, tense game worthy of a pennant race. Despite jumping out to 4-1 lead after one inning, the Nationals couldn't get anything else going against Tim Hudson. Jordan Zimmermann, meanwhile, labored through five innings and let the Braves come back to tie the game. Then it turned into a battle of bullpens, with both teams having golden opportunities to push across the go-ahead run but neither able to pull it off. Into the night the game went, with only the hearty souls among the original crowd of 21,298 sticking around until the very end. And then finally, a crazy finish to reward them: Danny Espinosa went from first to third on Kurt Suzuki's infield single, then scored when Dan Uggla couldn't get the ball out of his glove on Chad Tracy's grounder to second. With that, the Nats pulled off a stunning, 5-4, win and took a six-game lead in the NL East.

Hitting highlightlowlight: After getting shut down by Hudson for years, the Nationals have suddenly found the right-hander's number this season. And they looked poised to do it again tonight when they exploded for four runs in the bottom of the first. Bryce Harper continued his recent hot streak with an RBI single. Adam LaRoche battled his way through a tough at-bat to record an RBI groundout. And then Ian Desmond jumped all over the first pitch he saw from Hudson, sending it flying over the left-field bullpen to snap an 0-for-11 slump since he came off the DL. But then they couldn't deliver the knockout punch to Hudson, who wound up reaching the seventh without giving up another run.

Pitching lowlight: In arguably the biggest start of his career, Zimmermann was uncharacteristically out of sync. He labored through a 24-pitch first inning and because of it was behind the 8-ball all night. Zimmermann had to battle just to get through five innings on a whopping 102 pitches. His biggest mistake: a low-and-inside fastball to Jason Heyward, who turned on that meatball and drilled it into the right-field bullpen for the two-run homer that tied this game 4-4. The Nationals are going to ask a lot of Zimmermann down the stretch, as their de facto ace once Stephen Strasburg is shut down. They're going to need better performances than they got tonight.

Key stat: In his first 14 starts this season, the Nationals gave Zimmermann an average of 3.3 runs of support. Over his last 11 starts, they've given him an average of 5.8 runs of support.

Up next: Get ready for plenty more Stephen Strasburg Shutdown talk when the right-hander takes the mound for the second game of this crucial series. He'll be opposed by lefty Paul Maholm, one of the Braves' key trade deadline acquisitions. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m., and the game will be on MLB Network for those who live outside the D.C. market.

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Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

WASHINGTON -- Having already won their first series at Nationals Park since April 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies will go for the sweep of Washington on Sunday night.

Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.08 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 4.66).

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in 2013 and went to the Phillies in 2015 as part of the Jonathan Papelbon trade.

After struggling for three straight starts -- giving up 13 runs in 14 innings -- Pivetta allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals last time out, striking out a career-high 13 batters.

"That's some of the best stuff I've seen him have all year," catcher Andrew Knapp told mlb.com. "The curveball was electric."

Pivetta got 11 swings and misses with the curveball.

"It was nice to have it back," Pivetta told mlb.com. "It all started with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much and it worked out."

It his first start -- and second big-league appearance -- the 24-year-old Rodriguez picked up a win against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He allowed five runs, four hits and three walks in five innings.

Rodriguez and Satuday's losing pitcher, Erick Fedde, are filling in for injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phillies have outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the fist two games of the series. On Saturday, Maikel Franco had four hits and Carlos Santana homered to back Aaron Nola in a 5-3 victory.

"That was just a tremendous all-around baseball game," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Franco. "It's so interesting how we've been looking for him to be not just a hitter but a defender and a baserunner and an all-around athlete."

Franco drove in a run and scored twice, including the go-ahead run when he scored just ahead of the tag on Jesmuel Valentin's sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who have won six of seven, pounded out double-digit hits for the second day in a row in Washington.

"They have a lot of patient hitters," Fedde said of the Phillies. "I think that's what makes it tough. Guys aren't swinging at bunch of junk, so you have to attack them."

The Phillies have now won four straight series for the first time since May 2016 and are 2-0 in what will be a stretch of 10 games against the Nationals and the New York Yankees.

Anthony Rendon homered and Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for Washington, which has lost three of four while scoring nine runs.

"Look, I've got all the confidence in the world we're going to start hitting," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We'll start scoring some runs. Right now, the bullpen is a little beat up. We've got to get them going again."

Rendon is doing his part. In his las 15 games, he is batting .382 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.

Hellickson (right groin strain) will make a rehab start Sunday for Class A Potomac and then is expected to rejoin the Nationals' rotation.

Hernandez said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) is about a week from beginning a rehab assignment.

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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