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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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The Nationals bullpen no one expected -- or probably wanted -- is here

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The Nationals bullpen no one expected -- or probably wanted -- is here

Fernando Rodney shot off an imaginary arrow June 25, 2019, in a Nationals uniform while on the infield in Miami. He had just finished the ninth inning of a game Max Scherzer dominated. Hop in a time machine, go back to the offseason, say those words over and secure your head so it does not explode.

The current eight living in Washington’s woebegone bullpen includes half of the season’s Opening Day bullpen. Closer Sean Doolittle, Matt Grace, Wander Suero, and specialist Tony Sipp are the only ones to make it from late March to late June. None have an ERA below 3.00. One (Doolittle) has an ERA below 4.00. In normal circumstances, Grace, Suero, and Sipp would not have made it this far.

But this is not a normal bullpen year for almost anyone in baseball. It’s not even normal for a Washington organization annually confounded by how to put together a top-end relief group. In the midst of a push back toward relevancy, the Nationals brought the 42-year-old Rodney and three-time Tommy John recipient Jonny Venters into the bullpen. They joined Javy Guerra, 33, who was released by Toronto before Washington snagged him, and Tanner Rainey, who came from Triple-A out of necessity. It’s an interesting bunch.

Suero and Guerra were set to be the only bullpen members needed Wednesday in Miami during the Nationals’ 7-5 win. That was before Guerra allowed four runs in the bottom of the ninth and Doolittle had to come in to finish the game -- again.

Patrick Corbin pitched seven innings and allowed a run. Washington is a game under .500 and winners of 20 of the last 29 (that’s a .690 winning percentage; a 112-win pace across a full season).

Drag your brain back to the March 28 opener against the New York Mets. Justin Miller was back for a second season after surprising most with an effective 2018. Kyle Barraclough was lined up to be the seventh-inning reliever. Trevor Rosenthal was throwing 98 mph. 

All premises around the trio have since collapsed. Which is part of the reason Rodney and Venters are now in the mix.

From Mike Rizzo’s perspective, bringing Rodney and Venters up now makes sense. It’s low-risk. Putting them on the mound while the team is trending in the right direction -- and dealing with a soft schedule -- enables him to take a look at assets already in-house. Rizzo likely has three plans here: Give Rodney and Venters a shot. If they work, he is able to bolster the bullpen while holding onto assets. If they don’t, cutting them is a low-cost move and space opens for Fresno closer Dakota Bacus, who was named to the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday. Maybe even another dice roll with one of the remaining veterans in Fresno. If none of that works, hop into the fray for a reliever via trade.

Acquiring another reliever this season will be more of a challenge than in the past. The second wild-card spot is having the kind of influence Major League Baseball hoped it would. Coming into the night, the Nationals were three games out of the wild card. Six other teams were within 4 1/2 games of the second National League wild-card position. They need bullpen help as well, creating a competitive mish-mash. 

It’s less cramped in the American League. Four teams are within four games of the second wild-card.

Expect to hear these relief names attached to trade rumors: Ken Giles, Will Smith, Felipe Vazquez, Ty Buttrey, Hansel Robles, Shane Greene, Trevor Gott, Nick Anderson, Cam Bedrosian, and Reyes Moronta. All could be on the move before the July 31 trade deadline. The Nationals would be pleased with any of them. 

For now, they have the bullpen no one expected. Rodney has the imaginary arrows. Suero and Grace have bloated ERAs. Guerra made his 13th appearance Wednesday. Barraclough remains sidelined. Rosenthal is looking for work. 

Rizzo has overhauled half of the group. Further work remains.

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Nationals to wear throwback Expos signature powder blues on July 6

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Nationals to wear throwback Expos signature powder blues on July 6

Bring out the powder blues!

In the decade and a half since the Nationals franchise relocated from Montreal to Washington, D.C. in 2005, the Nationals have only worn throwback uniforms honoring the Washington Senators, who played in the Nation's Capitol from 1901-1960 before the franchise moved to Minnesota and became the current Minnesota Twins. They have not once worn any Expos throwbacks.

That all changes on July 6, when the Nationals will sport the signature Montreal Expos powder blue uniforms against the Kansas City Royals as the Nationals celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary, according to the Washington Post.

The uniform features powder blue jerseys and pants, with the tri-color red, white, and blue signature Expos cap.

The Royals will also be donning throwback uniforms from their inaugural 1969 season, taking the field in their original road grey uniforms with a cursive "Kansas City" across their chest in Royal blue.

The Nationals are honoring the Expos in more ways than just sporting their old uniforms. Nationals Park will also be going through a makeover, as the Expos 'M' will replace the Nationals 'Curly W' across the park for the afternoon. Additionally, concessions will offer traditional Canadian food, such as poutine, Montreal smoked brisket sandwiches and more. 

Expos legend Vladimir Guerrero will also be in attendance. Other members of the Nationals, such as manager Dave Martinez, third base coach Bob Henley, and MASN broadcaster F.P. Santangelo will be honored for their contributions to the Expos as well.

July 6 should be an exciting day at Nationals Park.

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