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Nats going with closer-by-committee

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Nats going with closer-by-committee

PHILADELPHIA -- One night after another near-meltdown in the ninth inning, Henry Rodriguez is being moved out of the Nationals' closer role, with manager Davey Johnson saying he'll instead use a committee of relievers in that spot.

"Henry has been great, he's been not-so-great," Johnson said before tonight's game against the Phillies. "I think he might be trying too hard. Probably change his role, put him in a little less-demanding role, try to get him back on track."

Thrust into the closer's role after both Drew Storen and Brad Lidge succumbed to injuries, Rodriguez opened the season with five consecutive saves converted and zero earned runs allowed. But in 12 appearances since, his ERA sits at 8.38 and he's blown three save opportunities.

That doesn't include two games in the last week in which Rodriguez has gotten himself into a jam and had to be bailed out by teammate Sean Burnett, including last night's 2-1 victory at Citizens Bank Park.

Having already gone through three closers, and without another experienced ninth-inning arm in his bullpen, Johnson said he'll mix-and-match moving forward, choosing his relievers based on the situation.

"It's just going to be when I get into a ballgame, see who's fresh, which I like the matchups better," the manager said. "That's the way I'll go."

The most likely choices for such duties include Burnett (who owns 10 career saves), Tyler Clippard (one career save) and Craig Stammen (zero career saves), though Johnson today reiterated the important role Clippard already holds as his top setup man.

"I'd kind of like to keep him where I've got him," Johnson said. "But he's pitched the ninth inning in ballgames for me. I'm not necessarily eliminating anybody."

One other strong candidate to close would have been Ryan Mattheus, but the right-hander was placed on the disabled list today with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and will miss at least the next two weeks.

"That's a big blow," Johnson said. "And at the same time, having Henry have another hiccup, that didn't help either. We've been kind of devastated. It's been kind of making us regroup, revamp. But it's not like something we're not used to."

Mattheus' injury opened a spot in the bullpen for Chien-Ming Wang, who was activated off the DL and is available in relief tonight. The Nationals, though, prefer not to use Wang (who a career starter who pitched 5 23 innings Saturday for Class AAA Syraucse) until he's had a full four days of rest.

Wang was already scheduled to be in Philadelphia today to throw a bullpen session in front of coaches. Now, he'll remain with the club as a long reliever for the foreseeable future, even though he's made only five relief appearances in his career.

"I'm just glad the team still gives me this opportunity," the Taiwanese right-hander said through interpreter John Hsu. "I'm going to try my best to get the job done and try to help the team win the game."

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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??

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Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

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USA Today Sports Images

Can slumping Nationals, Gio Gonzalez end losing streak Monday vs. Padres?

When the Washington Nationals visited San Diego on May 7-9, they won the first two games of a three-game series to move within 1 1/2 games of the National League West lead.

At the time, the Nationals were on a bit of a run and the Padres were reeling with a 13-24 record.

Two weeks after that series, the Padres and Nationals meet again in Washington, D.C (7:05 p.m. ET, Monday). And the fortunes of the two teams have changed a bit.

Since winning that series finale at Petco Park to avoid being swept by the Nationals, the Padres have gone 7-4 and are riding a three-game winning streak.

The Nationals have gone 4-4 and just lost a third straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday in Washington to slip four games off the lead in their division.

The Nationals are the home team this time for a three-game series that opens Monday night with a matchup of left-handers -- Gio Gonzalez (4-2, 2.36 ERA) going for Washington with Robbie Erlin (1-2, 3.46) making a spot start for San Diego.

On paper, the pairing clearly favors the hosts.

Erlin, 27, has met the Nationals twice in his career. Both games were at Nationals Park. Erlin is 0-2 in the matchups with a 16.39 ERA.

In Erlin's two previous outings in the nation's capital, Erlin has given up 17 runs, 19 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings. The Nationals have hit .413 against Erlin, who has a 2.68 WHIP against Washington.

This will be only the second start of the season for Erlin, who returned this year after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery midway through 2016.

Thirteen of Erlin's 14 appearances this season have been out of the bullpen. His one previous start was April 16 against the Dodgers. He gave up six runs (five earned), seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in three innings.

Erlin is filling the vacancy created when rookie left-hander Joey Lucchesi went on the disabled list with a slightly strained glute. The Padres are hoping Lucchesi will miss only one start, although it looks like it could now be two or three.

Gonzalez is no stranger to the Padres. He started the May 9 game that the Nationals lost 2-1. Gonzalez allowed one run, five hits and three walks in six innings. Afterward, he said he struggled with his command.

Gonzalez was not involved in that decision. During his career, he has made seven starts against the Padres and has a 3-2 record with a 3.21 ERA, a 1.357 WHIP and a .253 opponents' batting average. Against the Padres, Gonzalez has given up 19 runs (15 earned), 41 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts in 42 innings.

When the Nationals were in San Diego, first baseman-left fielder Matt Adams went 3-for-8 with a double, two homers, six RBIs and three runs scored -- although he got the third game off.

Since leaving San Diego, Adams has hit only .143. Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .125 in the last eight games with a homer and three RBIs.

Another key player in the first Padres-Nationals series was Howie Kendrick, who was 5-for-12 with a double and two runs scored. But Kendrick has been lost with a ruptured Achilles tendon and on Saturday the Nationals promoted a 19-year-old prospect from Double-A.

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