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Nats lineup searching for answers mired on weeks-long slump

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Nats lineup searching for answers mired on weeks-long slump

When the Nationals broke out for seven runs on Friday night, the hope was certainly for that momentum to carry over on Saturday in their early afternoon bout with the Cubs. Manager Matt Williams had adjusted his lineup with Ryan Zimmerman batting second and Anthony Rendon hitting cleanup. He went with the same approach on Saturday, but the team reverted back to their recent troubles and managed only two runs on five hits in the 4-2 loss.

Williams gave credit to Chicago's starter Jason Hammel - who is now 9-0 against the Nats in 11 career starts - but was direct to the point when giving a reason for his team's offensive woes.

"Swinging at balls out of the strike zone. You have to hit strikes against him and we swung at some balls out of the strike zone today," he said.

Hammel sprayed his fastball in and out of the zone and mixed in sweeping sliders with the occasional looping curveball. Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper were able to see him well, as both homered. Harper also landed a single in the first inning. But the rest of the Nats' lineup went 2-for-21 against him across eight innings plus one at-bat in the ninth.

Ian Desmond said it was Hammel's slider that was the toughest pitch to hit on Saturday.

"He locates his heater well enough to make his slider really effective. Heavy slider guy," he said. "Today, I felt a lot better. This is probably the best I've ever felt against him. To lay off, I don't know, if he throws down the middle you want to hit it. It's an effective pitch, certainly."

It may have been Hammel's slider in this particular loss, but a combination of things have held the Nationals back on offense. Only three MLB teams have scored fewer runs in the month of June so far. The Nats have managed three runs or less in 13 of their last 16 games with an average of 2.6 runs per game during that stretch.

Williams was visibly frustrated after Saturday's loss in what was his shortest postgame press conference of the season. He clearly wasn't happy, but had already turned his focus towards Sunday's 4:05 p.m. series finale against the Cubs.

"We’re not gonna make too much of it, okay," he said. "Today we swung at balls out of the strike zone and didn’t give ourselves as much a chance as we wanted to. So we have to go get ‘em tomorrow."

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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.