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Nats reward Zimmermann

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Nats reward Zimmermann

If there are still any detractors out there for the Nationals' plan to shut down Stephen Strasburg in September, perhaps these words from Jordan Zimmermann following another stellar pitching performance Wednesday night will help change their minds.

"I definitely feel stronger another year after surgery," said Zimmermann, now nearly three full years removed from Tommy John surgery. "Last year was hit-or-miss. I didn't know how I was going to feel. But this whole year I've been feeling great. I haven't had any aches or pains. So, knock on wood, I hope that keeps going."

The Nationals certainly hope Zimmermann keeps this up, because what he's doing right now is out-pitching everyone else from their star-studded rotation, not to mention out-pitching just about every other hurler in the big leagues.

With six more scoreless innings -- helping pave the way for a 4-3 victory over the Mets -- Zimmermann continued both his streak of consistent quality work as well as his recent streak of sheer excellence on the mound.

That's now 17 quality starts for Zimmermann in 19 games overall, every single start lasting at least six innings. And over his last five outings, he's now 4-0 with an 0.84 ERA.

In short, the right-hander is getting stronger and better each time he toes the rubber, earning more and more praise from his teammates and manager.

"I mean, he's a man out there," Davey Johnson said. "No doubt about it. He has a great presence. He knows what he wants to do. There's no muss, no fuss. He says: 'Here, hit it.'"

What the Nationals are witnessing right now is the ascension of a top prospect into an elite major-league pitcher. Zimmermann now owns the sixth-best ERA in the majors at 2.35, not to mention the most quality starts.

The Nationals always knew Zimmermann had this in him; the timeline was just delayed by his 2009 elbow ligament replacement surgery.

Zimmermann wound up missing most of 2010 while rehabbing the injury. He returned strong last season but as he pointed out was "hit-or-miss" from start to start, then was shut down at the end of August with his innings count at 161 13.

These days, the 26-year-old is healthy, experienced and strong. And as his numbers start looking better and better, the rest of the sport is beginning to recognize the top of the Nationals' rotation doesn't include only All-Stars Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.

"I can't say enough about him," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "He's quiet and goes about his business, but he's turning into a No. 1 for anybody."

The only knock on Zimmermann this season has been something completely out of his control: A lack of run support, leading to a dearth of wins. That has finally begun to change over the last month, with the Nationals scoring an average of 6.4 runs during each of his last five starts.

LaRoche provided the key support on Wednesday, turning a scoreless game in the sixth into a 2-0 advantage when he launched an opposite-field blast into the Red Porch seats. That put Zimmermann in line to earn his seventh win and get his record over .500 for the first time since -- get this -- he was 2-1 during his rookie season.

"I'll buy him whatever he wants, a steak or something," Zimmermann said of LaRoche.

Informed of his teammate's offer, the veteran first baseman replied: "I'll take him up on that steak."

It appeared for a while that 2-0 lead would hold up, but as it turned out Zimmermann and the Nationals needed Steve Lombardozzi's two-run double in the seventh at night's end.

That's because closer Tyler Clippard, one night after blowing a two-run lead to the Mets in the ninth inning, nearly did it again. Entrusted with a 4-1 lead this time, he served up a homer to David Wright on his very first pitch, then another solo shot to Jason Bay with two outs.

Up came Jordany Valdespin, the man whose three-run bomb Tuesday night cost Clippard his first blown save since he took over closer duties, but there was nothing for the crowd of 31,660 to worry about. Clippard calmly struck out the pinch-hitter, and the Nationals' 18th one-run win of the season was in the books.

They now lead the Mets by a full 8 games in the NL East, with a chance for a sweep Thursday afternoon. And after a wild, extra-inning finish in Atlanta, they now lead the Braves by 4 12 games with a big, four-game weekend series between the two clubs looming.

Not that the Nationals were focused on the standings late Wednesday night. They were just happy to get their unsung right-hander a much-deserved victory.

"Zim was outstanding," Johnson said. "He just continues to go out there and put zeroes up. Glad we scored in the bottom of that inning, get him the win. He's pitched well enough to be 12-2 or something."

For now, 7-6 will have to suffice.

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

We're just a couple of weeks away from the midway point of the 2018 Major League Baseball season, which means many casual fantasy baseball players have collectively turned their attention to the gridiron. This is good news for those of you still interested, because outside of the truly competitive leagues, it's about to get much easier to navigate the waiver wire and make winning trades.

That said, we'll still be here all season long, providing advice for anyone looking to gain a competitive edge in their fantasy leagues. There's a lot to digest in the upcoming week, as many teams (including the Washington Nationals) will play a full seven game slate. It's an especially great time for stars in baseball, as a whopping six players are on pace to record seasons with 8.7 Wins Above Replacement or higher, but there's still plenty of great options beyond the obvious guys.

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 12 (6/18-6/24)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Max Scherzer

We won't often include a guy on the level of Mad Max in our recommendations, but consider this a statement against the other pitchers. With Stephen Strasburg on the DL, Gio Gonzalez is really the only other startable option in the rotation, and while he's a fine play against the Orioles, he's not a sure thing. Scherzer is the best pitcher in baseball, so when in doubt, it's easy to fall back on his name. For now, feel free to use Gonzalez if needed, but the only clear, recommendable one this week is Scherzer.

One Nationals position player to start: Adam Eaton, OF

Consider this your reminder to not get cute and just start Adam Eaton whenever he's healthy. When he can manage to avoid time on the disabled list, he's consistenly been one of the best players in Washington, and an absolute must-start in fantasy. Yes, he's hitting "just" .286 in five games since returning from the DL, but there's no reason to believe he won't bounce back to one of the top hitters in the National League once he gets back in the swing of things. As long as he's hitting at the top of the Washington lineup, he'll be one of the top run producers in baseball.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Erick Fedde

We likely would have advised against starting Fedde regardless of matchup, given his relative struggles in his two starts with the Nats this season. He's got a nice 9:2 strikeout-to-walk rate, but the ERA sits at an unsightly 5.91. What makes matters worse is the matchup; Fedde is once again slated to face the vaunted New York Yankees lineup. In New York, he allowed two home runs in just five innings, and while Nats park isn't the hitter's haven that Yankee Stadium is, the sluggers in their lineup make for a daunting matchup in any city.

Fedde probably isn't owned in most leagues, and there's no reason for that to change, even with his spot in the rotation likely secure as long as Strasburg isn't throwing.. 

One Nationals player to sit: Daniel Murphy, 2B

Nats fans were understandably rejoicing when Daniel Murphy returned to the lineup last week. It's always fun when one of your stars is back on the field after missing so much time. Still, like most players who haven't face in-game pitching in several months, Murphy has been slow to re-adjust at the plate. He's recorded just two hits in 15 at-bats, has only walked once, and has yet to notch an extra-base hit of any kind. His OPS is below-.200, and while no one should expect that to last, there's no need to rush him back into your lineups either.

It would be pretty tempting to slot Murphy into your 2B or middle infield spot now that he's healthy, since you likely drafted him to be one of your studs, but given his lengthy absence, the nature of his original injury, and his slow start since returning, it's probably a good idea to leave him on your bench for a week or two. Once he starts driving the ball again, he can start to return value for you, but there's no reason to let him drag you down in the meantime.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

Given that the rotation is currently in a state of flux, we can't confidently say any starter will get two starts. Fedde looks like the most likely candidate, but as we outlined above, he's still a pitcher you want to avoid for now.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

One of my favorite sleepers this week is Domingo German. One of the most surprising stats in all of baseball right now is that among starting pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched, German has the second best swinging strike rate, behind only Max Scherzer. Swinging strike rate is a great stat to use when projecting future strikeout potential, and German's 15.9% is mighty impressive. German has a start at home against the Mariners and on the road against the Rays, so while it's not a cakewalk week, it's not especially daunting either. As an added bonus for those in points leagues, German is RP-eligible, giving you some extra roster flexibility.

The walks are a little high (21 in 53.3 innings) which has let to an elevated WHIP and ERA, but it's a good rule of thumb to follow the strikeouts when identifiying quality fantasy pitchers, and considering most of the two-start guys this week are obvious studs who are certainly already owned in your league, German is the exact type of option you should be looking to stream.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: John Hicks, C/1B (Tigers) 

This is a sneaky move, the kind that could easily get overlooked in most fantasy leagues but could provide a great return on investment. With Miguel Cabrera's unfortunate season-ending biceps injury providing an opening in the everyday lineup in Detroit, Hicks (who is catcher elgibile) will be taking most of the team's at-bats at first base going forward. While he's probably not worth rostering as a first baseman in most leagues, catcher is a notorious black hole in fantasy baseball in recent years, and this season might be the wost yet.

Hicks will maintain catcher eligibility all season long, yet he'll play the far less demanding first base every day, giving him less wear and tear on his legs, less concern with running the pitching staff, and most importantly, regular at-bats in a surprisingly not-atrocious lineup. Hicks isn't the type of guy you'd refer to as a league-winner prior to Opening Day, but he could make a real impact on a championship roster in the second half of the season.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Jake Junis, SP (Royals) 

Junis isn't the type of pitcher that I'd classify as a must-drop, but you shouldn't hesitate to move on if there's a clear better option on the waiver wire. Junis started the season strong and looked like a legitimate breakout player, but he's allowed six earned runs in each of his last two starts. A poor two-start stretch isn't the end of the world, which is why I'm not suggest that everyone jump ship regardless of team context. That said, he doesn't have the pedigree of a top pitching prospect, and he plays for one of the five worst teams in baseball, meaning you can't expect many wins even when Junis is throwing well.

At the very least, you prbably should leave Junis on the bench for the time being, and again, if there's an option you've been eyeing on the waiver wire, now is the time to strike. Don't feel bad if that means leaving Junis behind to free up a roster spot for your team.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Nice Threads: MLB reveals All-Star jerseys
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- On the Farm: Latest Nats prospect report

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Nationals' offense remains quiet in 2-0 loss to Toronto

Nationals' offense remains quiet in 2-0 loss to Toronto

TORONTO  -- Max Scherzer lost his second straight start for the first time since 2015 when Marco Estrada pitched 6 2-3 shutout innings and Devon Travis homered Saturday for the Toronto Blue Jays in a 2-0 win over the Washington Nationals.

Scherzer (10-3) gave up four hits, including the two-run homer by Travis, in six innings. The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner struck out 10, increasing his major league-leading total to 152.

The right-hander, who lost to San Francisco in his previous outing, last lost two straight starts in a three-game skid in August 2015. Travis homered for the second game in a row when he connected in the fifth, right after Scherzer hit Luke Maile with a pitch.

Estrada (4-6) allowed three hits, one a bunt single, to win back-to-back starts for the first time this season. Toronto has won six straight at home after losing 10 of its previous 11 at Rogers Centre.

Trea Turner hit a two-out double in the sixth, but Estrada struck out Bryce Harper looking. An exasperated Harper was caught looking again to end the eighth, stranding a runner at first. Harper went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, dropping his average to .221.

Estrada left after Michael A. Taylor's two-out single put runners at first and second in the seventh. Danny Barnes came on and needed two pitches to retire Wilmer Difo on a groundout.

Barnes and Aaron Loup each got two outs and former Nationals closer Tyler Clippard finished the three-hitter for his third save in six opportunities.

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