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Nats Stock Watch: Harper's power display caps bounce-back week

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Nats Stock Watch: Harper's power display caps bounce-back week

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see whose stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 5-2

Team slash: .262/.322/.373

Team ERA: 2.32

Runs per game: 3.42

STOCK UP    

Bryce Harper, RF: 3 HR/ 8 RBI/ 1.047 OPS  

Was there any way he wouldn't make it on here? Harper's memorable three-homer game Wednesday afternoon was obviously the high point of what's been a very solid start to his season. We've been used to seeing him put on power displays in the past, but we probably haven't seen him as locked in as he is right now. Though he's not hitting .300 just yet (his average sits at .265 at the moment), his NL-leading 26 walks is a telling sign of of both the 22-year-old's increasingly patient approach at the plate as well as opposing pitchers' respect of him. For all that's been said about him since he's been in the big leagues, it's easy to forget that he's still nine months younger than the Cubs' Kris Bryant, this year's "it" prospect. It's still really early in the year, but perhaps we're on the cusp of watching Harper transform into the transcendent player many expect him to be. 

Yunel Escobar, 3B: .345 AVG/ 4 RBI/ .355 OBP   

Maybe it's the fresh start with a new team, maybe it's the added protection in the lineup, but Escobar seems to be feeling right at home with the Nats thus far. Over the last week, he notched the highest average of any of the everyday players, keyed by Monday's career best 5-for-5 effort in a comeback win over the Marlins. For a player whose track record suggests he's a solid-but-not-spectacular hitter, he sure seems to be in the middle of nearly every big rally the club has had over the last few weeks. And as an added bonus, he's been able to hold down the fort at third base while Anthony Rendon has been out. 

Drew Storen, RP: 4 GP/ 3 Sv/ 0.00 ERA

A lot of fans still get shivers when Storen comes on in the ninth to close out a game, but more often than not he gets the job done. In what was a bounce-back week for the beleaguered Nats bullpen, he was especially dominant; he allowed just two base runners in four innings, struck out four and walked none en route to earning three saves. On the season, his ERA is at 1.50 and has a 13-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. As with any closer, a few bad outings will stick out in the minds of many, but Storen has turned in far more good than bad so far in 2015. 

Gio Gonzalez, SP: 7.0 IP/ 0.00 ERA/ 9 K

On a night where the Nats offense mustered just one run, Gio picked a nice time to turn in his best performance of the season. He shut out the division-leading Mets in seven innings of work while striking out nine and walking two to earn his second win of the year. He was putting hitters away with his entire arsenal: Whether it was the curveball that fell off the table, the changeup or the fastball that hit 94 mph at times, Gonzalez looked like he had everything working in the Big Apple. It was the type of start that'd make other clubs envious that he's considered a "back of the rotation" guy for the Nats, when he could easily be much more if he were on practically any other team in the league.  

STOCK DOWN  

Jayson Werth, LF:  .227 OBP/ .227 SLG 

With Werth landing in this spot three weeks in a row, it might be time for the Nats to wonder what's wrong with their three-hole hitter. Matt Williams opted to rest him two days in a row due to a "cranky" shoulder, and perhaps the time off would do Werth well. But if he's still feeling the effects of offseason shoulder surgery, what's to say he won't struggle again once he's reinserted into the lineup? That's the worry here, and if that's the case, you wonder how long it'll take before he gets back to being his old self. 

[RELATED: Behind Harper power surge, Nats outlast Marlins]

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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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