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Nats stunned, but still standing after loss in Philly

Nats stunned, but still standing after loss in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- They absorbed a right jab, learning about 30 minutes before game time that Ian Desmond had been scratched with a mild hamstring strain. Then they took a left hook to the jaw ... er, actually the right hand when Michael Morse was struck by a Kyle Kendrick pitch in the top of the first and walked off the field in obvious pain.

By night's end, the outcome of the Nationals' series opener in Philadelphia -- a fairly nondescript, 4-2 loss -- seemed less important than the status of their two injured regulars, two key players who have already spent considerable time on the disabled list this season.

"It was definitely a blow for us, but it's kind of what we've been dealing with all year: Guys stepping up in different situations," rookie Tyler Moore said. "Just another day. We're hoping Mikey's hand is fine and that Desi's fine. We'll see tomorrow."

It doesn't appear the Nationals will have either Morse or Desmond back in the lineup for Saturday night's game at Citizens Bank Park, and manager Davey Johnson said Desmond probably will get the entire weekend off. But this club still was breathing a sigh of relief that neither injury is considered serious and both players should return in short order.

They could have used either (or both) of them Friday night against a Phillies team that has long since accepted its string of NL East titles will end at five but continues to play competitive baseball through the dog days of August.

So it was that the Nationals managed only two runs and six hits off starter Kyle Kendrick and a smorgasbord of Philly relievers, six of them summoned by manager Charlie Manuel to record the game's final seven outs. Both runs came via Moore, whose pinch-hit homer in the top of the seventh brought the Nationals within one run but couldn't close the gap altogether.

"It changes the game a little bit," Johnson said of the losses of Morse and Desmond. "But we had the right guys up at the right time, just didn't get it done."

Indeed, the Nationals had their share of opportunities but went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, first baseman Adam LaRoche accounting for four of those outs.

They might have put another man in scoring position in the ninth if not for Danny Espinosa inexplicably getting thrown out trying to steal second base while down two runs, a gamble that clearly irked Johnson.

"I don't like the decision, obviously, because the next hitter comes up, they're going to be playing behind him," the manager said. "So, we'll address that tomorrow."

Not that the challenge gets any easier. Though they still own the game's best record at 77-48, the Nationals still haven't entirely overcome their longstanding struggles against their chief division rivals. They've now lost four of their last five games against the Phillies, dating back to the May 6 game at Nationals Park in which Jayson Werth broke his wrist.

Now they must try to bounce back Saturday against two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, then deal with lefty Cliff Lee in Sunday's finale.

And they'll have to do it without their All-Star shortstop. Desmond was originally in Johnson's starting lineup, batting sixth, but during batting practice he noticed his hamstring was sore. The issue is most likely connected to his awkward moment running down the first-base line Wednesday night, when he hyperextended his knee. Though the knee is not an issue anymore, the play likely stretched out his hamstring.

"I'm sure it's something I've had before and not even known," he said. "Just a little bit sore. I think Davey just wanted to be smart and see if we can get better in the next few days and take care of it before it gets any worse."

There's less of an exact timetable for Morse to return. Though the X-rays on his hand came back negative and he was diagnosed only with a bad bruise, Morse had yet to attempt to grip a bat at night's end.

"It hurts," he said. "You don't know what happened, so I got an X-ray. It was negative, so I'll be back as soon as possible."

Until then, the Nationals will simply keep doing what they've been doing all season: Attempting to defy the odds and overcome whatever obstacles are thrown their way.

"We're comfortable with anybody we put on the field, regardless of what happens," said Edwin Jackson, who took the loss Friday night. "It's not as if a starter goes out and someone off the bench has to go in, that we lose confidence. These are guys who have been doing it all year. Whether it's been Mikey Morse or Desmond gone, everybody just comes in to step up. It's just one of the luxuries that we have. It doesn't matter who it is coming off the bench. We have a lot of confidence in them that they can get the job done."

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Nationals strike gold with role players a year after floundering in that department

Nationals strike gold with role players a year after floundering in that department

PITTSBURGH -- The so-called scrap heap isn’t always kind. General managers are sifting through what other general managers didn’t want in search of a solution for a problem they have. The odds of success in such an equation are low. Think about it in real life: there’s an issue and the strategy is to resolve it with someone else’s previous problem. Not great.

But, that’s where injuries and under-performance push GMs each season. The Opening Day nine don’t make it through the season. They got hurt. They fail. Sometimes both. Which leaves the water-carrying to the role players.

How those fill-ins -- whether in-house or later acquired -- perform can pivot a season. 

They failed in Washington last year. Wilmer Difo hit .230. The year before, he hit .271 as a supplemental part. Brian Goodwin played 48 games, good for a 79 OPS-plus in 2018. The season before? An .811 OPS. Mark Reynolds was serviceable at the plate thanks to 13 home runs and a 110 OPS-plus. Otherwise, the fill-ins didn’t work.

Similar troubles spilled into the start of 2019 when April and May jeopardized the season. Difo again under-performed. Top-prospect Carter Kieboom wasn’t ready when Trea Turner was hurt. Michael A. Taylor played his way to Double-A Harrisburg.

The opposite occurred for dice rolls Gerardo Parra, 32, and Asdrúbal Cabrera, 33, and bench mainstays Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams. Parra’s .814 OPS has paired with defensive versatility and dugout bonanzas to make him among the most valuable role players in the league -- a surprise to most. Cabrera homered again in Wednesday’s 11-1 win in Pittsburgh. He’s hitting .324 since arriving with two home runs in 37 at-bats. 

Cabrera is in his 13th season; Parra his 11th. Both dealt with similar paths to end up in Washington. 

Cabrera was released for the first time in his career when Texas sent him out Aug. 3. The news was a jolt.

“That surprised me at that moment,” Cabrera said. “I got my son with me that day and he's always been with me. He was crying. ... But, I keep it in my mind I know I've still got a chance to still play baseball and trust myself. Washington called me and I feel really good to be back here and show the people I can still do it.”

The Nationals signed him three days later. Parra joined the team two days after becoming a free agent. He took one call -- from Washington. Then, he immediately turned his season around, too.

They were added to Adams and Kendrick, two of the league’s better bench players. Adams hit his 14th double Wednesday to go with 20 home runs and serviceable first base play. Kendrick has a .913 OPS despite a second-half slowdown. Both have been key in keeping the Nationals afloat.

They were here from the start. Parra and Cabrera showed up after being discarded elsewhere, adjusting midseason, trying to figure out what’s next after a decade in the game. And their additions were giant supplements to Adams and Kendrick, rounding out a roster the same way role players did in division-winning seasons under Dusty Baker.

“It’s tough, cause you don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” Davey Martinez said of the adjustment. “For me, cause I got traded many times during the season later in my career, it’s more about family. 'Oh man, I’ve got to pick up, I’ve got to get my family here.' On the other hand, when you do get picked up, you feel pretty good about yourself. 'Hey, there’s a team out there that wants you.' And especially a team that’s in the playoff hunt.

"You come and you get an ability to help somebody get to the playoffs, for these guys when they come in here they’re ramped up. They’re ready to go. All the new guys we got. They’re fired up. They see what’s going on. They love the clubhouse. They love their teammates. We welcome them in like they’ve been here all year. And they appreciate it.”

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Washington Nationals Roundup: Rendon captures a rare feat in blowout of Pirates

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Washington Nationals Roundup: Rendon captures a rare feat in blowout of Pirates

Check out the latest news and notes surrounding the Washington Nationals. 

Player Notes: 

RP Joe Ross (leg) will attempt to throw a bullpen session on Thursday. If Ross can get through that bullpen session, he'll make the start against the Cubs on Saturday. If he cannot, Erick Fedde will get the start in that game. The right-hander sustained a leg injury after being smashed by a comebacker against the Pirates on Monday.

Nationals signed LHP Sam Freeman to a minor league contract. He's been assigned to Triple-A Fresno. Freeman was released by the Angels on Monday after posting a 7.01 ERA in the PCL. The 32-year-old has a 3.62 ERA in the majors in eight partial major league seasons, but his inability to throw strikes has made a return to the big leagues very unlikely at this time.

SP Patrick Corbin fired eight innings of shutout baseball to beat the Pirates on Wednesday. He gave up just three hits -- all singles -- and issued two walks while striking out four in the dominant outing. He mowed down the Pirates with ease and they never mounted a serious scoring threat against him -- only two runners reached second base and none reached third. Corbin has been excellent throughout his first campaign with the Nationals and improves to 10-5 with a 3.17 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 26 starts. He hasn't lost a game in more than two months. He has an elite 184:51 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 161 2/3 innings. The southpaw will have the pleasure of facing the Orioles in his next turn.

3B Asdrubal Cabrera clubbed a three-run homer in a lopsided win over the Pirates on Wednesday. The Nationals broke open a scoreless game by plating six runs in the third inning. Cabrera came to the plate with Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto on base and promptly knocked a Joe Musgrove offering over the wall in center field. The veteran infielder went 1-for-5 on the day. He spent most of the season with the Rangers before being released and signing with the Nationals two weeks ago. His combined stat line for the season is .244/.329/.417 with 14 home runs and 64 RBI. 

3B Anthony Rendon went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run scored in an 11-1 thrashing of the Pirates on Wednesday. He punched a two-RBI single in the third inning as the Nationals scored six times in the frame. The knock helped Rendon reach the 100 RBI plateau for the second time in his career and matches his career high with five weeks remaining in the season. This will be the third consecutive season that Rendon has hit .300 or better, which is a rare feat in today's game. He currently rocks a .323/.402/.607 stat line with 27 home runs, 100 RBI, 90 runs and three steals in 112 games.

Injuries: 

RP Hunter Strickland: Nose, day-to-day

2B Brian Dozier: Paternity, day-to-day

RP Joe Ross: Leg, day-to-day

RP Sean Doolittle: Knee, out indefinitely 

RP Roenis Elias: Hamstring, late August

RP Jonny Venters: Shoulder, out indefinitely 

SP Max Scherzer: Back, August 22

1B Ryan Zimmerman: Foot, late August

SP Austin Roth: Shoulder, late August

SP Jeremy Hellickson: Shoulder, out indefinitely 

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, out indefinitely 

RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, out indefinitely 

Coming Up:

Thursday 8/22:  Nationals @ Pirates, 7:05p.m., PNC Park

Friday 8/23: Nationals @ Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field

Saturday 8/24: Nationals @ Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field

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Source: Rotoworld