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A new era begins


A new era begins

Everyone knew the day would come when Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg would take the field together as Nationals teammates for the first of many times. Nobody knew that day would come so soon.

It took an unusual alignment of stars for Strasburg and Harper's paths to intersect tonight in the city of stars. This wasn't supposed to happen for another month or two, but a rash of injuries to the heart of the Nationals lineup forced Mike Rizzo's hand, so tonight we will see this organization's two No. 1 draft picks together at last.

Nats-Dodgers. A couple of first-place clubs going head-to-head. Strasburg on the mound. Harper in the lineup.

Welcome to a new era of Nationals baseball.

Summoned from Class AAA Syracuse after only 20 games, Harper will make his major-league debut at Dodger Stadium, batting seventh and starting in left field for a Washington club that desperately needs an injection of life into a stagnant lineup.

Last night's 3-2 loss to the Dodgers represented the fifth time in six games the Nationals have scored three or fewer runs. And with Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse now on the disabled list, Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson had run out of places to find offense.

So the call was placed to Syracuse, where a stunned Harper learned from Chiefs manager Tony Beasley he would be making his big-league debut at 19.

That alone isn't as big a deal as you might think. Harper will be the 608th player in baseball history to debut before age 20. Success, though, is anything but guaranteed. Of those 607 previous big-league teenagers, only three had double-digit home run total in their first season: Tony Conigliaro (24 in 1964), Ken Griffey Jr. (16 in 1989) and Mickey Mantle (13 in 1951).

So the expectation level for Harper in his first taste of the majors should be minimal. That line of thinking should also hold true based on Harper's well-established track record: At every level he's played, he's struggled mightily at the plate for two or three weeks before taking off.

The Nationals and their fans would be wise to assume history will repeat itself now that Harper has arrived. He shouldn't be expected to be the savior of a lineup that needs saving. Anything he does produce at the plate is gravy.

Truth be told, the lion's share of the attention on tonight's game should be directed at the 23-year-old on the mound, not the 19-year-old in left field. Strasburg already survived his much-ballyhooed arrival two years ago, perhaps setting a new standard for excellence in a debut performance.

These days, the right-hander is merely one of the best young pitchers in the game. And tonight he faces one of his stiffest challenges to date: A first-place Dodgers club that boasts the best hitter on the planet right now in Matt Kemp.

Coming off back-to-back losses for only the second time this season, the Nationals would love to get back on the winning track and give themselves a shot at their seventh series victory in as many tries.

Thus, the spotlight should shine brightest tonight on Strasburg, who gets to find out if he can play the role of stopper and pitch his team back into the win column.

No matter what happens tonight, though, baseball in Washington will never be the same. Remember the embarrassment of those consecutive 59-win seasons in 2008 and 2009? Well, the payoff for that ineptitude is finally here, in the form of two No. 1 draft picks, each touted as the best prospect at his position in a generation.

That's a lot of pressure for Strasburg and Harper to have thrown at them. As we saw two years ago, Strasburg can handle the heat. And there's no reason to believe the supremely confident Harper won't also deal with this task in fine form.

Whether that manifests itself into a 3-for-4 performance or a three-strikeout night remains to be seen.

For now, all the Nationals can do is sit back and count down the hours until the next chapter in their history is written.

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

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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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Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers


Soto makes debut in Nationals loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON  -- Kike Hernandez and Yasiel Puig each hit two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Hernandez's blast off Stephen Strasburg in the fifth inning put the Dodgers up 3-2. Yasmani Grandal also homered off Strasburg (5-4), who allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts.

Alex Wood (1-4) pitched six innings, allowing just three hits and two earned runs. Wood came out to start the seventh, but returned to the clubhouse after showing some discomfort during his warm-up tosses.

Trea Turner homered for Washington, which swept Arizona last weekend and then went five days without playing a full game because of rain before getting swept by the Dodgers.

Los Angeles, after losing six consecutive games, has now won four straight overall and five of six over Washington this season.

Washington's Juan Soto, at 19 the youngest active player in the majors, made his debut in the eighth as a pinch-hitter and struck out against Erik Goeddel.

The Dodgers added two runs in the ninth. Josh Fields recorded the final four outs for his second save of the season.


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