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Ninth-inning grand slam lifts Nationals over Arizona


Ninth-inning grand slam lifts Nationals over Arizona

FINAL: Nationals 9, Diamondbacks 6

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: When Bryce Harper and Matt Williams were ejected in the top of the seventh inning Wednesday afternoon, you couldn't help but sense that controversy would end up affecting the outcome of this game, good or bad. Turns out it did have a dramatic effect on the outcome, in a surprisingly positive way.

Michael Taylor, who took over for Harper in the cleanup spot following his ejection, launched a grand slam in the top of the ninth off Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed, bringing the Nationals back to win the game and their fifth straight series in stunning fashion.

Jayson Werth also belted a 3-run homer to left-center in the top of the third, then Tyler Moore hit the foul pole for a 2-run, pinch-hit homer in the top of the sixth that tied this game 5-5. That's when the real  fireworks began. Harper was ejected by Rob Drake in the top of the seventh on a check-swing call, upset that Drake wouldn't appeal to third base umpire Gabe Morales. Williams also was ejected after coming to Harper's defense, leaving Taylor in the cleanup spot and Randy Knorr managing the final innings of a close ballgame.

The Nationals bullpen got some really big outs along the way, with Tanner Roark, Matt Thornton and Aaron Barrett notching big strikeouts late. But Barrett couldn't make one final pitch to Yasmany Tomas, who lined a 2-out, RBI single up the middle in the bottom of the eighth, giving the Diamondbacks the lead. That lead was short-lived, though, with Taylor flipping the script in most-dramatic fashion.


HITTING HIGHLIGHT: Wouldn't you know Taylor would find himself in this situation: Batting with the bases loaded in the ninth, the spot that would've been Harper's if not for the ejection. And wouldn't you know the rookie outfielder would seize the moment like that? Taylor crushed a low 1-0 fastball from Reed to center field, sending the ball flying into a little cut-out in the batter's eye where TV cameras are stationed. The crowd of 19,026 was left in stunned silence over the blast, Taylor's first career grand slam.

PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Gio Gonzalez had been quite impressive over his last few starts, working a quick pace, keeping his pitch count down and giving the Nationals innings. But when they needed more of that Wednesday, the left-hander couldn't deliver. He gave up five runs in five laborious innings, done in by a couple of walks, three extra-base hits and a whole lot of pitches. At one point, Williams came to the mound for a rare visit that didn't result in a pitching change. The skipper was clearly agitated and let the entire Nats infield have it, with Gonzalez front and center.

KEY STAT: Tanner Roark threw a 96-mph fastball in the sixth inning, matching the hardest pitch he has ever thrown in his big-league career.

UP NEXT: The Nationals head to San Diego for the rest of this road trip and a 4-game series at Petco Park. Doug Fister (2-1, 2.87) faces Tyson Ross (1-3, 3.98) in Thursday's late-night opener at 10:10 p.m. EDT.

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Nationals-Phillies postponed on Monday night

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Nationals-Phillies postponed on Monday night

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper came back to the District on Monday. No baseball was played.

Rain storms cycled through the DMV starting around 6 p.m. at first delaying the series-opening game between the Nationals and Phillies, before it was finally postponed at 10 p.m. The game will be made up as part of a split-doubleheader on Wednesday. The first game is at 1:05 p.m., the second at 7:05 p.m.

The Tuesday starters for both teams remain the same: Patrick Corbin for the Nationals and Jake Arrieta for the Phillies.

Washington will need an extra starter during the week because it is playing seven games in six days. For instance, the Nationals could call someone up to pitch the first game Wednesday, and have Max Scherzer pitch on regular rest Wednesday night. The doubleheader being played Wednesday instead of Tuesday allows the Nationals plenty of time to import a starter for the day, if they choose to do it then.

However, Tuesday’s forecast is also rain-filled. Stay tuned.



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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

WASHINGTON -- Jackson Rutledge may still be years away from the majors, but as the Nationals' 2019 first round pick toured the team's ballpark for the first time on Monday, he sure looked the part as a big leaguer.

At 6-foot-8, Rutledge towers over everyone currently on the Nationals' roster. He's got prototypical pitcher size with a fastball that reaches triple digits.

Like any pitcher recently drafted, no matter the round, there is a good chance Nationals fans will not hear Rutledge's name again for quite some time, if they hear it again at all.

In the previous eight years, the team used their first pick in the draft on a pitcher six times. Only two of them - Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde - have pitched in a Nationals uniform, and only Fedde is currently on their roster.

Rutledge, 20, will begin his journey with the Gulf Coast League Nationals. He heads there on Friday, hoping it will not be long before he is back in Washington.

"This is my first time in D.C.," Rutledge said. "Amazing stadium."

Rutledge signed his first contract with the Nationals on Monday and passed a physical in the morning. In the afternoon, he walked around the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice, introducing himself to manager Davey Martinez and players who could be his future teammates.

Rutledge has said in various interviews since being drafted earlier this month that he looks forward to playing with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, the Nationals' three ace starters. 

This was his first glimpse at them in-person.

"Meeting all the big league guys was really cool," he said. "I just want to be one of those guys that has that success."

If there was any impression Rutledge left on Monday, beyond his height, it was his eagerness to learn. He cited several of his mentors over the years, former big leaguers like Andy Benes who coached him in summer ball and Woody Williams, an assistant coach at San Jacinto Community College. He mentioned Tom Arrington, head coach at San Jacinto, and his attention to detail.

Rutledge even had praise for Ross Detwiler, a former Nationals pitcher whom they took in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft. He explained how Detwiler taught him a changeup grip during an offseason workout that he has continued to use.

Those are the people, he says, who helped him arrive at this unexpected place in his life as a first-round draft pick.

"If you asked me a year and a half ago where I would be, I probably wouldn't say the first round. It worked out really well because of how hard I worked," Rutledge said.

His college numbers were certainly impressive. Rutledge held a 0.87 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 13 starts. As a freshman at Arkansas before transferring, he posted a 3.45 ERA in 12 starts.

Rutledge is now looking forward to taking the next steps in his development. He said working on his curveball and changeup will be the focus while he's in the GCL. He wants to add weight and muscle to prepare for next year, his first full pro season. 

Assuming he does someday return to Washington as a big league pitcher, Rutledge said to expect a guy who likes to work fast but without a lot of emotion.

"When things are going well, I really feel in control of the game. I feel like I'm setting the game at my own pace and hitters feel uncomfortable because of that," he said. 

"I'm not a guy that's going to get up and start yelling and give energy like that, I'm more of a consistent kind of flat body language sort of guy."

Nationals fans will hope to get to know him better someday. For now, it's down to the minors to learn the ropes as a prospect.