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The perfect mix of new and old propels Nationals to Opening Day victory

The perfect mix of new and old propels Nationals to Opening Day victory

WASHINGTON — The Nationals got the 2017 season started off on the right foot thanks to some deft fielding and two big swings on Monday afternoon. 

Stephen Strasburg gave the Nationals seven innings of quality work and his teammates did the rest, defeating the Miami Marlins 4-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 42,744 at Nationals Park.

How It Happened: Edinson Volquez and Stephen Strasburg didn't bring a lot of heat on Opening Day, but the two aces kept the ball in play for the first three innings. But in the top of the fourth inning, Strasburg allowed the Marlins to make contact one too many times. Catcher J.T. Realmuto doubled to center field, and after Christian Yellich filed out, Giancarlo drove in the first run of the season, sending the ball over the head of center fielder Adam Eaton, who was in shallow position. Stanton advanced to third base on a ground out from Justin Bour, before Marcel Ozuna drove him in on a single to center.

The Marlins nearly doubled up their lead in the fifth with two men on, but Bryce Harper came to the rescue. With Vloquez on second and Realmuto on first, Yellich sent a Strasburg pitch deep to right field. Harper had to sprint to the right field wall and make an acrobatic catch to end the inning and prevent the Marlins from taking a commanding 4-0 lead.

The Nationals finally took the offensive in the sixth inning, thanks to Bryce Harper, who belted the fifth Opening Day home run of his career.The very next inning, manager Dusty Baker pulled Strasburg and inserted offseason acquisition and pinch-hitter Adam Lind, who took David Phelps deep for a two-run home run.

A Daniel Murphy single drove in Eaton in the eight to give the Nationals a security run in the eighth inning.

New Faces Deliver: Three of the newest Nationals made big impacts on Opening Day. Adam Eaton, who the team acquired in a trade from the White Sox, finished 1-for-2 with one hit, one run and two walks. Former Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters also made his Nationals debut. He singled in the seventh inning, putting a runner on base for the final member of the Nats' new trio, who gave the Nationals the lead for good with a two-run home run.

Bryce Harper Day: Bryce Harper sure does love Opening Day. The Nationals superstar became the first player in the Live Ball Era to hit five Opening Day home runs before his 25th birthday. He also became the only player in franchise history to hit a home run on Opening Day in three consecutive seasons.

Closing It Out: Blake Treinen entered the game in the top of the ninth inning with the Nationals leading 4-2. It marked the first save opportunity for him since being named the team's primary closer. Treinen got dangerous slugger Giancarlo Stanton to pop out in foul territory and struck out Justin Bour on a full count before striking out Ozuna to end the game.

Final Line: Strasburg (W, 1-0): 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 SO, 0 BB

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Sean Doolittle says Nationals players will continue to support minor leaguers

Sean Doolittle says Nationals players will continue to support minor leaguers

Though the Nationals reversed course on their pay cut for minor-league players, Sean Doolittle still plans on lending his support.

Last week, just hours after it was reported that the Nationals would be reducing the pay rate for minor-league players from $400 per week to $300 for the month of June, Sean Doolittle announced that the major leaguers would cover those cuts.

A short time later, the team announced that it would revert back to the weekly $400 salary for the month of June. While that is good news and something that pleased Doolittle, it does not mean he and other players are done helping minor leaguers in the organization.

On Wednesday Doolittle tweeted out a statement sharing his excitement for the increased pay rates. Additionally, he noted that Nationals players will continue to offer financial help for other players in the organization.

"Nationals players are partnering with More Than Baseball to contribute funds that will offer further assistance and financial support to any minor leaguers who were in the Nationals organization as of March 1."

More Than Baseball is a non-profit organization that aims to provide minor-league baseball players across the country and world with resources to succeed both on and off the field. 

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As the back-and-forth drama plays out regarding the 2020 MLB season, it can be easy to find the negatives in the baseball community at the current moment. However, the gestures by Doolittle and the Nationals players show the good, and once again demonstrate Doolittle's ability to be a powerful voice in a complicated time

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MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

MLB return: Schedules of other leagues show how much baseball is scrambling

The NBA appeared to pull things together Wednesday, following the NHL.

Basketball is expected to return July 31 in Orlando with an inventive, though truncated, format. A quick eight-game wrap to the regular season will be followed by the playoffs, according to ESPN. All in one place. The NHL will not start training camp before July 1. It has not determined when the playoffs may begin. The league shelved the regular season but will use “hub cities” for a playoff tournament when they deem it safe. No date has been set yet.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is trying to launch itself via a much quicker, and earlier, timeline.

Officials want to play at the end of June or start of July. They are currently haggling to get there.

Multiple reports earlier in the week said the league was considering a 50-game schedule. This is not an authentic pursuit of playing just 50 games. Rather, it was a fist clench from league commissioner Rob Manfred against the players’ insistence their prorated salaries will be the lone salary cut. Manfred is suggesting if that is true, then he has the right to dictate scheduling.

The players previously suggested a 114-game schedule. The number between the two proposals -- 82 -- remains the most-likely outcome.

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But, baseball continued its jousting and contorting and time loss Wednesday, jeopardizing the entire process. After rejecting the 114-game proposal, the owners said they would not send a counter, according to The Athletic. Further, the league said it has started talks with owners about playing a shorter season without fans, The Athletic reported. This brings the 50-game scenario back into play.

The calendar is not baseball’s friend in the near-term or around the bend. Pushing the season further into the fall and winter increases risk and logistical problems. It also cuts the offseason down.

Blitzing toward a start time with multiple questions about health and the coronavirus still unanswered delivers another set of problems. Baseball needs to race to a start so it can have a legitimate season and acceptable chance at a finish. Most of the prospective money for the season would be delivered by the playoffs. Playing without a postseason would fall into the “something-is-better-than-nothing” category, but barely. Playing a short season would also only amplify the risk-reward questions for the players. Why put so much on the line for 50 games? Or even 82?

And, don’t think both sides are not currently keeping score for the winter of 2021, after the current collective bargaining agreement expires. A brutish labor fight was already coming. Rule changes, perhaps league realignment, the typical eye-gouging over the splits of cash. The core of mistrust for players remains in place: The owners have not shown their full financial situation. Until that changes, both sides will be shouting from bunkers, no-man’s land in between them, whispering to each other how vile the other side is. Agreements are hard to come by in those circumstances.

Sunday marks the close to the first week of June. Players want three weeks of spring training. They also want to start the season sometime between June 30 and July 4. Which means if they can’t suddenly construct a bridge in the next handful of days, they have a week to pull everything together. The other leagues used creativity, an expanded timetable and risk reduction to present viable ways forward. Baseball has deployed none of that to this point.

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