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Rivero adds to strong rookie year with 1st save


Rivero adds to strong rookie year with 1st save

ATLANTA — Felipe Rivero arrived at his first big-league spring training a promising-but-raw starter who figured to spend the season perfecting his stuff in the minors, hoping perhaps someday well down the road an opportunity would open for him to join the Nationals' stacked rotation.

That, of course, didn't happen. Not that Rivero is complaining. He wound up reaching the majors much sooner than anticipated, wound up spending the majority of the season pitching in Washington's bullpen and now looks like a potential closer for this organization in the not-too-distant future.

"This year has been kind of a blessing for me," the 24-year-old left-hander said. "I got my first win and my first save in the same year. I wasn't expecting that."

Rivero recorded that first win way back on June 24 when he pitched the 11th inning of a 2-1 victory over the Braves. And on Thursday night at Turner Field, he notched that first save, tossing two scoreless innings to preserve a 3-0 victory and add yet another fine moment to an already impressive rookie season.

"He's stepped forward," manager Matt Williams said. "That's a good sign for him and a good sign for this organization."

Acquired along with Jose Lobaton in the February 2014 trade that sent pitcher Nate Karns to the Rays, Rivero has always had an electric arm. But he dealt with injuries in his first season with the Nationals organization, making only 14 starts (most at Class AA Harrisburg) and finishing with a 5.20 ERA.

Then came the news this spring of the move to the bullpen. Not every young pitcher deals with that the same way, but Rivero chose to take the news delivered to him by Williams as an opportunity to reach the big leagues sooner.

"I was like: 'Oh, OK. I gotta make the team that way,'" Rivero said. "He told me one day he liked me as a reliever for us. OK, let's do it."

When the Nationals dealt with all sorts of bullpen issues in April, Rivero got a quick call-up from Class AA Syracuse. He made one appearance but then landed on the disabled list with a gastrointestinal bleeding issue that required medical attention. He returned in early June and hasn't looked back since, posting a 2.85 ERA, 0.972 WHIP and 3.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Because of his background as a starter, Rivero often was used as a long reliever earlier in the summer, taking advantage of his stamina. But he has transitioned into more of a late-inning role down the stretch, allowing him to dial up his fastball to as much as 99 mph at times.

And because he has been equally effective against right-handed batters (hitting .205 against him) and lefties (.200), Rivero has proven himself more than a specialist. He might just profile as a closer some day soon.

"His stuff profiles in any inning," Williams said. "He's new to this. First year out, he's done pretty well. Tonight is an example of what he can do. He can work through righties and lefties if needed. We'll see what the future holds."

MORE NATIONALS: Strasburg's turnaround a learning experience

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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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It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

Remember when the Nationals put Trea Turner in centerfield so they could keep Danny Espinosa at shortstop?

Two years later it's Turner who leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR, as you surely know if you follow the Nationals on literally any social media platform. 

So while Juan Soto and Bryce Harper continue to dominate all of The Takes, it's Turner who's been the Nats' best position player this season. 

We'll start with some basics: 

Did you know that Trea Turner leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR? He's currently sitting at 2.4 WAR, above the likes of Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell, and Trevor Story, to name a few. (We'll ignore the fact that the top six shortstops in the A.L. all have a better fWAR.) He's a top-10 shortstop in baseball during one of the strongest eras in the position's history.

Even after a dreadfully slow start, Turner's still on pace to have the best season of his career. He posted a WAR of 2.9 last year and -- barring injury -- will realistically eclipse that by the All-Star game. 

At the plate, two stats jump off the page in regards to explaining Turner's stellar season. 

First, Turner is drawing a *bunch* of walks. His current BB% clip (10.6 percent) would be far and away the best of his career and up four percentage points from last year. It's a factor that helps explain - partially, at least - why his on-base percentage has risen and his BABIP has dropped. More walks mean fewer swings, fewer swings mean less contact, less contact means lower BABIP, etc. It's not the whole picture, but it's a big part of it. 

Secondly, Turner is making impressive contact on pitches out of the strike zone. FanGraphs calculates out-of-zone contact using a statistic titled O-Contact, which is a blessing considering some of the titles they choose to give their other stats. 

The average O-Contact across MLB in 2018 is 64.7 percent. Trea Turner's career O-Contact is 62.4 percent (although realistically it's closer to the high-50's - a small-sample-size from his abbreviated first season mucks up the number a bit). 

This season, Turner's posted an O-Contact of 69.3 percent. Not only is that 10 percentage points higher than his O-Contact from last season, but a top-50 clip in all of baseball. He's one spot ahead of Mike Trout!  Put both of these together with some encouraging Statcast numbers (rise in HardHit%, already matched his total 'barrels' from last season) and you can see why Turner's been thriving at the plate. 

Defensively, he's improved across the board as well. His UZR and DRS - considered the two most reliable fielding statistics, if such a thing exists - are both up from last year. He has the 10th-best UZR of all major league shortstops and ranks 1st in DRS. 

Last season, he finished 17th in both UZR and DRS (of all shortstops with at least 800 innings; Turner didn't log enough innings to be considered a qualified fielder). He ended the season with both numbers in the negative. 

You may be skeptical of defensive stats, which is fine. But if nothing else, the fact that Turner is turning literal negative stats into positive ones is encouraging. 

Lastly, Turner continues to be an elite baserunner. At this point in his career, his speed is arguably his best tool:

You'll note that purple dot allllllllllll the way on the right. That's Turner! Now, let's take a look at how his speed compares across all positions:

Essentially, Turner is faster than like, 98 percent of baseball. In fact, by Sprint Speed, he's the 6th-fastest player in the game. He also ranks 2nd across all of baseball in FanGraphs "Baserunning" measurements, only behind fellow teammate and mindbogglingly good baserunner Michael A. Taylor. 

So, Trea Turner an elite baserunner (maybe the best if you combine his raw speed with his baserunning stats), a top-5 shortstop in the field, and an All-Star at the plate. 

Juan Soto's been great and Bryce Harper is still extremely talented, but this year, Trea Turner has been the Nationals' best player.