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Rizzo defends Williams, himself as Nats season gets worse

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Rizzo defends Williams, himself as Nats season gets worse

With the team he constructed fresh off being eliminated from playoff contention, with his manager under fire and his team in the national spotlight for a public brawl featuring the best player in baseball, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo took the podium after Monday's game to a barrage of camera flashes, ready to answer as to why the Nats had found themselves in one of the more embarrassing baseball moments in recent years.

Rizzo fiddled with the microphone as he did his best to explain how Jonathan Papelbon, the closer he acquired just days before the trade deadline, had turned the Nationals' home dugout into a UFC octagon just 24 hours prior. He gave his personal opinion on the unfathomable decision to put Papelbon back into the game after he grabbed one of the game's brightest young stars by the throat and slammed him into a wall on live television.

And then the conversation took a sharp turn, as questions of not only Matt Williams' job performance arose, so did queries about the man at the podium, the brilliant baseball architect whose deal to bring Papelbon to Washington has arguably turned into one of the more colossal mistakes made by a baseball front office in recent memory.

The job security of Rizzo has not seriously come into question publicly, but the future of the manager he hand-picked before the 2014 season certainly has. Rizzo was asked point blank of Williams will be back with the Nationals in 2016.

"We're going to make 2016 decisions after we finish 2015. He's under contract to be the manager next year," Rizzo said.

Rizzo then explained why he thinks Williams has struggled to keep the Nationals afloat this season:

"I think Matt has persevered through a lot of different injuries, a lot of different ebbs and flows of the season. He's had to juggle maybe as many different lineups as any manager has in baseball and many injuries at different times and groups of players coming off the disabled list at the same time."

Multiple outlets including CBS Sports and The Washington Post have reported on a rift within the Nats' clubhouse, some suggesting Williams has lost the support of key players. Rizzo would not respond to those accusations directly.

"If I knew who that person was, I would respond to it. When it's some blind accusation from an unnamed source, I don't react to those," he said.

But Rizzo would give a direct defense of his own job performance, keying in on preseason predictions which have become a sore subject for the team as a whole.

"I could say that the roster we put together in preseason, we felt it was a strong roster. You guys felt it was a strong roster. I think 17 of 18 of you picked us to win the World Series. So, I think you guys thought we created ourselves a good, balanced, high-character and high-quality lineup," he explained.

"A lot of things went wrong. When things go wrong, you find out where your deficiencies are. Things went wrong quickly and they went wrong very often. Probably, I would say that, looking back at the season, when I look back at it, I'll probably see some things that I should have done different, things that I didn't do. Everything rolls down from the general manager and the president of baseball operations' office. I take full responsibility for the quality of players that we put on the field. That goes from the 2009 season, when I took over, to after today's win."

Rizzo won't have to wait much longer to look back at the Nats' season, as it will be over in a matter of days. Then, he will have to make the difficult decision of whether to give Williams another chance.

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Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

WASHINGTON -- Having already won their first series at Nationals Park since April 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies will go for the sweep of Washington on Sunday night.

Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.08 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 4.66).

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in 2013 and went to the Phillies in 2015 as part of the Jonathan Papelbon trade.

After struggling for three straight starts -- giving up 13 runs in 14 innings -- Pivetta allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals last time out, striking out a career-high 13 batters.

"That's some of the best stuff I've seen him have all year," catcher Andrew Knapp told mlb.com. "The curveball was electric."

Pivetta got 11 swings and misses with the curveball.

"It was nice to have it back," Pivetta told mlb.com. "It all started with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much and it worked out."

It his first start -- and second big-league appearance -- the 24-year-old Rodriguez picked up a win against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He allowed five runs, four hits and three walks in five innings.

Rodriguez and Satuday's losing pitcher, Erick Fedde, are filling in for injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phillies have outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the fist two games of the series. On Saturday, Maikel Franco had four hits and Carlos Santana homered to back Aaron Nola in a 5-3 victory.

"That was just a tremendous all-around baseball game," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Franco. "It's so interesting how we've been looking for him to be not just a hitter but a defender and a baserunner and an all-around athlete."

Franco drove in a run and scored twice, including the go-ahead run when he scored just ahead of the tag on Jesmuel Valentin's sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who have won six of seven, pounded out double-digit hits for the second day in a row in Washington.

"They have a lot of patient hitters," Fedde said of the Phillies. "I think that's what makes it tough. Guys aren't swinging at bunch of junk, so you have to attack them."

The Phillies have now won four straight series for the first time since May 2016 and are 2-0 in what will be a stretch of 10 games against the Nationals and the New York Yankees.

Anthony Rendon homered and Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for Washington, which has lost three of four while scoring nine runs.

"Look, I've got all the confidence in the world we're going to start hitting," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We'll start scoring some runs. Right now, the bullpen is a little beat up. We've got to get them going again."

Rendon is doing his part. In his las 15 games, he is batting .382 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.

Hellickson (right groin strain) will make a rehab start Sunday for Class A Potomac and then is expected to rejoin the Nationals' rotation.

Hernandez said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) is about a week from beginning a rehab assignment.

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

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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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