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Ross steps up big-time, Harper continues to dazzle

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Ross steps up big-time, Harper continues to dazzle

The Nationals really needed a win Saturday in Milwaukee. So, naturally, they turned to none other than Bryce Harper to lead the way at the plate. And, not so naturally, Joe Ross on the mound.

I mean, talk about an odd couple to carry you to victory. Harper, of course, we have come to expect to do these kinds of things (ie. reach base five times). But who could have imagined the member of the Nats' vaunted rotation that would come up biggest when it was needed most would be Ross, the 22-year-old right-hander making his second career start?

Both performances were worth examining in greater detail, so let's get right to it...

ROSS JUST DID WHAT SCHERZER, ZIMMERMANN, GONZALEZ AND ROARK HAVE NOT THE LAST 10 DAYS
What exactly did Ross do? He pitched seven innings. Actually, he pitched eight, joining Scherzer and Zimmermann as the only two Nationals starters to go that deep so far this season.

But the completion of seven innings was newsworthy enough, because no member of the Nats rotation had been able to do that in any of the club's last 10 games.

Ross was able to do it for one key reason: He threw strikes. A ton of them. Like, 77 of his 108 total pitches. Those 77 strikes tied for the fourth-most thrown by any Nationals starter this year, bested only by Scherzer (who has done it three times, though each time out of at least 110 pitches).

In fact, Ross did something no pitcher in Nationals history has ever done. He faced 51 total batters before issuing the first walk of his career, a new club record.

Ross has good stuff (his fastball averaged 92.7 mph Saturday and topped out at 94.5 mph). He throws strikes. He changes speeds. And he hasn't appeared to be fazed by anything he's faced so far since his surprise promotion from Class AA Harrisburg.

Ross may have been unknown to all but the most ardent Nationals fans, but he did come with a pedigree. He was the Padres' first-round pick in the 2011 draft. His brother, Tyson, was an All-Star last season for San Diego. And now he could throw a bit of a wrench into the Nats' pitching plans.

The assumption all along was that Ross would hold this rotation spot only until Doug Fister was ready to come off the disabled list. Well, it looks like Fister is ready to do just that after he threw six scoreless innings in a rehab start for Harrisburg on Friday night. But are the Nats really going to send Ross back down after a dominant performance like this?

There is another scenario that could unfold. Tanner Roark could potentially move back to the bullpen, a boost to the area of the Nationals' roster that most needs a boost right now, and that would allow Ross to remain in the rotation a bit longer. He'd still wind up out of a job once Stephen Strasburg returns from the DL (which is likely to happen in the next two weeks). But he would have another couple of opportunities to start at the big-league level and prove that his performance Saturday was no fluke.

HARPER IS AN EVEN BETTER HITTER IN JUNE THAN HE WAS IN MAY
On the surface, that sounds impossible to believe, given the video-game-like numbers he posted in May to earn NL Player of the Month honors. But it's true.

After hitting .360 with a .495 on-base percentage, .884 slugging percentage, 13 homers and 28 RBI in 26 games in May, Harper is now hitting .415 with a .520 on-base percentage, .732 slugging percentage, three homes and eight RBI through 12 games in June.

No, he's not hitting for as much power. But he's hitting for a much higher average and reaching base at a staggering 52 percent clip.

Those numbers were bolstered by Saturday's game, in which Harper went 3-for-3 with a walk, a hit-by-pitch and two RBI. That's five plate appearances and five times successfully reaching base.

Technically, Harper didn't actually get to reach base in his final plate appearance. After taking a fastball just above his left knee in the top of the ninth, he was removed from the game. The preliminary report was that Harper was hit in the quadriceps muscle, not the knee itself, which would be a break for him and the club. Though until he shows up to the park Sunday, we won't know for sure how severe (if at all) this injury is.

Regardless, Harper's season just continues to wow everyone. He's now hitting .343 with 21 homers, 51 RBI, a .479 on-base percentage and 1.204 OPS through 62 team games (61 individual games).

How impressive is that? Well, only eight players in MLB history have ever finished a season with an OPS of at least 1.204: Barry Bonds (four times), Babe Ruth (seven times), Ted Williams (twice), Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Mark McGwire, Jimmy Foxx and Frank Thomas. Only 12 players have finished a season with an on-base percentage of at least .479: Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Hornsby, Thomas, Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker, Edgar Martinez, Norm Cash, Arky Vaughn, Harry Heilmann and Ty Cobb.

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Kendrick carted off with injury in Nats 4-1 loss to Dodgers

Kendrick carted off with injury in Nats 4-1 loss to Dodgers

WASHINGTON -- Ross Stripling struck out a career-high nine in six innings, Max Muncy drove in two runs and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 4-1 in the opener of a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.

The Nationals suffered a potentially significant injury when Howie Kendrick went to the ground after catching Muncy's sacrifice fly to deep left in the eighth. Kendrick, who's hitting a team-leading .303, put no weight on his right leg and was taken off the field on a cart:

Stripling (1-1) struck out the side in the first inning and then fanned the final five batters he faced, getting Bryce Harper during each of those stretches, in the longest and best of his four starts this season. He allowed one run on four hits, walking none.

Stripling made 11 relief appearances, allowing one run in 15 1/3 innings, before moving into the Dodgers' rotation.

Joc Pederson and Logan Forsythe had two hits apiece for Los Angeles, which won its second straight after losing nine of its previous 10.

The Nationals lost for the first time since May 9. Washington had not played a full game since Sunday night in Arizona because of rain that has lingered over the Mid-Atlantic. One game against the Yankees was suspended in the sixth inning and another was postponed, and Friday's game against Los Angeles also was washed out.

Pederson led off the game with a triple off Tanner Roark (2-4) and scored on a sacrifice fly by Yasmani Grandal. Forsythe doubled in the second, breaking an 0-for-12 skid that stretched to April 14 and included a 26-game stint on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. He singled in the fifth and scored on a grounder by Cody Bellinger.

Harper wore eyeglasses with clear plastic frames during his first at-bat, when he struck out swinging. He ditched the specs his second time up and drove in the Nationals' only run with a single to center.

Roark allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

J.T. Chargois worked the seventh, Josh Fields pitched the eighth and Kenley Jansen threw a perfect ninth for his seventh save in nine opportunities.

Muncy, who struck out looking his first two at-bats, drove in the Dodgers' third run with a double in the sixth. His deep flyball to left in the eighth scored Justin Turner.

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- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Well-rested Nationals welcome the slumping Dodgers for a weekend series

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USA TODAY Sports

Well-rested Nationals welcome the slumping Dodgers for a weekend series

WASHINGTON -- The Los Angeles Dodgers travel to Washington on Friday to take on a Nationals team that was rolling before rain idled them for most of the week.

On Thursday, the Dodgers snapped a six-game losing streak with one of their best games of the season.

Justin Turner, who returned from the disabled list this week, tied a career high with five RBIs and Kenta Maeda threw eight scoreless innings in a 7-0 win over the Miami Marlins. Turner provided a three-run double in the third inning and a two-run double in the fourth.

"As a collective group, we've done a good job of getting people on base -- we just haven't had that timely hit," Matt Kemp told the Los Angeles Times. "We got one of our best hitters back, and he had a big day for us today. I think it relaxed everybody, and you saw some good things today."

Building on that momentum won't be easy on Friday as the Dodgers (17-26) face a well-rested Nationals team that has won 13 of its last 15 games and starter Max Scherzer (7-1, 1.69).

Washington (24-18) has played 5 1/2 innings of baseball since Monday due to rain in the Washington area.

Scherzer had been slated to pitch against the Yankees Wednesday on normal rest. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer is making a strong case for No. 3.

He has won six straight decisions and hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any start. Scherzer leads the majors with 14 strikeouts per nine innings and has held opponents to a .116 batting average in four home starts this season.

"I think what separates Max is his competitiveness, the fire and energy that he pitches with, almost imposing his will at times on hitters. He's just in attack mode all the time," closer Sean Doolittle told the Washington Post.

Ross Stripling (0-1, 2.20 ERA), filling the injured Clayton Kershaw's spot in the rotation, pitches for Los Angeles. He is 0-1 lifetime in two games against Washington with a 21.60 ERA.

In his last start, he left with the lead after allowing two runs on six hits, with a career-high seven strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings of a loss to the Reds. Stripling batted in the fifth and was lifted in the sixth, only to watch the bullpen lose the lead in that inning.

"This was the first time Ross pitched into the sixth inning," manager Dave Roberts told mlb.com. "Up to 79 pitches, more than he's ever thrown, got a guy (JT Chargois) you're comfortable getting (Eugenio) Suarez out and it just didn't work out. We just didn't get it done."

Washington's light week was a gift for the back of the Nationals bullpen, including Sammy Solis, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler and closer Doolittle, all of whom are on pace for career highs in appearances.

"Take 'em all," Kintzler told the Washington Post regarding the days off. "We need 'em."

Somebody who will be getting more days off than they want is catcher Matt Wieters, who had surgery Wednesday to repair his left hamstring, a procedure that could keep him out at least until the latter part of the season.

Backup Pedro Severino is hitting .274 with a .386 on-base percentage.

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