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Schoop walk-off sinks Nationals in ninth vs. Orioles


Schoop walk-off sinks Nationals in ninth vs. Orioles

FINAL: Orioles 3, Nationals 2

GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Round 1 of this year's Battle of the Beltways brought the season's largest crowd to Camden Yards. And it brought a tight, tense ballgame to downtown Baltimore, decided late by bullpens and big at-bats.

In the end, the Orioles' relief corps and big bats came through when the Nationals' could not. Jonathan Schoop's 2-out, 2-strike homer off Tanner Roark in the bottom of the ninth capped Baltimore's comeback and sent the Nats walking off the field in disappointment. Roark had looked dominant to that point in the ninth, striking out both Jimmy Paredes and J.J. Hardy and coming within one strike of doing the same to Schoop. But with one swing, the Orioles came back to win for the first time in 37 tries this season when trailing after seven innings.

Gio Gonzalez and Chris Tillman were effective but not exactly efficient, each needing at least 100 pitches to complete six innings. Adam Jones' leadoff homer in the fourth represented the lone run off Gonzalez, while the Nationals got a pair of big, 2-out RBI hits from Tyler Moore and Michael Taylor off Tillman to take the lead in the bottom of the fifth.

Aaron Barrett, returning from a 4-week DL stint, came through big with three straight outs in the seventh to protect the lead, but the Nats couldn't hold it in the eighth. Casey Janssen allowed an infield single to Chris Parmalee, then Matt Thornton served up an RBI-double to Matt Wieters that tied the game, brought the crowd back to life and set the stage for the dramatic finish.


HITTING HIGHLIGHT: With so many big names now on the DL, the Nationals have to get contributions from a variety of sources now, and they have to get quality at-bats with runners in scoring position. They got a couple of those Friday night from the last two guys in their batting order: Moore and Taylor. With his team trailing 2-1 and two out in the fifth, Moore sent a double down the right-field line, bringing home Clint Robinson and tying the game. Moments later, Taylor hammered the first pitch he saw past a diving Manny Machado at third base, bringing Moore home with the go-ahead run. Two at-bats, both with two outs and a man in scoring position, both producing runs.

PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: He didn't have a single clean inning, but Gonzalez got the job done. His changeup was pretty effective against right-handed batters, leading to a pair of Steve Pearce strikeouts. He also fielded four comebackers in a span of five innings. Gonzalez's lone mistake was a hanging first-pitch curveball to Adam Jones, who sent the ball flying to left-center for a leadoff homer in the fourth. He did come through with some big pitches late, including a double-play grounder off Manny Machado's bat to end the fifth and a strikeout of Nolan Reimold to end the sixth. Sitting at 100 pitches, Gonzalez was sent back to the mound for the seventh to turn around switch-hitter Jimmy Paredes but wound up walking him and calling it a night. That proved historically significant: It snapped the Nationals' pitching staff's streak of consecutive games issuing two or fewer walks at 20, the longest streak in baseball since 1900.

KEY STAT: Despite the fact 96 percent of his plate appearances have come while batting first, eighth or ninth, Michael Taylor now has 30 RBI in 223 at-bats this season.

UP NEXT: Jordan Zimmermann, whose wife Amy gave birth to the couple's second child Friday morning, will return from the paternity leave list to start Saturday's 7:05 p.m. game. Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez starts for Baltimore.

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Michael A. Taylor played winter ball to work on his hitting. Here's why the Nats are hoping it makes a difference


Michael A. Taylor played winter ball to work on his hitting. Here's why the Nats are hoping it makes a difference

Michael A. Taylor went on an unusual hunt this offseason. He traded the serenity of fishing in Colorado or Florida, among his favorite pastimes, for the noise of the Dominican Winter League.

Taylor joined Gigantes del Cibao, a rare move for a player entering his age-28 season who has played the last four years in the major leagues. The visit to the Dominican Republic did not go well. Taylor hit .143, struck out nine times and walked once in 29 plate appearances. A small sample size, but also an indicator more work is necessary.

Everyone involved with trying to unmask Taylor’s clear talent knew change was necessary. Taylor is quiet, supremely athletic and has delivered eye-popping glimpses of what he can do on the baseball field. Whether that is running down a fly ball in the gap or driving an opposite field postseason home run in a chilled Wrigley Field, he has performed at a level which displays a high ceiling. Taylor has also regularly entered disturbing droughts where he looks overmatched and uncorrectable. Fixing him at the plate, to any degree, gives the Nationals options. They could deploy him or find a future trade partner.

Initially, he was reluctant to go to the Winter League. He previously planned to work with hitting coach Kevin Long in Florida. All parties knew that would happen. The idea to fly south took further development and convincing. Eventually, Taylor agreed. Among the driving forces for the visit -- from the team’s perspective -- was Taylor’s truncated playing time in the second half of the 2018 season.

“Because of the lack of at-bats he had toward the end of the season, it’s always important to see live pitching,” President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo said in December. “We thought it was important to get him one-on-one work with Kevin and really break down his swing and kind of give Michael a fresh start going into spring training.”

Reworking Taylor’s swing began when his appearances on the field all but stopped. Juan Soto’s emergence paired with Adam Eaton’s healthy return to jettison Taylor to the bench. The timing was difficult. Taylor hit poorly in April and May when Eaton was out and an opportunity was available. His .626 OPS and 65 strikeouts in 210 plate appearances showed what happens when things are dismal for him at the plate. His .864 OPS -- despite 15 more strikeouts in just 68 plate appearances -- in June was yet another pop of what could be. Taylor stole 10 bases in 10 tries during the month, meaning he stole a base 39 percent of the time he reached safely.

Then his playing time shriveled: 48 plate appearances, 43 plate appearances, 16 plate appearances in the final three months. His OPS declined each month, too. Taylor quietly walked around the Nationals clubhouse as the season dissolved.

Long started working with him once he was off the field. They tried to shorten everything Taylor did at the plate. The priority is contact. If Rizzo is to be believed, and Taylor’s past performances have shown this to be true to an extent, Taylor is a modest dose of consistency from being a versatile weapon in the major leagues.

“I believe, seeing him as much as I have, you’re talking about a dynamic player,” Rizzo said. “With adjustments, he could be a special type of big-league player. Gold Glove-caliber defender. He’s got a plus-plus arm that’s accurate. He throws a lot of guys out. He’s a terrific base runner, he’s a great base stealer, he’s got big power. If he figures out the contact portion of it a little bit better, you’re talking about a guy who could have five tools. He’s had flashes of it in the past and he just needs to be more consistent in his approach at the plate.”

Where he fits now is unclear. Taylor, presumably, is the fourth outfielder to be deployed as a base stealing and defensive replacement late in games. Perhaps he splits time with Victor Robles in center field. If Bryce Harper returns, Taylor’s future becomes even more clouded.

What he does have is another chance and big backer in manager Davey Martinez. The Nationals made an around-the-calendar investment in Taylor in pursuit of unlocking what they believe still has a chance to exist.

What Taylor doesn’t have is much more time. He’s entering his age-28 season, fifth full year in the major leagues and closing in on the end of low-cost team control. A warm winter trip doesn’t change those facts.


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Philadelphia and DC are both likely to get a dose of Harper - the winter storm - this weekend


Philadelphia and DC are both likely to get a dose of Harper - the winter storm - this weekend

At least one Harper is on its way to Philly. 

But despite the hopes of Phillies fans, it's not the baseball player - at least yet.

For the second time in less than two weeks, parts of the Midwest and the Northeast is set to get hit with a major winter storm - which thanks to someone with a great sense of humor or baseball knowledge or just pure coincidence - is named Winter Storm Harper.

While this storm is no way related to Bryce Harper' s free agency (officially, at least), it does have some impeccable timing. And, it is set to hit a few of the places he's reportedly considering - including Philadelphia and DC (though it may just miss Chicago according to forecasts).

On Twitter, fans - and even Harper himself - took note: