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Span and Rendon set tone in win vs. Braves, just like 2014

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Span and Rendon set tone in win vs. Braves, just like 2014

For much of the 2014 season, while injuries took their toll on the rest of the Nationals lineup, it was the combination of Denard Span and Anthony Rendon that led the way. Both players earned NL MVP votes as arguably the best one-two punch at the top of the order in baseball. Span led the league in hits, Rendon led the league in runs.

But in 2015, that has so far not been the case. Span has been in the lineup after missing the first two weeks of the season and has mostly been himself. He is hitting over .300, leading the team in stolen bases and setting the table as an elite leadoff hitter.

Rendon, on the other hand, has not been the guy we saw in 2014. He missed the first third of the season and before Tuesday was hitting just .230/.333/.311, far below his .287/.351/.473 Silver Slugger slash of last year.

Tuesday, though, may have given the Nationals their first reminder this season of what they are capable of as a duo. Span went 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a run. Rendon had easily his best game of 2015 and went 4-for-4 with an RBI.

After the Nats' 3-1 win over the Braves, some couldn't help but make the year-to-year comparison, even Span himself.

"I think it just sets the tone," he said. "It sets the whole offense in motion, especially if I get on base and he comes behind me. He usually gives me a pitch or two to try and get on second base. And if not, if I don't steal, he's very capable of hitting a homer or hitting a double. It's just something that sets the tone for the whole team and the whole game when we do our jobs."

"They both have a good sense of the strike zone when they're standing at the plate, so they walk a lot which sets up our 3-4-5 guys," manager Matt Williams said. "That was the measure of our success offensively last year. We hope that that's going to continue to be the measure of our success. Those two guys at the top of the lineup are important for us."

Span and Rendon made an impact immediately on Tuesday night against Braves starter Alex Wood. Span led off the first inning with a double off the wall in center field over the head of Cameron Maybin. Rendon then poked a single down the right-field line to score Span and put the Nats up a run before Atlanta even recorded their first out.

That small detail, taking a pitch outside and sending it the other way, was particularly impressive according to Williams.

"Te first one down the line, just trying to get Denard over. He hit a ball down the line to drive in a run," Williams explained. "To move a baseball, like Anthony did tonight. Denard leads off with a double and he just moves the baseball the other way. It just sets up innings for us."

Those are the types of plays that the Nationals have come to expect from Rendon. His average rose to .277 on Tuesday, much closer to his career mark, but it's the finer things that stand out to his coaches and teammates.

"He's looking Tony-esque," Tanner Roark said. "That basehit, his first basehit down the line, you could just tell he is taking balls where he's being pitched at. He looked good."

"It's getting there," Williams said. "For Anthony, if he's hitting the ball on a line the other way, then you know his swing is right. In recent days he's hit some groundballs to short. If he's doing that, then you know he's not quite right on his timing."

Span was already in regular form, but now that Rendon is coming around the potential of the Nationals' lineup was on full display Tuesday night. If they are setting the table, guys like Bryce Harper - who went 0-for-4 in the game - don't have to carry the load like they have for much of this season.

"It's not easy [to pitch against]. Denard is playing really well and Tony's back in the lineup feeling good and feeling healthy," Roark said. "One through nine, one through eight, whatever. We've got a great lineup and we're all confident. It's pretty tough to face us."

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.