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Strasburg and Werth deliver in Nats win

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Strasburg and Werth deliver in Nats win

For 10 days, they had either lost ground to the Mets or at best kept pace with the NL East leaders, unable to gain positive momentum of any kind. But late Wednesday night, the Nationals finally closed the gap a bit, taking advantage of the Orioles' walk-off win over New York by rallying themselves to beat the Rockies, 4-1 at Coors Field.

And so, on the 11th day, the Nats at long last got a game back. They now trail in the division by 3 1/2 games, with a chance to bring that number down to 3 games should Max Scherzer beat Johan Flande in Thursday's series finale, with the Mets getting a day off.

Baby steps, folks. This isn't going to happen overnight.

If the Nationals keep playing like they did Thursday, getting a dominant pitching performance and some timely hits, they'll give themselves a reasonable chance at catching the Mets and salvaging this wayward season. There was a to like in this victory, including...

Stephen Strasburg continues to dominate since returning from the DL
It wasn't all that long ago when Strasburg was the biggest question mark on the Nats roster. Nowadays, he's the closest thing they have to a sure thing in their rotation.

It's been a dramatic turnaround for the right-hander, and not only since he returned from his oblique strain. The turnaround actually began way back in June when Strasburg returned from his first DL stint, this one for a stiff neck.

He has made six starts since then, and though the oblique injury derailed things for five weeks, Strasburg has picked up right where he left off and turned back into the dominant pitcher we had seen him be in the past. In those six starts, he has gone 4-1 with a 1.26 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, six walks and 43 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings.

Not bad, huh?

The biggest difference between Strasburg now and Strasburg back in April and May, when nothing went right? Fastball command. In his three most recent starts, he has thrown his fastball for strikes 73 percent of the time. That makes all the difference.

For the first time in awhile, Strasburg is pitching with confidence, holding tough Rockies and Giants lineups to three total earned runs over these three starts. If the Nationals are going to mount a major August/September surge, this would be great piece of the puzzle.

Jayson Werth has rediscovered his form in the leadoff spot
I wrote yesterday about the logic behind the lethargic Werth moving up to the No. 1 spot in the Nationals' lineup, hoping to take advantage of his ability to work the count while taking pressure off him to drive in runs. Well, he reached base three times during Tuesday night's win, looking perfectly comfortable in the role. Then on Wednesday he looked comfortable again, this time actually driving in the game's key runs.

At the plate with two on and two out in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game, Werth lashed a ball down the right-field line, legging out a 2-run triple that put the Nationals ahead for good.

Which means the 36-year-old outfielder has now reached base five times in 11 plate appearances the last two nights, going 4-for-10 with two doubles, a triple and a walk.

That is major progress for Werth, at a time when the Nationals needed it most from him.

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

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Nationals set to bring back Matt Adams

The Nationals just checked another box.

They have reached an agreement to bring back first baseman Matt Adams, pending a physical, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

The deal is for one year with a mutual option in 2020.

Adams flourished last season with the Nationals when he delivered an .842 OPS with an 118 OPS-plus in 306 at-bats as a part-time player. He was crucial since Ryan Zimmerman spent the middle of the season on the disabled list.

The Nationals later flipped Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals for “cash considerations”, which made him little more than a waiver claim for St. Louis. The Nationals just saved the remainder he was owed on his contract following the Aug. 21 transaction.

Adams, a quiet professional, fit well in the clubhouse. One on-field tear earned him a T-shirt homage to his nickname: “Big City doing Big City things” that several of his teammates wore pregame.

His role will be the same as last season: insurance for Zimmerman, as well as a power left-handed bat off the bench who will receive the occasional start if Zimmerman is healthy.

Adams’ return also enables the Nationals to shop for a true second baseman as opposed to a hybrid player like Marwin Gonzalez. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has continually moved the needle from standing pat to hunting for a starting second baseman. For now, a platoon of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick is in place.

The Nationals' largest gap remains in the rotation following the trade of Tanner Roark. They need to find 180 innings in a thin free agent pitching market to replace Roark’s production from the last three seasons.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported the agreement with Adams.

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

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Tanner Roark is out, who could be in?

LAS VEGAS -- Let’s strip the name and take a blank taste test. Wednesday, the Nationals sent an average of 197 innings out the door. That’s 591 outs. It’s not something to shrug off.

Trading Tanner Roark for a reliever, a minor-league one at that, extracts a path to almost 600 outs. The Nationals need to find a new one. Choices to do so aren’t very enticing.

They are back in the starting pitching market because of Roark’s regression the last two seasons coupling with an increase in pay. He’s expected to earn around $10 million out of salary arbitration. The Nationals are gambling they can find equal effectiveness through another starter -- or two.

There’s money to allocate now. It’s not much for the remaining upper tier of free agents. It’s sufficient to bring in someone on a one- or two-year deal and perhaps apply to a more versatile bench piece than a straight backup at first base.

Washington made Patrick Corbin the highest-paid pitcher this offseason. He was priority one. In a vacuum, he may not be worth six years and $140 million. But not all players carry the same value with every franchise. The Nationals had a clear need for another potent starter, and preferably a left-handed one at that. They received the combination with Corbin.

The challenge for the Nationals is handling this market after Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn complicated it. Morton signed a two-year, $30 million deal with Tampa Bay. Lynn received a three-year, $30 million contract from the Texas Rangers. If the Nationals didn’t want to pay Roark $10 million, they surely don’t want to pay another pitcher something near what Morton and Lynn received, even if it allows more control. Roark was entering the last year of his contract.

Dallas Keuchel remains atop the available starters. By WAR, the next-best available pitcher is 34-year-old Anibal Sanchez. He put together what appears to be an outlier season in 2018 following three consecutive years of significant regression. Sanchez’s ERA-plus went 80, 73, 70 before spiking to 143 last season, the third-best mark of his 13-year career. Sanchez has also averaged just 138 innings pitched on average the last four years. That’s a lot of outs between the workload Roark handled and Sanchez has as he heads into his age-35 season.

Next on the list by WAR? Gio Gonzalez. Moving on.

After that? Not much inspiration. Left-hander Wade Miley pitched well in just 16 starts last season. He has a carer 4.26 ERA. Miley has not put together a strong full season since 2013.

Matt Harvey? Trevor Cahill? Clay Buchholz?

Brett Anderson? James Shields? Jason Hammel?

These are not exactly places to hang your hat.

However, the Nationals have little choice. Their solution to replace Roark’s outs will come from outside the organization. Depth at Triple-A Fresno is negligible. Options in Double-A to help the rotation now are non-existent.

They have one intriguing pitcher lurking: Henderson Alvarez. The Nationals signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

“Chance to make the team, if not, to pitch in Triple A for us,” Mike Rizzo said of his outlook on Alvarez.

Alvarez threw a no-hitter in 2013. He was an All-Star in 2014. Shoulder surgery was followed by shoulder discomfort, then another shoulder surgery. Alvarez didn’t pitch in 2016. He started three games for Philadelphia in 2017. He then pitched in the Mexican League in 2018, where he finished with 4.60 ERA in nine starts. The wildest of wild cards here.

Washington has also kept an eye on Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who is available through posting system.

Somewhere, they need to find another 180 innings.

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