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Strasburg prepares for final home start

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Strasburg prepares for final home start

Thirteen times this year he's taken the mound at Nationals Park, knowing in each instance he'd have another opportunity to take the same mound again five or 10 days later.

But when Stephen Strasburg emerges from the first base dugout at 7:05 p.m. tonight, he'll do so with the knowledge he won't be allowed to make that stroll anymore in 2012.

Having been informed by team management last week he will be shut down following next Wednesday's start in New York, Strasburg finally has a clear view of the finish line on what will be remembered both as an equally remarkable and frustrating season for the young right-hander.

Remarkable because he returned from Tommy John surgery to post 15 wins (at least), a sub-3.00 ERA and more strikeouts than any pitcher in baseball. Frustrating because -- even though he's healthy and feels like he can continue to pitch -- the Nationals are shutting the 24-year-old down at the tail end of a pennant race for purely precautionary reasons.

So it could be an emotional night at Nationals Park when Strasburg faces the Marlins, the home crowd getting one final opportunity to watch their young ace in person this season.

Just don't expect the man on the mound to show any more emotion than he usually does.

"He's all-in," manager Davey Johnson said. "Every time he goes out, he's committed to be the best he can be. He probably puts that standard higher than I like it. So I don't see him ramping down to the last one of two, going at it any harder or any softer."

Indeed, Strasburg's motivation tonight likely won't have anything to do with his impending shutdown but with trying to move the Nationals one step closer to their first NL East title, not to mention making amends for his last start against the Marlins.

Only 10 days ago in Miami, Strasburg suffered perhaps the worst beating of his professional career, getting tagged for seven runs (five earned) and nine hits in five innings. The Nationals lost that game 9-0, their fifth consecutive loss, and the following day Johnson closed the doors of his clubhouse to hold a team meeting.

Since then, the Nationals are 8-1, beating their opponents by a collective score of 70-27.

Strasburg called that start "a big learning experience for me." Will he take what he learned and apply it to tonight's game?

The bigger challenge might be finding a way to rediscover success against a Marlins team lineup that has already faced him four times this season and eight times in his career. No other team has gone up against him as many times.

Whatever the result, when Strasburg retreats to the dugout at the end of his outing, surely he'll receive a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd that won't get a chance to say thanks again this year.

After a summer spent worrying about and debating the shutdown of a healthy pitcher, the end has finally arrived.

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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.

It’s unclear if the deal is for strictly one year or a year with an option. Either way, Adams will be part of the 2019 roster once he passes a physical.

Adams flourished last season with the Nationals when he delivered an .842 OPS 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.

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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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