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Zimmerman continues to swing a hot bat as Nats win again

Zimmerman continues to swing a hot bat as Nats win again

PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Zimmerman homered, drove in three runs and led the Washington Nationals to a 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night.

A.J. Cole (1-0) allowed one run over six innings in his first start of the season and helped the Nationals win their fourth straight game.

The Nationals lead the majors with a 21-9 record and won the last two games without 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper. Harper strained his left groin on Thursday and could return to the lineup Sunday.

Without Harper, Zimmerman did his best to carry the offense.

Zimmerman leads the league in hitting, hits, home runs, RBIs, and a slew of other major offensive categories. He was robbed of a homer in the second inning on a leaping catch by centerfielder Odubel Herrera.

No one but a fan had a chance of snagging Zimmerman's two-run shot to left in the in the fourth. His 13th homer of the season gave the Nationals a 2-1 lead and gave him a 13-game hitting streak.

Anthony Rendon hit a three-run homer off Phillies starter Vince Velasquez (2-3) in the sixth.

Cole, a 25-year-old righty, made seven starts last season for the Nationals and was called up this week when Joe Ross was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse. Cole had to make his first start Saturday because he first had to serve the final three games of a five-game suspension levied last season for throwing at Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang.

Cole struck out two, walked four and gave up six hits.

Zimmerman almost gave him a lead in the second on a deep shot to center that sent Herrera sprinting toward the 401 sign and he made the catch against the fence before it landed 402 feet away.

Velasquez raised his arms in triumph as if he pitched a no-hitter.

He needed more defensive help in the sixth. Zimmerman lined one the opposite way to right that Brock Stassi seemed to lose in the lights. Zimmerman's shot sailed over Stassi for an RBI double and a 3-1 lead. Rendon followed with his fifth homer of the season for a 6-1 lead that sealed the win.

Cameron Rupp added a solo shot for the Phillies, who lost their fifth straight.

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There’s a Harper in DC again: Nationals trade for reliever Ryne Harper

There’s a Harper in DC again: Nationals trade for reliever Ryne Harper

It may have taken until Jan. 29, but the Nationals finally made their first trade of the offseason Wednesday when they acquired right-hander reliever Ryne Harper from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for 21-year-old pitching prospect Hunter McMahon.

Of course, he won’t be the first Harper to don the Curly W. He’ll have a lot of work to do if he wants to top the legacy of the former MVP now playing in Philadelphia.

Putting that aside, he’s joining the Nationals coming off a solid rookie season in which he posted a 3.81 ERA with one save and 12 holds in 61 appearances for Minnesota.

At 30 years old, Harper will certainly be a bit seasoned for a second-year player. Per Brooks Baseball, his fastball averaged out at 89.7 mph while he also mixed in healthy usage of a slider and curveball. He isn’t a big strikeout pitcher (8.3 K/9), allowing mostly grounders (38.5 percent) and flyballs (37.3 percent).

Harper was designated for assignment by the Twins to make room for Josh Donaldson on the 40-man roster. Washington was among the suitors for Donaldson; although they didn’t end up signing him, the third baseman still managed to make an impact that affected the Nationals.

McMahon was a ninth-round pick out of last year’s draft who posted a 0.71 ERA over nine appearances last season between rookie ball and Low-A Auburn.

Washington figures to give Harper a chance to compete for a bullpen spot in spring training, joining a crowded group that only has three pitchers guaranteed spots heading into the year: Sean Doolittle, Will Harris and Daniel Hudson.

After the Nationals made the trade official Wednesday, their 40-man roster is now officially full. For fans still holding out hope that Kris Bryant could be going to D.C., this trade only lowers those odds even further after Bryant lost his service-time grievance with the Chicago Cubs.

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Kris Bryant loses grievance against Cubs, chances of trade to Nationals slim

Kris Bryant loses grievance against Cubs, chances of trade to Nationals slim

Kris Bryant will remain signed with the Chicago Cubs for at least the next two seasons, although the team continues to field calls for trade proposals, ESPN reported Wednesday morning.

The Cubs have dangled Bryant in trade talks all offseason after the team signaled its desire to get under the luxury tax. Washington was rumored to have contacted Chicago about the third baseman earlier this winter, but those talks have “gone nowhere” according to The Athletic.

After incumbent third baseman Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels at the Winter Meetings, the Nationals pursued Josh Donaldson in free agency but ultimately refused to meet his asking price. Instead, the team re-signed infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera and will give top prospect Carter Kieboom the chance to compete against him for the starting job in spring training.

THE BIG TWENTY: LOOKING BACK AT THE START OF STRASBURG AND HARPER IN DC

Chicago retaining two years of control over Bryant raises his trade value to the point where the Nationals likely wouldn’t be able to put together a competitive offer. Washington only has one consensus top-100 prospect in Kieboom and has been hesitant to deal him in past trade discussions.

The Atlanta Braves, who lost Donaldson to the Minnesota Twins in free agency, have been rumored to be interested in Bryant and would be in a much better position to make an offer enticing enough for the Cubs to trade him. The same goes for the Texas Rangers, who are moving into a new ballpark this season and would benefit from bringing in a star like Bryant to put fans in seats.

There’s also the likelihood that Chicago holds onto Bryant to start the 2020 season. The Cubs still have most of the core that led the team to its first World Series in 108 years back in 2016 and figure to be competitive in a wide-open NL Central. If they end up struggling to start the year, they could always field calls for him at the trade deadline when there might be more suitors.

Meanwhile, the Nationals appear content with the depth they’ve accumulated at third base. In addition to Kieboom and Cabrera, Washington also signed Starlin Castro and retained Howie Kendrick—both of whom have experience at third. With the team already projected to be close to the luxury tax threshold, a move for Bryant remains unlikely.

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