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Zimmerman sets franchise HR record, Nationals beat Reds 6-1

Zimmerman sets franchise HR record, Nationals beat Reds 6-1

The NL East leaders opened the second half of the season with a franchise record, a series sweep and a significant upgrade -- exactly how the Nationals wanted to keep their momentum going.

Ryan Zimmerman set the Nationals' career home run record with a solo shot, and Bryce Harper connected again on Monday as Washington powered its way to a 6-1 victory for a four-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds.

Zimmerman's 235th career homer moved him ahead of Vladimir Guerrero for most in Expos and Nationals history. Guerrero quickly tweeted congratulations , saying he doesn't mind being second.

"It's special to be in one place your entire career," said Zimmerman, in his 12th season with the team that made him a first-round draft pick. "You can't do stuff like this if you're not in the same place for a long time. So I feel very lucky to have spent my entire career here, honored to have hit more home runs than any Expo or National. It's cool."

The Nationals emerged from the All-Star break with an emphatically successful series -- 13 homers, including three by Harper, and 35 runs overall by the league's top offense. It was the Nationals' first four-game sweep of the Reds and left them 6-1 against Cincinnati this season.

Washington improved to a season-high 20 games over .500 (56-36) with its ninth victory in 11 games.

The Nationals' roster got a little better during the series, too. Washington shored up its weak bullpen by getting relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from Oakland on Sunday. They'll join the team in Los Angeles for the start of a series against the Angels on Tuesday.

"We know we have a good team and we've put ourselves in a good spot to start the second half, but we've got a ways to go," Zimmerman said. "Obviously we acquired two talented guys for the bullpen, and we'll just try to keep scoring runs so that they can come in and lock the games up."

Stephen Strasburg (10-3) recovered from his shortest start of the season by fanning 11 in seven innings and allowing four hits, including Eugenio Suarez's homer. Strasburg left his last start -- a 13-0 loss to Atlanta on July 8 -- after Nick Markakis' liner deflected off his hip in the third inning.

He allowed only two hits -- including an infield single -- in his last five innings.

"Your body wants to pretend it's the offseason," Strasburg said of the break between starts. "It took a little while to get going."

Scott Feldman (7-7) lasted only one inning, limited by a stiff right knee that has been bothering him. He gave up a double, a single, Harper's three-run homer and Zimmerman's solo shot in his first 12 pitches. Feldman left after facing nine batters and giving up five runs on 33 pitches.

"It wouldn't loosen up," Feldman said of the knee. "It was one of those days. I put the team in a tough spot. We were down five runs right off the bat."

Harper's homer extended his hitting streak to 12 games. Brian Goodwin's solo shot made it 6-1 in the sixth.

4 FOR 4

The last time the Nationals swept a four-game series was last season against Atlanta. It was the 11th four-game sweep in Nationals history.

KEEP RUNNING

Daniel Murphy scored from second base on Matt Wieter's fly out in the first inning, turning it into a sacrifice fly. Right fielder Scooter Gennett made a diving catch in the gap and then stumbled and dropped the ball while trying to get up, giving Murphy enough time to make it home.

STATS

It was Strasburg's sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season and the 35th of his career. ... Anthony Rendon extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Nationals starters allowed only one run in the series. ... The 13 homers allowed in a series matched the Reds' club record.

NATIONALS MOVES

Washington called up right-hander Jacob Turner from Triple-A. Right-hander Koda Glover -- sidelined since April by a hip injury -- was moved to the 60-day DL.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: CF Michael Taylor hasn't yet started baseball-related activities as he recovers from a strained right oblique. He went on the DL on July 7.

Reds: C Devin Mesoraco began a rehab assignment at Triple-A Louisville. He'll play a few games and be re-evaluated. He's been sidelined since July 5 with a strained left shoulder.

UP NEXT

Nationals: They face the Angels for the first time since 2011. Washington is 6-7 in interleague play this season.

Reds: RHP Sal Romano (1-1) will be called up to make his third career start when the Reds face the Diamondbacks. He also started on April 16 against Milwaukee and July 6 at Colorado.

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What To Watch: Nationals try to avoid a sweep in Miami

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USA Today Sports Images

What To Watch: Nationals try to avoid a sweep in Miami

The Nationals have dropped two games to the Marlins already. Can they salvage a win in game three? Here are three things to watch for.

1. How healthy are the Nationals? Washington has been without Trea Turner for a couple weeks, and now two other star hitters look banged up. Anthony Rendon left Saturday’s game in the third inning after being hit by a pitch on the elbow. He stayed in to run the bases, but did not come out to the field in the bottom of the inning. With his blistering start to 2019, the Nationals will be hoping for good news on his injury long term.

Victor Robles was shaken up in the game as well. The speedy center fielder was sprinting back for a ball and made a terrific snag, but lost his balance and crashed head first into the hard wall. It wasn’t clear on the replay if Robles’ head or shoulder bore the brunt of the impact, but he looked out of sorts and allowed a runner to score from second base on the sacrifice fly.

The Nationals can’t afford any more injuries than they’ve already had.

2. Can the backups stay hot? Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams aren’t slated to be regular starters in the Nationals lineup, but they’ve been the team’s two best hitters (not named Anthony Rendon) so far in 2019. Both are hitting the ball hard, and the two combined to drive in all three runs scored by Washington Saturday night.

If Rendon does end up missing any games, Kendrick’s bat will play a major role for a team looking to stay afloat in an uber-competitive National League East.

3. How will Stephen Strasburg pitch? The Nationals haven’t gotten stellar performances on the mound from Anibal Sanchez or Max Scherzer in Miami, so they’ll be hoping Strasburg can turn it around.

Strasburg has scuffled a bit this season as well, with a 5.56 ERA, though he does have 28 strikeouts in 22.2 innings pitched. With the bullpen maybe turning it around, the starting rotation will need to find more consistency moving forward.

Download the MyTeams app (https://www.nbcsports.com/washington/myteams-nbc-sports) for coverage from NBC Sports Washington of the Nationals/Marlins game on Sunday. The game broadcast will be at 1:10 PM ET on 106.7 the Fan and MASN.

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Injury and struggles highlight Nationals' frustrating Saturday night vs. Marlins

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Injury and struggles highlight Nationals' frustrating Saturday night vs. Marlins

The Washington Nationals lost to the Miami Marlins, 9-3, Saturday night to drop below .500 with a 9-10 record. Here are five observations from the game…

1. One of the biggest storylines surrounding the early part of the Nats’ season has been Anthony Rendon’s blistering start. He entered Saturday’s affair riding a 17-game hitting streak, the longest in baseball this season.

For the first time since Opening Day, Rendon did not record a hit. In a number of the previous 17 games, Rendon has had to wait until late in the game to record his streak-extending hit. Saturday, he was not given that chance.

In the third inning, Rendon was hit by a 95-mph pitch on or near his elbow, and while he stayed on to run and eventually came around to score, he did not return to the field in the bottom of the inning.

Rendon has been, by far, the Nationals’ best player in 2019. He has hit the ball as well as anybody in baseball not named Cody Bellinger or Christian Yelich, and his hot start helped cement him as maybe the best third baseman in the sport.

With Bryce Harper in Philadelphia and Trea Turner on the Injured List (also after getting hit by a pitch), Rendon has had to carry the burden of generating offense as the team’s lone remaining star position player. 

The Nationals will certainly be hoping for good news on Rendon’s long term outlook. In a tight National League East race, they can’t afford to lose anyone, let alone their best player.

Rendon was sporting a career-low strikeout rate prior to the Giants series this week, and he still has, by far, a career-high Isolated Power number. His slugging percentage and wOBA support these numbers. There’s no other way to put it: Rendon has been a stud this season.

The fact that the Nats’ third baseman stayed in the game initially bodes well, but if the news is worse than fans are hoping for, could this finally be the moment where the front office decides to call up top prospect Carter Kieboom?

2. Rendon entered Saturday’s game with the Seventh-best Barrels/PA percentage in baseball this season. It’s a Statcast stat that highlights how often a hitter, for lack of a better description, hits the ball really well (AKA barrels up the ball). It’s a good number to reference for how successful a batter is on a regular basis. 

It will surprise no one that Rendon ranks so highly. Seventh in Major League Baseball is pretty good. But it’s only good for third on the Nationals.

Ahead of Rendon? A couple of backups in Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick, who rank second and third in baseball, respectively.

Kendrick replaced Rendon Saturday and stayed stayed hot at the plate with an RBI single in his first at-bat. Adams had a multi-hit outing in place of Ryan Zimmerman and drove in two runs.

With the injuries the Nationals have suffered to their lineup this season, bench bats like Kendrick and Adams are more important than ever, and may end up playing more regular roles than anticipated. If Brian Dozier continues to struggle, Kendrick could find himself starting at some point, even when Trea Turner and Rendon are both healthy.

The Nats will be able to weather their early-season storm more easily if the two can stay hot for a while longer.

3. It would have been completely reasonable to expect a vintage Max Scherzer shutdown outing against the Marlins. Miami’s lineup isn’t going to scare anybody, and Scherzer felt due for a dominant performance.

Instead, it was a frustrating outing for the Nationals’ ace as he failed to complete six innings. Scherzer allowed 11 hits in 5.1 innings, striking out nine and walking none while giving up seven runs (six earned). 

He had swing-and-miss stuff, as he induced 18 swinging strikes on 108 pitches, 16 of which came from his fastball and slider.

Where he really struggled was with his changeup, an offering that resulted in zero strikes, swinging or called, on 13 pitches. The lack of an effective changeup meant hitters were able to stay balanced in the box, and as a result, they teed off on pitches they were able to put in play.

Nine of the 20 balls in play off Scherzer were hit 95+ mph. He has allowed hard-hit balls at a career-high rate this season, and that was already true before Saturday’s outing. In fact, he’s in just the 34th-percentile in all of baseball in hard-hit rate, a surprising mark for someone with Scherzer’s track record.

Even when the Nats would tie up the game, time and time again Scherzer gave the lead right back. Neither time the Nationals scored was Scherzer able to deliver a shutdown inning in the bottom half.

If Washington is going to make a run in the National League East, they need Scherzer to be his usual great self. Saturday was a step in the wrong direction.

Scherzer wasn’t his usual sharp self Saturday, but he wasn’t helped by his defense, either.

4. The Nats had a comedy of errors with their gloves in the first series of the season, but had settled down a bit in the field since then. They entered today’s game with 11 errors on the season, middle of the pack across the league, though Baseball Reference has them in the bottom ten in most advanced defensive metrics (here’s where I mention that fielding metrics take much longer than three weeks to stabilize).

Against the Marlins, the defense was only charged with two official errors, but there were plenty of miscues.

Multiple botched relay throws from the outfield helped lead to two runs scoring in the bottom of the first. Yan Gomes had a throwing error while trying to throw out a base stealer. Victor Robles dropped a ball that hit the heel of his glove, albeit on a difficult play near the wall. Later, he made a terrific catch on a similar ball to center, but lost his balance and crashed into the wall, allowing the runner to score from second base on a sacrifice fly.

Even Scherzer himself was unable to make a big play in the field, coming in to pick up a slow dribbler in front of the plate. He tried to make a sliding throw to Gomes covering home plate, but his toss was off target and scooted to the wall, allowing another run to score.

The Nationals are hitting well, averaging more than five runs per game. The reason they’ve hovered around .500 all season long is they’re also allowing more than five runs per game, which is untenable if they want to be legitimate contenders. Some of that is the pitching, specifically the bullpen. But the defense could, and should, be better as well.

5. Is Victor Robles the team’s leadoff hitter of the future? If his 2019 stats when leading off an inning are any indication, he’ll do just fine in that role.

The MASN broadcast of today’s game highlighted the success of Robles, Adam Eaton, and Anthony Rendon leading off innings this season. With Eaton currently entrenched atop the order, Robles doesn’t need to worry about a permanent move just yet, but hitting behind the pitcher’s spot, he’ll have to lead off more often than not.

Robles entered Saturday’s game 10-for-18 in these scenarios, with two doubles and two home runs to boot. Against the Marlins he improved that number, going 2-for-3 with another double to pair with a perfectly executed bunt down the third base line for a hit.

It’s the second night in a row Robles has bunted for a base hit, showing off his elite speed. Statcast has his average sprint speed 39th in Major League Baseball, but he has the 9th-most Bolts (any run reaching 30ft/second) in the league. He has an extra gear that very few players in baseball can match, and he uses it as necessary to get on base before the team’s big bats come to the plate.

That top end speed, along with his contact abilities, will go a long way in helping him succeed at the top of a lineup some day. For now, the Nationals will be happy to keep having him lead off innings in front of the heart of the order.

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