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Botched call sets tone for Nationals loss

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Botched call sets tone for Nationals loss

ATLANTA -- The call that turned Saturday's ballgame upside-down and set the Braves on their way to a 5-4 victory seemed obvious to everyone in a Nationals uniform.

Adam LaRoche's left foot never lost contact with first base -- "I was sure," the veteran said later -- and Martin Prado should have been called out on what looked like a routine groundout to open the bottom of the sixth.

So when Marvin Hudson signaled safe, Davey Johnson didn't know what else to do but bolt out of the Turner Field visitors dugout and let the 48-year-old umpire have it.

"I knew," the 69-year-old manager said. "Even with these old eyes, I knew I was right. I didn't need a replay. And I'm thinking: Here's a young man, right on top of it. Obviously he had to be out of position."

So Johnson asked Hudson to confer with his crew mates, thinking perhaps someone else had a better angle of the play. Only three innings earlier, these same umpires had convened and reversed a call, allowing Ian Desmond to advance to third base on a wild pitch.

Hudson, though, refused to ask for any help. That really set Johnson off, and ultimately led to his first ejection of the season.

Of greater concern to the Nationals: Four pitches later, Edwin Jackson left a fastball over the plate to Jason Heyward, who belted it deep to right-center for the two-run homer that tied this game 4-4 and made the blown call sting even worse.

"We don't need to give them a little added momentum here," Johnson said. "Get some help. Obviously he was blocked off or something. That's it, really. I probably overreacted, but it was really a critical point in the ballgame. My pitcher pitched a heck of a ballgame. We had a lead. We don't need to give them any gifts."

Little did Johnson know at the time the Nationals would give the Braves three even bigger gifts two innings later, with the game really on the line. Handed the ball for the bottom of the eighth in a 4-4 game by bench coach Randy Knorr (filling in as manager following the ejection), reliever Ryan Mattheus issued back-to-back walks to load the bases, then grazed No. 8 hitter Andrelton Simmons with an inside fastball. That forced the go-ahead run across the plate and sent the Nationals to their second consecutive, one-run loss to their chief division rivals.

"I didn't even give us a chance to win that game," Mattheus said. "I've got to go out and I've got to throw strikes. If I get beat throwing strikes, it's a little easier to swallow. I can't remember that happening any time in the past, that I can remember. It's inexcusable."

Thus, in the span of 24 hours, the Nationals saw their commanding, 8 12-game lead over the Braves drop to 6 12. There are still only 17 games to play, and it would still require a massive collapse combined with a major resurgence, but the Nats understand they're facing something of a must-win situation Sunday night on national TV to prevent their collars from clenching up a bit too tight for comfort.

"You don't want to get swept anywhere, especially against the team behind you, so it's a big game," LaRoche said. "I think they're all pretty big from here on out. But we've got a chance to really gain some ground against these guys. Had two close ones, lost 'em. Come out tomorrow, hopefully take one."

There were reasons beyond the missed call and Mattheus' inability to find the strike zone for this loss. Staked to an early 4-0 lead on LaRoche's 30th homer of the season and two more runs as a direct result of some wretched Atlanta defense, the Nationals watched as Jackson gave back all four runs.

The right-hander, making his first career start in his hometown, surrendered only four hits over 5 13 innings, but all four went for extra bases: Freddie Freeman's triple and Dan Uggla's double in the second inning, Freeman's homer in the fourth inning and then Heyward's crushing homer in the sixth inning.

"Anytime you get a lead like that and you're the starting pitcher, and you come out of the game and that lead isn't there, that's always tough," Jackson said. "My job is to go out there and secure the lead, regardless of the calls being made."

The Nationals lineup, meanwhile, turned stone-cold silent after the early explosion. They managed only five hits after LaRoche's homer in the first, and what few opportunities they had were squandered by their inability to put the ball in play.

One day after striking out a season-high 17 times, the Nationals whiffed 12 more times, with Danny Espinosa earning his second straight Golden Sombrero for a four-strikeout performance.

They did manage to make things interesting in the ninth against oft-unhittable closer Craig Kimbrel, with Chad Tracy stroking a one-out single to left and pinch-runner Eury Perez swiping second base and advancing to third on a wild throw.

But neither Steve Lombardozzi nor Tyler Moore could put the ball into play, each rookie striking out with the tying run 90 feet away.

Thus the Nationals trudged off the field with another disheartening loss in an eminently winnable game. They had plenty to fret over at night's end, but they also couldn't help but wonder whether the entire storyline might have been different had a botched call not been made. Or, at the very least, had an umpire out of position simply sought help from his mates.

"I thought maybe they'd get together again and get it right," Johnson said. "It wasn't meant to be, and I think it was a big run. That was a big run. But it's like crying over spilled milk. It's over."

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NL East: Braves trade for 2-time All-Star OF Matt Kemp

NL East: Braves trade for 2-time All-Star OF Matt Kemp

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Braves acquired pricey slugger Matt Kemp and $10.5 million from San Diego for troubled outfielder Hector Olivera.

Atlanta had tried for several months to deal Olivera following his April 13 arrest on domestic violence charges. He is eligible to play again in the major leagues on Tuesday following his 82-game domestic violence suspension. The Padres plan to designate Olivera for assignment when he comes off the restricted list Tuesday, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced.

Despite arthritis in both hips, Kemp could boost the weakest offense in the major leagues. Atlanta has baseball's worst record and ranks last in runs scored and homers.

The Braves have just one marquee everyday player, first baseman Freddie Freeman, and need more star appeal as they move a few miles north into a new suburban ballpark next year.

Kemp has a $21.5 million salary this year and is owed the same amount in each of the next three seasons.

San Diego is sending Atlanta $3 million this year as part of the trade: half on Aug. 15 and the rest on Sept. 15. From 2017-19, the Padres will pay the Braves $2.5 million annually, half each May 15 and July 15.

Olivera agreed in early 2015 to a $62.5 million, six-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, then was traded to the Braves last July. He has a $4 million salary this year, but lost $1,792,350 because of his suspension. He is owed $6 million next season, $6.5 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019 and $8.5 million in 2020.

San Diego acquired Kemp, a two-time All-Star outfielder with the Dodgers, from Los Angeles in December 2014. It took several days to consummate the trade because Kemp had to be cleared medically.

In 254 games with the Padres, Kemp is hitting .264 -- 28 points lower than his nine-year batting average with the Dodgers -- with 46 homers, 169 RBIs and 247 strikeouts.

Atlanta acquired Olivera from the Dodgers last July 30 in a three-team, 13-player swap that sent Alex Wood and Jose Peraza to Los Angeles.

This trade made financial sense with both teams trying to shed expensive contracts of players no longer fitting long-term plans.

Olivera is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett but was removed from the lineup before Saturday night's game.

He was arrested April 13 at a hotel near Washington, D.C., and Major League Baseball announced May 27 that he had agreed to the suspension, which was retroactive to April 30.

Olivera, who was moved from third base to left field before the start of spring training, hit .245, two homers and 13 RBIs in 30 games with Atlanta. He has a pending court date in Alexandria, Virginia.

In rebuilding the Braves, president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella have traded Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Melvin Upton Jr. and Andrelton Simmons for prospects.

Atlanta also has taken on bad contracts for declining players such as Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Bronson Arroyo. Dan Uggla was released in July 2014 despite the Braves still owing him $18 million.

[RELATED: Nats may have gotten a steal with Melancon]

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NL East: Marlins pitcher hurts elbow day after getting traded from Padres

NL East: Marlins pitcher hurts elbow day after getting traded from Padres

MIAMI (AP) -- Right-hander Colin Rea injured his right elbow and left in the fourth inning of his first start with the Miami Marlins on Saturday after being acquired a day earlier from the San Diego Padres.

Rea struck out Jedd Gyorko to lead off the fourth inning, then immediately waved to the trainer. He has right elbow soreness and is considered day-to-day.

Rea pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

David Phelps relieved Rea with the Marlins leading the Cardinal s4-0.

Rea, right-hander Andrew Cashner and prospect Tayron Guerrero were acquired for right-handers Jarred Cosart and Carter Capps and two minor leaguers, pitcher Luis Castillo and first baseman Josh Naylor.

[RELATED: After Melancon trade, what do Nats do with Papelbon?]

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New Nats CL Melancon to call Papelbon: 'It says a lot about his character'

New Nats CL Melancon to call Papelbon: 'It says a lot about his character'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- When Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker called Mark Melancon on Saturday from the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park, one thing that impressed them right away about their new All-Star closer is that he planned to immediately check in with Jonathan Papelbon.

"It says a lot about his character and makeup, and that was a big reason why he was such an attractive target to us," said Rizzo, Washington's general manager. "His performance level is great but his makeup and character are a lot of the reason that we went out and got him. That tells me he's team-first and Mark Melancon second."

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates to acquire Melancon, who supplants the struggling Papelbon as Washington's closer. Rizzo and Baker also spoke to Papelbon, who made it clear he "wants to win," Baker said.

Melancon is expected to join the Nationals on Sunday for their series finale at San Francisco.

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington tried to tell Melancon he had been traded. And tried. And tried.

"I felt bad because I missed his call three times because my phone was on silent, so I woke up to that," the reliever said after he awakened from his nap and learned of the deal.

A 31-year-old right-hander, Melancon has converted 30 of 33 saves with a 1.51 ERA this season and joins his fifth organization in eight years. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series; as part of the swap, the Pirates will pay Washington $500,000 on Sept. 1.

Once considered a possible successor to Mariano Rivera when he broke into the majors with the New York Yankees in 2009, Melancon said during the All-Star break he knew a trade was possible, given his contract status.

The move comes as the Pirates find themselves on the fringe of the wild-card race. While general manager Neal Huntington stressed the team remains committed to reaching the playoffs for a fourth straight season, the opportunity to deal Melancon -- who led the majors with 51 saves in 2015 and had 33 in '14 -- for two young arms with friendly long-term contracts was too good to pass up.

Baker's bullpen is taxed.

"We're getting some reinforcements," he said of Melancon.

Rivero is under team control through 2021 and hit 100 mph on the radar gun regularly during an extended relief appearance against the Pirates this month. If Melancon left as a free agent, Pittsburgh would have received a high draft pick as compensation.

"We knew full well that holding Mark Melancon would have been a good return, but at the end of the day we felt this was a better return for us," Huntington said.

This was the well-traveled Melancon's fourth season in Pittsburgh after he also pitched for Houston, Boston and the Yankees.

He will move his family once more -- his wife and three kids.

"This has been a blast. Pittsburgh has a special place in heart. My family has been treated so well," Melancon said. "The experiences we've had, just running through my mind all the wild-card games, just big games that we've been in. From where we started, to where we are now, it is an honor. It is an honor to be a Pirate. We got to go through those experiences together. My teammates are my best friends."

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft.

Pittsburgh will plug the 25-year-old Rivero into a seventh-inning role, with Neftali Feliz working the eighth and Tony Watson in the ninth. Watson was an All-Star in 2014 in a set-up role and will take over a position where Pittsburgh has enjoyed plenty of success during its rise from mediocrity. Each of its previous three closers: Melanon, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan, made the All-Star team wearing black and gold.

Manager Clint Hurdle will miss Melancon but is confident in his bullpen options.

"I love the guy, love the family. Happy we had him. He helped us, I believe we helped him," Hurdle said. "We are not giving up anything, we aren't lowering the bar. We are not settling. Our organization made a baseball trade, with confidence that our bullpen is going to be in a good place. We are going to be able to compete this year, we are going to be able to add to our competition level in the years to come."

Huntington hinted the team may try to take the money it will save by not paying the remaining portion of Melancon's contract and use it before Monday's trade deadline. The Pirates need help in the starting rotation, which has been forced to turn to rookies Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow quickly as established players Jeff Locke, John Niese and Juan Nicasio faltered.

[RELATED: Nats may have gotten a steal with Melancon]

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