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Bryce Harper's hustle takes no All-Star break

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Bryce Harper's hustle takes no All-Star break

MIAMI -- It got kind of lost in the shuffle of last night's 5-1 victory over the Marlins -- which was highlighted more by Jordan Zimmermann's pitching dominance and Ryan Zimmerman's continued mashing at the plate -- but the Nationals' hustle on the basepaths shouldn't go unnoticed.

It began right out of the chute with Bryce Harper, who turned a top-of-the-first bloop single to left into a double. Actually, Harper was credited only with a single, with left fielder Logan Morrison charged with an error after booting the ball.

Harper, though, should have been given the double. Just listen to what he said about his mindset as he made contact with that pitch.

"I was thinking two out of the box," he said. "I saw they were playing me deep. They bobbled it, so it was even better for me."

Harper, of course, wasn't done hustling after reaching second base. Moments later, he caught Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson napping, none of them paying attention and none of them covering third base. So he bolted.

"I just saw Hanley and Reyes talking," he said. "That was the only thing I saw. And then Johnson was rubbing his hands with the ball. So I just took off. That's it."

You don't often see that kind of play in the big leagues, either because the defensive players aren't so lackadaisical or the guy on the bases isn't so aggressive. Harper, though, didn't see what the big deal was.

"I've been doing that since I was 13 years old," he said. "It's something I look for sometimes. That's what I saw, and I just took off."

Harper may not have been impressed with his own hustle, but his teammates certainly were.

"We talk about how Harper comes in and obviously brings us a little bit of energy," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "That baserunning play he made in the first inning kind of sparked my mind a little bit. I thought: 'Hey, would I have done that?' And then I was just a little bit more alert throughout the game."

That was especially obvious with one out in the top of the sixth, as Desmond stood on second base with Adam LaRoche on third and Jesus Flores at the plate.

Flores lofted a little looper to shallow left field. LaRoche held up at third base, thinking he might need to tag up if the ball was caught. Desmond, though, immediately took off from second, sending the ball would fall in for a hit and thus giving him a chance to score.

"I saw the left fielder was deep," he said. "I knew there was no chance he was going to get it. I didn't panic, but I was a little worried when Rochie came back and tagged up. I was like: 'What's going on? Am I missing something?' I just knew the outfielder was back."

Both guys did wind up scoring, though Desmond very nearly lapped LaRoche coming around third and crossed the plate just steps behind him.

"I could've easily caught him," Desmond said. "I was yelling: 'Go! Go! Go!'"

Those two runs weren't the difference in the game; the Nationals already led 3-0 at the time. But they did help keep their energy level up at a time when it easily could have dropped.

The Marlins certainly looked sluggish in their first game back from the All-Star break. The Nationals looked anything but.

"When you come back from the All-Star break, it's like starting the season new," Desmond said. "You want to know how you feel. You want to make sure you're the same way you were when you left. I think to get out and have Bryce make that heads-up play in the first inning, it kind of told everybody: 'Hey, we're back. We're all right. Same game, same players.' It kind of eased my mind a little bit."

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Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

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Twitter: @MiamiHerald

Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

The first game of the Nationals series against the Marlins started late after a nearly two-hour-long rain delay. However, before the first pitch, the Nats played a tribute to Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, whose recent death has left the entire MLB community in shock.

A video tweeted by @masnNationals shows both teams standing on the field, while the clips of Fernandez play on the video board in center field. 

Gio Gonzalez, who was good friends with Fernandez and attended his funeral on Thursday, is seen with tears in his eyes, waving his hat toward the sky. Gonzalez also hung a Fernandez jersey in the Nationals' dugout prior to the game. 

The Diamondbacks also left a message for the Marlins in the visitor's clubhouse at Nationals Park before leaving town Thursday. 

Fernandez's death is reaching even further than baseball. The Miami Hurricanes tweeted a picture of decals they added to their helmets for their game tomorrow against Georgia Tech.

It is clear that although Jose may be gone, he will always be rememered by the entire sports community. 

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Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Though Dusty Baker isn’t a doctor, he apparently isn’t averse to using an old school method or two to diagnose his players’ injuries.

So when Bryce Harper, ailing with a jammed left thumb, recently told his manager he was ready to return to the lineup, Baker responded by giving it a little pinch.

“He said 'Ow, what'd you do that for?' and I said 'Okay, I got my answer,'" the Nationals’ manager said with a laugh.

Baker must be comfortable with how Harper is feeling lately, as the 23-year-old right fielder is back in the lineup after four days off.

"He might have been ready to go [on Thursday],” Baker said. “So if a guy tells me he's ready, if I have a luxury, I like to give them one more day off. I just noticed that a lot of guys say they're ready and you bring them back and they're really not ready. I would prefer that you be champing at the bit to get back [instead] of a person to just say that you're ready.

Prior to the injury, the reigning NL MVP had hits in five of his previous seven games. So with three games left, the Nats are hoping the reigning Harper can get back in a groove before the postseason begins next week.

Zimmerman a platoon bat? It’s a question that seemed unfathomable on Opening Day, but the veteran first baseman’s 2016 inconsistency-filled odyssey has some wondering if Baker might consider other options come October. The answer, for now, is no.  

“That hasn’t crossed my mind,” the skipper said.

Clint Robinson is starting at first in Friday night’s game against the Miami Marlins, but the move doesn’t appear to be a sign of things to come. Baker said the decision was merely to keep Zimmerman healthy and afford Robinson some at-bats while he can get them. Still, for an offense will be without Wilson Ramos (and a fully-healthy Daniel Murphy), the lineup will need a boost where it can get it.

“I don’t really believe in platoon, platoon," Baker said. "There’s certain guys that I feel that Clint may have a better chance of being successful against. But that’s not a platoon for me.”

In other words, Baker is staunchly in Zimmerman’s corner. And slowly but surely, the 31-year-old has been rewarding his manager's faith. Zimmerman has hits in six out of his last nine games, including a trio of two-hit efforts. It might be too late to salvage his career-worst .219 average, but the Nats still believe the one-time face of the franchise will show up when it counts the most. 

"I just keep in mind with Zim that ‘hey, man, you can be the man for a long period of time like we know that you’ve done,’" Baker said. "We’ve seen him do it before. So we need Zim. We need him badly.”