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Bryce leads Nats in Broad Street beatdown

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Bryce leads Nats in Broad Street beatdown

PHILADELPHIA -- It was early March in Viera, Fla., when Bryce Harper and Rick Eckstein were chatting around the batting cage at the Nationals' spring training complex, talking about how to approach certain big-league pitchers. Harper brought up one prominent NL East hurler in particular, and stunned his hitting coach with his intimate understanding of a pitcher he'd never actually seen in person.

"This is what he's going to do," Harper told Eckstein that morning. "And when he does it, this is where it's gonna go."

The pitcher in question was Roy Halladay. And when finally presented the opportunity to face the two-time Cy Young Award winner Tuesday night, Harper stepped to the plate knowing exactly what to expect from the Phillies ace.

"I've been watching him for about three years," the 19-year-old outfielder said. "He throws a first-pitch curveball to so many people, and they just let it get over the plate. So I was just really trying to get something up in that situation and get something going. We had two guys on, and you had to get them in."

Sure enough, Halladay's first pitch to Harper in the top of the third inning was a "get-me-over" curveball. And sure enough, Harper was waiting for it and sent it on a beeline to right-center field for the two-run triple that put the Nationals on top and set them on their way to an impressive, 5-2 victory.

By night's end, Harper was far from the only one to get a shot in against Halladay. Ian Desmond and Rick Ankiel homered. Steve Lombardozzi had a pair of hits. And a Nationals lineup that lost No. 3 hitter Ryan Zimmerman to lingering shoulder soreness about an hour before first pitch scored five runs off the veteran right-hander and beat him for the first time since the franchise relocated to the District.

In the process, they also beat the Phillies for the ninth time in their last 10 meetings, won their sixth straight at Citizens Bank Park and catapulted themselves back into first place in the NL East at 26-17.

For five years, the Nationals have been looking up in the division standings and seen Philadelphia sitting on top. These days, it's the Phillies looking all the way up at a Washington club that now looks and plays like the bullies in this rivalry.

"I think you can just see it in the standings and throughout this clubhouse," said Tyler Clippard, who earned his second career save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. "Everything that we've portrayed as a club this year is different than we have in the past. We kind of set that tone at the end of last year and kept it rolling this year, and it feels good. Getting that final out and hearing crickets out there, it's a good feeling."

Actually, there were boos raining down upon the last-place Phillies (21-23) at the end of this one, just as there were boos raining down upon Harper when he laced that triple to ignite the surprising onslaught of Halladay.

Few would have faulted the rookie had he stepped to the plate with at least some feelings of trepidation. Harper, though, "doesn't look fazed at anybody," manager Davey Johnson said.

He certainly didn't look overwhelmed by the matchup in the top of the first, when he sent a sharp grounder through the right side hole for a solid single. And he most definitely wasn't overmatched two innings later when he drilled that triple to right-center, scoring Jordan Zimmermann and Lombardozzi to put the Nationals up 2-1.

"That's a guy that you've been watching for your whole life," said Harper, who was 5 when Halladay made his big-league debut in 1998. "He's an All-Star, he's a Cy Young and it's unbelievable going out there facing Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and everybody in the NL East."

Harper's teammates joined in the hit parade. Desmond crushed a 2-0 pitch into the left-field bleachers later in the third inning for his team-leading eighth homer of the season. Ankiel then belted the first pitch of the fourth inning over the center-field fence to make it 5-1.

"You really go up there just hoping to get one," Desmond said. "You just want to get one knock, and the best works out for the other ones. But he's such a good pitcher that you can't go up there looking for too much."

Handed a rare, comfortable lead, Zimmermann fought his way through six tough innings, holding the Phillies to one run despite a pitch count that nearly reached triple digits in the fifth.

Tom Gorzelanny did give one run back in the eighth on Erik Kratz's first career homer. But Clippard, the first member of the Nationals' new committee of closers to get the call in a save situation, retired the side in the ninth and sent what was remaining of a crowd of 45,569 to the exits alternately booing and muttering to themselves about the reversal of power structure in the NL East.

The Nationals quietly celebrated and looked ahead to Wednesday's series finale, with an opportunity to sweep the Phillies and make yet another statement about their progress as a franchise.

"I think everybody always gets up for the king of the mountain," Johnson said. "And the Phillies, as far as I'm concerned, are still the king of the mountain. Nobody's really knocked them off that mountain. ... My guys know when we come in here, if we want to play with the best, we've got to beat these guys. And we've been doing a pretty good job."

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Max Scherzer starts as Nats hope to avoid sweep vs. Orioles

Max Scherzer starts as Nats hope to avoid sweep vs. Orioles

Nats (73-53) at Orioles (70-56) at Nationals Park

The Nationals' series against the Orioles has been quite lopsided so far through three games, with Baltimore taking each of them in relatively convincing fashion. The Nats mounted a comeback in the ninth inning on Wednesday night, but fell just short. Now they will aim to avoid a four-game sweep on Thursday night.

Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.05) will get the ball for Washington in his 27th start of the season. He's looking to bounce back from a four-run outing against the Braves his last time out. Scherzer last faced the Orioles on July 12 of 2015 when he tossed 8 2/3 innings of two-run ball at Camden Yards.

Pitching for Baltimore will be right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (5-10, 6.94). He has had a horrendous season, but he's got a very good history against the Nats with a 2.32 ERA through eight starts. Last season he threw six innings with zero earned runs allowed on Sept. 22 of last year.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Max Scherzer vs. Orioles - Ubaldo Jimenez

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
C Jose Lobaton
RHP Max Scherzer

ORIOLES

TBA
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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Nationals prospect report: Minor league season wrapping up

Nationals prospect report: Minor league season wrapping up

Triple-A Syracuse

Lucas Giolito - RHP

Giolito pitched one inning in his last start (8/23) and struck out two batters. He'll be in DC this weekend - whether it's as a starter or reliever remains to be seen. 

Austin Voth - RHP

Voth was better this week, although walks continue to be an issue. He went six innings while allowing two runs on six hits in his last start (8/20) while also walking three and striking out seven. After a quick rise through the system, he stalled out at Triple-A a bit. Can't imagine he'd be a September call-up candidate at this point. 

Mat Latos - RHP

Here's a name that hasn't been around in a while. Latos has a 0.82 ERA over 11 innings pitched, which is purely anecdotal at this point. Still, that's what Mat Latos has been up to. 

Double-A Harrisburg

Jose Marmolejos  - 1B

Marmolejos keeps hitting. He's hitting .342 over his last 10 games to raise his season average to .295. He hasn't quite shown the power he did in Potomac, but he's only played 21 games in Harrisburg. 

Eric Fedde - RHP

In his last start against Richmond, Fedde got knocked around, giving up three earned runs on nine hits while walking and striking out three. In 16.1 innings pitched at Double-A, Fedde has an ERA over 6. Adjustment time! 

Single-A Potomac

Victor Robles - OF

Potomac has not been kind to Robles. He's hitting .179 over the last 10 games and .214 as a whole in Single-A. He'll start the season there next year. 

 

 

 

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Nationals acquire LHP from Oakland

Nationals acquire LHP from Oakland

Updated: 12:06 p.m.

In desperate need of bullpen help, particularly a left-hander, the Nationals pulled off a trade Thursday morning to acquire southpaw Marc Rzepczynski from the Oakland Athletics. In order to get him, they paid a big price by parting with minor league infielder Max Schrock, who was a rising talent in their system.

Rzepczynski, 30, joins the Nats with a 3.00 ERA in 56 appearances this season. He has 37 strikeouts in 36 innings, but also 24 walks and a 1.722 WHIP. Due to his long and unusual name, his nickname is 'Scrabble.'

An eight-year MLB veteran, Rzepczynski will be a free agent after this season. This is the fifth time he's been traded in the last six years, having also spent time with the Blue Jays, Cardinals, Indians and Padres. He holds a 3.87 ERA in 405 career MLB appearances. Rzepczynski also has 18 postseason appearances under his belt.

Rzepczynski throws a fastball in the low- to mid-90s and relies heavily on a slider/changeup combination. Among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched this season, he has the second-best groundball percentage to only Orioles closer Zach Britton. Nats right-hander Blake Treinen is sixth.

Rzepczynski will help the Nats in the short-term as they currently have a bullpen beaten up by injuries, rain delays and short outings by their starters. He is also now their best lefty reliever with Sammy Solis on the disabled list and Oliver Perez suffering through a long stretch of ineffectiveness.

But in the long-term, losing Schrock could be a tough pill to swallow. The Nats took him in the 13th round of the 2015 draft and signed him despite concerns he would return to school at the University of South Carolina. The 21-year-old has emerged as a star in the minors with a .333/.378/.456 slash-line and nine homers, 68 RBI and 22 steals at Single-A this season. Schrock is a year or two away from the majors, but when he gets there he could be a valuable offensive player.

Rzepczynski, though, is just what the Nats need at the moment and they have to do all they can to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them this season to potentially win a World Series.

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