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Burnett dealing with elbow tightness

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Burnett dealing with elbow tightness

MIAMI -- Sean Burnett, who has pitched brilliantly for the Nationals as their primary setup man this season, has been bothered by tightness in his left elbow for about six weeks.

Burnett does not believe the discomfort is serious, and he even hopes to be available to pitch in tonight's game against the Marlins. Manager Davey Johnson espoused a more cautious approach and even suggested the disabled list is a "big consideration" for the left-hander.

"He's too valuable to us to take a chance," Johnson said. "The thing that concerns me is, he had four days off at the All-Star break, and he's having a little problem over there. But from what I gather, it's been bothering him for some time. So I don't really know what to think about it, other than to give him some rest."

Burnett, who faced one batter in Friday night's win and struck him out, said his arm actually feels better when he pitches and believes the issue is merely muscle tightness. He played catch in the outfield today during batting practice.

"Just something that's been lingering for a few weeks now," he said. "It hasn't gotten any worse, it just hasn't gotten any better. I feel fine pitching. There's no discomfort with that."

Burnett had Tommy John surgery on the elbow in 2004, but insisted what he feels now is not the same as what he felt back then.

"If you've ever dealt with that stuff, it makes you start to sweat just thinking about it," he said. "But when you have an elbow problem, you don't want to throw. It feels like the more I throw, the better it gets. Hopefully there's no story and in a couple of days it'll be better."

For now, it sounds like the Nationals plan to give Burnett the rest of this series off, then have him examined Tuesday in Washington by team orthopedist Wiemi Douoguih.

With Drew Storen nearly ready to return from his own elbow surgery, the Nationals will need to clear a spot in their bullpen within days. Though Johnson said Burnett's situation won't be tied in with that decision, the manager did reiterate the importance of having his top left-handed reliever healthy for the stretch run.

"He's having a great year and he's too valuable to us as my setup guy," Johnson said. "You don't want to take a chance with him."

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Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The tag was clearly fake. What happened next was all too real for the NL East champion Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper got hurt and needs X-rays.

Harper injured his left thumb making an awkward slide to avoid a pretend tag by Pittsburgh third baseman Jung Ho Kang, and the teams later cleared the benches Sunday in Washington's 10-7 win.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said Harper was "sore" and would have X-rays on Monday. The reigning NL MVP had surgery to repair a torn ligament in the same thumb in 2014.

Harper led off the third inning with a triple. As he neared third, Kang acted as if a throw was coming and feigned a tag.

Harper went down, was checked by a trainer and stayed in. He scored on Anthony Rendon's double and was replaced in the field in the bottom half by Chris Heisey.

Kang insisted he merely intended to keep Harper from scoring when right fielder Josh Bell's throw was way off line.

"First of all, I meant no harm," Kang said through a translator. "During the relay play, I tried to hold the runner on third base. That's all I tried to do."

The next time Kang came up, Nationals starter A.J. Cole threw a fastball behind him and was immediately ejected by plate umpire Jordan Baker as the benches emptied.

Cole said he was trying to pitch inside to Kang. Baker said the entire situation wasn't ideal for a team that is focusing on a playoff run.

"We don't want guys suspended," Baker said. "But you know, boys will be boys, and you've still got to defend your teammates."

Washington's Jayson Werth was in the middle of the skirmish. Pirates outfielder Sean Rodriguez was ejected.

"I was very surprised I was the only one ejected considering," Rodriguez said. "I got blamed for being the one that instigated, but you can watch the film yourself."

Werth had a pinch-hit, two-run homer and Heisey had a go-ahead single during a five-run burst in the eighth. The Nationals' rally came against former teammate Felipe Rivero (1-5).

Rivero had allowed just four earned runs in his previous 25 innings since being traded from Washington to the Pirates.

Kang hit a two-run homer off Koda Glover to give the Pirates the lead in the seventh.

Shawn Kelley (3-2) wound up with the win. Former Pirates closer Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 43rd save.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Pirates: C Francisco Cervelli did not play after taking a foul ball off his wrist Saturday. ... RHP Neftali Feliz (arm) threw off flat ground but is not yet ready for a return to the mound.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Tanner Roark (15-9 2.70 ERA) had his start pushed back one day after the Nationals clinched the NL East on Saturday night. He'll looking for his career-best 16th win as Washington hosts Arizona for a four-game series.

Pirates: Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA) will start as Pittsburgh begins a four-game series against the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs. Kuhl has allowed seven earned runs in 7 1/3 innings in his two previous starts against Chicago this season.

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Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

With the division title clinched the night before, it seemed the Nationals were poised for an uneventful series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon. 

That wasn't to be, as the two clubs engaged in a benches clearing altercation in the bottom of the third inning. The tension started in the top of the frame, when Bryce Harper was injured while sliding to third base on a triple. The Nats took exception to Pirates third baseman Jung-ho Kang faking a tag on Harper, which may have led to the injury. 

So when Nats starter A.J. Cole threw behind Kang in the bottom of the inning, the near-fracas was ignited.

Cole was immediately ejected from the game, benches cleared, and each side exchanged words. The Pirates' Sean Rodriguez was also ejected from the game.