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Closer controversy?

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Closer controversy?

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.

Today we're counting down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season. Next up is storyline No. 4: Who winds up as the Nats' closer, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen...

Drew Storen's pending return to the Nationals' bullpen was supposed to be neat and tidy. After missing three months following surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, Storen would re-assume his job as the Nats' closer, with Tyler Clippard returning to the setupfireman role that made him so valuable over the last three seasons.

Then something funny happened. Clippard started pitching better in the ninth inning than he ever did in the seventh or eighth inning. How dominant has the bespectacled right-hander been? Well, in 19 appearances since assuming closer duties in late May, he's 14-for-14 in save situations with a 0.49 ERA and .088 opponents' batting average.

Considering all that, manager Davey Johnson admitted it would be all but impossible to demote Clippard back to a setup job when Storen comes off the disabled list.

So the plan, for now, is to have Storen get his feet wet pitching in a setup role, something that could happen as soon as tomorrow if he's activated as expected following a four-appearance, minor-league rehab assignment.

What, though, happens if Storen rediscovers the form that allowed him to convert 43 saves one year ago and seemingly establish himself as the organization's long-term closer?

It may not matter. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? At the moment, Clippard is humming along and showing no signs of breaking down.

If, however, there is a slip up at some point, don't be surprised if Storen finds himself taking the mound for the ninth inning once again.

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Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Stephen Drew walk-off lifts Nationals to win over Padres

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-2 walkoff win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Success off the bench as a pinch-hitter can be fleeting and some, no matter how good they were as everyday players, never find the secret.

Not Stephen Drew. Even six days off due to flu-like symptoms could not cool the Nats' bench hero down, as he walked off the San Diego Padres on Saturday night with an RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth.

The final blow came against Kevin Quackenbush, who was the final pitcher summoned from a Padres staff that had otherwise baffled the Nats through 8 2/3 innings.

The Nats got their other two runs on a Daniel Murphy sacrifice fly and a Ben Revere RBI double. Max Scherzer did his part with seven innings and just two runs allowed. The Nats' bullpen picked up from there with a scoreless eighth by Shawn Kelley and ninth by Jonathan Papelbon.

What it means: With the win, the Nats evened up their season series against the Padres at 3-3 and snapped a three-game losing streak to San Diego. They stand 58-42 on the season.

MORE NATIONALS: GIOLITO GETS NOD SUNDAY VS. PADRES

Scherzer keeps rolling: Scherzer's recent dominance continued on Saturday night as the Nats ace went seven strong innings of two-run ball with 10 strikeouts and zero walks. It didn't start out well for Scherzer, who allowed a two-run homer to Ryan Schimpf in the second, but he recovered after that and finished his outing by retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced. It was the 13th time in 21 starts this season that he's gone at least seven innings and the eighth time he's recorded double-digit strikeouts. 

Over his last five starts, Scherzer has allowed just four earned runs across 34 1/3 innings. And since May 6, he holds a 2.19 ERA (24 ER, 98.2 IP) in 14 outings. Scherzer had a 4.60 ERA when he took the mound on May 11, but has since pared that down to in impressive 2.92.

The homer to Schimpf was Scherzer's biggest mistake and it was, of course, the continuation of a year-long trend. Scherzer has now given up 22 on the season, tied for fourth-most of all MLB pitchers. That's despite the fact he had only given up one in his previous four starts entering Saturday night.

Revere bounces back: Revere's frustrating 2016 season had reached one of its lowest points on Friday night, when he went 0-for-5 in a loss to the Padres. It was so bad that Nats manager Dusty Baker spoke with Revere's father and grandfather afterwards. They thanked the skipper for being patient with the Nats outfielder, despite him batting nearly 100 points lower than the .300 average he had carried in each of the previous three seasons. Baker expressed sympathy for Revere, but noted he had been back for over a third of the season. Patience was running out. Baker said "we need him badly."

What Revere did to respond on Saturday night is exactly what Baker had in mind. The embattled leadoff man walked in his second at-bat in the third inning and later scored on a Murphy sacrifice fly. Revere set that up by moving from first to third on a singly by Jayson Werth. Revere then doubled home Danny Espinosa in the top of the fifth to tied the game at 2-2. Before Saturday night, Revere had just three hits in his last nine games, a stretch of 29 at-bats.

Harper keeps scuffling: It was another long night for the reigning MVP, who went hitless in four at-bats and left four men on base. His worst moment came in the bottom of the fifth when the Padres opted to walk Murphy with two outs to put two men on to face Harper. Harper promptly popped out to right field to end the rally. Harper is now just 5-for-39 (.128) with 10 strikeouts in his last 11 games.

Up next: The Nats and Padres close their series with a 1:35 p.m. start on Sunday afternoon. Rookie Lucas Giolito (0-1, 4.70) will make his third career MLB start opposite San Diego lefty Christrian Friedrich (4-6, 4.55).

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Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres, Ross to rehab soon

Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres, Ross to rehab soon

The mystery of who will pitch the series finale for the Nationals against the Padres on Sunday is over, as manager Dusty Baker revealed the team's plans to call up top prospect Lucas Giolito to make his third career MLB start.

With Giolito on his way to Washington, the Nationals will have to determine a corresponding move. And three players - Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross and Sammy Solis - all nearing their returns from the disabled list, there could be a lot of shuffling on the Nats' roster in the coming days and weeks.

Giolito, 22, joins the Nats after making one start at Triple-A Syracuse. Through two big league starts this season he has a 4.70 ERA across 7 2/3 innings. Both of his outings came against the New York Mets.

Zimmerman (left ribcage strain) has made two rehab appearances with the Single-A Potomac Nationals. He went 2-for-4 with a double in his first game and 1-for-5 with two RBI and a run in his second. He was set to play his third game with the P-Nats on Saturday evening.

Solis also played with Potomac on Friday night and struck out three in a scoreless inning. He will now move on to Single-A Hagerstown to continue his rehab back from right knee inflammation.

"Solis, he pitched yesterday and said it went well. He's going to throw again tomorrow," Baker said. "Him and Joe are both going to throw at Hagerstown. We'll keep our fingers crossed that that works out well, too."

Ross will be making his first rehab appearance with Hagerstown on Sunday as he works his way back from right shoulder inflammation. He has been on the disabled list since July 3.

The Nationals chose Giolito to start over Reynaldo Lopez, one of their other hard-throwing prospects. Lopez pitched against the Dodgers on Tuesday and gave up six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Lopez was brought up to replace Giolito's spot in the rotation for his July 19 debut after the Nats determined Giolito needed more work in the minors. They sent him to Syracuse hoping he could work on his fastball command and his curveball. Giolito responded with 6 2/3 innings and only one unearned run in his lone outing in Triple-A.

[RELATED: Nats' Trea Turner on his speed and how he got so fast]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES

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Scherzer, Nats face off against Padres, former Nats P Edwin Jackson

Scherzer, Nats face off against Padres, former Nats P Edwin Jackson

Nationals (57-40) vs. Padres (42-55) at Nationals Park

Losers of four out of their last five, the Nationals are back at it on Saturday night hoping to get back on track against the San Diego Padres. Working in their favor is the fact Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.94) is on the mound.

Scherzer has been excellent recently with a 2.16 ERA in his last 13 starts. He struck out 10 in six innings of one-run ball against the Padres back on June 18, albeit in a Nats loss.

Pitching for the Padres will be former Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, who was a member of the 2012 club that won 98 games and the NL East.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Max Scherzer vs. Padres - Edwin Jackson

NATS

CF Ben Revere
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
C Wilson Ramos
1B Clint Robinson
3B Anthony Rendon
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Max Scherzer

PADRES

CF Travis Jankowski
1B Wil Myers
RF Matt Kemp
3B Yangervis Solarte
LF Melvin Upton
2B Ryan Schimpf
C Christian Bethancourt
SS Alexei Ramirez
RHP Edwin Jackson