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Controversy around him, Harper stays mature

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Controversy around him, Harper stays mature

So, Cole Hamels happily acknowledges he plunked Bryce Harper on purpose, saying "I'm not going to deny it" and "I'm just trying to continue the old baseball."

Then Mike Rizzo lambastes the Phillies left-hander, telling the Washington Post "I've never seen a more classless, gutless chicken bleep act in my 30 years in baseball" and saying Hamels is "fake tough."

And where is Harper during all this chaos? What does the Nationals rookie have to say about the maelstrom that has developed all around him, and about the pitcher who publicly admitted throwing at him in the eighth game of his career?

"He's a great guy, great pitcher and knows how to pitch," Harper said. "He's an All-Star. It's all good."

What does it say that between a 28-year-old former World Series MVP, a 51-year-old general manager of a major-league club and a 19-year-old outfielder with one week of big-league experience, the only one showing restraint right now is the 19-year-old?

This may come as a disappointment to all those scouts, opponents and media members who have been trying to label Harper as a punk from the moment he burst onto the national scene, but the kid has been a complete model citizen since his promotion to Washington nine days ago. He couldn't be any more respectful of the game, his teammates and opponents.

Wait, Bryce Harper? Respectful? Yes, that's right.

Credit his own increased maturity. Credit the Nationals' coaching staff and player development folks. Credit his family. Maybe even credit Scott Boras. Whoever is responsible for it, Harper has arrived in the big leagues under perhaps more scrutiny than any rookie in baseball history and has handled it all with aplomb.

He's said all the right things in front of cameras and notebooks, despite plenty of attempts by reporters to get him to slip up. He's done all the right things in the clubhouse, showing he knows his place among a roomful of veterans. And he's certainly played the game the right way, displaying more hustle and baseball instincts than guys with a decade more experience.

"He's smart," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think his baseball IQ, and the way he adjusts and the things he does at his age is impressive. ... It's only the beginning of it. That's the scary part. He's only going to get better."

Harper plays the game with a boatload of emotion, but he also seems to understand how to channel that emotion into positive play. How many other big leaguers -- 19, 29 or 39 -- would have responded to Hamels' plunking last night the way Harper did?

He didn't charge the mound. He didn't try to overdo himself and make a stupid play on the bases. Instead, he hustled. He went first-to-third on Jayson Werth's routine single to left. And then (on the advice of Werth and third base coach Bo Porter) he timed Hamels' pickoff move perfectly, bolted for the plate and became the first teenager in 48 years to steal home.

"A lot of times, whether it's coaches or media, you get caught up and go: 'Wow,'" Porter said. "Is it 'wow' because he's playing the game unlike other people, or because he's playing the game the way it's supposed to be played? If you ask me, he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."

And then at the end of the night, Harper stood in front of a dozen reporters trying to get him to say something controversial and revealed what truly matters to him.

"We lost 9-3. That sucks," he said. "I don't like losing. That's the only thing that comes in my mind when we walk away from that field."

Harper is a lot of things right now. He's electric. He's talented. He's taking the baseball world by storm.

Everyone wants to proclaim him the best 19-year-old in the big leagues since A-Rod, since Griffey, since Mantle. Whether he deserves to be lumped in with those greats remains to be seen.

But this much is certain: Bryce Harper's tremendous skills on the field at 19 are being surpassed by only one thing. His maturity.

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What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

What will Joe Ross' role be for Nationals in playoffs vs. Dodgers?

It was just a few weeks ago that Joe Ross' postseason availability was in question, and if he could return in time, whether he would pitch out of the Nationals' bullpen and or as a starter wasn't clear. Manager Dusty Baker wondered aloud if he would get his young right-hander back, even as Stephen Strasburg dealt with elbow injuries.

The progress Ross has made in a short period of time since is remarkable and after his 90-pitch outing on Thursday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, the 23-year-old looks and feels ready for the playoffs, and not just to pitch in relief, either.

"I'm hoping I get the opportunity to start, but that's up to them," Ross said. "But I'll take any opportunity I get to pitch and go out there and compete. I just want to help the team in any way I can."

Ross wasn't great on Thursday in his third start back from the disabled list. He only made it four innings, as his pitch count soared early. But in giving up just one run, he's now pitched 9 2/3 innings in three games back. During that stretch he's allowed three runs and struck out 14.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos hopes to be back with Nationals]

It has been a process of baby steps for the Nats starter, a slow progression back from right shoulder inflammation, an injury rehab that featured a setback in late July. Now, though, he is essentially back to normal, just in time for the NL Division Series which begins next week.

"I feel good. I felt really good today. I felt really good last start. I guess it's just a point of executing pitches," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind really on whether I can go out and compete."

Baker mentioned that Ross could pitch in releif early in the NLDS against the Dodgers. That could keep him available for a start later on, if it's kept short like a normal bullpen session.

But one has to wonder if Ross has improved his case enough to pitch Game 3 of that series, given Gio Gonzalez' recent struggles. The lefty has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 23 innings going back five starts.

Regardless, Ross has certainly come a long way in just three MLB outings.

"He looks ready," second baseman Wilmer Difo said through an interpreter.

With all the negative injury news the Nationals have received in recent days, between Wilson Ramos' season-ending injury and Strasburg essentially ruled out for the NLDS, having Ross fully back in the mix is a nice change of fortune for the NL East champs.

[RELATED: Matt Belisle sounds like safe bet for Nats playoff roster]

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Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos knows his knee injury could mean the end of Nationals' tenure

Wilson Ramos won't be on the field for the Washington Nationals when the team takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the N.L. Divisional Series next week.

The 2016 N.L. All-Star catcher will undergo surgery to repair the ACL he tore in his right knee on Monday night against the Diamondbacks

Ramos has been arguably the Nationals' most constant offensive threat this season, and had positioned himself as the team's backstop for the foreseeable future.

But the injury changed everything.

Not just because the surgery and rehab will stretch well into Spring Training, but because the 29-year-old Ramos will become a free agent at the end of the season. On top of that, a second ACL injury (He tore it in 2012 as well) means that taking the field everyday as a catcher may not be a viable option for him much longer.

"Unfortunately, this injury happened so close to the end and it may affect whether I’m able to stay with a National League team or not," Ramos told reporters prior to the Nationals' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon.

"But if it’s up to me, I definitely would like to keep playing for the Nationals and play as long as I can."

Ramos is a solid defensive catcher, but his biggest strength is at the plate. Being able to be a part of a lineup everyday is where he is most valuable, and that may mean playing in the American League, where he can serve as the designated hitter and fill in as catcher.

But this doesn't mean Ramos is done as a member of the Nationals, just that he's aware his time could be coming to an end.