Davey returns to Baltimore

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Davey returns to Baltimore

He's been too busy managing the first-place Nationals to contemplate such matters, so Davey Johnson was taken aback Thursday when someone mentioned it had been 15 years since he managed his final game with the Orioles.

"Time flies," he said.

Tonight, Johnson will be in the dugout at Camden Yards for the first time since 1997, the year he guided Baltimore to its lone AL East title of the last 28 years, then abruptly resigned over a spat with owner Peter Angelos on the same day he was named AL Manager of the Year.

The Orioles haven't experienced a winning season since, but they'll enter tonight's opener of Round 2 of the Battle of Beltways with a 39-30 record, good enough for second place in the division.

"I think it's great," Johnson said of Baltimore's success this season. "The only history I know in Baltimore is always being a contender and a great team, great organization. And I know they haven't been living up to that reputation, and it's great to see them doing the things that most Oriole teams I've ever been involved with did."

Much of Johnson's baseball life has been associated with the Orioles franchise. He signed there in 1962, straight out of Texas A&M. Three years later, he made his big-league debut, then spent eight seasons manning second base at Memorial Stadium.

"I think so highly of Baltimore," he said. "That's where I broke in. That's where I chose to sign with. My kids were all born there. We won championships there. It was a like a family there."

In something akin to a family spat, though, Johnson's relationship with the Orioles for the last 15 years has been nearly nonexistent. He hasn't spoken directly to Angelos during this span, though he admitted he was touched when Angelos sent flowers after Johnson's 32-year-old daughter Andrea died in 2005 of septic shock.

Asked on Thursday to describe the current status of his relationship with Angelos, Johnson at first asked: "We have to go there?"

"I'm fine," he added. "I'm still an Oriole fan."

Johnson's only other managerial stint in the last decade and a half -- 1999-2000 with the Dodgers -- didn't coincide with any interleague series against the Orioles. And by the time he took over as skipper in Washington last summer, the Nationals had already made their annual trek north to Baltimore.

So tonight's game will mark Johnson's return to the Camden Yards dugout.

He has, however, been back to the ballpark once since he left the organization. In 2010, he joined ex-teammates and manager Earl Weaver for the 40th anniversary celebration of the Orioles' 1970 World Series title. That's his lone appearance at Camden Yards in 15 years.

"I haven't been back, not in any capacity other than a fan," he said.

Soft spot for the Orioles or not, Johnson's intentions this weekend are unmistakable.

"I know they beat us two out of three here," he said. "And I'd like to return that favor."

Ben Revere starting to resemble the leadoff man the Nats hoped for

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Ben Revere starting to resemble the leadoff man the Nats hoped for

When the Nationals acquired Ben Revere from the Toronto Blue Jays last winter, they knew exactly what they were getting: a prototypical leadoff hitter that sees a lot of pitches, ropes line drives into the gaps and wreaks havoc on the base paths.

Still, every now and then Washington's centerfielder goes out of character in pregame batting practice and simulates his long ball swing, much to the dismay of manager Dusty Baker. 

"Even when I pop them in BP, he gets mad," Revere said. 

But for just the fifth time in his career 2569 at-bats, that power stroke came in handy. Revere enjoyed a rare jog around the bases after his seventh-inning solo home run in Tuesday night's 7-4 win over the New York Mets. The 384-foot blast to right field was his first since joining the Nats — and based on his track record, it's anyone's guess when his second one will be. 

"At least I get my one [home run]," Revere said. "I just gotta get one."

"I'm just hoping he doesn't get that dreadful disease of home-run-itis," Baker added. "So just get back to yourself, Ben."

Luckily for the Nats, Revere has finally started to look like himself after getting off to a slow start, one which included a post-disabled list slump following his Opening Day oblique injury. In the last week, he's hitting .360 with three extra-base hits, five RBI, six runs scored and a pair of stolen bases. 

"He's really been swinging the bat well since that last game in New York [last week]," Daniel Murphy said. "He looks good in there and it's really nice to have him at the top of the lineup setting the table for us."

With Revere rounding into form and other members of the lineup getting hot, the Nats offense finally has a chance to be a more balanced outfit that doesn't solely rely on Murphy and Bryce Harper to do all the heavy lifting. 

That said, don't hold your breath waiting for Revere to be leaving the yard again anytime soon. 

"If I try to hit it in the air, I’ll probably be .250 or Mendoza line .200 hitter," he quipped. "But if I hit the ball on the ground or line drives, I’ll be .300 for a long time."

Harvey struggling, Murphy thriving as Nats-Mets rivalry heats up

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Harvey struggling, Murphy thriving as Nats-Mets rivalry heats up

The NL East division will not be decided in the month of May, but the contrast in fortunes for the Nats and Mets was dramatic on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.

Yes, the Nats only lead the Mets by 1 1/2 games in the division after homering them to death in a 7-4 series-tying victory. But they beat them once again with a huge contribution from ex-Met Daniel Murphy and once again at the expense of beleaguered super hero Matt Harvey.

From the moment Murphy left the Mets to sign a three-year deal with the Nationals, it became part of the fabric of one of baseball's best contemporary rivalries. And the way he's played not just overall this season, but in head-to-head matchups with the Mets, has only stoked that fire.

Murphy went 2-for-4 with his seventh homer of the year on Tuesday night and now has two homers in four at-bats against Harvey. He has two RBI in each of his last three games against his former team and has quickly become a pest for the organization he spent 10 distinguished years with.

Harvey, on the other hand, has allowed 11 earned runs combined in his last two starts, both against the Nationals. He is in the midst of a shocking downfall and the Nats are playing a hands-on role.

Only four times did a Nationals hitter swing and miss at a pitch Harvey threw on Tuesday. That matched a season-low. The three homers he surrendered matched a career-high. This is all just one start after the Nats scored nine runs (6 ER) on Harvey, which set a new career mark.

“His velocity started out good," manager Dusty Baker said. "He was 95, 96 miles per hour, then his velocity dropped to 92, 93. His slider wasn’t as sharp as it usually is. You gotta get them when they’re down.”

Murphy, on the other hand, is carrying over the power surge the Mets themselves witnessed last fall. After hitting seven homers in 14 postseason games, Murphy has seven in 45 outings this season. That puts him on pace for 25 homers, nearly double his career-best of 14 set just last year.

Having spent five years around Harvey in New York, Murphy has a unique perspective of his former teammate now facing him from the other side.

"It's tough to tell," Murphy said. "I have all the confidence in the world that he's gonna throw the ball well... I hope it's not against us, or me personally. But we know how good he is, we saw it all year last year. And again, as a pitcher or a hitter, we're never as far away as we think."

Murphy isn't the only player on the Nats who wishes Harvey well, despite his presence in the NL East.

"I know he’s still going to be their go-to guy coming down the stretch and coming down the stretch these guys are going to be right there," center fielder Ben Revere said. 

"Fastball seems the same. He’s throwing strikes. It’s baseball. We’ve been getting the key knocks. Nothing we can do about it. Just goes to show that every pitcher in the big leagues is going to have some rough stretches."

"His stuff is electric. To me he's still the same pitcher that comes after you," third baseman Anthony Rendon said. "Like anybody else, you go through a rough patch, and I'm pretty sure he'll find his way out like every other good pitcher does."

Murphy's two hits on Tuesday - the second against reliever Antonio Bastardo - gave him his 23rd multi-hit game of the season. That means more than half of his games this year have featured multiple hits. He's now batting an MLB-best .392. Only one batter (Yoenis Cespedes) on the Mets is hitting better than .283 at this point in the season.

“I've seen some pretty good hitters, George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor," Baker said. "[Murphy] hasn’t had a down time the entire year. He’s concentrating. He’s at a very high concentration level. When he’s getting his pitch he’s not missing many. Murph’s been the acquisition of the year in baseball. I’m just glad that we have him.”

Harvey's matchups with the Nats over his last two starts have put his career at a momentary crossroads. After his last outing, Tuesday's start was in question. The Mets ultimately decided to keep him in the rotation, but what about his next start? Will he take the mound?

His previous outing was so bad it convinced Mets fans - who booed him at home five days ago - to organize a social media campaign to bus droves of New Yorkers down to D.C. for Tuesday's game. About a hundred of them gathered in right field and were heard loudly before the game and through the first several innings with chants in support of Harvey.

By the fifth inning there were chants of 'Harrrr-veyyy' coming from the crowd, but not from Mets fans. Nationals fans turned the tables and made for yet another embarrassing moment for the Dark Knight of Gotham.

Harvey, for what it's worth, declined to speak to reporters after his latest disaster. Not facing the New York media who are ready to pounce all over you? That may feel good for a night, but it won't go over well in the coming days. Might be wise to avoid the tabloids, Matt.

Strasburg notches another win as Nats rough up Harvey again

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USA TODAY Sports

Strasburg notches another win as Nats rough up Harvey again

Postgame analysis of the Nationals' 7-4 victory over the Mets on Tuesday night: 

How it happened: With both Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey looking sharp through the game's first three innings, this looked every bit like the pitchers duel we were expecting to see last week when the two aces faced off in New York. 

But like last Thursday's game, the Nats eventually pounced on Harvey and ended his night earlier than he would have liked. Their home run barrage started in the fourth inning, when Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon delivered back-to-back solo shots to give Washington a 2-1 lead. The next inning, after Bryce Harper hit a sac fly to make it 3-1, Daniel Murphy (who else?) delivered the big blow with a a two-run shot to give the Nats a 5-1 cushion and essentially yank Harvey from the game. 

After the Mets gone a run back in the seventh, Ben Revere hit his first home run as a member of the Nats to extend the lead to 6-2. The long ball parade continued in the eighth as Wilson Ramos got into the act with a solo shot. 

What it means: The Nats were able to bounce back after Monday night's blowout loss. At 28-18, they're 1 1/2 games up on the Mets for first place in the NL East. While it's clear that these are the two best teams in the division, there's plenty of season left before it can be determined which club is truly superior.  

Strasburg extends winning streak: It's pretty simple at this point: if Strasburg takes the mound, the Nats win. That's been the case now for 14 consecutive starts — extending a franchise record. Once again, Strasburg was solid against the Mets, allowing two earned runs on four hits over 6 2/3 innings. His 11 strikeouts on the night marked the fifth time this season that he has registered double digit punch outs in a start. Strasburg is now 8-0 on the year with a 2.79 ERA and 86 strikeouts. Not too shabby. 

Nats rough up Harvey again: For the second time in less than a week, Washington's offense put up a few crooked numbers on the scoreboard to chase Harvey early in the game. Including Tuesday's outing, the Mets struggling ace has allowed 14 runs on 16 hits over 7 2/3 innings against the Nats in two starts. Ouch. If Harvey winds up temporarily removed from New York's rotation, Mets fans can thank their division rivals from D.C. 

Murphy keeps hurting his old club: With yet another solid performance, the Nats second baseman might be making the Mets wish they would have kept him around a little while longer. In five games against his former team, Murphy is hitting 8-for-21 (.380) with two home runs — both coming off Harvey — and 6 RBI. 

Up next: The rubber match in this series will be a matinee tilt on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. The Nats will send Tanner Roark (3-3, 2.89 ERA) to oppose Mets rookie Steven Matz (6-1, 2.81 ERA).