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Does Harper deserve everyday job?

Does Harper deserve everyday job?

Though he's not producing nearly as much as he did during the first two months of his big-league career, Bryce Harper is making positive contributions to the team with the best record in baseball. Just look at his 4-for-8, 2-homer weekend against the Mets.

But Harper's offensive production has turned painfully inconsistent. Just look at his last three nights against the Braves (2-for-13, six strikeouts).

Look, any 19-year-old (no matter how talented and brash) is going to struggle at times in the major leagues. And Harper continues to do things few teenagers have ever done in this game before. But make no mistake, he is struggling right now, and he might just be hurting the Nationals more than he's helping them.

Owner of a .210 batting average and .279 on-base percentage over his last 59 games, Harper is putting up numbers worse than anyone on the Nationals roster who isn't a catcher or pitcher. And it's not just the numbers; it's his poor approach at the plate, which was painfully noticeable the last three nights.

It's no secret opposing pitchers have figured out the book on Harper: Feed him almost exclusively offspeed stuff down and away and watch him chase those pitches out of the strike zone. Which he's doing in spades. Worse, when someone does decide to bust him inside with a fastball, Harper doesn't look ready for it and often takes it for a strike.

In short, he's guessing at the plate instead of using his natural abilities and keen batting eye to react to what he's being thrown.

"He's just overly aggressive, overly aggressive, trying to put a big charge in it," manager Davey Johnson said. "He wasn't quite that aggressive early, and now he's going through a little slump. But he'll make adjustments. He'll get through it."

The question is whether Johnson can continue to let Harper get through it on a daily basis.

If the Nationals were out of the race and playing for the future -- as they were each of the last six seasons -- there'd be no debate. Harper would play every day and gain valuable experience.

But this team finds itself in a pennant race, trying to hold off the Braves in the NL East and perhaps post the best record in the NL and secure a Division Series matchup with the one-game wild-card winner plus home-field advantage straight through the World Series.

Can the Nationals afford to use the No. 2 spot in their lineup on a rookie mired in a two-month slump?

The situation is complicated all the more by the production the Nationals are getting from two other, less-hyped rookies. Steve Lombardozzi has 18 hits in his last 33 at-bats, including pinch-hit singles in each of the last three games. Tyler Moore owns an .883 OPS over his last 43 games. The more-experienced Roger Bernadina has a .909 OPS over his last 29 games.

Should any one of those guys get at-bats in place of Harper?

"I always think about all those things; that's what my job is," Johnson said. "It's my job to try to find ways to get these young guys ... now that I've got a regular lineup, I'll have to try to get them in. Nothing has gone on in my head on how to do it yet."

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Papelbon's struggles continue, Ramos and Rendon heating up for Nats

Papelbon's struggles continue, Ramos and Rendon heating up for Nats

Leftover notes and observations from the Nats' 7-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night…

Papelbon's rough ninth: Jonathan Papelbon crumbled again in the ninth inning by allowing three runs to the Indians, who saw Francisco Lindor single home the winning run against Oliver Perez in the bottom of the ninth. It was a crushing loss for the Nats and their second reminder in as many games that their bullpen may be a problem, perhaps even one worth addressing before the trade deadline.

Papelbon's timing is at least good in that he's not doing this next week, that it's coming before Monday's non-waiver trade deadline. There is still time for the Nats to add a reliever, though if they want to bring in a new closer, the price will likely be high. One has to wonder if the last few days have changed the Nats' thinking when it comes to parting with one of their top prospects in order to shore up the backend of their bullpen for the pennant race.

Papelbon has now allowed seven earned runs in his last two outings. He took the mound on Sunday with a 2.56 ERA, but now has a 4.45 mark after two straight uneven spots.

Ramos hits No. 15: Wilson Ramos appeared to be cooling off earlier this month, but lately has picked up the pace. On Tuesday he not only homered in the sixth inning - his second in as many games - he also doubled and later scored in the fourth. It was Ramos' fourth multi-hit game in his last six outings. He has reached base in 13 straight appearances.

Ramos' homer was his 15th of the year, which puts him one away from the career-high he set back in 2013. This is the fourth time in his career that he's reached 15 homers in a season.

Rendon's No. 12: Despite missing two games last week with the flu, Anthony Rendon continues to swing a hot bat. He went 2-for-4 on Tuesday night with a homer, two RBI and two runs. His home run was his 12th of the season, a two-run shot that scored Ramos in the top of the fourth. After going 0-for-14 in four games split by the All-Star break, Rendon is 9-for-28 (.321) with three homers and five RBI in the seven games since.

Rivero's streak snapped: Felipe Rivero gave up his first earned run in 11 appearances on Tuesday to snap a 17 1/3 scoreless innings streak, the longest for a Nats reliever this season. Rivero found trouble early, as Jason Kipnis led off the bottom of the eighth with a double and Lindor followed with a single. Mike Napoli then brought Kipnis home on a double play groundball. 

Lindor shows his stuff: The Nationals got their first look at one of the best young players in baseball. At just 22 years old, Lindor has become a superstar shortstop in a very short period of time and on Tuesday demonstrated in several ways what all the hype is about. Not only did he single in the game-winning run, he also made a terrific play in the field in the top of the seventh. Lindor fell down while gloving a hard groundball by Ben Revere, got up and threw a strike to first for the out.

Lindor also singled in the bottom of the third on a Gio Gonzalez pitch that came in chin-high. It was a pitch no one should ever swing at, but he smoothly poked a single to opposite field. Vladimir Guerrero would have been impressed. Lindor, who bats .307 on the season, had three hits in the game.

[RELATED: Papelbon again implodes in ninth as Nats lose to Indians]

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Near trade deadline, former National Drew Storen again on the move

Near trade deadline, former National Drew Storen again on the move

It was back in January that the Nationals acquired Ben Revere from Toronto in exchange for reliever Drew Storen. The former National won't even spend a year north of the border. 

With the trade deadline approaching, Toronto made a move on Tuesday to send Storen and cash considerations to Seattle in exchange for pitcher Joaquin Benoit. 

Storen posted a 6.21 ERA for Toronto in 33.1 innings this season. Benoit has a 5.18 ERA in 24.1 innings. 

MORE NATIONALS: PAPELBON IMPLODES AGAIN IN LOSS

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Papelbon again implodes in ninth as Nats fall to Indians in walk-off loss

Papelbon again implodes in ninth as Nats fall to Indians in walk-off loss

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

How it happened: After Jonathan Papelbon imploded in the ninth inning on Sunday, manager Dusty Baker took some of the blame, saying he should not have pitched his closer for the third straight day. Papelbon denied he was tired, but Baker felt it was worth mentioning.

Despite that, Baker went back to Papelbon on Tuesday night in a key spot. It came after an off-day, but Papelbon did not look himself against the Indians. His fastball was regularly topping out at 89 miles per hour and Cleveland jumped all over it.

Papelbon allowed a leadoff walk then an RBI double to Tyler Naquin. Ryan Zimmerman then committed a costly throwing error to first on a Chris Gimenez sacrifice bunt to score Naquin. And then, with Oliver Perez on the mound and the bases loaded, young superstar Francisco Lindor singled in the winning run for an Indians walk-off victory.

Papelbon has now failed the Nats in the ninth inning of two consecutive games. The one positive may be that he's done this before the Aug. 1 trade deadline and not after it, as the Nats' need for bullpen help is becoming more and more obvious.

The Nats had a solid day on offense, led by Trea Turner in the leadoff spot. He singled, walked, stole a base, reached on an error and scored a run in another all-around effort. The rest of the Nats' lineup followed suit, as Wilson Ramos hit his 15th homer of the season, Anthony Rendon clubbed his 12th and Jayson Werth added two doubles to extend his streak of reaching base to 29 games, matching a career-high. 

The Nats knocked Danny Salazar - one of the AL's best pitchers - out after just four innings of work. He gave up four runs (3 ER) on four hits and two walks. Nats starter Gio Gonzalez overcame a rocky first inning to go 6 1/3 frames with three runs (2 ER) allowed.

The Nationals began their long road trip with a tough, 7-6 loss and have now lost six of their last eight games. 

What it means: The Nats fell to 58-42 on the season. With the Marlins' win on Tuesday, the Nats are now just four games up in the NL East.

Turner mostly good in CF, great at plate: Known for his prodigious speed on the base paths, apparently Trea Turner is also a fast learner.

With Zimmerman back from the disabled list, the Nationals rookie played center field for the first time in a big league game on Tuesday night and the early returns were overall quite good. Turner for the most part looked competent at his new position, despite having one key moment where he showed his inexperience. Perhaps more important, the Nats kept his bat and his legs in their lineup and again saw the impact he can provide at the top of their order.

Turner wasn't tested much in center field on Tuesday night, but he did make one very impressive play in the first inning on a long flyout by Jose Ramirez. Turner covered over 112 feet according to StatCast and caught the ball on a full sprint just a step away from the right-center field wall. It was a difficult play and he made it look easy, registering a 97.8% efficiency score. Turner also made another catch at the warning track in the seventh inning. He displayed good instincts around the wall at a park he's never played before. 

That was the good. There was also some bad, including a mistimed dive attempt in the bottom of the eighth that resulted in a Jason Kipnis double. Turner dove while running in towards the infield, only to have the ball bounce in front of him and then over his head. Kipnis later scored on a double play ball hit by Mike Napoli.

Gio starts slow, rebounds: Tuesday will go down as another step in the right direction for Gonzalez, but it didn't start that way. He ran into major trouble in the first inning by throwing 13 balls in his first 17 pitches. That stretch included a leadoff walk to Rajai Davis and then a ground-rule double by Kipnis. Davis scored after that on a passed ball and Kipnis came home on a Carlos Santana sacrifice fly. Gonzalez barely got out of the first inning and was lucky only two runs came across.

After that, though, he was better. Gonzalez held the Indians scoreless for the next five innings before leaving in the seventh. He finished with three runs allowed (2 ER) on five hits, two walks and four strikeouts. The second earned run charged to Gonzalez came on a tough-luck play. Gonzalez exited after giving up a one-out double to Abraham Almonte. Almonte then scored on a Lonnie Chisenhall groundball hit against Blake Treinen that bounced off Rendon's glove and into center field.

Gonzalez has now allowed eight earned runs in his last four games across 24 innings since July began. That equals an even 3.00 ERA, which is solid considering his struggles through May and June.

Zimmerman returns: Zimmerman came back, but didn't carry over the momentum from his hot-hitting minor league rehab games. Zimmerman went 0-for-4 and left three men on base. That was in addition to his mistake in the field.

Scary moment: There was an unfortunate sequence in the first inning on Tuesday night, as a fan in the crowd at Progressive Field was hit in the face by a Daniel Murphy line drive. The 75-year-old woman was quickly rushed to the hospital, but it sounds like she suffered some serious facial injuries at the very least.

Up next: The Nats and Indians play the finale of their two-game interleague series with a 12:10 p.m. start on Wednesday afternoon. Stephen Strasburg (13-1, 2.83) will square off with right-hander Carlos Carrasco (7-3, 2.31).

[RELATED: Former Nats 1st rd. pick set to make MLB debut with Mets]

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