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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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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.