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Duke, Garcia added to bullpen

Duke, Garcia added to bullpen

As well as each was pitching all summer at Class AAA Syracuse, neither Zach Duke nor Christian Garcia ever gave serious thought to the possibility of getting promoted to join the Nationals before season's end.

Not that they hadn't performed well enough to merit consideration for a promotion. But with the Nationals posting baseball's best record behind the sport's best pitching staff -- and considering neither held a spot on the organization's 40-man roster -- they knew the odds were slim at best their services would be needed at the big-league level.

That only made the experience of donning Nationals caps and jerseys for the first time this morning sweeter for both players. Each had his contract purchased and was promoted to Washington for the remainder of the season.

"I knew the way these guys were throwing up here that for me to get called up there'd have to be an injury -- or probably two or three injuries -- so I didn't expect to be called up," Duke said. "It was pretty shocking and very overwhelming. ... I'm just so thankful for it."

"To be with guys as talented as everybody in here, it's an honor just to be able to put their jersey on," Garcia said. "Knowing they're in first place, trying to clinch a playoff spot, it's an honor."

Each player's promotion is testament to perseverance, because each took a long road to reach this juncture.

Duke, 29, owns 48 big-league wins and a 2009 All-Star selection with the Pirates, but after getting released by the Astros at the end of spring training had only one offer for a minor-league contract: from the Nationals. He reported to Syracuse and proceeded to go 15-5 with a 3.51 ERA in 26 starts.

There's no room for Duke in the Nationals' rotation; even with Stephen Strasburg's pending shutdown, only fellow lefty John Lannan will be needed to make a couple of spot starts down the stretch. But manager Davey Johnson plans to use Duke out of his bullpen, perhaps needing the left-hander to record a key out or two at some point.

Duke, who has some relief experience with the Diamondbacks, insists he'll contribute any way he can, ecstatic simply to be given the opportunity to don a major-league uniform again after not knowing if it would ever happen again.

"When you get released from a team like Houston who has the worst record in baseball, it doesn't look really good for you," he said. "The Nationals still believed in me, gave me a shot, and it worked out."

Garcia, 27, is a big leaguer for the first time after a long and arduous road that included two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow. A third-round pick of the Yankees in the 2004 draft, he signed with the Nationals last year and worked his way up from short-season Class A Auburn to Class AAA, where he posted a 0.56 ERA in 27 games.

Having made a career-high 45 relief appearances this season, Garcia is in uncharted waters. He's not worried, though, about fatigue down the stretch, certainly not given the opportunity he's now been given.

"I feel great," he said. "I feel healthy, 100 percent. I'm not tired at all. I think I just got another shot of life getting up here."

The Nationals had only 39 players on their 40-man roster at the start of the day, so there was room for one of the additions. Another spot was created when reliever Henry Rodriguez (who had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow) was transferred to the 60-day DL.

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Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

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Twitter: @MiamiHerald

Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

The first game of the Nationals series against the Marlins started late after a nearly two-hour-long rain delay. However, before the first pitch, the Nats played a tribute to Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, whose recent death has left the entire MLB community in shock.

A video tweeted by @masnNationals shows both teams standing on the field, while the clips of Fernandez play on the video board in center field. 

The Marlins twitter also shared a video of the pre-game tribute.

Gio Gonzalez, who was good friends with Fernandez and attended his funeral on Thursday, is seen with tears in his eyes, waving his hat toward the sky. Gonzalez also hung a Fernandez jersey in the Nationals' dugout prior to the game. 

The Diamondbacks left a message for the Marlins in the visitor's clubhouse at Nationals Park before leaving town Thursday. 

Fernandez's death is reaching even further than baseball. The Miami Hurricanes tweeted a picture of decals they added to their helmets for their game tomorrow against Georgia Tech.

It is clear that although Jose may be gone, he will always be rememered by the entire sports community. 

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Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's return and a potential playoff platoon at first base

Though Dusty Baker isn’t a doctor, he apparently isn’t averse to using an old school method or two to diagnose his players’ injuries.

So when Bryce Harper, ailing with a jammed left thumb, recently told his manager he was ready to return to the lineup, Baker responded by giving it a little pinch.

“He said 'Ow, what'd you do that for?' and I said 'Okay, I got my answer,'" the Nationals’ manager said with a laugh.

Baker must be comfortable with how Harper is feeling lately, as the 23-year-old right fielder is back in the lineup after four days off.

"He might have been ready to go [on Thursday],” Baker said. “So if a guy tells me he's ready, if I have a luxury, I like to give them one more day off. I just noticed that a lot of guys say they're ready and you bring them back and they're really not ready. I would prefer that you be champing at the bit to get back [instead] of a person to just say that you're ready.

Prior to the injury, the reigning NL MVP had hits in five of his previous seven games. So with three games left, the Nats are hoping the reigning Harper can get back in a groove before the postseason begins next week.

Zimmerman a platoon bat? It’s a question that seemed unfathomable on Opening Day, but the veteran first baseman’s 2016 inconsistency-filled odyssey has some wondering if Baker might consider other options come October. The answer, for now, is no.  

“That hasn’t crossed my mind,” the skipper said.

Clint Robinson is starting at first in Friday night’s game against the Miami Marlins, but the move doesn’t appear to be a sign of things to come. Baker said the decision was merely to keep Zimmerman healthy and afford Robinson some at-bats while he can get them. Still, for an offense will be without Wilson Ramos (and a fully-healthy Daniel Murphy), the lineup will need a boost where it can get it.

“I don’t really believe in platoon, platoon," Baker said. "There’s certain guys that I feel that Clint may have a better chance of being successful against. But that’s not a platoon for me.”

In other words, Baker is staunchly in Zimmerman’s corner. And slowly but surely, the 31-year-old has been rewarding his manager's faith. Zimmerman has hits in six out of his last nine games, including a trio of two-hit efforts. It might be too late to salvage his career-worst .219 average, but the Nats still believe the one-time face of the franchise will show up when it counts the most. 

"I just keep in mind with Zim that ‘hey, man, you can be the man for a long period of time like we know that you’ve done,’" Baker said. "We’ve seen him do it before. So we need Zim. We need him badly.”