An eventful day ends with a lopsided loss

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An eventful day ends with a lopsided loss

At the end of a day that saw the Nationals activate one of their best relievers for the first time this season, part ways with a popular veteran outfielder, prepare to send their highest-paid player out on a rehab assignment, prepare their All-Star shortstop to return to the lineup, swap out backup catchers and see their top prospect return to the field for the first time in 3 12 months, the 3 hours and 1 minute spent slogging their way through a 9-5 loss to the Mets almost felt incidental in the big picture.

"It's not always just a complete bad day," manager Davey Johnson said. "There were a lot of good things that happened that I was really proud to see."

Perhaps so, but that ballgame was as ugly as anything the Nationals have experienced in a while. With Gio Gonzalez roughed up for six early runs and the Mets building a 9-1 lead in the fourth, Johnson all but waved a white flag from his dugout perch and spent the rest of the afternoon resting some of his regulars while getting bench players and relievers much-needed work.

And still the Nationals found themselves in position to make things interesting late, bringing the tying run to the on-deck circle in both the eighth and ninth innings and forcing New York manager Terry Collins to use up four relievers to record the game's final five outs.

They never did manage to complete the improbably rally, with rookie Sandy Leon striking out with two on and two out in the ninth, but they did shower and dress feeling a bit better about themselves after what was shaping up to be a miserable afternoon at the park.

"Absolutely," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We fought back, even without our best guys out there, which is a good sign. We had some good at-bats coming down the stretch there. You know, they changed pitchers like four or five times. I don't know how many total pitchers they used. But for them to do that, they obviously respect us enough to realize we're never out of the game, and that's a great sign."

If only Gonzalez had put forth a better performance three hours earlier and kept the margin a bit closer, perhaps the Nationals' last-ditch attempts would have had a better chance of succeeding.

In what was far and away the worst of his 19 starts this season, Gonzalez struggled to locate his fastball from the very beginning and never recovered. And when he did find the strike zone, the Mets clobbered him, from David Wright's two-run homer in the first to Ike Davis' solo blast in the second to Andres Torres' double to deep left in the third.

"Just felt a little flat," the left-hander said. "Nothing was moving too much. They did a great job attacking me right off the bat. They were swinging aggressively and going after me right off the bat. Make better pitches, get better outs."

Gonzalez, who was seeking his NL-leading 13th win, never even made it out of the fourth inning. He also saw his ERA rise to 3.32, its highest level since his second outing of the season on April 12.

The All-Star hurler was admittedly surprised to see his manager emerge from the dugout and ask for the ball after only 68 pitches, but Johnson didn't see the need to leave Gonzalez on the mound and take more abuse.

"I see a guy that's having trouble, I'm not going to let him stay out there just to save my bullpen," Johnson said. "I'm going to save him. He gave me that evil stare, like: 'What am I doing out there?' ... It's more about not having to throw 20-30 more pitches in a losing cause. What's the use?"

Craig Stammen entered and almost immediately served up a three-run homer to Wright (the Mets third baseman's second blast of the day). And that turned the rest of the afternoon into something of a spring training game, with Johnson pulling Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper and Jesus Flores, using up all four players off his bench and finding ways to get a couple of relievers needed work in non-pressure situations.

That included the 2012 debut for Drew Storen, who 3 12 months after surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow trotted in from the bullpen for the ninth inning to a nice ovation from what remained of a crowd of 36,389.

"It's hard to explain, but it is honestly one of the best feelings in the world, to have the fans appreciate me being back out there," the 24-year-old said. "I went out there and picked up the ball and just kind of took a deep breath and thought: 'This feels really good.' It was nice."

More impressive that the reception for Storen was his efficient, 1-2-3 inning of relief, which required only nine pitches and featured groundouts by David Wright and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and a flyout by Jason Bay. He threw exclusively sinkers, topping out at 93 mph, and afterward noted he wants that pitch to become a bigger part of his repertoire.

It wasn't quite the situation Storen was used to -- the ninth inning of a lopsided loss -- but it served its purpose.

"Obviously I'd like to be on the winning side of that, but it's good," he said. "It was good to get my feet wet. Facing a guy like David Wright out of the gate, I wouldn't want it any other way. It was a good test for me."

As was Desmond's late appearance in the game. Out of the lineup for the fifth straight day with a lingering oblique strain, the shortstop entered to pinch-hit in the eighth and wound up singling, scoring all the way from first on Michael Morse's double, reaching base again in the ninth when he was hit by a pitch and successfully making a play in the field.

Put that all together, and the Nationals are convinced Desmond is ready to return to the lineup tomorrow against the Braves.

"It's good to get back on the field and see that my body is kind of, I guess, answering the right way," he said.

Bryce Harper hopes to play Tuesday after injury scare against Phillies

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Bryce Harper hopes to play Tuesday after injury scare against Phillies

Here is the update from the Associated Press on Bryce Harper's injury after the right fielder left Monday's Nationals win over the Phillies:

Bryce Harper left the game shortly after taking a fastball off the outside part of his right knee in the seventh. The reigning NL MVP went to first base, got doubled off on Murphy's fly out to left and was replaced by Chris Heisey in right field in the bottom half.

"It hurts," Harper said. "Whenever you get squared up like that, it doesn't feel good. We'll evaluate tomorrow and see how it feels. If I don't feel good, I'm not going to play. If I feel fine, then I'll be in there."

Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

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Murphy homers, lands go-ahead hit in Nats' 4-3 win vs. Phillies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

How it happened: Right now, two months into the 2016 MLB season, is there any other player you'd rather have up in a key spot than Daniel Murphy?

The Nats second baseman continued his months-long Ted Williams impression on Monday night with three hits, one of them his eighth homer of the season and another the go-ahead swing in the bottom of the eighth in a 4-3 Nats victory over the Phillies. 

On a night Bryce Harper left with an injury, Murphy helped save the day with three runs driven in. The other was pushed across by Jayson Werth, who tied the game at 2-2 in the eighth to help set up Murphy's heroics. 

The Nationals hung on in the ninth, but closer Jonathan Papelbon made it interesting by allowing back-to-back doubles to lead off the frame, the second to score a run. Papelbon has surrendered six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings with two blown saves against the Phillies since he was traded from them to the Nats last summer.

Tanner Roark pitched seven solid innings with two earned runs allowed. He earned his fourth win of the season.

What it means: The Nationals moved to 10 games over .500 and 3-4 against the Phillies this season, all three of those wins having come at Citizens Bank Park. The Nats remain in first place with a 31-21 record after 52 games. That puts them two wins ahead of their 2015 pace (29-23 after 52). In 2014 when they won 96 games and the NL East, they were 25-27. And in 2012 when they won 98 games and the division, they were 30-22. The Nats are playing at a 97-win pace right now.

Murphy's big day: Who is this guy? As impressive as Murphy's 2016 had already been, he put in one of his best games as a National on Tuesday. Murphy smacked his eighth homer of the season in the top of the fourth which put him more than halfway to his career-high of 14, which he set just last year. This is in just 50 games, which puts Murphy on pace for about 25 by the end of this season. That would not only far exceed his best season ever, it would significantly change his value as an offensive player. Murphy has six homers in the month of May, a personal career-best for the regular season. The only other month he's hit more was last October when he clubbed seven for the Mets in the playoffs. Murphy also landed a double in the second inning on Monday to notch his 25th mutli-hit game of the season, exactly half of the game he's played. This was all on top of his go-ahead, two-RBI single in the top of the eighth. Murphy is now batting a cool .395 and we're one day away from June. That's just amazing.

Harper leaves with apparent injury: In a sight that will scare the living hell out of any Nationals fan, Harper left in the top of the seventh with what appeared to be a right leg injury. He exited after taking an 88 mile per hour fastball either off his knee or off his thigh muscle right above it. Harper stayed in the game for one play by taking first, but left after getting out on a double play. Murphy flew out and Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel beat Harper with a throw to first before he got back. Chris Heisey replaced Harper in right field in the bottom of the seventh. It could be just a bruise, but Nats fans will certainly worry until they hear otherwise.

Werth's game-tying double: Aside from Murphy's three knocks, Werth was one of only two other Nationals to land a hit on Monday night. For Werth, it was a single to left field that scored Danny Espinosa from second in the top of the eighth. The RBI hit came off Phillies reliever Hector Neris, who also gave up the deciding blow against Murphy. Werth's big swing came just one day after he launched a pinch-hit grand slam in the Nats' win over the Cardinals on Sunday. 

Up next: The Nationals send Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52) to the mound for Tuesday's game with right-hander Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) set to pitch for Philly. It's another 7:05 p.m. first pitch.

Bryce Harper exits Nats-Phillies game with apparent leg injury

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Bryce Harper exits Nats-Phillies game with apparent leg injury

Bryce Harper exited Monday night's game between the Nationals and Phillies with an apparent right leg injury after getting hit by an 88 mile per hour fastball in the area of his knee in the top of the seventh inning.

Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson hit Harper either on the knee or just above it, based on the television replay. Harper took first base and stayed in through the next at-bat. But after he got out on a double play, Harper left for the clubhouse. He was then replaced by Chris Heisey in right field when the Nationals went back out on defense.

Harper walked with a visible limp on his way to first base after getting hit. Hellickson immediately challenged him with several pickoff attempts before he got Daniel Murphy to fly out. Phillies outfielder Tyler Goeddel threw to first base before Harper could tag the bag for the double play.

Harper has dealt with a left knee injury in the past, but it was his right knee that appeared to be injured on Monday night.

Harper, 23, is batting .242 with 13 homers and 34 RBI on the season. He was 0-for-2 with a strikeout on Monday night before he left the game.