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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.

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Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Nats (76-55) at Phillies (60-71) at Citizens Bank Park

After bouncing back with a 4-0 victory in the series opener, the Nats look to keep it going in Philly on Tuesday night with ace Max Scherzer on the mound.

Scherzer, who is 14-7 with a 2.92 ERA, tossed eight shutout innings against the Orioles his last time out. He last saw the Phillies on June 1 at CBP and gave up two runs in eight innings of work.

Ryan Zimmerman is back in there at first base after taking Monday off. The rest of the Nats lineup is the same.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: CBS-9, MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Max Scherzer vs. Phillies - Jerad Eickhoff

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Max Scherzer

PHILLIES

TBA
RHP Jerad Eickhoff

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

Don't count out the New York Mets just yet. 

The Nationals may be up nine games in the National League East, but their rivals from the Big Apple have slowly crawled their way back into the wild card picture.

The biggest reason why? The return of a healthy Yoenis Cespedes, who missed most of August with a quad injury. In the nine games since he’s been back, the 30-year-old outfielder has slashed .389/.450/.861 with five home runs, including Monday night’s extra-inning walk-off shot against fellow-wild card hopeful Miami Marlins.

"He's that kind of player," manager Terry Collins said via NJ.com. "You expect big things each and every time he goes up. He's one of those guys people pay to see him play. They see him come up to bat, and they know he can do something dangerous each and every time up."

After it seemed like the Mets were down and out, the Cespedes’ bat has resuscitated their playoff push. New York is 7-2 with Cespedes in the lineup since August 19, and its offense has averaged nearly six runs a game during that span. So just like 2015 postseason run, it's on Cespedes to lead the way. 

“Every time I see Cespedes at home plate, I feel like he's going to hit a homer," third baseman Jose Reyes said. "That's the way I feel in the dugout. I'm sure the other guys feel the same way. They had the opportunity to see him get hot last year, and for me, seeing him this year, it's unbelievable what he can do on the baseball field. Basically he can do whatever he wants to.”

New York's mini-surge has happened at the right time, with the club just 2 1/2 games out of a wild card spot and nearly a month left in the season. 

“We're going into September," Reyes said. "That's the way we want to play right now. That's a huge win against a Miami team that was in front of us....now we're in a better position."

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Nats creating distance, Harper keeps rolling, can Murphy still win MVP?

Nats creating distance, Harper keeps rolling, can Murphy still win MVP?

Notes and observations from the Nats' 4-0 win over the Phillies on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park…

Roark bounces back: Tanner Roark rebounded nicely from his uneven start against the Orioles last Wednesday to go seven shutout innings with just four hits and a walk surrendered against the Phillies. It was the 16th time in 27 starts this season that Roark has lasted at least seven innings. And it was the eighth time this year that Roark has gone at least seven frames with zero earned runs allowed. No other pitcher has done that more times this year than Roark.

Roark's season ERA is now at 2.87, almost exactly the 2.85 mark he put up in 2014, his last full year as a starter. His ERA+, though, is better at 146, compared to the 131 he had in 2014. And his strikeout rate (7.1 SO/9) is better than it was two years ago (6.3).

Werth hits No. 19: Jayson Werth hit another homer on Monday night, his third in his last four games. He now has 19 on the year, one away from recording the sixth 20-homer season of his career. Werth has seven in August alone which ties the most he's ever hit in a month since he signed with the Nats before the 2011 season. His career-high is eight, set back in 2010 with the Phillies.

Harper gets on again: Bryce Harper didn't get a hit on Monday night, but he did walk and score a run and has now reached base in all 16 games he's played since coming back from the neck stiffness that kept him out a week. In those 16 games he's hit 22-for-61 (.361) with three homers, 17 RBI, 11 walks, 13 runs, six doubles and three steals. His OPS during that stretch is 1.098. That's not a huge sample size, 16 games, but it's more than half a month. If he can be anything close to that for the final month of the season, the Nats' lineup could look a lot different. 

Murphy keeps it up: It has perhaps gone unnoticed by some with the emergence of Trea Turner and the resurgence of Harper, but Daniel Murphy is having another very good month at the plate. With his two hits on Monday, Murphy is now 30-for-93 (.323) with five homers, 22 RBI, 20 runs and a .933 OPS in August. 

Murphy still has the best batting average in the NL at .345, but he has some work to do if he still wants to win the league's MVP award. He's currently tied for third in fWAR with Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. They are both at 4.9, while Kris Bryant (7.6) and Corey Seager (6.9) are far ahead. It seems amazing that Murphy could be hitting .345 with 25 homers and 98 RBI on a first-place team and at this point be third in the MVP race, but that's where he realistically stands right now. Bryant and Seager also lead first-place teams. Bryant is hitting .305 with 35 homers and an MLB-best 109 runs scored, while Seager is batting .323 with 23 homers and also plays plus-defense at shortstop.

Magic number to 23: It's that time of year. With the Nats' win on Monday night and the Marlins having lost their third straight game, the Nats' magic number to win the NL East is now 23. That's pretty low for this point of the season and it could start going down very quickly. The Nats do not play a team outside of the NL East until they go to Pittsburgh on Sept. 23. And the Nats have the best intra-division record in baseball at 36-16.

[RELATED: Turner on playing like a little kid, rest helped Ramos]

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