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Harper conducting himself like All-Star

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Harper conducting himself like All-Star

Bryce Harper hasn't played like an All-Star for the last three weeks. Since homering in Toronto on June 12 and then uttering his now famous "Clown question, bro" quote, he's hitting just .205 with one homer, three RBI, 20 strikeouts and a .558 OPS.

Harper may not have played like an All-Star during that time, but he's sure conducted himself like one.

As more and more attention is thrust upon him, and as the Nationals become one of the most-compelling teams in baseball, Harper continues to be tested off the field. And he continues to pass every single test.

He could've snapped at that reporter who asked him what kind of beer he would drink after homering in Canada. Instead, he displayed both maturity and snark with his perfect response that created an instant catch-phrase used even by the majority leader of the U.S. Senate.

Harper could have made a major faux pas when the Yankees came to town and said something that indicated his desire to someday play for his favorite team growing up. Instead, he kept his focus on the Nationals, resisted the urge to hobnob around the batting cage with A-Rod and CC and Derek and eventually professed his desire to spend his entire career in Washington.

And when MLB's All-Star teams were announced yesterday and Harper learned he was among five players on the "Final Vote" ballot, he could have bragged about his own case for a ticket to Kansas City. Instead, he repeatedly insisted the retiring Chipper Jones should win the vote.

"He should have already been in the All-Star Game, no matter what," Harper said following yesterday's 8-4 win in Atlanta. "He's an All-Star and has been an All-Star for 20 years. I think Chip should be there and ... if I had to vote, Chip's going."

Talk about knowing the right thing to say. Harper couldn't have handled that sticky situation any better. Would he like to be an All-Star at 19? Absolutely. But he understands there will be plenty more opportunities to play in the Midsummer Classic before his career ends, and he understands this is Jones' last opportunity to do it.

It's that kind of humility and respect for the game that has made Harper so popular among both his teammates and his contemporaries. Shoot, even Cole Hamels said he voted for the guy he intentionally plunked two months ago on his All-Star ballot.

"19 years old," left-hander Gio Gonzalez said. "That says it all."

Fans have until 4 p.m. Thursday to decide whether to vote for Harper, Jones or the other three NL players on the ballot (Michael Bourn, Aaron Hill, Aaron Freese). Harper's teammates say he's worthy of a spot on the roster.

"I think he's got a pretty good chance," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Obviously he's a fan favorite everywhere he goes. Even though they boo him, I know they still love him."

Truth be told, a quiet vacation in mid-July might be more valuable to Harper than a whirlwind few days in Kansas City. He's been dealing with some lower back soreness for several weeks. He's struggled at times at the plate. The physical and mental grind of his first big-league season might be starting to take its toll.

Asked yesterday if he thinks Harper has a shot to win the final vote, manager Davey Johnson replied: "Yeah, I do, but I hope not. I hope he gets the rest. I've been playing him everyday, every inning. I hope he gets the rest."

Harper didn't necessarily disagree with his skipper.

"It'd be great," he said of an All-Star selection. "I think it'd be a lot of fun to be out there around guys like that and stuff. But taking some time off and going home for four or five days, I think, would be good also."

As has so often been the case since he arrived in the big leagues, Harper keeps saying all the right things.

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Nats fall to Diamondbacks after Wilson Ramos leaves with injury

Nats fall to Diamondbacks after Wilson Ramos leaves with injury

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 14-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: The Nationals have little to gain at this point in the regular season with their division locked up and their playoff opponent set. They do, though, have plenty to lose.

The Nationals lost 14-4 to the Diamondbacks on Monday night, but more important was the exit of All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos with an apparent right leg injury in the sixth inning. He fell down on a throw to home and grabbed the same knee that he had his ACL and MCL repaired in back in 2012. It happened on a wet field after a 20-minute rain delay.

Before Ramos went down, the game was already out of hand. Nats starter Tanner Roark made it just four innings with five earned runs allowed. The Nats got it to 5-4 before the Diamondbacks added five more runs in the sixth inning off reliever Yusmeiro Petit.

Jean Segura and Yasmany Tomas both homered off Roark in the fourth inning. Tomas then got the five-run rally started in the sixth with a two-RBI double off Petit in the sixth. Mitch Haniger added a two-run bomb off Petit later in the frame. Segura then homered again with a two-run shot off Lucas Giolito in the eighth. Jake Lamb then hit another off Giolito to make it 13-4, the fifth homer for Arizona on the night. That's a season-high allowed by the Nats.

The Diamondbacks then got another run, their 14th, on a groundout by Chris Owings in the top of the ninth. That came against Giolito, who walked off the mound with a 6.75 ERA through 21 1/3 big league innings.

The Nats got their first run on an RBI triple by Brian Goodwin in the second inning. The rookie brought in another on a walk with the bases loaded. 

Trea Turner doubled home two more runs in the fourth on his second of three hits on the night. It was Turner's 32nd multi-hit game of the season and his 11th time with three hits or more. That effort helped bounce Diamondbacks starter Archie Bradley after 3 2/3 innings with four runs allowed on six hits and four walks.

The Nationals have lost five of their last eight games. This was their first defeat to the Diamondbacks in 2016 after sweeping them in Arizona back in August.

What it means: The Nats dropped to 91-65 on the year and now lead the Dodgers by just one game in their race for home field advantage in the NL Division Series. 

Roark not at his best: Roark was off to a brilliant start through three innings with no baserunners allowed and five strikeouts. But he quickly found trouble in the fourth inning with the solo homer by Segura. He later allowed an RBI single to Brandon Drury and then the three-run bomb to Tomas. 

It was Roark's shortest start since June 5 against the Reds. He also only went four innings in his season debut on April 7. Generally, Roark can be counted on to go deep in starts. But after giving up five runs in one inning, the Nats had seen enough. Roark only threw 70 pitches before he was lifted by manager Dusty Baker. It was also in part due to an opportunity Baker saw for a pinch-hitter, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth. The Nats were down 5-2 with one out, so Baker called on Chris Heisey to bat. He ended up striking out on a pitch that just barely caught the outer edge of the plate.

Roark is still searching for his 16th win after taking a loss in his last start against the Marlins. He should have one more opportunity on Saturday to get No. 16, which would be a career-high. 

Drew keeps producing: Stephen Drew left the Nats in late July with vertigo-like symptoms after establishing himself as their best bench player and one of the best bench players in baseball. He's returned even better. With a double, a walk and two runs on Monday, Drew is now 10-for-28 (.357) with three doubles, eight runs and six walks in 15 games. He's batting .282 on the season, which is impressive for a guy who gets sparing at-bats. Drew has been a perfect temporary fill-in for Daniel Murphy in the last few days and he could play a very important role in the playoffs as the Nats' first bench off the bench.

Petit struggles again: Maybe this is why we didn't see Petit more than once from Aug. 27 to Sept. 23. He hasn't been effective in either of the two outings he's made in the last four days. On Sept. 23, he gave up a run in 2/3 of an inning against the Pirates. And on Monday he allowed five runs in four innings. Petit was signed to be the team's longman and they know what he's capable off in October. But he has not been effective in months now. Petit has allowed 19 earned runs in his last 18 2/3 innings going back to July 30.

Goodwin is heating up: Drew's spot on the postseason roster is safe, Goodwin's is not. But Goodwin has been making it very, very interesting lately and now looks to be on the bubble with an outside chance of playing in October. Goodwin drove in the Nats' first run with his first career triple. He also collected another RBI by drawing a walk against Bradley with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. Goodwin is now batting .333 on the year. It's only through 18 games, but he's clearly making an impact.

Up next: The Nats and Diamondbacks play the second of their four-game series. Tuesday night will be a 7:05 p.m. first pitch with Max Scherzer (18-7, 2.82) on the mound. The D'Backs have not announced their starter.

[RELATED: Wilson Ramos exits Nats game vs. D'Backs with injury]

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Wilson Ramos exits Nats game vs. D'Backs with injury

Wilson Ramos exits Nats game vs. D'Backs with injury

The Nationals suffered another injury to an important player on Monday night, as All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos fell down holding his right leg on a throw home in the sixth inning on Monday night against the Diamondbacks.

Ramos was then helped off the field by trainers and teammates as Pedro Severino came in to replace him. Others in the Nats dugout looking stunned as he went straight to the locker room.

Ramos had surgery in 2012 to reconstruct his knee after tearing both his ACL and MCL. He missed the team's first playoff run because of it and has since blossomed into one of the best catchers in the majors.

Ramos fell down on a wet field after the game was resumed after a 20-minute rain delay. The 29-year-old is set to hit free agency this offseason for the first time in his career.

The Nationals are already without Bryce Harper (thumb) and Daniel Murphy (strained buttock) temporarily. Starter Stephen Strasburg is out indefinitely with a right flexor mass strain. Losing Ramos for any period of time would be a big blow with the playoffs right around the corner.

More on this story as it develops...

[RELATED: Thoughts on the death of Marlins star Jose Fernandez]

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