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Harper hits D.C.

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Harper hits D.C.

Bryce Harper didn't think he'd be stepping onto the field at Nationals Park quite this soon. But he knew the day would be coming sometime soon, so he's had plenty of time to contemplate what it will be like.

"I'm really excited," he said. "Very, very excited. It's going to be a fun time."

Break out your fauxhawk wigs, your eye black and your No. 34 jerseys, because the fun starts tonight when Harper makes his D.C. debut as the Nationals open a three-game series against the Diamondbacks.

Harper is expected to again be in manager Davey Johnson's lineup, starting in left field against Arizona right-hander Trevor Cahill. And if the first two games of the his career are an indication of things to come, don't be surprised if the 19-year-old is the center of attention again.

Harper's imprint was all over both weekend games at Dodger Stadium. His double, sacrifice fly and pinpoint throw to the plate helped put the Nationals in position to win Saturday night until reliever Henry Rodriguez blew the save in the ninth. And his wall-crashing catch on Sunday kept things close and allowed him to step to the plate in the ninth with a chance to tie the game.

Through it all, Harper maintained a level of composure befitting a player with far more big-league service time than two days. He again insisted he wasn't nervous to be thrown into the fire like that.

"No, not much," he said. "Like I said, I'm trying to stay as calm as I can when I go out there. We've got a great ballclub, great veteran guys that really help me out and just talk to me about the game and whatnot throughout the whole game. It's a lot of fun being out there. It's exciting for me."

Harper's performance and veteran approach left some at Dodger Stadium wondering if his first stint with the Nationals might actually extend longer than the club might have intended when it first promoted him.

In announcing the surprising move on Friday, general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged Harper might only stick around until Ryan Zimmerman returns from the disabled list (the third baseman is eligible to come back as soon as Sunday). Even if his fate isn't tied to Zimmerman's, Harper might not perform at a level consistent enough to merit his long-term stay in Washington ... yet.

"This may not be his breakout moment," Rizzo said. "Like Mike Trout with the Angels, there could be a step sideways to take a leap forward."

Trout, universally regarded as one of baseball's top two prospects along with Harper, made his debut for the Angels last summer at 19 but was sent back to Class AA after only three weeks and a .163 batting average. He returned to finish out the season but didn't break camp with Los Angeles this spring.

Despite the obvious comparisons between the two, Harper does find himself in a different situation. In this case, the Nationals desperately need offensive help, especially in left field where Michael Morse's replacements were hitting a combined .093 with four RBI before Harper arrived.

Though it's only been two games, Harper showed a more advanced approach at the plate than plenty of more experienced teammates have displayed this season.

Which might just mean we might just be seeing a lot more of Bryce Harper in Washington this summer.

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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.