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Harper sets stage, Desmond takes curtain call

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Harper sets stage, Desmond takes curtain call

He's only 26, but he's logged more time in a Nationals uniform than almost anybody else in the current clubhouse. So when Ian Desmond gathered Bryce Harper and Steve Lombardozzi together before Wednesday night's game to offer up some advice he got years ago from Frank Robinson, the two rookies stopped to listen.

Robinson's advice to Desmond, which Desmond passed along to Harper and Lombardozzi: Always watch an opposing reliever warm up at the start of an inning and see what you can pick up.

So when Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz took the mound for the bottom of the ninth, Desmond watched intently from the Nationals dugout and later from the on-deck circle.

"He was throwing his splits up in the zone," the shortstop said. "His fastballs were elevated to both guys ahead of me. I knew if I looked for the heater, I would be able to see the split up, and I would be able to react. I was really just locked in, and everything clicked for me right there."

Apparently so, because when Putz fired a 93 mph up and over the plate, Desmond took a mighty cut and launched the ball into the D.C. night. By the time it landed in the left-field bullpen, he was well on his way through a 360-foot celebration around the bases into the arms of his teammates who thoroughly enjoyed a 5-4 victory that snapped a five-game losing streak.

The first walk-off home run of Desmond's career was unlike anything he'd ever experienced.

"No," he said. "Circumstances being as they are -- the five-game losing streak, we're down, everyone keeps asking all these questions, obviously Bryce being here. He played a heck of a ballgame, and I'd hate for his second good ballgame like that to be unnoticed."

Oh yes, Bryce Harper. How could anyone ignore his contributions to this win. His manager certainly couldn't.

"What about the kid?" Davey Johnson jubilantly asked as he sat down for his postgame media session.

What did Harper do? It's probably easier to ask what he didn't do, because his fingerprints were all over this game.

If he wasn't hustling to beat out a slow roller past the mound, he was barreling his way into catcher Miguel Montero and knocking the ball loose to score a fourth-inning run.

If he wasn't making a bare-handed catch while falling to the ground in center field (albeit after initially misjudging the ball), he was crushing the ball off the wall in right-center, twice coming just short of his first career homer.

The second of those two wall-banging doubles came at a most-opportune moment, leading off the bottom of the ninth with his team trailing by a run, setting the stage for Desmond to play hero moments later.

Yes, Desmond's homer won it. But Harper's all-around performance is rubbing off on everyone inside the Nationals clubhouse.

"I mean, here's a 19-year-old kid that's getting the bat out," Johnson said. "It's infectious. It hurts you a little bit missing your 3 and 4-hole hitters, because when they start doing it, it kind of flows. But seeing a 19-year-old hitting seventh come along and have nothing but quality at-bats, that's impressive."

With his 3-for-4 showing in his fourth career game, Harper now owns five hits in 13 big-league at-bats. More importantly, he contributed to his first major-league victory.

"I'm just trying to come in here and play my game hard," he said. "I'm just trying to bring some fire to the table and play the game that I've known how to play my whole life. So I play with that fire and that passion, just trying to bust my butt every single day."

And he's gaining more and more admirers with each passing day.

Veteran big leaguers aren't always the most-accepting bunch, especially when it comes to a brash, 19-year-old phenom barging into their clubhouse and tasked with injecting some life into what has been a lifeless lineup. But once they see that player perform at this level, they welcome him into the family with open arms.

"He runs on and off the field the way he's supposed to. He runs down to first hard. That's just old-school baseball," reliever Craig Stammen said. "He gets a lot of stuff in the media about being kind of brash and all that. But he plays hard and he backs it up on the field. ... And I think he showed in the situations he was put in tonight, the stage isn't too big for him."

No, it certainly doesn't look that way. As Johnson put it: "He was born for those situations, I think."

And there's a good chance he's going to start getting a lot more opportunities in all kinds of situations. Not wanting to put too much pressure on the teenager, Johnson has slotted Harper into the seventh spot in his lineup for each of his first four games.

After this game, the manager asked a couple of his coaches if it's too early to bump the kid up a few notches. The consensus opinion: No.

So don't be surprised if Harper finds himself batting sixth, or even fifth, when the Nationals return to the field Thursday for their series finale against Arizona.

Just don't expect him to take over the leadoff spot. The Nationals are quite content with Desmond holding down that job for now, especially after he delivered in the clutch to give his team a much-needed victory.

"It's awesome. It's just what we needed," Desmond said. "Right time. It's just a good win. We played well. We battled the whole game. To finish it up like that, for me personally it was awesome, but for the team even better."

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Nats get Solis back, still waiting for Harper's MRI results

Nats get Solis back, still waiting for Harper's MRI results

The Nationals offered no new information on Bryce Harper's sore left thumb or Daniel Murphy's sore left buttock on Monday. The results of Harper's X-ray are not back and Murphy's still shut down and out of the lineup for the seventh straight game.

They did, however, get lefty reliever Sammy Solis back from the disabled list. That was a nice boost for a team that is missing two of its best position players and one of its best pitchers in Stephen Strasburg.

Solis was their most effective lefty reliever when he landed on the DL on Aug. 16 with left shoulder inflammation. He threw two simulated games in Viera, Fla., including one on Sunday when he tossed 25 pitches.

Simulated games, though, only replicate so much. His goal now is simple: get as much work as he can in the last seven games to get up to speed before the playoffs.

"[A simulated game] is not quite a game. I think we all know that. I'm still feeling good and ready to go," Solis said. "Hopefully I'll get some game experience and get back on track for the postseason."

Since Solis threw on Sunday, he's unlikely to pitch in the team's opener against the Diamondbacks on Monday. That leaves six games and then the four days off before the NLDS begins on Friday, Oct. 7 to get work in.

That's not a long time, but the Nats will take what they can get from the left-hander, who has enjoyed a breakout season with a 2.35 ERA in 34 appearances.

"Hopefully we have a situation where we can get him into the game tomorrow," manager Dusty Baker said. "It doesn’t leave a bunch of time for us to get him sharp. But they told me that he’s feeling good and he threw the ball well.”

For Harper, the Nationals continue to wait. Usually X-rays do not take as long as MRIs to get the results back. So, it would be surprising if there was no update on Tuesday.

Like Solis, Murphy getting his rhythm back will also be important. He has just two at-bats since he hurt himself sliding on Sept. 17.

“How many at-bats he needs, that’s a toss-up between at-bats and him getting extra days to get healthy and get well," Baker said. "Which ones are more important: His legs to get healthy, or his at-bats, and are we risking that leg by pushing him too early? Murph knows himself. Murph has a strong mind. I’m just glad that we shut Murph down when we did, and we had the luxury of shutting him down when we did. Because if he had played any longer, he’d have been out for probably the entire postseason.”

Baker went on to say that he does expect Murphy to be able to play in the postseason. As for Stephen Strasburg, he said he still doesn't know.

NOTES:

-- The Nationals made a minor trade with the Pirates on Monday. They sent infielder Chris Bostick to Pittsburgh for catcher Taylor Gushue and cash considerations. Gushue was a fourth round pick in 2014 out of the University of Florida. He has a .231 average and .659 OPS in 243 minor league games.

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

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Nats begin final homestand with Roark set to face Diamondbacks

Nats begin final homestand with Roark set to face Diamondbacks

Nats (91-64) vs. Diamondbacks (64-91) at Nationals Park

The Nationals already have the NL East division locked up and know they will be playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Division Series next week. But first, they have seven more regular season games, all at home. They begin that final homestand on Monday night with the Arizona Diamondbacks in town.

That means Matt Williams will make his return to Nationals Park for the first time since he was fired last October. He is now the third base coach of the D'Backs, who can technically help their division rivals, the Dodgers, by beating the Nats. L.A. and Washington are jockeying for home field advantage in that first round.

Bryce Harper (thumb) and Daniel Murphy remain out of the Nats' lineup. The Nats are still not ready to reveal the results of Harper's X-ray.

Tanner Roark (15-9, 2.70) will make his 32nd start of the season. He saw the D'Backs on Aug. 2 in Arizona and tossed 6 1/3 innings of three-run ball.

Opposite Roark will be former first round pick Archie Bradley (7-9, 5.02). Bradley pitched on Aug. 1 the first series between these teams and allowed eight runs - seven earned - in 3 1/3 innings.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Diamondbacks - Archie Bradley

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
2B Stephen Drew
1B Ryan Zimmerman
RF Brian Goodwin
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

DIAMONDBACKS

TBA
RHP Archie Bradley

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