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Instant Analysis: Nats 4, Mets 3

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Instant Analysis: Nats 4, Mets 3

Game in a nutshell: Stop us if you've heard this one before: Jordan Zimmermann pitches brilliantly but gets precious little run support and finds himself facing a possible no-decision. Thankfully for the hard-luck right-hander, the Nationals strung together enough hits late to give him the lead. And Zimmermann didn't need much, because he didn't allow any runs over six strong innings. Adam LaRoche provided the big blast: a two-run homer in the sixth to snap a scoreless tie. Steve Lombardozzi then added the insurance knock: a two-run double in the seventh. That gave some cushion to the Nats bullpen, which unlike last night managed to close this one out in regulation (though Tyler Clippard did give up homers to both David Wright and Jason Bay in the ninth). Thus, the Nationals handed the Mets their sixth straight loss and dropped them eight games back in the NL East.
Hitting highlight: No, he's not raking at the plate the way he did during the season's first six weeks when he looked like a candidate for National League MVP. But LaRoche continues to come through with clutch hits on a regular basis for the Nats. The veteran first baseman delivered big-time in the sixth inning tonight, belting a 1-2 pitch from Chris Young into the Red Porch for his 16th homer and 54th and 55th RBI of the season. This may not turn out to be a career year for LaRoche, but he's basically doing exactly what the Nationals wanted him to do all along: Provide power, clutch hits and smooth defense at first base.

Pitching highlight: Just another quality start for "Mr. Consistency." Zimmermann was at it again, churning out six more scoreless innings and plowing through the Mets lineup with relative ease. He allowed only four hits, didn't walk a batter and in the process lowered his ERA to 2.35. That now ranks fifth in the majors. Perhaps most impressively, Zimmermann is getting better and stronger as this season plays out. Remember how the opposite seemed to be true last year as he made his comeback from Tommy John surgery? This is why the Nats limited him to 160 innings, and it's why they'll do the same with Stephen Strasburg later this season. You can't dispute the positive effect it's had on Zimmermann in 2012.
Key stat: Though he finally got his run support in the sixth, Zimmermann did go into the fifth inning without his teammates having plated a single run. That's the seventh time this season that's happened to the right-hander.
Up next: The series concludes with a fantastic showdown of the NL's only two 12-game winners: Gio Gonzalez and R.A. Dickey. They'll square off in Thursday's 12:35 p.m. matinee at Nationals Park.

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Baker acknowledges Nats need to come through in clutch situations

Baker acknowledges Nats need to come through in clutch situations

Coming through in two-out situations isn’t supposed to be an easy task, but the Nationals are making it look especially difficult of late.

The most recent example of those struggles came in Friday night’s 5-3 loss to the Padres, in which the Nats’ lineup couldn’t get the big knock against 23-year-old right hander Luis Perdomo, a rookie starter who came into the game sporting a 7.36 ERA.

“That’s been our nemesis,” manager Dusty Baker said. “People ask me, you know, what do we need? We need some timely, two-out base hits. Not home runs.”

Indeed, when the Nats score big, it’s usually because they powered their way to get there. They entered Friday tied for first in the National League with 132 homers through 96 games. And even against the Padres, two of Washongton's three runs on the night came via solo shots from Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy.

So the issue hasn’t been overall scoring, per se. The issue has been scoring in clutch situations without relying on the long ball. Against the Perdomo and the Padres, the Nats went 1-for-5 with two outs and runners in scoring position, including an 0-for-4 stretch after the first inning. That won’t help their season average in that category (.221), which ranked 21st in the majors prior to the game.

So it’s no mystery to Baker about what has to be fixed.

“At this stage of the game, almost two-thirds of the season gone, we gotta make some changes,” the skipper said of the Nats’ two-out approach. “We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, and it’s getting frustrating on the guys and frustrating on fans and frustrating to us, too.”

When asked about the Nats' recent offensive woes, Bryce Harper chalked it up to the typical up-and-down nature of the long season. 

"I don't think we need to change much at all,” said Harper, who’s 6-for-20 in those situations on the year. "I think we're a great team. I think we're swinging the bats well.

“Sometimes you line out and get out. Sometimes you hit right into shifts. Sometimes you strikeout, sometimes you walk. It's part of the game.”

Perhaps it is just part of the game. But it is also hard to ignore that the Nats have gone 6-for-41 with runners in scoring position over their last five games, four of them losses. 

But Baker, ever the optimist, believes it won't take long before his team turns it around. 

“I just urge everybody, don’t panic," he said. "Just let us play and we’ll come out of this.”

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Big inning dooms Roark as Nats fall to Padres

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USA TODAY Sports

Big inning dooms Roark as Nats fall to Padres

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss the San Diego Padres on Friday night at Nationals Park: 

How it happened: Perhaps it’s too early to call it a trend, but it sure seems like Nats have had a tough time with west coast teams this season. And after Friday’s loss to the Padres, Washington fell to 3-8 against the NL West.

They can thank Matt Kemp for that.

The Padres’ veteran right fielder got the best of Tanner Roark on this night, tagging him for two home runs — a solo shot in the first inning and a three-run tater in the fifth — which accounted for four of the five runs the Nats’ starter yielded. 

On the flip side, Washington couldn’t solve San Diego rookie Luis Perdomo, who shut down the home team over seven frames after allowing two quick runs in the first. 

The Nats threatened after Perdomo exited, with Daniel Murphy hitting his 19th home run of the season to cut the deficit to 5-3 in the eighth. But they couldn't complete the rally, clinching their fourth loss in the last five games. 

What it means: The Nats fall to 57-40, and pending the result of the Mets-Marlins game, could fall to see their division lead shrink to 3 1/2 games. 

Offense struggles versus Padres’ rookie: To this point in the season, there hasn’t been much about Padres 23-year-old rookie Luis Perdomo that screams “ace”. But after the first inning, the Nats made him look like one as they couldn’t muster much against a guy who came into the game sporting a 7.36 ERA. As a whole, the offense mustered three runs, with two of them coming on home runs. The Nats might be one of the best power-hitting teams in the game, but these are the type of games they need to win when the ball isn't leaving the yard. 

Kemp solves Roark: It’s surprising when the Nats’ 29-year-old right hander isn’t anything but steady, but it appeared the Padres had his number on this night — well, at least Kemp did. Were it not for the two big swings on the night, Roark probably would have pitched deeper into the game. Instead, he could only get through five innings, marking his shortest outing since June 16.  

Felipe Rivero: After a rough early part of June, Rivero has quietly rebounded. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 10 appearances, striking out 15 over 17 1/3 innings. With so much talk about how the Nats may want to upgrade their bullpen at the trade deadline, it’s easy to forget that the group they have isn’t half bad.

Up next: Washington will look to bounce back Saturday night as it sends Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.94 ERA) to the hill to oppose ex-Nat Edwin Jackson (1-1, 4.76 ERA).

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Solis to join Zimmerman in Potomac, Ross' rehab stint begins Sunday

Solis to join Zimmerman in Potomac, Ross' rehab stint begins Sunday

Nationals reliever Sammy Solis will pitch at Class-A Potomac on Friday night for his rehab assignment, Dusty Baker told reporters Friday afternoon. Barring a setback, the 27-year-old left hander, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 17 with right knee soreness, is expected to return to the team Sunday. 

Solis will join fellow DL-mate Ryan Zimmerman, who notched two hits Thursday night in his first rehab game back from a left rib cage strain. The veteran first baseman will stay in Potomac for the next few games, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll rejoin the Nats in time for the start of their upcoming road trip.

“[Zimmerman] played seven innings last night at first base,” Baker said. “He’s going to DH today. And then he’ll play the first game of a doubleheader tomorrow at first base. Then he’ll be ready to return to leave with us to go to Cleveland.”

Rounding out the injury updates, Baker said that right hander Joe Ross (shoulder inflammation) will make his first rehab start Sunday afternoon, but did not reveal where he would pitch. In the meantime, the club will again need to find someone to start in Ross' place during Sunday's series finale against the San Diego Padres. They've leaned on rookie pair of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez the last two turns through the rotation, so either of them appear to be a likely option. Baker, however, wasn't ready to show his cards just yet. 

“We will let you know Sunday,” the manager said.