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Instant analysis: Nats 8, Braves 4


Instant analysis: Nats 8, Braves 4

Game in a nutshell: On the day they learned they'll be sending at least three (and maybe four) players to Kansas City for the All-Star Game, the Nationals turned to one of their former All-Stars for some more offensive support. Ryan Zimmerman continued his torrid week at the plate with a double, a homer and three RBI that helped stake his team to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first. Staked to that lead, Gio Gonzalez battled his way through another scorching afternoon -- the temperature at first pitch was 101 degrees, and it reached 104 degrees by the fifth inning -- but wilted in the sixth when he served up a three-run homer to Freddie Freeman. No problem, because the Nats tacked on two late runs and then turned things over to their lights-out bullpen. Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard combined for four scoreless innings to wrap up a series victory over the Braves.

Hitting highlight: You can only wonder what might have been had Zimmerman received his magic cortisone shot earlier in the season. It's too late to do anything about that now, but the Nationals are plenty happy with the results they've seen in the week since Zimmerman received that shot. With a two-run double, a towering, solo homer and an RBI single during today's game, Zimmerman now has 14 hits (seven of them for extra bases) and 13 RBI over his last eight games. The home run was particularly impressive because it was Zimmerman's most prodigious display of power perhaps all season.

Pitching highlightlowlight: The task of pitching on a 101-degree afternoon is by no means easy, but Gonzalez didn't exactly help his cause today. He struggled to find the strike zone from the beginning, and even though he'd only given up one run, his pitch count already stood at 74 through three innings. He completed the fifth at 98 pitches, his team leading 6-1, and there might have been some thought to having Gonzalez call it a day right there. Davey Johnson, though, let the All-Star lefty take the mound again for the bottom of the sixth, and that proved to be a mistake. Gonzalez immediately walked both Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla, then served up a three-run homer to Freeman that turned what had been a rout into a tense ballgame.

Key stat: When Ian Desmond scored on Rick Ankiel's first-inning single (with some help from Michael Bourn, who booted the ball in center field), the Nationals scored their 5,000th run since arriving in Washington in 2005.

Up next: Having concluded their 10-game, three-city road trip, the Nationals will take Monday off before returning to South Capitol Street to open a big series against the red-hot Giants. Note the special 6:35 p.m. starting time for Tuesday's game featuring Jordan Zimmermann and Tim Lincecum.

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X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

X-ray on Nationals' star Bryce Harper's left thumb brings good news

The Nationals got a dose of good news on a night All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a potentially serious knee injury, as Bryce Harper's X-ray came back negative, meaning there are no broken bones in his left thumb.

Harper, 23, suffered the injury sliding into third base on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. He had the X-ray on Monday morning and the team is of course pleased to hear the results.

"He could be back within a couple days, a few days. That’s big right there," manager Dusty Baker said. "The swelling’s down, so I think his strength is up, I heard. It’s very positive. We still got time for him to get well.”

Getting Harper back soon would be huge for a Nationals team that just saw Ramos go down and recently saw Daniel Murphy injure his left buttock and Stephen Strasburg strain his right flexor mass.

Murphy's injury is also not expected to be serious. Baker even said on Monday that it's "very likely" he will be ready to go for the playoffs. But that's four of the Nats' five All-Stars now injured to varying degrees with just six games left in the regular season.

At least with Harper, they may have dodged a bullet.

[RELATED: Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope injury isn't serious]


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Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

Wilson Ramos set for MRI as Nats hope and pray injury isn't serious

The Nationals know this feeling all too well, the anxious wait for test results to determine the severity of an injury to a star player. The latest, with All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, includes an MRI set for Tuesday morning.

Ramos suffered a right knee injury on Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the sixth inning, the same knee in which he tore his ACL and MCL back in May of 2012. Ironically, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was also there for that one, in Cincinnati as the skipper of the Reds.

The Nats will hope and pray that this time it's not as serious.

"He doesn’t look too good tonight," Baker said. "You could tell he was in pain. We have to wait till tomorrow to come up with something definitive.”

Ramos buckled to the ground and pointed to his knee after a relay throw to home by Ryan Zimmerman sailed high over Ramos' head and required him to jump to catch it. The Nationals were playing on a wet field following a 20-minute rain delay and they believe the injury could be related.

“That probably had something to do with it. Yeah. Last time he hurt his leg it wasn’t an impact play either," Baker said. "We just got to pray for Wilson and hopefully he’s OK.”

The Nationals have already seen Stephen Strasburg go down with a right flexor mass strain, an injury that has put his postseason availability in question. Bryce Harper is currently out with a jammed left thumb. And Daniel Murphy has been out of the starting lineup for seven straight games with a strained left buttock.

Harper received good news on Monday that his X-ray was negative, but that's four of the team's five 2016 All-Stars who are banged up with just six games and 10 days left to go until the playoffs begin.

That's an unusual string of bad luck at a bad time to have it.

"My dad told me, ‘Don’t say what else can go wrong because something else can go wrong.’ I’m thinking what else can go right? I don’t think like that. I don’t allow myself to think like that," Baker said. 

"Those thoughts come into everybody’s head, but you’ve got to dispel them and try to figure out a way to get out of this mess. Bryce’s X-rays came out negative, so that’s a positive note in itself. It just seems like down this stretch you lose a guy, gain a guy. Like Stephen Drew. I’m glad we got Stephen Drew back. And who knows? Somebody else might step up and be the hero, the least likely of people. That’s how I think.”

Ramos earned his All-Star nod with a breakout season at the plate. He's batting .307 with 22 homers, 80 RBI and an .850 OPS. He has the lowest catcher's ERA in baseball and has emerged as one of the best backstops in the game, right before he's set to hit free agency this winter for the first time in his career.

Losing Ramos would be devastating for the Nationals at this point in the year.

"He’s a leader of this team. It’s a tough break, really is," Drew said. "It didn’t look too good. My thoughts and all these guys on this team hope for the best for him and we’ll be thinking about him.”

Everyone in the Nationals' clubhouse is pulling for Ramos, but Baker knows the Nats will have to keep going if his injury is serious. Backup catchers Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino will have to step up in his absence, however long it is.

"I feel badly because you know how we all feel about Wilson, but it’s part of the game," Baker said. "You hate (for) it to happen this late, right before the playoffs, but our next step is try to figure out a way to play without Wilson. I’ve been mixing and matching this year and most of my life. Therefore it’s another obstacle and I just got to try to go back to the drawing board and figure out something."

[RELATED: Nationals on playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round]