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LaRoche gets well-earned praise

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LaRoche gets well-earned praise

The first standing ovation came as Adam LaRoche stood on second base, his bases-clearing double having just given the Nationals a comfortable lead over the Pirates they would not relinquish, the scoreboard congratulating the veteran first baseman on recording his 1,000th career hit.

The second standing ovation came moments later, after the bottom of the seventh ended and LaRoche began walking back toward the Nationals' dugout to swap out his batting helmet for his cap and glove. Realizing all this applause was directed solely at him, the 32-year-old quickly doffed that cap to the gathering of 25,942.

That's as much of a public display of emotion as you're ever likely to see out of LaRoche. Rest assured, he was beaming inside during that moment, the highlight of the Nationals' 7-4 victory.

"It was really special, to say the least," he said. "Obviously going through what I did last year and not being able to be a big part of it, and now to come back and have the fans behind me the way they are ... it was perfect."

Stop for a moment and think about how unlikely a scene this would have been only a few months ago, when Nationals fans' lasting image of LaRoche was either his .172 batting average or his left arm in a sling following season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Even after making a full recovery, LaRoche still spent much of the winter listening to chatter about the Nationals making a play for free agent Prince Fielder, a move that would have resulted in him being kicked to the curb despite his 8 million salary.

LaRoche, a baseball lifer whose father and brother played in the big leagues, said all the right things and insisted he wasn't offended by all the Fielder talk. But he did admit he entered this season feeling like he had something to prove. Not to the Nationals or to their fans. But to himself.

"I don't look at what's going on, on the outside and feel like I've got to come here and prove the salary, or prove missing a year," he said. "But as a competitor, I wanted to prove to myself that I could come back from this surgery and do what I know I'm capable of doing. So to come out and do it is nice reassurance."

This is beyond reassurance, though. A consistent, steady hitter throughout his nine-year career, LaRoche has never stormed out of the gates like this. Following Wednesday night's 3-for-4, four-RBI performance, he now ranks seventh in the NL in batting average (.339), ninth in home runs (seven), third in RBI (29), fifth in on-base percentage (.429) and sixth in OPS (1.024).

More importantly, he's consistently produced big hits in meaningful situations for a Nationals team missing Michael Morse and Jayson Werth and still waiting for Ryan Zimmerman to catch fire.

"He's been indispensable," manager Davey Johnson said. "We're missing the guys in the lineup. Even Zim's been struggling. And he's been one constant from Day 1. Drove in a lot of big runs. Just a big player."

LaRoche wasn't the only contributor to this victory. Ian Desmond and Xavier Nady also homered, the latter doing it for the 100th time in his career. Gio Gonzalez struck out a season-high 10 batters over seven strong innings. And Henry Rodriguez overcame his demons and faced the minimum in the ninth inning to earn the save.

But this was a night to recognize LaRoche and what he's meant to the Nationals through the first six weeks of this season. Obviously, it's still early, but if they held an MVP vote today, LaRoche would probably show up on the ballot. And he certainly deserves consideration for his first All-Star berth.

"I've never been mentioned in any All-Star ballots, considering my typical first halves (he was a career .229 hitter in April and May before this season)," he said. "It would be neat. It would be a true honor."

Whether LaRoche is recognized by the rest of the baseball world or not, his teammates and coaches know very well what he's doing right now.

"He's been mighty big," Johnson said.

"Mr. Clutch," Gonzalez added.

LaRoche, in his typical, laid-back, country-boy manner, shrugs it all off. He's never been one to seek the spotlight or the admiration of fans.

Nor is one to say I told you so to anyone who was ready to dump him over the winter.

"I don't think that's his personality," Desmond said. "I think he understands the game. He's been around the game his whole life, literally. I think he came back, and if anything, he wanted to fulfill his contract and not necessarily repay the organization, but show the organization that he's going to fulfill his contract and play well and make it worth their money."

As the season nears the quarter-pole, the Nationals are more than getting their money's worth out of LaRoche.

Eight million dollars for an MVP candidate? Not a bad price by today's standards.

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Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres, Ross to rehab soon

Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres, Ross to rehab soon

The mystery of who will pitch the series finale for the Nationals against the Padres on Sunday is over, as manager Dusty Baker revealed the team's plans to call up top prospect Lucas Giolito to make his third career MLB start.

With Giolito on his way to Washington, the Nationals will have to determine a corresponding move. And three players - Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross and Sammy Solis - all nearing their returns from the disabled list, there could be a lot of shuffling on the Nats' roster in the coming days and weeks.

Giolito, 22, joins the Nats after making one start at Triple-A Syracuse. Through two big league starts this season he has a 4.70 ERA across 7 2/3 innings. Both of his outings came against the New York Mets.

Zimmerman (left ribcage strain) has made two rehab appearances with the Single-A Potomac Nationals. He went 2-for-4 with a double in his first game and 1-for-5 with two RBI and a run in his second. He was set to play his third game with the P-Nats on Saturday evening.

Solis also played with Potomac on Friday night and struck out three in a scoreless inning. He will now move on to Single-A Hagerstown to continue his rehab back from right knee inflammation.

"Solis, he pitched yesterday and said it went well. He's going to throw again tomorrow," Baker said. "Him and Joe are both going to throw at Hagerstown. We'll keep our fingers crossed that that works out well, too."

Ross will be making his first rehab appearance with Hagerstown on Sunday as he works his way back from right shoulder inflammation. He has been on the disabled list since July 3.

The Nationals chose Giolito to start over Reynaldo Lopez, one of their other hard-throwing prospects. Lopez pitched against the Dodgers on Tuesday and gave up six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Lopez was brought up to replace Giolito's spot in the rotation for his July 19 debut after the Nats determined Giolito needed more work in the minors. They sent him to Syracuse hoping he could work on his fastball command and his curveball. Giolito responded with 6 2/3 innings and only one unearned run in his lone outing in Triple-A.

[RELATED: Nats' Trea Turner on his speed and how he got so fast]

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Scherzer, Nats face off against Padres, former Nats P Edwin Jackson

Scherzer, Nats face off against Padres, former Nats P Edwin Jackson

Nationals (57-40) vs. Padres (42-55) at Nationals Park

Losers of four out of their last five, the Nationals are back at it on Saturday night hoping to get back on track against the San Diego Padres. Working in their favor is the fact Max Scherzer (10-6, 2.94) is on the mound.

Scherzer has been excellent recently with a 2.16 ERA in his last 13 starts. He struck out 10 in six innings of one-run ball against the Padres back on June 18, albeit in a Nats loss.

Pitching for the Padres will be former Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, who was a member of the 2012 club that won 98 games and the NL East.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Max Scherzer vs. Padres - Edwin Jackson

NATS

CF Ben Revere
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
C Wilson Ramos
1B Clint Robinson
3B Anthony Rendon
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Max Scherzer

PADRES

CF Travis Jankowski
1B Wil Myers
RF Matt Kemp
3B Yangervis Solarte
LF Melvin Upton
2B Ryan Schimpf
C Christian Bethancourt
SS Alexei Ramirez
RHP Edwin Jackson

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Mired in a tough season, Revere hopes he can become table setter Nats need

Mired in a tough season, Revere hopes he can become table setter Nats need

Prior to 2016, the notion of having a down season was completely foreign to Ben Revere. All he had been as a big leaguer was the prototypical leadoff man. He was a sparkplug for the offenses of his previous three teams, and hadn't finished a season with a batting average lower than .305 since 2013.

But ever since his first regular season swing as a member of the Nationals — one that resulted in an Opening Day oblique injury and a month-long disabled list stint — it seems the 28-year-old centerfielder has spent much of his inaugural campaign in D.C. simply trying to reclaim his old self.

“All [my teammates] say its tough to get your good rhythm in the middle of a season, but I'm out there battling my tail off,” Revere said after an 0-for-5 in Friday night’s 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. “[I’m] definitely coming off a serious injury that could jeopardize your swing a little bit.”

In the two and a half months since Revere’s return from the DL, he hasn’t set the table atop the order like the Nats need him to, slashing .214/.259/.298 with 19 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 60 games. His strikeouts are down, which is the norm for him, but he’s been unusually ineffective when he does make contact. His batting average of balls in play (BABIP) is .230 — the lowest for any Nats hitter with at least 130 at-bats. A big reason for that is because pitchers have negated his speed by inducing him to hit the ball in the air more often. According to Fangraphs.com, his fly ball percentage is up to 27.1, by far a career-high.

“That’s not his game. They want him up in the air,” manager Dusty Baker said. “They don’t want him on the ground. They don’t want him to the opposite field. They want him in the air.”

“I'm seeing the ball good, just results ain't happening,” Revere said. “Missing some pitches, fouling them off usually, I'll hit the other way, hit it up the middle and bean balls into the ground, usually I get out but at least I hit them hard.”

What’s even tougher for Revere is that the team no longer appears willing to wait out his struggles. Not only has Baker replaced him with Michael Taylor on days when the Nats face off against a lefty starter, but top infield prospect Trea Turner has been learning to play center as a way to get his bat into the lineup instead. And with the non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching, there’s talk that Washington could be in the mix to add another outfielder.

All those factors have added up to a season of frustration for a player who’s rarely faced this kind of adversity.

“[This is my] first time I've gone through this struggle in my professional career,” he said, “I'll be on my knees, keep praying [it gets better]. Hopefully one of these games will get me going and help this team get some more W's.”

The January trade to acquire Revere from the Toronto Blue Jays for struggling reliever Drew Storen was widely viewed as a steal for Nats GM Mike Rizzo. The move doesn't look as good six months later, but there's still a third of the season left to change the narrative. 

“Dusty's going to give me plenty of at-bats and I'm going to do everything I can to bust my tail, no matter what," Revere said. "This team, they have my back.”