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LaRoche, Morse power Nats to win

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LaRoche, Morse power Nats to win

You wouldn't know based on the 0-for-13 he carried with him to the plate Wednesday night for his first at-bat, but Adam LaRoche believes the mere presence of Michael Morse behind him in the Nationals' lineup is going to pay significant dividends over the long haul.

"It's tough to say when you're struggling," LaRoche said. "Obviously the last few games have been a little difficult. But I do know having big guys behind you, I've been in that situation a lot, and it helps. It's nice."

Did the sight of Morse standing in the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first inning cause Mets rookie Jeremy Hefner to hang a first-pitch curveball to LaRoche, a pitch the veteran pounced on and sent flying over the right-field fence for the three-run homer that set the Nationals on their way to a 5-3 victory?

The world may never know. But if LaRoche believes it made a difference, does it really matter if it's true or not?

"With him being back, it totally changes that pitchers' meeting to start a series," he said. "Now you've got one more big bat they've got to spend some time talking about, and figure out a way to get him out. And it helps other guys around him. The fact that I'm hitting in front of him now, I'm probably going to see some better pitches, because they know what's coming up."

LaRoche hadn't exactly been inspiring fear in opposing pitchers over the last three weeks after a brilliant start to the season. Owner of a .336 batting average and 1.024 OPS on May 17, he had seen those number plummet to .267 and .849 during a 6-for-55 skid.

With one mighty swing early in Wednesday's game, though, the 32-year-old might well have put that slump to bed for good. He certainly didn't let up as the evening progressed, singling up the middle in the fifth and then delivering a sacrifice fly in the seventh for his fourth RBI of the game.

Throw in Morse's two hits and first RBI of the season, and the heart of the Nationals' lineup wound up with one of its most productive performances of the year.

"Oh! I mean, it's a whole new ballgame," manager Davey Johnson said, barely able to restrain himself. "Michael Morse is warming up, and there's not going to be much let-up in that middle of the lineup. The first two guys are going to get on, and then the thunder's coming. I've been waiting on it."

The entire Nationals organization had been waiting three months to get Morse back in the lineup. Sidelined since spring training with a torn lat muscle, the man who led last season's roster in nearly every offensive category looked a bit overanxious during his first two games off the disabled list over the weekend.

But after an 0-for-9 delayed start to his 2012, Morse is beginning to discover his groove. He's now got four hits over his last seven at-bats, with a pair of walks thrown in for good measure.

Even more encouraging: All four of Morse's hits have been to the opposite field.

"I liked his patience tonight," Johnson said. "That shows me he's zeroing in."

The thunder from the middle of the Nationals' lineup put the home club ahead early in this game, and the quality pitching of Edwin Jackson, Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard ensured a second straight victory over a Mets team that came to town on its own hot streak.

Jackson had dominant stuff, allowing only two singles and a double over seven innings. He did inflict a few wounds on himself via four walks and a costly error on a pickoff attempt. But ultimately he surrendered only two earned runs for his seventh quality start in 10 tries, and he was rewarded for his efforts for a change, earning only his second win despite 3.11 ERA over 11 starts.

The unusual stat line -- not to mention the presence of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann ahead of him in the lineup -- leaves Jackson outside the spotlight at times. His teammates, though, understand what he's meant to the club this season.

"He's like the silent assassin, you could say, of the pitching staff," Morse said. "Edwin always comes out and puts up solid starts. Sometimes it's good to be behind guys like that."

It also helps when your bullpen can close out games in relatively easy fashion as the Nationals did Wednesday. Burnett retired the side in the eighth. Clippard then overcame a leadoff walk to pitch a scoreless ninth and earn his fifth save in as many tries since becoming his team's pseudo-closer.

Actually, Clippard appears to be the Nationals' actual closer for now, used in every save opportunity over the last two weeks and even used on Wednesday against a Mets lineup that had five consecutive left-handed hitters due up in the ninth.

"I've changed enough roles in the bullpen," Johnson said, all but declaring Clippard his ninth-inning guy until Drew Storen returns from elbow surgery around the All-Star break. "From long guys setting up, set-up guys closing, I don't like to keep reverting back and have them guessing out there what their role is going to be."

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Jayson Werth homers, Gio Gonzalez sets tone as Nats sweep Phillies

Jayson Werth homers, Gio Gonzalez sets tone as Nats sweep Phillies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

How it happened: Few things can cure a pitching staff's woes quite like playing the worst offense in all of baseball. Nats pitchers had taken their lumps in recent weeks, but through three games at the Philadelphia Phillies, order was restored. 

Nats starters dominated in all three outings to help recalibrate their bullpen. And now the Nats are back on track just in time for an off-day before they move on to New York to face the Mets.

On Wednesday night, it was Gio Gonzalez who carved up the Phillies. He went six innings with just one run allowed on two hits and a walk. The lone run he surrendered was a solo homer by Freddy Galvis.

Phillies starter Adam Morgan was also very good. He went 6 2/3 innings and allowed just two runs on three hits. He gave up a solo homer to Jayson Werth and an RBI single to Wilson Ramos before he was pulled.

Werth also had a single for his 26th multi-hit game of the season. Anthony Rendon had two hits including a double, while Michael Taylor, Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper went a combined 0-for-12. This was the first time that Harper hasn't reached base since he returned from his neck injury on Aug. 14.

After Gonzalez left the game, Blake Treinen took over to pitch 1 1/3 perfect innings. Mark Rzepczynski also tossed 1 1/3 and allowed a hit. Shawn Kelley then took over to get the final out of the ballgame.

The Nationals swept the Phillies for the third straight time. It was the Nationals' 9th sweep of the 2016 season. 

The Nats finished the month of August with a 17-11 record, the most wins in a single month for them so far this year. They won 16 games in April, May and June.

What it means: Washington has won 20 of their last 23 against NL East opponents and they don't play another team outside of their division until Sept. 23. With Wednesday's win, the Nats moved to 78-55 on the year. That's a 95-win pace.

Gio keeps rolling: Like Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark in the previous two nights before him, Gonzalez took advantage of a weak Phillies lineup to put in one of his best starts in a while. That was a welcomed change after Gonzalez had to go up against teams like the Rockies, Orioles, Indians, Giants and Dodgers for eight consecutive starts. Despite the tough competition of late, Gonzalez has been on quite the tear for weeks now. Over his last 11 starts he's got a strong 3.16 ERA across 62 2/3 innings. Gonzalez still has some work to do to drop his 4.14 season ERA, but 11 starts is not a small sample size. Gonzalez has been solid for two months now.

Werth hits No. 20: Another night, another homer for Werth, who now has four in his last six games. He had eight in August alone, which ties a career-high for homers in a month for him. This one was a 453-foot bomb to straightaway center field off Morgan, one that nearly took out a TV camera.

It was Werth's 20th homer of the season, the first time he's reached 20 since 2013 when he finished 13th in NL MVP voting. And by getting to 20, the Nats have five players with 20 homers or more. The others are Harper, Murphy, Ramos and Danny Espinosa. Only one other MLB team - the Orioles - also has five players with 20 or more bombs this season.

Ramos is heating up: Ramos spoke on Sunday about how having two days of rest prescribed by Dusty Baker had helped rejuvenate his swing and so far the results are backing up that premise. His RBI single on Wednesday gave him hits in all five games since he returned from his two-game layoff. He also has RBI in four of those five outings. The Buffalo saw his season average dip from .338 on Aug. 7 all the way to .312 on Aug. 27 in a span of just 15 games. But if he keeps swinging it like he has in recent days, that number will start to go back up.

Up next: The Nats finally have an off-day after playing 20 games in 20 days, a stretch that took a serious toll on their pitching staff in particular. On Friday night they get back to work in New York to start a three-game series at the Mets. First pitch in the opener is 7:10 p.m. with A.J. Cole (0-1, 4.97) set to go up against Cy Young candidate Noah Syndergaard (12-7, 2.55).

[RELATED: Turner on playing like a little kid, rest helped Ramos]

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NL East: Mets dealt another blow with Neil Walker's back injury

NL East: Mets dealt another blow with Neil Walker's back injury

NEW YORK (AP) -- Second baseman Neil Walker was out of the New York Mets' lineup for a fourth straight day and the team revealed he has a herniated disk in his back.

Both Walker and the Mets had previously classified the injury as a stiff back. Manager Terry Collins indicated he wasn't at liberty to reveal the exact diagnosis during Tuesday's pre-game news conference, but general manager Sandy Alderson shared the condition to a few reporters early Wednesday afternoon.

Collins was pressed for additional details before the Mets took on the Miami Marlins.

"The issue is, the herniated disk is causing weakness in one of his legs," Collins said. "The weakness is causing numbness in one of his feet. The numbness is keeping him from playing."

The Mets were waiting for a second opinion on Walker's condition to determine if surgery is necessary immediately or if he could try to play through the injury over the final 4 1/2 weeks of the regular season.

Walker has matched his career high with 23 home runs in his first season with the Mets.

Walker's 2012 season with Pittsburgh ended prematurely with a similar injury. He went through six weeks of physical therapy to rehabilitate a disk in his lower back.

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Gio Gonzalez faces Phillies as Nats look for sweep on road

Gio Gonzalez faces Phillies as Nats look for sweep on road

Nats (77-55) at Phillies (60-72) at Citizens Bank Park

The Nationals saw Tanner Roark and Max Scherzer dominate in the first two games of this week's series in Philly. On Wednesday, they will send Gio Gonzalez (9-9, 4.25) to the mound looking for a sweep.

The Nats have swept the Phillies each of the last two times they've squared off and have won eight straight overall in head-to-head matchups. Gonzalez has seen the Phillies twice this year with just two earned runs allowed in 13 1/3 total innings of work.

Pitching for Philly will be lefty Adam Morgan (1-8, 6.50). Morgan has also seen the Nats twice with nine earned runs given up in 12 2/3 innings combined.

Trea Turner has the day off for the Nationals with Michael Taylor starting in center and batting leadoff. Turner is actually just two hits away from tying a franchise record for most hits in a month. Given this is the last day of August, he should fall just short.

Besides the Taylor change, the rest of the Nats' lineup looks just as it did in Tuesday's win.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Gio Gonzalez vs. Phillies - Adam Morgan

NATS

CF Michael Taylor
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
LHP Gio Gonzalez

PHILLIES

TBA
LHP Adam Morgan

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