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A long day for Nats ends in a wash

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A long day for Nats ends in a wash

At the end of a 6 12-hour day at the ballpark -- a day that began with news of a trade, then saw a familiar face return from the minor leagues to win another game, then concluded with a frustrating loss to a dominant opposing pitcher -- how exactly did the Nationals feel about things?

"It's a wash," Adam LaRoche said. "It's where you move in the standings. You win one, you lose one. It could've been better, but we're all still alive after that, so we'll get them tomorrow."

That probably best summed a long afternoon and evening on South Capitol Street that saw the Nationals split a doubleheader with the Marlins, winning the opener 7-4 behind John Lannan's strong start but then losing the nightcap 5-2 when Gio Gonzalez was out-dueled by Josh Johnson.

And the 50-50 result might have been less-significant than the announcement earlier in the day the Nationals had acquired Kurt Suzuki from the Athletics, who is expected to be in the lineup Saturday night and assume No. 1 catching duties for the remainder of the season.

"He's definitely going to bring some attitude back there, in a good way," said Gonzalez, Suzuki's batterymate in Oakland from 2008-11. "He's going to keep your pitcher on their toes, constantly get 'em and go. He was taught by the best, and you're going to see, he's going to bring some positive stuff over here."

A Nationals club that has managed to overcome injuries to nearly every position on the diamond this season has not been able to thrive behind the plate since Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee in mid-May. Replacement starter Jesus Flores and his assortment of rookie backups did their best to hold down the fort, but after an 0-for-7 showing on Friday, Nationals catchers are collectively hitting .232 with a .287 on-base percentage while throwing out only 17 percent of basestealers.

Enter Suzuki, who hit only .218 in 75 games with the A's but owns a career .254 batting average and this season has thrown out 38 percent of basestealers.

"This was a deal to improve the ballclub and improve it not only for this year but for the future," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "When you get a chance to get a defensive stalwart like Suzuki and an energy guy and a makeup guy and a character guy like him, you make the deal."

Suzuki's arrival will likely push Sandy Leon back to Class AAA and push Flores back to a reserve role. Asked at the end of the night for his reaction to the trade, Flores said he hadn't yet been told by the club, even though the crowd of 32,334 was informed on the scoreboard during the doubleheader.

"I'm just in shock," Flores said. "I didn't know we had a new catcher."

Whether Suzuki (who is already signed through 2013) would have made a difference in the outcome of either games of the doublheader is debatable. He certainly would have been catching a pair of starting pitchers in top form.

Summoned from Syracuse for another fill-in start 13 days after his initial return to the Washington rotation, Lannan turned in another fine performance. The left-hander retired 13-of-14 batters at one point and carried a 3-hitter into the seventh inning before fading in the 93-degree heat.

Lannan still earned his second victory in as many starts thanks in part to a Nationals lineup that pounded out seven early runs against Miami starter Brad Hand. He then made plans to return to Syracuse for another four weeks before he's expected to be summoned again by the big-league club to take Stephen Strasburg's rotation slot down the stretch.

"He's been a big boost," manager Davey Johnson said. "He's had a rough year having to go down there, but he'll be back up here soon."

Lannan, who struggled in his one Class AAA start between big-league outings, understands what's now expected of him.

"I wish I could stay up here, but I know the deal," said the man who has started more games than any other pitcher in Nationals history. "I've got to go back down there and keep on working."

Gonzalez was even more dominant during the nightcap, striking out 10 without issuing a walk and completing eight innings for the first time this year. But the left-hander was done in by a three-run sixth that saw the Marlins produce five singles, four in a row with two outs.

"You've got to look at the cup half-full," he said. "The way I look at it as eight innings, couple of strikeouts, kept the team in the game as far as I could."

Gonzalez's best wasn't enough to topple Johnson, who carried a 3-hitter in the ninth and came within one out of a complete game.

Steve Cishek wound up recording the final out, getting Danny Espinosa to strike out for the fourth time on a long day and night of baseball that saw the Nationals stay in place at 20 games over .500 yet lose a 12-game off their lead in the NL East after the Braves beat the Astros. (They're now up 2 games over Atlanta.)

So, how again did the Nats feel about the day as a whole?

"First part was pretty good," LaRoche said. "Second part, no good."

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VIDEO: Dee Gordon homers in Marlins' 1st at-bat since Jose Fernandez' death

VIDEO: Dee Gordon homers in Marlins' 1st at-bat since Jose Fernandez' death

As the Marlins' leadoff hitter, Dee Gordon was the first to step into the batter's box on Monday night in the team's first game since the death of superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez.

It was an emotional moment after the team embraced at the pitcher's mound in his memory. Gordon began by imitating Fernandez' stance on the first pitch from Mets starter Bartolo Colon. That was great, but what happened next could not have been scripted.

Gordon hit his first homer of the season to the upper deck in right field and broke down into tears as he rounded the bases. He was then comforted in the dugout by teammates as he stepped off the field.

See it for yourself:

That's just amazing.

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

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Nats offer first reaction to playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round

Nats offer first reaction to playing the Dodgers in NL Division Series round

The Nationals do not yet know where Game 1 will take place, but they do know for certain that they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series beginning Oct. 7. They have seven games remaining on their schedule and four off-days after that before their playoffs begin. That's 11 full days to ponder their opponent, a Dodgers team that just happened to pummel them this season 5-1 in head-to-head games.

The Nats, though, see an evenly matched foe. Keep in mind that regular season records sometimes mean very little in the crapshoot that is October. The Mets, for instance, went 0-7 against the Cubs last year, only to sweep them out of the playoffs in the NLCS.

"I think we match up pretty good against them," manager Dusty Baker said of the Dodgers, a team he spent eight years with as a player.

"Anybody that’s gotten this far, there’s not much difference between the teams and talent. It just depends on who’s hot and who’s not and who gets the best pitching, who gets the most clutch, in particular two-out hits. Some of the challenges they present is they have a pile of a left-handed hitters and powerful left-handed hitters, and they hit the ball out of the ballpark. They got a good team. They got a good bullpen. We haven’t even seen [rookie pitcher Kenta] Maeda yet."

The Nats have almost two weeks to prepare for the Dodgers. But really, they have had them in mind for longer than that. Once the San Francisco Giants started slipping in the NL West race, L.A. emerged as the clear favorite to win the division.

"It will be a fun series," reliever Shawn Kelley said. "I think for a while now we've known it was going to be us and the Dodgers. Now it's just about are we going there or are they coming here first."

"First team we've gotta try to beat," center fielder Trea Turner said. "It's a matter of formulating a gameplan to beat those pitchers who have been really good all year. Especially, [Clayton] Kershaw now that he's back. Their lineup is deep. They've got a lot of veteran players and a good mix of young guys that have done it all year."

The Nationals enter Monday night 1 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers. If they are to finish with the same record, the Dodgers will get home field advantage based on their head-to-head series record.

Baker offered a measured take on what home field advantage would mean to the Nats.

“It’s not necessary because you’ve seen sometimes the home field doesn’t really matter. It depends on who’s hot during that series," he said. "But sure, anytime I can get home field advantage, we’ll take it, especially because you don’t have to go back to the Coast twice. Let them come to us. Right now we have the lead over them and so there’s no sense giving it up. Sometimes it can be taken from you, but that’s up to us."

Baker said he plans to give some players rest during the final seven games of the regular season. He does not know yet whether Max Scherzer or Tanner Roark will be asked to pitch on short rest in the playoffs. He also said the team has not decided how they will handle the four-day layoff next week. They will hold at least one workout either at home or on the road, but whether fans or media will be permitted to attend has not been determined.

It's an inexact science, trying to keep players fresh but also sharp after a playoff spot has been secured. It's even harder to navigate through those four off-days without losing momentum. The Nats remember all too well back in 2014 when they finished the regular season winners of 17 of 22, only to fall flat offensively in the playoffs against the Giants.

Baker has to figure out the best way to handle the Nats this time and he is still determining the best course of action.

"It’s a thin line between playing a whole bunch and not playing enough," he said.

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

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