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Moore might just make it after all

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Moore might just make it after all

Yes, the entire Nationals lineup has turned things up a notch or five the last two nights in Denver. Twenty-three runs scored in 18 innings? Not even the most cockeyed optimist out there could have predicted that.

But let's turn our attention away for a moment from the sudden resurgence of the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche and focus on really the only player who has consistently produced at the plate this month: Tyler Moore.

Yes, the 25-year-old rookie has been tearing the cover off the ball since the Nationals called him back up from Class AAA Syracuse on June 7. In 12 prior games -- his first 12 in the big leagues -- Moore looked a bit overwhelmed. He hit .158 (3-for-19), didn't drive in a run and didn't draw a walk.

Fast-forward to last night's game at Coors Field, when Moore demolished another home run into the thin mountain air and added two more hits for good measure to continue his remarkable turnaround. In 11 games during this second big-league stint, he's now hitting .455 with four homers, 10 RBI, six walks and even three stolen bases.

Moore has recorded at least one hit in nine of his 10 starts, at least two hits in four of those games. And now he's left Davey Johnson with no choice but to make him a regular in the starting lineup.

Having previously worked his way into something of a platoon role, getting starts against left-handers, Moore has established his bat is just as potent against right-handers. He's hitting .412 (7-for-17) with two of his homers and seven of his RBI off righties.

So don't be surprised if you start seeing the young slugger at either first base or in left field just about every day of the week right now.

Too small of a sample size, you say, to draw any significant conclusions about Moore's ability to hit major-league pitching? Perhaps. But compare his numbers in this small sampling at baseball's highest level to his numbers in the minors, and you start to think this isn't a fluke.

Moore has homered once in every 13 at-bats with the Nationals. How does that compare? Well, he homered once in every 11 at-bats at Syracuse to start this season. But he homered "only" once every 17 at-bats at Class AA Harrisburg last year and once every 16 at-bats at Class A Potomac in 2010.

Point is, Moore has hit for power at every level, and his rate of success hasn't diminished by any significant amount since he arrived in D.C.

Moore's increased playing time will probably come at the expense of Steve Lombardozzi, who had become the de facto starting left fielder against right-handed opponents. But Lombardozzi has fallen into a prolonged funk at the plate, has just nine hits in 59 at-bats this month and has seen his batting average plummet to .259 from .320 in only 27 days.

At this point, Johnson just can't say no to Moore, a bit of a late bloomer who finally is reaping the benefits of his first opportunity to play on a regular basis in the big leagues.

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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 have big nights offensively, 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 Washington'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 having to rely 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 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.