Morse, Wang moving closer to return

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Morse, Wang moving closer to return

Though they've been decimated by injuries through the season's first six weeks, the Nationals are inching closer toward getting several key players back in uniform, headlined by Michael Morse.

Morse, out since Opening Day with an injury to his right lat muscle, will begin baseball activities tomorrow, including "dry swings" without a ball. The left fielder will start playing catch and plans to head to extended spring training in Viera, Fla., next week while the Nationals are on the road to continue his rehab.

At this point, Morse is shooting for a full return on June 8, when he could serve as designated hitter for back-to-back interleague series at Boston and Toronto.

"That would give him about a month before he'd have to throw from the outfield," manager Davey Johnson said. "Hopefully that injury would be healed and he's throwing well enough in the next three weeks to hit and then being able to play."

Wang, meanwhile, made another rehab start (his fourth overall) today for Class AAA Syracuse, pitching into the ninth inning. The veteran right-hander, out since mid-March with a hamstring strain, allowed four runs on 11 hits, but most encouraging to team officials was his increased stamina.

Wang probably is physically ready to return from the DL, but the Nationals intend to wait until his full 30 days on rehab are up -- his stint is set to expire on May 27 -- before making what is going to be a difficult decision regarding their rotation.

It's been assumed all along that No. 5 starter Ross Detwiler would surrender his spot to Wang, but when asked today about the possibility someone else could be moved to the bullpen, Johnson was noncommittal.

"Conceivably," the maanger said. "But again, you guys are answering questions that I don't have to address right now. I've got enough other problems without conjecture."

Nats' Baker on pitch counts: 'It's like the kid who climbs up in the tree'

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Nats' Baker on pitch counts: 'It's like the kid who climbs up in the tree'

Much is made about pitch counts in Major League Baseball these days with the advancement in how young pitchers are treated both throughout their youth and throughout their professional careers. And, it's no secret that Nationals manager Dusty Baker has been associated with overusing pitchers in the past, particularly during his time with the Chicago Cubs.

Despite him being a decade removed from having an office at Wrigley Field, the reputation has followed Baker. Some still invoke those days when he rides a Nationals pitcher past the 100 mark, a round number that has been synonymous with the limits of a pitching arm. 

In 28 of the Nationals' 45 games this season a pitcher has eclipsed the 100 mark. Max Scherzer has gotten there seven times out of his 10 starts. Stephen Strasburg has made it there in seven of his nine outings. Tanner Roark's done it six times, Gio Gonzalez five times and Joe Ross three times.

Baker understands the significance of 100 pitches in a game, but thinks it's also good to see how far a pitcher can go and still be effective.

"You're not going to find a guy's threshold unless you take him pretty close to that threshold," he said. 

"I do believe that you build a pitcher -- every time you take him out of trouble, it's like the kid who climbs up in the tree. He'll never learn how to get down unless you sometimes leave him up in that tree. And then he'll get hungry and he'll come down out of the tree. But if you send the fire department out to take him down from that tree, he'll never learn to get out of that tree."

Now, that's a colorful way of putting it, but for Baker, it really depends on several factors for when he pulls a pitcher.

"Matchups, score. I mean, the scoreboard dictates how much of everything. How he's fared against this guy. Does this guy have power, does he have speed, can I afford for him to get on base to start a rally, or can I afford for this other guy to get on base," he explained.

It also depends on the pitcher's history, Baker says. Scherzer, for instance, ranks third in baseball in total pitches thrown this season. But he's always near the top of the league, having placed seventh last year, third in 2014 and 12th in 2013. Scherzer has averaged at least 100 pitches per outing for eight straight years. 

Strasburg is averaging over 100 pitches for the first time in his career, but he's got 837 2/3 innings logged as a big leaguer. He's a 27-year-old who has pitched 200 innings in a season before. 

Like Strasburg, Roark and Gonzalez have logged plenty of innings throughout their careers and aren't young pitchers anymore. The one starter who could perhaps use some caretaking is Ross, who at 23 years old is by far the least experienced of the group. It's not a surprise to see he's reaching 100 at a lower rate than his counterparts.

And perhaps it's Ross in particular whom Baker needs to find out what he's made of.

"If you rescue them every time that they're in trouble, then they'll never know how to get out of trouble on their own," Baker said.

Strasburg, Harvey square off as Nats continue series against Mets

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Strasburg, Harvey square off as Nats continue series against Mets

Nats (27-18) vs. Mets (26-18) at Nationals Park

The Nationals and Mets are back at it on Tuesday night in their fifth matchup of the season so far, a rematch of last Thursday's showdown between star pitchers Stephen Strasburg (7-0, 2.80) and Matt Harvey (3-6, 5.77).

Strasburg got the better of their last meeting in a blowout Nationals win. It was such a bad start for Harvey - nine runs, six earned - that his availability for this game was at one point in question. Harvey, though, has decided to power through his recent struggles hoping to find his way on the mound and against a division rival.

For the Nationals, their lineup is as expected. For the Mets, David Wright is out with Ty Kelly in at third base. And Michael Conforto is in at left field instead of Yoenis Cespedes, who has moved over to center field to replace Juan Lagares.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, XM 183
Starting pitchers: Nats - Stephen Strasburg vs. Mets - Matt Harvey

NATS

CF Ben Revere
LF Jayson Werth
RF Bryce Harper
2B Daniel Murphy
1B Ryan Zimmerman
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Stephen Strasburg

METS

RF Curtis Granderson
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
LF Michael Conforto
CF Yoenis Cespedes
2B Neil Walker
1B Eric Campbell
C Kevin Plawecki
3B Ty Kelly
RHP Matt Harvey

Follow along with GameView here

Bryce Harper continues to struggle with few pitches to hit

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Bryce Harper continues to struggle with few pitches to hit

Most of the players had left the Nationals' clubhouse. After a straight forward game where Gio Gonzalez' off night was the central storyline, the media needed another angle, someone else to talk to.

Manager Dusty Baker had gone into detail about the recent struggles of Bryce Harper, so he would do. And sure enough, in walked Bryce after an extended wait.

Harper, though, had not changed out of his uniform after the game, not after over 30 minutes had passed. He had batting gloves on and a bat in his hand. He was dripping sweat. It appeared that Harper had gone straight to the batting cage after the 7-1 loss to get in extra work after his second hitless game in a row, one that dropped his season batting average to .252. 

Harper gave no comment when asked about it as he took off his gloves, but spoke extensively about his approach and where he can go from here.

"Sometimes you get beat and it happens," Harper said. "I mean, I'm not going to change my approach for anybody. I go up there with the same approach every single day. If I get a pitch to drive, then I'm going to try to drive it."

Bartolo Colon was Harper's main adversary on this particular night. The Mets starter rebounded from his awful outing against the Nats the week before to go seven innings of one-run ball in Monday's 7-1 Nats loss. Against Colon, Harper flew out to left, lined out to the shortstop in the third and grounded out to second base in the sixth. He later grounded out in the eighth against Mets reliever Jerry Blevins.

"I thought I got good pitches to hit. I felt great up there, to tell you guys the truth. I don't feel like there's a problem at all. I just need to stay through the baseball. That's pretty much it," Harper surmised.

Harper is now 2-for-17 in his last four games and just 4-for-25 (.160) in his last eight. He's still getting about a walk per game, but few chances to swing at pitches in the strike zone.

Harper insists he's fine with how pitchers are treating him and prefers to focus on how he can adjust.

"I feel like I can walk 200 times this year if I wanted to, to tell you the truth," he said. "You have to understand that they're going to give me maybe one pitch a game or two pitches a game. If you don't do damage on it, then that's your fault. You try to go into every at-bat thinking they're going to throw a strike. If they don't, then try to take your walk and let the guys behind you do your job. I'm not doing the job of hitting that one pitch."

Harper currently leads the majors in walks and is on pace for 172 this season. Only Barry Bonds has eclipsed that mark in a single season before and he did it three times. Baker was Bonds' manager for two of those years and drew the comparison between Bonds and Harper again on Monday.

"You've got to remember. When I had Barry Bonds and walked 200 times, he was 32 years old. He was nine years older than Bryce. He learned to deal with it. How would Barry have dealt with it when he was 23 years old?"

"Barry had tremendous vision," Baker continued. "And Bryce has the same vision. Hank Aaron had the same vision. But let's not forget this guy is very young. He's a player that's still trying to master his skill."

Harper is being pitched differently than he was in 2015, but don't forget he was batting just .245 on May 6 before he took off and won the MVP with a .330 average. It won't be easy, but the 23-year-old has shown he can make adjustments to turn his season around.