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Morse's big blast saves Nats

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Morse's big blast saves Nats

ATLANTA -- As he grabbed a bat and helmet before the eighth inning Friday night, Michael Morse stopped to let manager Davey Johnson his hamstring was acting up a little bit and that he might need a pinch-runner if he reached base.

"It's fine," Morse insisted later. "It was tightening up a little bit in Colorado. He told if I feel anything to let him know, so I said: 'I feel a little bit. A little tired.' That was it."

Yes, that was it in more ways than one. Because when Morse promptly crushed the first pitch he saw from Chad Durbin into the right-center field bleachers, he no longer had reason to test that weak hamstring. He could take as much time as he needed to trot around the bases, his solo homer having just given the Nationals a 5-4 lead over the Braves they would not relinquish.

As Johnson said to Morse as the latter returned to the dugout: "That's the way to keep me from running for you."

Morse's tie-breaking blast was a fitting way to cap this tense game that saw some wild swings of emotion and momentum over the final few innings. Up 4-0 most of the night thanks to the offensive exploits of Morse (4-for-4), Ian Desmond (2-run double) and Jesus Flores (solo homer) and six innings of pitching brilliance from Ross Detwiler, the Nationals nearly collapsed.

Given a chance to complete a seventh inning for only the third time in 56 career starts, Detwiler suffered through a major meltdown. In a span of minutes, he plunked one batter, mishandled a comebacker, was charged with a balk, served up an RBI single and then served up the game-tying home run to rookie Andrelton Simmons on a letter-high curveball.

What thoughts were racing through Detwiler's mind as he slumped over on the mound, hands on knees as Simmons rounded the bases to a roar from the Turner Field crowd of 32,299?

"I can't really say that on camera," the left-hander said with a smile. "They gave me four runs, and I gave them all back. Obviously I'm not going to be very happy about that."

That late implosion soiled an otherwise brilliant start for Detwiler, who carried a streak of 18 13 consecutive scoreless innings into that fateful bottom of the seventh. This outing might not have ended the way he wanted, but it nonetheless came at a most opportune time for a Nationals club that needed eight innings out of its bullpen the previous day in Denver and thus desperately needed a lengthy outing from its No. 5 starter.

"I'll tell you, Det gave us just what the doctor ordered," Johnson said. "It's a shame that he made really one bad pitch and it cost him the ballgame. But a strong effort. We needed it so bad, I can't even tell you."

In the end, Johnson needed to turn to his two best relievers -- Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard -- to record the game's final seven outs. Burnett wound up inducing a double play from Matt Diaz to end the eighth. Clippard managed to escape a self-made jam in the ninth, stranding the tying runner in scoring position after a leadoff double to earn his 13th save in as many tries since assuming the closer's role.

"I wasn't expecting to be my sharpest, by any means, but I was little more off than I wanted to be," said the right-hander, who hadn't appeared in a game in six days. "It's something I've experienced before in the past. I feel like when I'm not feeling my best, I can make it work. And that's what I had to do tonight."

Clutch pitching performances aside, it was Morse's clutch home run that ultimately made this victory possible.

It's been a long, slow road back from a torn lat muscle for the outfielder, who needed nearly a month of big-league at-bats to rediscover his hitting stroke. Throughout his early struggles, Morse tried to convince himself it would all come back, he just needed to stay patient.

But that's easier said than done.

"It's very tough. Very tough," he said. "Right off the bat, you're trying to go out there and do some impossible stuff. But when everything fails, you've got to go back to square one. That's just: Go up there, see the ball, hit it, try to have quality at-bats every time."

Morse has had plenty of those in the last week. He's now 12 for his last 19, a stretch during which he's raised his batting average from .217 to .294 and completely changed the makeup of the Nationals' lineup.

"Oh my goodness, my goodness," Johnson said, adding he plans to move Morse back to the cleanup spot on a daily basis.

Last year's team MVP couldn't have picked a better time to deliver his biggest hit of 2012, a knockout blow against a division rival that further solidified the Nationals' standing as the team to beat in the NL East.

"We've been playing a lot of close games, and we're comfortable in those games," Clippard said. "But this atmosphere tonight was a lot like a playoff atmosphere. I've never been in the playoffs, but I can imagine. It's huge for us, especially because we're a young team and we need these games to get us confidence when it's going to count down the stretch. And I think it does that."

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Strasburg rebounds, Turner shines as Nats top Indians

Strasburg rebounds, Turner shines as Nats top Indians

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field.

How it happened: Having lost six of eight, with their bullpen wilting and their lineup being openly called out by manager Dusty Baker, Wednesday was about as good a time as any for the Nationals to receive a pick-me-up performance from a starting pitcher. That's exactly what they got, as Stephen Strasburg bounced back from an uneven outing to return to his All-Star form and dominate the Indians in the Nats' 4-1 win on a sunny afternoon in the place now known as Believeland.

Strasburg stared down one of baseball's best lineups and came out on top with seven scoreless innings and just three hits allowed. He was the star in the field. At the plate it was Trea Turner who once again clocked in with a well-rounded effort atop their lineup. Turner went 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI.

Daniel Murphy added the Nats' other run on his 20th homer of the season. Jayson Werth walked to set a new career-high of 30 consecutive games reaching base. Ryan Zimmerman landed a single for his first hit since returning from the disabled list.

The Indians got their one run off Felipe Rivero in the ninth inning in yet another scary late-game performance by the Nats' bullpen. After getting the first batter out, Rivero issued a walk and then back-to-back singles, the second an RBI knock by Tyler Naquin. That brought Blake Treinen in to record the final two outs and close out the game for his first career save.

The Nats avoided the two-game sweep at Cleveland and now head west to see Denard Span and the San Francisco Giants.

What it means: The Nats snapped a two-game slide just in time before they play the Giants. San Francisco has won seven of their last 11 head-to-head matchups including the 2014 playoffs. The Nats will play four games there, but will not have to face Madison Bumgarner, a good thing for both their lineup and their pitching staff.

Strasburg deals: Strasburg was untouchable on Wednesday afternoon as he baffled an Indians lineup that was mostly seeing him for the first time. He tossed seven scoreless frames with seven strikeouts and two walks on 110 pitches. It was the 18th time in 19 starts this season that Strasburg has gone at least six innings and the fifth time in his last seven starts that he's gone at least seven.

Strasburg earned his 14th win of the season, tied for most in the majors. He stepped off the mound with a 2.68 ERA, which ranks seventh among MLB starters.

Turner shines again: Baker was bought an extra few days with his team playing in an AL park when it comes to who is the odd-man out of their suddenly crowded lineup mix. With Zimmerman back, someone - likely Turner or Ben Revere - eventally has to sit. With the way things have gone over the last week, however, it would be a shock to see Turner be on the bench when they go to San Francisco and return to NL play.

Turner has been impressive when given opportunities this year, but this was his best game. He tied a career-high with three hits and set new career-bests with two doubles and three RBI. His best at-bat came in the top of the second after Revere drew a 12-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs. Turner roped a single to left field to score two runs off Carlos Carrasco. That had to bring a smile to Baker's face, as he recently expressed frustration with his team's two-out approach.

Murphy hits No. 20: Murphy pulled another solo homer to right field, as he's been prone to do. This one came in the sixth inning on Wednesday and put the Nats up 3-0. It was Murphy's 20th of the season, which ties Bryce Harper for most on the team. The Nats have two 20-homer players now after only having one in 2015. Harper, though, did hit 42 by himself last season.

Murphy's home run was his sixth in his last 13 games. He has 19 RBI, 11 runs, eight doubles and a .396 BA (19-for-48) during that span.

Murphy also doubled on Wednesday and now has a 13-game hitting streak, the longest by any Nats player this season. It is the second-longest of Murphy's career, just short of the 14-game streak he had from Sept. of 2013 to April of 2014.

Up next: The Nats move on to San Francisco to take on the Giants, who are currently in first place in the NL West. Tanner Roark (9-6, 3.05) will pitch the opener for Washington opposite NL All-Star Game starter Johnny Cueto (13-2, 2.53).

[RELATED: Nats place Stephen Drew on disabled list]

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Nats place Stephen Drew on DL, call up infielder Difo

Nats place Stephen Drew on DL, call up infielder Difo

One day after the Nats got two players back from injury, they saw another go down, as infielder Stephen Drew was placed on the 15-day disabled list with vertigo-like symptoms.

Drew's DL stint is retroactive to July 24. The Nats called up infielder Wilmer Difo to take his place on the roster. 

Drew, 33, has only appeared in one game since July 17. That was on July 23 when he led the Nats to victory over the Padres with a walk-off RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth. That followed nearly a week-long battle with what was first described as the flu. He felt dizziness, had trouble sleeping and keeping food down.

An 11-year MLB veteran, Drew has thrived on the Nats' bench this season. Through 103 at-bats he has seven homers, 17 RBI and an .882 OPS. Drew has made the transition from everyday player to the bench look easy.

Difo, 24, debuted with the Nationals last May and has appeared in 15 MLB games. This is his first stint with the Nats this season. A switch-hitter, Difo is batting .255 with five homers and 33 RBI in 96 games with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.

[RELATED: Papelbon's struggles continue, Ramos heating up for Nats]

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Turner back in CF, Strasburg starts as Nats face Indians

Turner back in CF, Strasburg starts as Nats face Indians

Nationals (58-42) vs. Indians (57-41) at Progressive Field

After losing in walk-off fashion in the opener on Tuesday night, the Nats have a quick turnaround with a 12:10 p.m. start on Wednesday against the Indians.

On the mound will be Stephen Strasburg (13-1, 2.83), who is hoping to bounce back from his worst game of the season. He gave up six earned runs on seven hits and two homers in six innings against the Dodgers last week.

Pitching for Cleveland will be right-hander Carlos Carrasco (7-3, 2.31). He pitched six shutout innings with just one hit allowed against the Royals his last time out.

The Nats are rolling with the same lineup as Tuesday night with Trea Turner in center field and Bryce Harper batting second.

First pitch: 12:10 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Stephen Strasburg vs. Indians - Carlos Carrasco

NATS

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

INDIANS

1B Carlos Santana
2B Jason Kipnis
SS Francisco Lindor
DH Mike Napoli
3B Jose Ramirez
RF Lonnie Chisenhall
LF Rajai Davis
CF Tyler Naquin
C Chris Gimenez
(RHP Carlos Carrasco)