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Nats 2nd half storylines: Deadline deals?

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Nats 2nd half storylines: Deadline deals?

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.

Today we're counting down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season. Next up is storyline No. 3: Whether GM Mike Rizzo tries to bolster his roster before the July 31 trade deadline...

The Nationals have frequently been active around the trade deadline. They've just usually spent late July trying to move veterans to contending clubs in exchange for prospects.

Not so this summer. For the first time in seven years, they have no interest in selling at the July 31 deadline. But do they have interest in buying?

Perhaps not as much as you might expect for a team smack dab in the middle of a pennant race. Look up and down the Nationals' roster. There aren't very many obvious holes, certainly fewer than any other contending team in the National League, especially once Jayson Werth and Drew Storen return from the disabled list.

That leadoff-hitting center fielder Rizzo has coveted for years? There's no room for him, not with an outfield of Werth, Bryce Harper and Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche at first base.

What about bullpen help? The Nationals might have too many relievers as it is, with some quality arm (Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen or Michael Gonzalez) likely to lose his roster spot once Storen returns.

There has been some recent discussion of adding another starting pitcher, someone who could take over the fifth spot in the rotation for now and ultimately take over Stephen Strasburg's spot when the ace is shut down as planned in September. Is there a chance the Nationals could make such a move? Yes, there's a chance. But it's probably not as great as many would like to believe.

The addition of another starter would force Ross Detwiler back to the bullpen at least temporarily, which isn't necessarily a move the Nats want to make. Detwiler would rejoin the rotation once Strasburg is shut down, but at that point, the club might need a fifth starter only three or four times thanks to a couple of September off-days.

Given all that, the Nationals front office seems reluctant to go out and get another big-name starting pitcher, especially if that pitcher comes with a hefty price tag. One high-ranking club official said this week the organization will not raid its farm system in an attempt to rent a player for two months.

That doesn't mean Rizzo might not pull off a minor trade or two, perhaps for some bench help or even a veteran catcher who could help take some of the load off Jesus Flores.

But at this point, a major move on July 31 doesn't appear to be in the Nationals' plans.

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Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

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Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Given the circumstances of his start and the lineup he was facing, the Nationals couldn't have asked for much more than they got from 22-year-old rookie Lucas Giolito on Sunday against the Rockies. It wasn't his fault their offense couldn't manage much of anything against Chad Bettis, who took the mound with a 5.29 ERA.

Giolito stared down the best lineup in the National League and made it a career-high five innings with four runs allowed. He gave up six hits and two walks, including a pair of home runs. One was by Charlie Blackmon, the other by Nolan Arenado, who also tripled.

It wasn't the greatest outing, of course, but the Nats have certainly seen worse both lately and against the Rockies. They didn't give him nearly enough support and only scored three runs on the day, all on solo homers.

Trea Turner led off the game with his fifth home run of the season. Wilson Ramos smacked his 20th to lead off the seventh. That gave Ramos a career-high 69 RBI on the year. And Bryce Harper hit his 23rd in the bottom of the ninth. For Harper, he has now reached base in all 15 games since coming back from his neck injury.

The Rockies got another run off reliever Koda Glover. He allowed a one-out double to Daniel Descalso in the top of the eighth. Descalso then scored from second on a wild pitch that drilled home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski in the left shoulder. The ball bounced off the backstop and Ramos turned to check on the ump. That, in part, allowed Descalso to score on what was an all-around bizarre sequence.

The Nats' offense got six hits and a walk off Rockies pitchers. Ben Revere, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman went a combined 0-for-14.

Washington lost their second straight game and have now dropped six of their last eight overall.

What it means: The Nationals fell to 75-55 on the season and lost their first home series since July 22-24 against the Padres. The Marlins lost on Sunday, so the Nats' division lead remains at eight games. The Mets are just behind them at 8 1/2 back after pummeling the Phillies.

Giolito okay, but questions remain: Giolito again saw his fastball top out at around 93-94, which is fine but nowhere near the high-90s and triple-digit heat that helped make him the top prospect in all of baseball. Manager Dusty Baker has been asked about this several times this season and has yet to give a full explanation as to why the team thinks he has lost so much velocity. Baker doesn't seem concerned about it one bit, but it does seem like at least somewhat of a big deal if he's lost, say, five or six ticks off his most oft-used pitch.

Turner sets franchise record: In the same week Turner tied the franchise mark for hits in consecutive plate appearances, he became the sole owner of first in Nats/Expos history with 27 runs in one month as a rookie. His 27th came on his solo homer, which was one of two hits for him on the day. He now has 20 multi-hit games this season in 41 total outings. 

Turner, in fact, has six multi-hit games in a row, which ties the longest streak in MLB this season. Six other players have done that this year. Turner's homer, though, gave him just his first RBI during that stretch, which goes to show how much the bottom of their lineup has struggled in recent games. 

Zimmerman keeps struggling: After looking good initially when he returned from the disabled list on Aug. 20, Zimmerman has fallen back into a major slump. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts on Sunday and is now just 1-for-20 with seven strikeouts in his last five games. That one hit was a single and he has no walks during that span. Zimmerman's season OBP has dropped to .276, the lowest it's been since Opening Day.

Up next: The Nats hit the road to play at the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. with Tanner Roark (13-7, 2.99) and rookie Jake Thompson (1-3, 9.78) set to square off.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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Nats' Joe Ross pitches just one inning in 1st minor league rehab game

Nats' Joe Ross pitches just one inning in 1st minor league rehab game

Nationals pitcher Joe Ross made his first minor league rehab assignment appearance on Sunday afternoon with Triple-A Syracuse and it was a brief one.

Ross tossed just 21 pitches in one inning of work against the Pawtucket Red Sox. He allowed one run on three hits and also recorded a strikeout. The three hits Ross allowed were all singles and the run was scored on a fielder's choice groundout.

Ross, 23, threw more pitches in a bullpen session this week. He threw two bullpens total, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, before going to Syracuse. Ross said he threw 25 to 30 pitches in the first session.

Ross is likely to return to the Nationals in their bullpen, with the minor league season nearing its end. He has said his goal is to be starting for the Nationals in mid-September.

Him pitching just one inning could be a part of that plan, and the Nats do have incentive to take it slow with Ross, who is returning from right shoulder inflammation. He previously pitched two minor league games - on July 24 and July 30 - before a setback made the Nats shut him down altogether.

Ross has a 3.49 ERA in 16 MLB starts this season. He last pitched on July 3 against the Reds.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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Nats send down Wilmer Difo to call up Lucas Giolito to face Rockies

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Nats send down Wilmer Difo to call up Lucas Giolito to face Rockies

In need of a starter to fill the void left by injuries in their rotation, the Nationals called up top prospect Lucas Giolito on Sunday morning to face the Colorado Rockies.

Infielder Wilmer Difo was optioned to Double-A Harrisburg as the corresponding move, though he will likely be back soon with the minor league season ending in just over a week and MLB rosters expanding on Sept. 1.

Difo, 24, hit .257 with two doubles, five RBI and six runs in 18 games for the Nats before getting sent back down. He joined the team on July 27 when Stephen Drew landed on the disabled list with vertigo-like symptoms.

Difo stuck around as Drew made little progress in his recovery. Now over a month later, Drew still does not have a clear timeline to return. If he doesn't show improvement over the next few weeks, Difo could again become a valuable piece for the Nationals as a backup infielder who can play multiple positions. Difo also bats switch, which is always a plus.

[RELATED: Harper explains ejection vs. Rockies: 'It's not a strike']

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