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Nats bounce up off the mat

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Nats bounce up off the mat

There was a point early Saturday evening in which the Nationals' season appeared to be at a potential breaking point. Having already lost the first two games of a showdown series with the Braves -- blowing a nine-run lead in one of them -- they now put themselves in an early 2-0 hole in the nightcap of a doubleheader.

At that moment, the idea of the Nationals finding themselves in second place by Sunday evening was terrifyingly possible.

But then John Lannan pitched the game of his life to lead his team to a come-from-behind victory. And then Ryan Zimmerman led an early offensive onslaught against Atlanta right-hander Jair Jurrjens Sunday afternoon. And then Ross Detwiler slammed the door on any possibility of another meltdown with seven strong innings.

And by the end of the day, the Nationals not only had themselves a 9-2 win but a split of this key series and a 3 12-game lead once again over their chief competition in the NL East.

"To be down two games in a four-game series and come back and win the last two and kind of stay where you're at as far as the division, it's a good feeling for us," Danny Espinosa said. "It's a tough challenge right there. We don't give up, but it's tough not to almost fold."

The Nationals didn't fold, not in the least. If anything, they rose up and played two of their best all-around games of the season, capped by a laugher in Sunday's finale.

The first of Zimmerman's two homers on the day, plus RBI hits from Espinosa and a red-hot Roger Bernadina put the Nationals up 4-0 before many in the crowd of 34,917 found their seats. Zimmerman's second homer of the day, combined with another RBI hit from Espinosa, made it 6-0 in the third inning. And by the time rookie catcher Sandy Leon launched a bases-loaded double in the fifth to make it 8-0, the mood in the Nationals dugout was jovial once again.

"With as much baseball as we've played this week," Zimmerman said, "with the weather and all the things we've had to deal with, and the first two games the way they went, for us to come back and win the next two games I think shows what kind of team this is."

Staked to that early lead, Detwiler did exactly what a pitcher in his situation is supposed to do: He went right after Atlanta's lineup, not wasting any time or any pitches. The left-hander gave up seven hits over seven innings, but he issued only one walk and ultimately allowed only one earned run to cross the plate.

And by pitching with such efficiency, he was able to convince Johnson to let him take the mound for the top of the seventh and provide some more much-needed relief for an overworked bullpen.

"With the doubleheader yesterday and everything, I knew the bullpen needed a little break," Detwiler said. "I was just trying to get early outs and get as deep into the game as possible."

The 26-year-old lefty has quietly become just as valuable a piece of the sport's best rotation as All-Stars Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and the dominant Jordan Zimmermann. He now sports a 3.01 ERA over 14 starts, a 2.35 ERA in five starts since he rejoined the rotation.

"He's just turned into one heck of a pitcher," Johnson said.

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others