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Nats homer past Jays

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Nats homer past Jays

TORONTO (AP) -- Bryce Harper homered off the center field restaurant, Danny Espinosa added a two-run blast and the Washington Nationals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-2 Tuesday night, extending their winning streak to five games.

Jhonatan Solano added his first career homer as the Nationals improved to 6-2 in interleague play.

Washington's five-game winning streak matches a season best. The Nationals also won five straight from April 10-14.

Jose Bautista hit a two-run shot, but the Blue Jays lost for the fifth time in six games and dropped to .500 at 31-31. Toronto has not been below .500 at any point this season.

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Ryan Zimmerman reinstated off DL; placed back in startling lineup

Ryan Zimmerman reinstated off DL; placed back in startling lineup

Ryan Zimmerman has been reinstated off the 15-day disabled list, the Nationals announced Tuesday.

The veteran infielder sprained his rib cage in the first week of July and was retroactively placed on the 15-day DL on July 7.

Zimmerman, who was batting .221 with 44 runs, 38 RBIs and 12 HRs before his injury will be back in the lineup on Tuesday when the Nationals open a three-game road series against the Cleveland Indians Monday night.

The 31-year-old will bat sevenths and play first base.  

With Zimmerman back at first base, Daniel Murphy will move back to second base and rookie Trea Turner will move from second to center field, his first-career start in center field.

The Nationals are 58-41, and lead the N.L. East by five games despite losing five of their last seven games.

RELATED: TAKING STOCK OF PROSPECTS AND SLUMPS

 

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Former Nats 1st rd. pick set to make MLB debut with rival Mets

Former Nats 1st rd. pick set to make MLB debut with rival Mets

The Nationals have enjoyed some very good luck with their first round picks in recent years, from Bryce Harper to Stephen Strasburg to Anthony Rendon. Lucas Giolito is still in the very early stages of his MLB career, but looks like a future star.

That has not always been the case for Washington, though, as they swung and missed on plenty of draft picks before Mike Rizzo took over as GM. One of their busts was a left-handed pitcher named Josh Smoker, whom they took with the 31st overall pick in 2007.

Smoker never pitched for the Nats, but has finally reached the majors now nine years later. The New York Mets called him up on Tuesday for his long awaited MLB debut.

Smoker is now 27 and joins the Mets after posting a 4.73 ERA in 43 games at Triple-A Las Vegas. Last year he had a 3.12 ERA across three Mets affiliates.

With his numbers this year, it's hard to tell what type of impact he will make for the Mets in the majors. But if he sticks around, it could make for an interesting storyline in the Nats-Mets rivalry. 

[RELATED: State of the Nats: Turner's pickoff steal, Indians next]

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State of the Nats: Turner's pickoff steal, Indians next, Ross close?

State of the Nats: Turner's pickoff steal, Indians next, Ross close?

Team Record: 58-41

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Inside Trea Turner's pickoff steal - It's a good thing Monday was an off-day because Sunday's 10-6 Nats loss to the Padres featured plenty of moments worth highlighting. One of them was Trea Turner's fourth steal of the season.

It happened in the bottom of the seventh after Turner reached on a fielding error by shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Ramirez bobbled a ball that was hit right to him, perhaps a result of Turner's blinding speed. Once on first, Turner took a big lead with former Nats reliever Matt Thornton on the mound and with Jayson Werth at the plate. Thornton threw to first for a pickoff attempt and Turner took off. He reached second with a head first slide, but Wil Myers' throw didn't even make it a close call.

After the game Turner described the sequence and how he was able to pull off a play many could not accomplish.

"I figured [Thornton's move] would be somewhat slow. Wil is really athletic over there, but it's also I think his first or second year playing first base. So, he's still fairly new. I wanted to take a chance and try to get into scoring position. I did and it worked out. You have to account for all of those things. How quickly the first baseman throws and how quick the pickoff move is," Turner said.

Turner was given intel on Thornton's pickoff move and time to the plate. But Myers' inexperience at first base may have been the biggest factor.

"I may think twice if Adrian Gonzalez is over there. He's a lefty and a Gold Glover. Not to say that Wil is bad, but you've gotta take all of that into account," Turner said.

Will Ross be ready to face the Giants? - We know the Nats are likely to have Ryan Zimmerman and Sammy Solis back on Tuesday when they face the Indians, but what about starter Joe Ross? The right-hander remains on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and hasn't started since July 2. But after making a rehab start with the Single-A Hagerstown Suns on Sunday, Ross looks close to returning. And given Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez didn't exactly dominate in their most recent showings, perhaps the Nats have some extra motivation to get Ross back into the mix.

Ross pitched three scoreless innings with Hagerstown and gave up only two hits with no walks. He struck out three and threw a total of 43 pitches, 29 of them strikes. The big question for him is whether the Nats think he has built enough arm strength to return to big league action. He threw 35 pitches in a bullpen session before throwing just 43 in them minors. That's a far cry from the 90-100 he may need to go in an MLB start. In an ideal scenario, they would probably like Ross to get one more rehab outing under his belt, one in which he works up to 75 or so pitches. But given their recent luck with spot starters, perhaps they decide to just roll with Ross instead.

Indians up next - Before the Nats go to San Francisco, they have a two-game series at the Cleveland Indians, the current owners of first place in the AL Central. It should be a good test of interleague play against a team that, despite having just been swept by the Orioles, has the best run differential in the American League.

Cleveland has been good at just about everything this season. They are sixth in the majors in run production and fifth in ERA. They are ninth in team OPS and sixth in OPS against. 

And though they are only playing two games in this series, the Nats will see both of the Indians' best pitchers. Danny Salazar will take the opener Tuesday night with his 2.75 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 111 1/3 innings. And Carlos Carrasco, who has a 2.31 ERA through 14 starts, will go in the second game. Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg will pitch in those matchups for Washington.

On offense, watch out for Francisco Lindor. At just 22 years old, he's one of the best players in baseball. A defensive mastermind, he also hits .303 and has 12 homers, 49 RBI and 68 runs this season. 

Familiar names Carlos Santana (21 HR, .838 OPS), Jason Kipnis (16 HR, .827 OPS), Mike Napoli (22 HR, 68 RBI) and Lonnie Chisenhall (.303 BA, .819 OPS) are also having very good years. And then there's former first round pick and AL Rookie of the Year candidate Tyler Naquin, who has a .321 batting average and 1.006 OPS in his first major league season.

The Indians look like World Series contenders and should prove a great barometer for where the Nats are right now. The series will also pit two of the game's best managers - Dusty Baker and Terry Francona - against each other.

NL East Standings

Offensive game of the week: Wilson Ramos 7/24 vs. Padres - 3-for-4, HR, 3 RBI, R

Pitching line of the week: Gio Gonzalez 7/20 vs. Dodgers - 6.0 IP, R, 3 H, 6 SO, 2 BB, 97 pitches (56 strikes)

Quote of the Week 

“My grandpa has a wooden leg and he'll tell you I got my speed from him. My mom will say the same thing. My dad says he was faster when he was younger, but I don't know if I believe that. Everyone likes to claim it, but I don't have any proof."

- Trea Turner to CSN on where he got his speed from

Tweet (or Instagram) of the Week

As the @therealdomingo would say, "this is how you impress the scouts" I love this game! #CurlyW

A photo posted by Bryce Harper (@bharper3407) on

Road Ahead

Mon. - OFF
Tue. - 7:10 p.m. at Cleveland Indians (Gonzalez vs. Salazar)
Wed. - 12:10 p.m. at Cleveland Indians (Strasburg vs. Carrasco)
Thu. - 10:15 p.m. at San Francisco Giants (Roark vs. Cueto)
Fri. - 10:15 p.m. at San Francisco Giants (Scherzer vs. Samardzija)
Sat. - 4:05 p.m. at San Francisco Giants (TBA vs. Peavy)
Sun. - 4:05 p.m. at San Francisco Giants (Gonzalez vs. Cain)