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Nats stunned, but still standing after loss in Philly

Nats stunned, but still standing after loss in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- They absorbed a right jab, learning about 30 minutes before game time that Ian Desmond had been scratched with a mild hamstring strain. Then they took a left hook to the jaw ... er, actually the right hand when Michael Morse was struck by a Kyle Kendrick pitch in the top of the first and walked off the field in obvious pain.

By night's end, the outcome of the Nationals' series opener in Philadelphia -- a fairly nondescript, 4-2 loss -- seemed less important than the status of their two injured regulars, two key players who have already spent considerable time on the disabled list this season.

"It was definitely a blow for us, but it's kind of what we've been dealing with all year: Guys stepping up in different situations," rookie Tyler Moore said. "Just another day. We're hoping Mikey's hand is fine and that Desi's fine. We'll see tomorrow."

It doesn't appear the Nationals will have either Morse or Desmond back in the lineup for Saturday night's game at Citizens Bank Park, and manager Davey Johnson said Desmond probably will get the entire weekend off. But this club still was breathing a sigh of relief that neither injury is considered serious and both players should return in short order.

They could have used either (or both) of them Friday night against a Phillies team that has long since accepted its string of NL East titles will end at five but continues to play competitive baseball through the dog days of August.

So it was that the Nationals managed only two runs and six hits off starter Kyle Kendrick and a smorgasbord of Philly relievers, six of them summoned by manager Charlie Manuel to record the game's final seven outs. Both runs came via Moore, whose pinch-hit homer in the top of the seventh brought the Nationals within one run but couldn't close the gap altogether.

"It changes the game a little bit," Johnson said of the losses of Morse and Desmond. "But we had the right guys up at the right time, just didn't get it done."

Indeed, the Nationals had their share of opportunities but went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, first baseman Adam LaRoche accounting for four of those outs.

They might have put another man in scoring position in the ninth if not for Danny Espinosa inexplicably getting thrown out trying to steal second base while down two runs, a gamble that clearly irked Johnson.

"I don't like the decision, obviously, because the next hitter comes up, they're going to be playing behind him," the manager said. "So, we'll address that tomorrow."

Not that the challenge gets any easier. Though they still own the game's best record at 77-48, the Nationals still haven't entirely overcome their longstanding struggles against their chief division rivals. They've now lost four of their last five games against the Phillies, dating back to the May 6 game at Nationals Park in which Jayson Werth broke his wrist.

Now they must try to bounce back Saturday against two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, then deal with lefty Cliff Lee in Sunday's finale.

And they'll have to do it without their All-Star shortstop. Desmond was originally in Johnson's starting lineup, batting sixth, but during batting practice he noticed his hamstring was sore. The issue is most likely connected to his awkward moment running down the first-base line Wednesday night, when he hyperextended his knee. Though the knee is not an issue anymore, the play likely stretched out his hamstring.

"I'm sure it's something I've had before and not even known," he said. "Just a little bit sore. I think Davey just wanted to be smart and see if we can get better in the next few days and take care of it before it gets any worse."

There's less of an exact timetable for Morse to return. Though the X-rays on his hand came back negative and he was diagnosed only with a bad bruise, Morse had yet to attempt to grip a bat at night's end.

"It hurts," he said. "You don't know what happened, so I got an X-ray. It was negative, so I'll be back as soon as possible."

Until then, the Nationals will simply keep doing what they've been doing all season: Attempting to defy the odds and overcome whatever obstacles are thrown their way.

"We're comfortable with anybody we put on the field, regardless of what happens," said Edwin Jackson, who took the loss Friday night. "It's not as if a starter goes out and someone off the bench has to go in, that we lose confidence. These are guys who have been doing it all year. Whether it's been Mikey Morse or Desmond gone, everybody just comes in to step up. It's just one of the luxuries that we have. It doesn't matter who it is coming off the bench. We have a lot of confidence in them that they can get the job done."

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Bryce Harper's contract demand reportedly forcing Nationals to move on after 2018

Bryce Harper's contract demand reportedly forcing Nationals to move on after 2018

It is no secret that Bryce Harper's next contract could very well be the largest contract in baseball history.

The 2015 N.L. MVP has reprotedly been looking for something in the realm of 10 years, $400 million.

The Nationals would love to keep the cornerstone of their franchise, but with Harper garnering such a monumental price tag, the team may have no other choice but to move on when his contract expires in 2018.

With the MLB winter meetings taking place at the National Harbor in Oxen Hill, Md. this week, talks of Harper's contract situation have arisen again, and according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the news might not be good for Nationals fans. 

The Washington Nationals, balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension, now are preparing themselves to be without their All-Star outfielder after 2018, a high-ranking Nationals executive told USA TODAY Sports.

The executive spoke to USA TODAY Sports on Monday only on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.

Agent Scott Boras says the only active negotiations of late have involved a one-year deal in 2017. Harper, who made $5 million last season, is eligible for salary arbitration.

RELATED: NATIONALS DECLINE TO TENDER CONTRACT ON SPEEDY OUTFIELDER

Harper is one of Major League Baseball's top stars but with the Nationals already investing $84.7 million in 2019 salaries to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, the money just might not be there for the Nationals to spend. 

The Nationals, who had begun preliminary negotiations this year to retain Harper beyond 2018, believe the chasm in their talks now have become too great to overcome. While no specific dollar amount has been broached by high-powered agent Scott Boras, the executive says Harper is seeking a deal more than 10 years in length, believing it would exceed $400 million.

The Nationals' reported mood toward moving on from Harper after 2018 could explain why the Nationals are aggressively pursuing former N.L. MVP Andrew McCutchen and former A.L. Cy Young award winner Chris Sale. 

In the grand scheme, not much has changed. Harper was always expected to command the largest cotnract on the market. But the latest news shines a light on the possible direction of the Nationals' front office. 

2018 is still a long ways away, but this could be an early sign of things to come, one Nationals fans have been hoping they would never have to see. 

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New York Daily News puts Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in Yankees uniforms

New York Daily News puts Bryce Harper and Manny Machado in Yankees uniforms

You can always count on the New York Daily News to run an audacious cover. The tabloid delivered again Friday with an image edited to show two of the league's best young hitters in Yankees pinstripes: Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper and Orioles short stop Manny Machado. 

"Bats to the Future" is exactly the headline you'd expect, too.  

It's hard to tell what's more odious to Washington and Baltimore fans: the image itself or the suggestion that baseball's new collective bargaining agreement makes it easier for the Yankees to poach their stars. 

The premise of that argument comes from sources who say the new CBA contains two changes beneficial to New York: reduced revenue sharing burden (due to tweaks in how sharing is calculated, plus a deduction for the cost of building and running Yankee Stadium) and an increased luxury tax threshold. 

Without going into number crunching detail, the Daily News explains how the club could afford Harper and/or Machado when they become free agents after the 2018 season. 

The article's tone of inevitability, despite its many assumptions, will rankle fans of all 29 other teams. After all, the Yankees aren't the only franchise interested in Harper and Machado. 

The Nationals and Orioles will presumably try to keep their stars. But to do that, they may have to fend off potentially historic money from the Bronx. 

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