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No panic from Nats after 3 straight losses

No panic from Nats after 3 straight losses

PHILADELPHIA -- It may be difficult to remember these things, but the Nationals actually have endured through several losing streaks this season. Indeed, they've experienced five streaks of at least three losses in 2012, and even once lost five straight games.

And how did they respond to each mini-slump? By winning four in a row, three in a row, nine of 11, three of four and six in a row.

Suffice it to say, nobody inside the Nationals' clubhouse following Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Phillies -- their third straight -- was ready to jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.

"Three! Ugh, we're ready to quit," Ryan Zimmerman said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. "Everything's going to go into shambles."

Taken out of context, Zimmerman's blase response to a losing streak might be seen as overconfidence on the Nationals part. No one is declaring themselves NL East champs quite yet, though, not with 36 games still to be played, the Braves still lurking 5 12 games back and the Phillies suddenly playing like their old selves again.

"People forget that's a good team over there," Zimmerman said. "I mean, I know they've traded some people away, but any time you have to come in and face their pitching staff it's going to be a tough series. We have our work cut out for us, but as far as a losing streak, I don't think anyone in here is panicking just yet. We'll be OK."

Insignificant losing streak or not, the first two games of this series have exposed a couple of concerns: The importance of Michael Morse and Ian Desmond to the Nationals' lineup, and the continued inability to prevent opposing runners from stealing bases at will.

With Morse (bruised hand) and Desmond (mild hamstring strain) sidelined for the second straight night, the Nationals' lineup was mostly silent against Roy Halladay and two Phillies relievers. Only Steve Lombardozzi's two-out single in the fifth brought any runs home, and the entire lineup struck out a combined 11 times while drawing only one walk.

Some of that, obviously, has to be attributed to Halladay, who after an injury-plagued season is starting to look more like his old self. He exhibited pinpoint control during this start, throwing an astounding 86 of 105 pitches for strikes, hardly any of them thrown on a straight path.

"You know, he's pretty good," Zimmerman said. "He's not throwing as hard as he used to, but that doesn't really make a difference when you can make it move like he does."

Even when the Nationals got Halladay out of the game and got a chance to take their hacks against the Phillies bullpen, they were whitewashed. Left-hander Antonio Bastardo, owner of a 5.26 ERA, struck out Bryce Harper, Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in succession in the eighth. Closer Jonathan Papelbon then retired the side with two strikeouts in the ninth to earn his 29th save.

Would Morse andor Desmond have made a difference? Who knows, but the Nationals do know they'll be without both guys for Sunday's series finale against Cliff Lee and have to rely on backups to produce as they have through much of this injury-plagued season.

"That's the reason we're in the position we're in," LaRoche said. "We've had guys that filled in all year and kept us in games and won a lot of games. It's nice to have Morse and Desmond in there, but we can get by without them with the bench we've got."

If there's another cause for concern, it's the Nationals' recurring penchant for giving up stolen bases in huge sums. As a team, they've caught only 15 of 107 basestealers after giving up three more during Saturday's game (including two in a row by Chase Utley that led to a key insurance run for the Phillies in the bottom of the eighth).

The Nationals hoped the acquisition of Kurt Suzuki (who led the AL with a 38 percent caught-stealing rate at the time of his trade) would help make a difference. But Suzuki has thrown out only 1 of 15 basestealers as a National, evidence that the problem doesn't lie with this catching corps but with its pitching staff.

On Saturday, reliever Sean Burnett took the blame for allowing Utley to swipe both bases.

"He's beating himself up on it," manager Davey Johnson said. "I mean, the guy was running before he even made a move, and Burnett didn't check him. That can't happen. Those are mental mistakes, not physical mistakes."

In the end, those are relatively minor issues for a ballclub that still owns the game's best record at 77-49, the league's best pitching staff and as much raw talent as any roster in the majors.

Which is why the word "panic" was never uttered once inside the clubhouse following the Nationals' latest loss in a rare losing streak.

"Luckily we haven't had a lot of them this year," LaRoche said. "We've been really good at fighting back after we lose a couple and haven't had that huge skid where everything falls apart. Again, I don't see it happening here."

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NL East: Marlins pitcher hurts elbow day after getting traded from Padres

NL East: Marlins pitcher hurts elbow day after getting traded from Padres

MIAMI (AP) -- Right-hander Colin Rea injured his right elbow and left in the fourth inning of his first start with the Miami Marlins on Saturday after being acquired a day earlier from the San Diego Padres.

Rea struck out Jedd Gyorko to lead off the fourth inning, then immediately waved to the trainer. He has right elbow soreness and is considered day-to-day.

Rea pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

David Phelps relieved Rea with the Marlins leading the Cardinal s4-0.

Rea, right-hander Andrew Cashner and prospect Tayron Guerrero were acquired for right-handers Jarred Cosart and Carter Capps and two minor leaguers, pitcher Luis Castillo and first baseman Josh Naylor.

[RELATED: After Melancon trade, what do Nats do with Papelbon?]

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New Nats CL Melancon to call Papelbon: 'It says a lot about his character'

New Nats CL Melancon to call Papelbon: 'It says a lot about his character'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- When Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker called Mark Melancon on Saturday from the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park, one thing that impressed them right away about their new All-Star closer is that he planned to immediately check in with Jonathan Papelbon.

"It says a lot about his character and makeup, and that was a big reason why he was such an attractive target to us," said Rizzo, Washington's general manager. "His performance level is great but his makeup and character are a lot of the reason that we went out and got him. That tells me he's team-first and Mark Melancon second."

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates to acquire Melancon, who supplants the struggling Papelbon as Washington's closer. Rizzo and Baker also spoke to Papelbon, who made it clear he "wants to win," Baker said.

Melancon is expected to join the Nationals on Sunday for their series finale at San Francisco.

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington tried to tell Melancon he had been traded. And tried. And tried.

"I felt bad because I missed his call three times because my phone was on silent, so I woke up to that," the reliever said after he awakened from his nap and learned of the deal.

A 31-year-old right-hander, Melancon has converted 30 of 33 saves with a 1.51 ERA this season and joins his fifth organization in eight years. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series; as part of the swap, the Pirates will pay Washington $500,000 on Sept. 1.

Once considered a possible successor to Mariano Rivera when he broke into the majors with the New York Yankees in 2009, Melancon said during the All-Star break he knew a trade was possible, given his contract status.

The move comes as the Pirates find themselves on the fringe of the wild-card race. While general manager Neal Huntington stressed the team remains committed to reaching the playoffs for a fourth straight season, the opportunity to deal Melancon -- who led the majors with 51 saves in 2015 and had 33 in '14 -- for two young arms with friendly long-term contracts was too good to pass up.

Baker's bullpen is taxed.

"We're getting some reinforcements," he said of Melancon.

Rivero is under team control through 2021 and hit 100 mph on the radar gun regularly during an extended relief appearance against the Pirates this month. If Melancon left as a free agent, Pittsburgh would have received a high draft pick as compensation.

"We knew full well that holding Mark Melancon would have been a good return, but at the end of the day we felt this was a better return for us," Huntington said.

This was the well-traveled Melancon's fourth season in Pittsburgh after he also pitched for Houston, Boston and the Yankees.

He will move his family once more -- his wife and three kids.

"This has been a blast. Pittsburgh has a special place in heart. My family has been treated so well," Melancon said. "The experiences we've had, just running through my mind all the wild-card games, just big games that we've been in. From where we started, to where we are now, it is an honor. It is an honor to be a Pirate. We got to go through those experiences together. My teammates are my best friends."

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft.

Pittsburgh will plug the 25-year-old Rivero into a seventh-inning role, with Neftali Feliz working the eighth and Tony Watson in the ninth. Watson was an All-Star in 2014 in a set-up role and will take over a position where Pittsburgh has enjoyed plenty of success during its rise from mediocrity. Each of its previous three closers: Melanon, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan, made the All-Star team wearing black and gold.

Manager Clint Hurdle will miss Melancon but is confident in his bullpen options.

"I love the guy, love the family. Happy we had him. He helped us, I believe we helped him," Hurdle said. "We are not giving up anything, we aren't lowering the bar. We are not settling. Our organization made a baseball trade, with confidence that our bullpen is going to be in a good place. We are going to be able to compete this year, we are going to be able to add to our competition level in the years to come."

Huntington hinted the team may try to take the money it will save by not paying the remaining portion of Melancon's contract and use it before Monday's trade deadline. The Pirates need help in the starting rotation, which has been forced to turn to rookies Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow quickly as established players Jeff Locke, John Niese and Juan Nicasio faltered.

[RELATED: Nats may have gotten a steal with Melancon]

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Lopez struggles, Nats' bullpen cracks late in loss to Giants

Lopez struggles, Nats' bullpen cracks late in loss to Giants

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 5-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Saturday evening at AT&T Park.

How it happened: Mark Melancon can't join the Nationals soon enough.

On the same day the Nats pulled off a big trade for an upgrade at closer, it was their bullpen that failed them. Yusmeiro Petit allowed the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly to Joe Panik in the bottom of the seventh inning. Panik killed the Nats in the 2014 NL Division Series and on Saturday he was the hero in a 5-3 Giants win.

The trouble, though, didn't stop there. After Petit left, Blake Treinen walked Trevor Brown with the bases loaded to score another run. That gave the Giants the comfort of a two-run lead. The Nats' bullpen had made things interesting in the first two games of their series at San Francisco and they finally cracked in the third matchup.

Rookie Reynaldo Lopez allowed the Giants' first three runs and only lasted four innings. Giants starter Jake Peavy also had a short day with three runs given up in four innings of work. 

Anthony Rendon launched a two-run homer in the third inning. Danny Espinosa landed an RBI double in the fourth. Trea Turner went 2-for-4 with a steal. Ryan Zimmerman continued to heat up with a single and a run. Jayson Werth extended his streak of reaching base end to 33 games on a bloop single in the eighth inning.

The Nats, though, went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Three of those at-bats came in the first inning after Turner led off with a single, then stole to reach second. The Nats could not move him from there.

What it means: The Nationals had their three-game winning streak snapped with the loss and fell to 2-1 against the Giants this season. They sit 61-43 on the year.

Lopez struggles again: Lopez has all the tools to be a very good MLB pitcher, whether that's as a starter or a reliever, but through two outings he has not had much luck. In his debut against the Dodgers it was basehits that killed him. On Saturday, he couldn't command the strike zone and ended up with five walks in addition to four hits.

Lopez was better in his second start than he was in his debut, but still found trouble getting batters out. He escaped a major jam in the second inning when Eduardo Nunez popped out with the bases loaded. Lopez was not as fortunate in the bottom of the fourth when Nunez doubled with the bases juiced to score two runs. The other run off Lopez was on an Angel Pagan groundout in the same inning.

Joe Ross made another rehab start with Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday. If he is not ready to return to the Nats' rotation in five days, it will be interesting to see if they go back to Lopez or give Lucas Giolito another shot.

Caught stealing: The Nats had two runners caught stealing by Buster Posey. One was Ben Revere in the fifth inning with Hunter Strickland on the mound. The other was in the seventh with Sergio Romo pitching. Harper's was a tough one, as he led off the frame with a walk with the Nats looking to come back from a two-run deficit. The Nats right fielder had no chance against Posey, who easily threw him out on the attempt. Werth then singled two at-bats later, leaving the Nats only to wonder what could have been.

Rendon hits No. 13: Rendon has been the Nats' best hitter this month not named Daniel or Wilson, and the third baseman kept it going on Saturday with another big game. Rendon's homer was his 13th of the season and his sixth of July. Over his last 11 games, Rendon is 14-for-42 (.300) with four homers, eight RBI and six runs scored.

Up next: The Nats and Giants close out their series with another 4:05 p.m. start on Sunday. Gio Gonzalez (6-8, 4.44) will look to keep his positive momentum going opposite Matt Cain (2-6, 5.95).

[RELATED: After Melancon trade, what do Nats do with Papelbon?]

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