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Now more than ever, Nats need LaRoche

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Now more than ever, Nats need LaRoche

PITTSBURGH -- It got lost in the shuffle amid Henry Rodriguez's sliders in the dirt and Rod Barajas' walk-off homer into the bleachers, but the most significant development of last night's loss to the Pirates from the Nationals' perspective might well have been Adam LaRoche's performance.

Back in the lineup after missing four games with a sore right oblique muscle, LaRoche looked like he never skipped a beat. He went 2-for-3 with a single, a walk and a towering, two-run homer in the top of the ninth off Joel Hanrahan that would have served as the game-winner if not for Rodriguez's blown save in the bottom of the inning.

LaRoche was understandably down in the dumps because of the way the game ended, but he was encouraged by his individual performance and the fact he was able to pick up right where he left off before getting hurt.

"It felt nice that I could get up there and take full swings with my side the way it's been feeling," he said.

LaRoche did have his right side packed in ice post-game, and he did have to take some swings off a tee in-game to keep himself loose, but the oblique muscle certainly didn't prevent him from doing anything on the field.

And that's a good thing for the Nationals, because right now they desperately need the veteran first baseman to keep himself in the lineup. With Jayson Werth out for the next three months with a broken wrist, with Michael Morse still sidelined at least another month with his lat strain and with Danny Espinosa struggling mightily at the plate, LaRoche has been one of the few constants in manager Davey Johnson's lineup.

LaRoche's .323 batting average ranks 10th in the NL. His .406 on-base percentage ranks eighth. His .954 OPS ranks ninth. And, of course, his play at first base has been superb.

With Bryce Harper asserting himself and Ryan Zimmerman now healthy again after a two-week stint on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, LaRoche gives the Nationals a formidable trio of big boppers. Which they certainly need, given the other holes in their lineup.

Espinosa continues to look lost at the plate; after striking out three times last night, he now has 37 for the season (second in the majors only to Adam Dunn).

"I'm concerned about him," Johnson said after the game. "But I have a lot of confidence in him. He'll be in there tomorrow."

The Nationals also continue to get zero production out of their left fielders, especially now that Harper has shifted to right field. Given yet another opportunity to assert himself last night, Roger Bernadina went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He also got twisted around trying to catch a first-inning drive to the warning track.

With left-hander Erik Bedard pitching for the Pirates tonight, look for Xavier Nady to get the nod in left field. But don't look for general manager Mike Rizzo to scour the rest of the league in search of another body who could take over that position, not with Morse's return anticipated.

"Like we said before, with injuries come opportunities," Rizzo said before yesterday's game. "We're going to give a handful of guys an opportunity to perform out there and see if they can help themselves in their career path and help the ballclub win some games. We feel comfortable with the guys we have in-house. We're going to give them opportunities to take the job, and for somebody to take the job and run with it."

All the more reason to appreciate just how valuable LaRoche has been. The veteran got plenty of negative attention last season when he hit just .172 and had to be shut down in May with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. But he's living up to the billing right now, and the Nationals are grateful to have him.

"People underestimate him because of what they saw last year when he tried to play hurt," Zimmerman said. "It's not easy to play through things like that. He gave it a shot. Unfortunately he couldn't do it, and so that's what a lot of people think of him as a player. Adam's a good hitter. He's a very underrated player."

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Anthony Rendon's homer lifts Nationals over Diamondbacks

Anthony Rendon's homer lifts Nationals over Diamondbacks

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: With All-Star Wilson Ramos now out for the rest of the regular season and playoffs with a torn right ACL, the Nationals will need others to step up and compensate for his loss. On defense, it will be up to Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino. Ramos is an excellent defensive catcher, but his two backups are perfectly capable behind the dish.

On offense is where Ramos' absence will particularly hurt and that was noted by manager Dusty Baker on Tuesday after his diagnosis was revealed. Others in their lineup will have to raise their games to fill the void.

Time will tell how much Ramos is missed, but Tuesday was a good start. The Nationals saw several players contribute to a sixth inning rally that led them to a 4-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Lobaton got them started with a single to right field, the first hit of the night against Arizona rookie Matt Koch, who was making his MLB debut. Stephen Drew later drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. And after that it was Anthony Rendon who gave the Nats the lead with a three-run homer to left field.

That gave the Nationals enough to hand Max Scherzer his 19th win of the season. Scherzer lasted six innings on 98 pitches before he was pulled for a pinch-hitter.

The Nationals bounced back from their blowout loss in the series opener on Monday night and have now won three of four.

What it means: The Nationals improved to 92-65 on the season with just five games remaining.

Scherzer overcomes rocky start: Scherzer was solid on Tuesday night with six innings and two runs allowed on six hits and two walks. But his night didn't start out too well, as Scherzer gave up a solo homer to Jean Segura on the first pitch of the game. He allowed another run on a Welington Castillo double in the top of the third. After that, though, Scherzer settled in to retired seven straight batters with six consecutive strikeouts. 

Scherzer finished with 10 strikeouts on the night to reach double digits for the 13th time this season and the 49th time in his career. He also got to 277 strikeouts on the season to set a new Nationals record, breaking his previous mark of 276 set just last year. Scherzer is the only active pitcher with at least two seasons of 275 strikeouts or more.

Rendon hits No. 19: Rendon's homer was his 19th of the season, two away from the career-high of 21 he set in 2014. It was also the 500th hit of his career. Rendon hasn't had the greatest month when it comes to getting on base, but he's driven plenty of runs in. With his three RBI on Tuesday, Rendon now has 22 for September, a career-high for a single month. He has 51 RBI in 64 games since the All-Star break.

Lobaton, Severino make an impact: Lobaton's hit to lead off the sixth and start their four-run rally was just a single, but was a positive sign for the Nats, who will need him to step up with Ramos out. Lobaton was replaced by Severino as a pinch-runner and Severino then came around to score on Drew's sacrifice fly. That duo may need to split a lot of playing time over the next few weeks and with Lobaton's sore right ankle, Severino could be replacing him on the basepaths late in close games quite often moving forward.

Up next: The Nationals play another 7:05 p.m. start on Wednesday night with lefty Gio Gonzalez (11-10, 4.51) set to face former Braves starter Shelby Miller (2-12, 6.47).

[RELATED: Ramos' ACL tear devastating news for him and Nats]

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Dodgers set rotation for playoff series against Nationals

Dodgers set rotation for playoff series against Nationals

The Nationals have plenty of questions facing their starting rotation as they enter the 2016 postseason, but they now know exactly what the Dodgers will be rolling out for their NL Division Series.

Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts announced the Dodgers' rotation on Tuesday with Clayton Kershaw set for Game 1, Rich Hill for Game 2 and Kenta Maeda for Game 3. Julio Urias is a possibility for Game 4, though Kershaw could always go on short rest.

That's three lefties, with Maeda the only exception. That's also two rookies in Maeda and Urias.

Kershaw getting Game 1 is no surprise, of course. The three-time Cy Young winner and former MVP is the best pitcher in baseball. He's 12-3 with a 1.65 ERA in 20 starts this season and has 168 strikeouts to just 10 walks.

Hill has also been very good with a 2.05 ERA in 19 starts this season. The Dodgers acquired him in a trade with the Athletics on Aug. 1. Hill actually spent part of the 2015 season as part of the Nationals' minor league system.

Maeda has been one of the best rookies this season with a 16-9 record and 3.20 ERA. Urias is not far behind him with a 3.53 ERA through 17 appearances.

The Nationals are likely to pitch Max Scherzer in Game 1 and Tanner Roark in Game 2. Who pitches Game 3 is less clear, though it will be a choice between Joe Ross and Gio Gonzalez. The other could pitch Game 4, unless the Nats decide to start Scherzer again on short rest.

Stephen Strasburg is unlikely to pitch in the series at all, the Nationals revealed on Tuesday. He remains out with a right flexor mass strain.

[Via the Los Angeles Times]