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With or without Harper, Nats aren't scoring

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With or without Harper, Nats aren't scoring

Bryce Harper found himself at Dodger Stadium over the weekend, and at Nationals Park Tuesday night, because his team desperately needed an offensive spark.

No matter how well the 19-year-old plays -- and he's playing pretty darn well three games into his big-league career -- the Nationals' offensive woes extend far beyond that. As was all too evident during a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Diamondbacks, it's mighty difficult to win games when almost nobody in your lineup is producing at a level of competence.

"I think the last five or six games, we've been averaging two runs or something," Davey Johnson said. "That's just not going to cut it."

Actually, it's even worse than the manager realizes. During what has now become a five-game losing streak, the Nationals have scored a total of seven runs (1.4 per game). They've compiled 25 total hits (five per game). And they've struck out 45 times while drawing only 11 walks.

Even if Harper was taking the majors by storm, it wouldn't be enough to make up for the lack of offense elsewhere in the Nationals' lineup.

What should have been a coronation for the most-touted hitting prospect in a generation instead turned into a 2-hour, 38-minute snore-fest. Harper drew multiple standing ovations from the disappointingly small crowd of 22,675 in his home debut, but those fans barely had reason to clap at any other juncture of the evening.

"It's good to go out there and everybody's cheering, yelling and screaming," he said. "They're excited. They want us to win, and that's what we want to do."

Harper didn't provide any theatrics at the plate; he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout, though his fifth-inning hard grounder up the middle looked like a sure base hit until he realized shortstop John McDonald was perfectly positioned to make the play.

The former No. 1 draft pick did, however, dazzle the crowd with another jaw-dropping throw from left field. With one out and the bases loaded in the seventh, he retreated to catch Justin Upton's flyball and then fired a 300-foot strike to nearly gun down McDonald at the plate. Actually, replays appeared to show catcher Wilson Ramos making the tag just before McDonald slid across, though plate umpire Jeff Nelson disagreed.

"I just thought I had a shot," Harper said. "Reared back and gave it my all. That's what I try to do, make plays like that."

The crowd serenaded Harper with a standing ovation, even though his play resulted in a run scoring for the opposition.

"He's got an unbelievable arm," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "He showed it a couple times. Another throw at the plate tonight that I don't think anybody thought was going to be close, and he made it a bang-bang play."

In the end, that was the highlight of Harper's night. Not exactly the home debut he envisioned. Then again, neither he nor the Nationals envisioned a club that stood 10 games over .500 last Wednesday would suddenly lose five in a row.

The common theme throughout the losing streak has been the lack of production at the plate, and Tuesday night's game was no different. Johnson's No. 1 and No. 2 hitters (Ian Desmond and Steve Lombardozzi) went a combined 4-for-8; everyone else went 2-for-24.

Afterward, the manager praised those two top-of-the-order batters for their aggressive approach and then praised the Diamondbacks for taking the same tact against right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (leading to four runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings).

"A perfect example: We had a very good pitcher on the mound, and they were very aggressive," Johnson said. "Guys were swinging the bat early trying to drive the ball. I'd like to see us get a little more aggressive like that. I think we will."

With an entire lineup struggling at once, it's easy for players to start pressing and trying to get out of their comfort zones. That's a mental battle they have to fight.

"This is the big leagues. We all know what we're capable of. Stick to that," Desmond said. "I don't think Lombo's going to try and go up there and go 4-for-4 with four homers. I'm not going to go up there and try to walk six times. You've just got to go out and play your game. The end result is the end result. You win some, you lose some. We all understand that."

At the moment, though, the Nationals are only losing. Three days into his career, Harper has yet to experience a postgame clubhouse with music and upbeat chatter.

"We want to win every day," he said. "That's our goal, to come in here and have good ABs. It's going to happen for us. We're going to turn it around."

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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