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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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Nats' Joe Ross to begin minor league rehab assignment on Sunday

Nats' Joe Ross to begin minor league rehab assignment on Sunday

Okay, let's try this again.

Nearly a month after Joe Ross' initial minor league rehab assignment was halted due to a setback in his recovery from right shoulder inflammation, the Nationals' starter will now go on another rehab stint beginning Sunday with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. He will face the Pawtucket Red Sox in Syracuse.

This is a major step for the Nats' right-hander, who hasn't appeared in a big league game since July 2. Ross threw two bullpen sessions this week, one on Tuesday in Baltimore and another on Thursday in Washington. It was an encouraging series of days for Ross, who last pitched in a game on July 30 with Syracuse. He also pitched for Syracuse on July 24.

Ross is now well on his way to returning, but whether he can build his innings up to come back as a starter is still hard to tell. The minor league regular season only runs through the first week of September, so it's still possible Ross will need to return to the Nats as a relief pitcher.

Manager Dusty Baker shared the latest on that situation before Saturday's game:

"I don't know. That's a question that we're trying to answer now. If not, then hopefully in the playoffs he can be on the team and help us out of the bullpen. Usually, you're only carrying three starters on the team anyways during the playoffs. If he was number four and whoever else or whatever, that makes for a better bullpen. I have hopes that he can at least make it back to that point," he said.

That is all, of course, pending this second minor league rehab stint goes well. Last time Ross felt discomfort and didn't have his velocity quite where he wanted it to be.

Ross starting for Syracuse may give some hints as to who will start for the Nationals on Sunday against the Rockies. Lucas Giolito was lined up to pitch Sunday for the Chiefs and already was a likely candidate to be called up to the Nats. Now that theory has even more legs to it.

[RELATED: Max Scherzer digs down deep to help Nats, shut up Orioles fans]

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A.J. Cole faces Rockies as Nats look for third straight win

A.J. Cole faces Rockies as Nats look for third straight win

Nats (75-53) at Rockies (60-68) at Nationals Park

It's a quick turnaround for the Nationals and Rockies, who pick back up for a 1:05 p.m. first pitch on Saturday afternoon. Rookie A.J. Cole gets the start following his seven-inning, four-run outing against the Orioles on Aug. 22, his 2016 season debut. Cole will once again see a tough lineup, this time with a bunch of lefties including Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra.

Pitching for Colorado will be Jorge De La Rosa (8-7, 5.07). The veteran lefty faced the Nats just two starts ago and gave up four runs in six innings at Coors Field.

Wilson Ramos is back in the Nats' lineup after missing two games. He's hitting sixth behind Anthony Rendon.

First pitch: 1:05 p.m.
TV: MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - A.J. Cole vs. Rockies - Jorge De La Rosa

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP A.J. Cole

ROCKIES

CF Charlie Blackmon
2B D.J. LeMahieu
RF Carlos Gonzalez
3B Nolan Arenado
LF David Dahl
1B Gerardo Parra
C Nick Hundley
SS Daniel Descalso
LHP Jorge De La Rosa

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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Gonzalez on earning career win No. 100 : 'I’m just happy it came'

Gonzalez on earning career win No. 100 : 'I’m just happy it came'

Gio Gonzalez isn’t the type to harp on his accomplishments. After quality outings, he typically deflects praise to his Nationals teammates in postgame interviews when asked to describe his personal performance.

But as much as he tends to downplay, earning his career 100th win in Friday's victory over the Colorado Rockies clearly meant something to him. 

“I’m just happy it came,” Gonzalez said. “I finally showed up and I’m happy I did it here with this organization. Oakland gave me an opportunity and Washington helped me continue that opportunity and I couldn’t be happier to do it with these colors and represent the Washington Nationals.”

The feat came after two no-decisions in his previous two starts, so the third time proved to be the charm. After the game, he had a gathering of family and friends waiting outside the Nats’ clubhouse to congratulate him, some holding gold “100” balloons and others wearing hats featuring the oft-used Twitter emoji of the same number.

“I'm sure it was [on his mind],” manager Dusty Baker said. “…He didn’t want to come out of this game. He was going to get it eventually and we needed it.”

The 30-year-old left hander accomplished the milestone thanks to six innings of two-run ball on just 85 pitches against the hard-hitting Rockies lineup. Gonzalez displayed a lot of what his skipper wanted to see from him: a low pitch count, avoiding the big inning and, as he did later in the game, deliver shutdown frames immediately after the Nats offense scores.

“He threw great tonight," added Bryce Harper. Kept a very good Rockies lineup off balance and did what he needed to do. Stuck with his approach and threw like Gio knows how. Huge for him, that hundredth win. Couldn't be happier for him and his family.”

Historic achievement aside, Gonzalez has quietly turned his season around after a rough patch. In his last nine outings, he’s 5-1 with a 3.20 ERA over 50 2/3 innings. His resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time, as he’s charged with stabilizing the back-end of a rotation that’s in flux due to injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross.

“That's the key to his success,” Baker said. “Not getting runners on base or not walking people and he had a very good game tonight, excellent game. His last couple games, few games have been good. I'm just glad we were able to get him his 100th victory.”