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Phillies send Utley to extended spring training

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Phillies send Utley to extended spring training

Phillies fans received some good news on Sunday as All-Star second baseman Chase Utley finally made his way to Florida for extended spring training. It is a sign of progress in his recovery from chronic knee issues.

Utley heads to Clearwater to continue his road back after taking live batting practice and fielding ground balls recently. He is expected to train by hitting first and then move on to fielding, this according to NBCSports.com.

Utley has yet to play this season after missing 59 games in 2011 because of the injury. He missed 47 games in 2010 and hasnt been full strength since that season.

Philadelphia is watching Utleys recovery closely as they remain without Ryan Howard due to a torn Achilles injury and ace Roy Halladay has recently gone on the disabled list with a lat strain. The Phillies are last in the NL East currently with a 28-27 record, 3.5 games behind the Nationals.

There is no timetable for Utleys return so the Phillies wont be getting any help too soon. But having their five-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger second baseman when he does come back will certainly help.

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Nats Stock Watch: When will Bryce Harper break out his funk?

Nats Stock Watch: When will Bryce Harper break out his funk?

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 2-4

Team slash: .240/.307/.410

Team ERA: 4.56

Runs per game: 4.1

 

STOCK UP

Trea Turner, 2B/CF: .320 AVG, 4 RBI, 4 XBH, 4 SB, 5 R

It’s going to be hard for Dusty Baker to keep Turner out of the lineup, isn’t it?

In a short period of time, the recently-promoted 23-year-old infield prospect has already shown he deserves to be the Nats’ leadoff man for the foreseeable future. In the last nine days alone, the speedster notched three triples (two away from tying the team lead), two doubles and five stolen bases. That’s the kind of production Washington has sorely missed atop the lineup.

When the Nats played at Progressive Field in Cleveland, an American League ballpark, they had the luxury of playing Turner in center field, putting Ben Revere in left and making Jayson Werth the designated hitter. But when they begin their upcoming series in San Francisco, they’ll lose the DH, essentially forcing Baker to choose between Turner and Revere.

Are the Nats ready to make Turner the everyday center fielder over Revere?

Wilson Ramos, C: .478 AVG, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 1.346 OPS

For those who thought Ramos might come back to earth after the all-star break, think again. The 28-year-old catcher’s career year rolled on with another big week, raising his average to .336 — second-best in the NL to teammate Daniel Murphy.

Ramos now leads all big-league catchers in average, RBI, OPS and is tied for the top spot in home runs. Not too shabby.  

 

STOCK DOWN

Bryce Harper, RF: .050 AVG, 7 K, .180 OPS

At what point does an extended slump simply become a down season? Because after nearly three months of under performance, that appears to be where the Nats are with the reigning NL MVP.  

It's hard to explain why Harper hasn't quite looked like himself for so long — have pitchers found a weakness in his swing? Is he dealing with an unknown injury? Something else entirely?—but the 23-year-old phenom hasn't given any indication that he's going to get out of his funk anytime soon. He has just seven hits in his last 54 at-bats and a paltry .491 OPS over that span, which has dropped his average below .238 for the first time this year. For context, he's never finished below .270 for a season. 

So how do the Nats handle this? They've already tried moving Harper to the cleanup spot, and later bumped him up to the two-hole. Neither move has worked so far. So it looks like all they can do is keep putting him in the lineup and hope that his bat can somehow reignite during the stretch run.   

Jonathan Papelbon, RP: 4 GP, 2.2 IP, 1-2, 6 ER, BS

It seems fairly obvious that the Nats might have second thoughts about their closer. That’ll happen after someone allows the game-winning runs to score in consecutive losses, as Papelbon did earlier this week.

But even if the Nats openly admit they have an issue at the back end of the bullpen, then what?  

Well, in a weird way, Papelbon’s struggles have actually come at a fortuitous time. With the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching, the Nats still have time to acquire an additional ninth-inning option. The problem is that the top arms that are available like New York Yankees setup man Andrew Miller or Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis will cost prospects that the Nats are unlikely willing to part with. 

In the meantime, the club still needs Papelbon to rebound down the stretch — whether that's in the closer role or not. 

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Harper continues to struggle, Solis looks good in return for Nats

Harper continues to struggle, Solis looks good in return for Nats

Leftover notes and observations from the Nats' 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field.

Harper keeps scuffling: Bryce Harper's bizarre struggles continued on Wednesday as the Nats right fielder went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Both of his outs on balls in play were on pop ups and they weren't just-miss, long-hit flyouts like the two he smacked on Tuesday night. At the moment, it appears his swing is tracking lower than it should be and as a result he's getting under the ball.

Harper is now just 5-for-49 (.102) in his last 13 games with 12 strikeouts, a .237 on-base percentage and .415 OPS. Whatever has been wrong with Harper over the last few weeks and months appears to be getting worse and neither he nor the Nationals seem to have an answer as to why.

Because of his walks and power numbers, there are some stats that suggest Harper has still put in a decent season. Plenty of teams would sign up for his 20 homers, 55 RBI, 15 steals, .377 OBP and .830 OPS through 97 games. But after what we saw both last year and in April, it's clear Harper is not playing anywhere close to his capabilities.

The month of August begins on Monday, which means Harper's offensive slide will reach three months, or half of the season. At some point it may go from being a slump to an overall down-year, unless he can find his swing and turn it around soon. 

Solis looks good in return: Ryan Zimmerman made his return from the DL in Tuesday's loss, and on Wednesday it was Sammy Solis' first appearance since recovering from right knee inflammation. The Nats lefty got two outs in the eighth inning on strikeouts and allowed one hit before getting pulled for Matt Belisle. He only threw seven pitches across three at-bats.

Both Solis' fastball and curveball looked sharp and he was only removed due to a matchup with the right-handed hitting Mike Napoli up and the speedy Francisco Lindor on first. Though it was a brief showing, Solis' return was a positive sign for a Nats' bullpen that can use some help right now. He has been one of their best arms all season and could earn himself an important role down the stretch if he keeps having success.

Rivero stumbles again: Felipe Rivero began the ninth inning on Wednesday afternoon with Jonathan Papelbon and Shawn Kelley both unavailable, and in doing so took the mound for the second time in about 15 hours, given the quick turnaround for a day game. Just like Tuesday night, Rivero found trouble and allowed a run on two hits.

This time Rivero only recorded one out before he was replaced by Blake Treinen, who came in and promptly got a double play to end the game and give the Nats a 4-1 win. The run Rivero surrendered - on a Tyler Naquin RBI single - didn't end up making a difference in the game, but it was the second straight game Rivero gave up a run after he went 17 1/3 straight scoreless innings. That was the longest streak of any Nats reliever this season and made it look like Rivero had turned a corner. Perhaps he has, but the results haven't followed in recent days.

[RELATED: Strasburg rebounds as Nats top Indians]

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Strasburg rebounds, Turner shines as Nats top Indians

Strasburg rebounds, Turner shines as Nats top Indians

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 4-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field.

How it happened: Having lost six of eight, with their bullpen wilting and their lineup being openly called out by manager Dusty Baker, Wednesday was about as good a time as any for the Nationals to receive a pick-me-up performance from a starting pitcher. That's exactly what they got, as Stephen Strasburg bounced back from an uneven outing to return to his All-Star form and dominate the Indians in the Nats' 4-1 win on a sunny afternoon in the place now known as Believeland.

Strasburg stared down one of baseball's best lineups and came out on top with seven scoreless innings and just three hits allowed. He was the star in the field. At the plate it was Trea Turner who once again clocked in with a well-rounded effort atop their lineup. Turner went 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI.

Daniel Murphy added the Nats' other run on his 20th homer of the season. Jayson Werth walked to set a new career-high of 30 consecutive games reaching base. Ryan Zimmerman landed a single for his first hit since returning from the disabled list.

The Indians got their one run off Felipe Rivero in the ninth inning in yet another scary late-game performance by the Nats' bullpen. After getting the first batter out, Rivero issued a walk and then back-to-back singles, the second an RBI knock by Tyler Naquin. That brought Blake Treinen in to record the final two outs and close out the game for his first career save.

The Nats avoided the two-game sweep at Cleveland and now head west to see Denard Span and the San Francisco Giants.

What it means: The Nats snapped a two-game slide just in time before they play the Giants. San Francisco has won seven of their last 11 head-to-head matchups including the 2014 playoffs. The Nats will play four games there, but will not have to face Madison Bumgarner, a good thing for both their lineup and their pitching staff.

Strasburg deals: Strasburg was untouchable on Wednesday afternoon as he baffled an Indians lineup that was mostly seeing him for the first time. He tossed seven scoreless frames with seven strikeouts and two walks on 110 pitches. It was the 18th time in 19 starts this season that Strasburg has gone at least six innings and the fifth time in his last seven starts that he's gone at least seven.

Strasburg earned his 14th win of the season, tied for most in the majors. He stepped off the mound with a 2.68 ERA, which ranks seventh among MLB starters.

Turner shines again: Baker was bought an extra few days with his team playing in an AL park when it comes to who is the odd-man out of their suddenly crowded lineup mix. With Zimmerman back, someone - likely Turner or Ben Revere - eventally has to sit. With the way things have gone over the last week, however, it would be a shock to see Turner be on the bench when they go to San Francisco and return to NL play.

Turner has been impressive when given opportunities this year, but this was his best game. He tied a career-high with three hits and set new career-bests with two doubles and three RBI. His best at-bat came in the top of the second after Revere drew a 12-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs. Turner roped a single to left field to score two runs off Carlos Carrasco. That had to bring a smile to Baker's face, as he recently expressed frustration with his team's two-out approach.

In his last nine games, Turner is 12-for-40 (.300) with six runs, two doubles, three triples, six RBI and five steals.

Murphy hits No. 20: Murphy pulled another solo homer to right field, as he's been prone to do. This one came in the sixth inning on Wednesday and put the Nats up 3-0. It was Murphy's 20th of the season, which ties Bryce Harper for most on the team. The Nats have two 20-homer players now after only having one in 2015. Harper, though, did hit 42 by himself last season.

Murphy's home run was his sixth in his last 13 games. He has 19 RBI, 11 runs, eight doubles and a .396 BA (19-for-48) during that span.

Murphy also doubled on Wednesday and now has a 13-game hitting streak, the longest by any Nats player this season. It is the second-longest of Murphy's career, just short of the 14-game streak he had from Sept. of 2013 to April of 2014.

Up next: The Nats move on to San Francisco to take on the Giants, who are currently in first place in the NL West. Tanner Roark (9-6, 3.05) will pitch the opener for Washington opposite NL All-Star Game starter Johnny Cueto (13-2, 2.53).

[RELATED: Nats place Stephen Drew on disabled list]

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