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Praise all around for Nats All-Stars

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Praise all around for Nats All-Stars

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- First came Sunday night's flight from Washington on Ted Lerner's private jet, with Stephen Strasburg's pet yorkie Bentley doing tricks on command for teammates Gio Gonzalez and Bryce Harper and members of the owner's family.

Then came the whirlwind that is All-Star Workout Day, from press conferences that featured plenty of clown questions to batting practice before a full house at Kauffman Stadium to front-row seats for the Home Run Derby.

Throw in Tuesday's actual Midsummer Classic, during which all three players could see action in a game that could wind up giving them home-field advantage for the World Series three months from now, and perhaps Strasburg summed it best.

"It's fun to be a National right now," the right-hander said.

Tough to dispute that notion, not as the Nationals' three-man All-Star crew relishes the attention and adulation that is being thrust upon the NL's best team at the season's midway point.

These are uncharted waters for the Nats, who aren't used at all to being the center of attention at a national event but are growing more comfortable with the spotlight each passing day.

It helps that there are three players here stealing attention from each other.

"It's a little different than for guys who came here when the team was in last place, being the only guy voted in," Strasburg said. "To come here with a group, it's something you can enjoy and know you've got a couple of days to just enjoy it and soak it all in."

Strasburg and Harper were among the most-sought-after players on All-Star Monday, whether during the 45-minute NL player media availability session or on the field during batting practice as fans and fellow All-Stars alike tried to get the attention of the guys with the curly W logo on their right sleeves.

What stood out perhaps more than anything else was the praise being heaped upon them from other All-Stars who have come to appreciate what this previously downtrodden franchise has accomplished and could continue to accomplish over the remainder of the season.

"They've got what it takes. They've got what it takes to make a long run," said Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, a National during their 100-loss seasons in 2008-09. "And they've got the city excited. It's fun to watch. Now that we've already played them twice, it's fun to watch them and see the success."

Nobody in a Nationals uniform has impressed the rest of the league like Harper, who arrived in the big leagues with a reputation as a cocksure 19-year-old but who immediately won over fellow players with his talent and hustle.

"I didn't really know much about him," Hanrahan said. "The first game, he hits the double and flips his helmet off, and I'm thinking: 'That's a clown move, bro.' But I got a chance to talk to him today, and he seems like a really good kid. I don't know if he's matured a lot or the guys have helped him out, but he seems like a really good kid and he's going to be around for a long time."

Praise for Harper even came from the guy who two months ago admitted he intentionally plunked him with a pitch, then watched as the rookie stole home off him.

"The most impressive thing I've seen," Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels said. "It definitely shows you what he's all about. And it definitely taught me something about how to push harder and play harder. I can thank him for it."

Though he's making his first appearance in MLB's All-Star Game -- the youngest position player ever to do it -- Harper is no stranger to events like this. He's been appearing in various All-Star games since he first burst onto the scene as a precocious teenager from Las Vegas.

So Harper is comfortable in this setting, even if his performance on the field hasn't lived up to it. He recalled going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in the Aflac All-American high school showcase. Same thing at an Under Armor exhibition game. And the same thing at last summer's All-Star Futures Game in Phoenix.

Given that dubious track record, Harper is setting no expectations for himself this time.

"I'm just going to try to come out here and have fun," he said. "And if I go 0-fer, I really don't care. It's just a time to enjoy myself and a time to just be around the best guys in baseball. It's my first one, so I'm going to take it all in."

Strasburg, too, was taking it all in Monday, with a companion by his side at nearly all times: Gonzalez.

The two pitchers were inseparable, the bubbly Gonzalez shaking hands with everybody in sight while the reserved Strasburg picked and chose his introductions.

They're an unlikely pair, but the Nationals' two aces have formed a strong bond since becoming teammates in February.

"He's the polar opposite of me, and I think it's worked out really well," Strasburg said. "I've learned so much from the guy already. And I think he's learned a thing or two from me."

Gonzalez, of course, loves anybody and everybody who wears a Nationals uniform.

"If it was up to me, I'd bring the whole team with us," he said. "Every single one of those guys deserves to be here."

For this year, at least, three Nats at the All-Star Game will have to be enough.

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State of the Nats: Trea Turner on playing like a kid, rest helped Ramos

State of the Nats: Trea Turner on playing like a kid, rest helped Ramos

Team Record: 75-55

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Turner looks, plays like a kid - It's not hyperbole to say that Trea Turner has been the Nats' best player in August and that's with Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper each having very good numbers this month. They've been excellent, it's just that Turner has been on a different level with 42 hits in 25 games (.359 BA), five homers, 10 steals and 27 runs. The 27 runs are a franchise record for a rookie in one month.

Turner has even been making slick plays in center field. During the Orioles series he robbed Adam Jones numerous times, convincing Jones to playfully shoot a pretend arrow in his direction after one impressive catch (see below). That's coming from a guy who has four Gold Gloves at center field, so it's worth noting.

One catch Turner made on Jones was a diving grab at the warning track. He then got up with a big smile on his face. I noticed that and asked him about it. His answer was great:

"I think it's like a little kid's play, just go and catch the ball. Whatever you've gotta do to get there and get a glove on it. I think that's how everyone should play center field or outfield, for that matter, just like a little kid. Just hustle and make sure you're throwing it to the right base," he said.

"I always kind of laugh. When I hit a home run, it's kind of funny to me. I think it's just the little kid in me. It's fun and exciting and I really enjoy small things like that. Everybody should enjoy as much as they can."

That's the type of talk that will endear him to a lot of fans.

Ramos feeling better after rest - Wilson Ramos had been slowing down with just one hit through five games from Aug. 20 through 24 in 22 total at-bats. So, manager Dusty Baker prescribed him some rest. He gave him two consecutive days off and said publicly he could tell The Buffalo was a bit tired.

Ramos returned and in the two games since has three hits, a homer, a walk and two RBI. His homer on Sunday was his 20th of the season and, for Ramos, it was a good indication that the time off served him well:

"I was surprised about the two off-days, but Dusty knows and he probably noticed something in my swing, that I was looking tired. I didn't personally feel that way, but he probably noticed that my swing was not the way it was at the beginning of the season with all these games," Ramos said through interpreter Octavio Martinez.

"It did help quite a bit. I felt better today. My swing felt a lot better, so I think that he was seeing something that I personally did not. You play so long, you get used to it and you don't feel it yourself. But he saw something that I didn't and it did help me out."

Zimmerman struggling - Unlike Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman continued to struggle in Sunday's loss to the Rockies by going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. In his last five games, Zimmerman has just one hit across 21 at-bats with seven Ks. That followed a solid first four games when he came back from the disabled list.

Baker weighed in on what has been holding his first baseman back in recent days:

"I think he's chasing. I think he's a little over-anxious because he's swinging at balls that are out of the zone. We've just gotta get him back in the zone and get him concentrated. He's trying extremely hard, but I think he's trying too hard. We're talking to him, but you can't swing for anybody because they're up at the plate by themselves."

NL East Standings

Offensive game of the week: Trea Turner 8/23 vs. Orioles - 4-for-4, 2B

Pitching line of the week: Max Scherzer 8/25 vs. Orioles - 8.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 10 SO, 0 BB, 95 pitches (72 strikes)

Quote of the Week 

“He’s going to get stronger yet, when he gets his man-muscles or his man-bones or whatever you call it. Heh-heh. Cause today I tapped him on the butt, and I was like: ‘Man, you’re hard as a rock.’ And he said: ‘Well, I should be. It’s all bone.’”

- Baker on, uh, slapping Turner's butt

Tweet (or Instagram) of the Week

Road Ahead

Mon. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Roark vs. Thompson)
Tue. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Scherzer vs. Eickhoff)
Wed. - 7:05 p.m. at Philadelphia Phillies (Gonzalez vs. Morgan)
Thu. - OFF
Fri. - 7:10 p.m. at New York Mets (Cole vs. Syndergaard)
Sat. - 7:10 p.m. at New York Mets (Giolito vs. deGrom)
Sun. - 8:00 p.m. at New York Mets (Roark vs. TBA)

[RELATED: Nats to add veteran Mat Latos when rosters expand on Sept. 1]

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Nats to add veteran Mat Latos when rosters expand on Sept. 1

Nats to add veteran Mat Latos when rosters expand on Sept. 1

We now know at least one of the players the Nats plan to call up when rosters expand on Sept. 1. That would be veteran right-hander Mat Latos, who will waive an opt-out clause in his contract to remain at Triple-A Syracuse until the 1st, then join the Nationals.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the news:

Latos, 28, was signed by the Nats on June 29. He made two appearances with the Gulf Coast League Nationals before getting promoted to Syracuse. In Triple-A he gave up just two earned runs in 17 innings across three starts. Latos has 10 strikeouts and seven walks.

Exactly what role Latos will have on the big league roster is hard to tell at this point. One could see him pitching out of the bullpen, but until Joe Ross and Stephen Strasburg return to their rotation, there isn't much clarity as to who will start in their place moving forward.

Rookies Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole have yet to produce consistently. Having a veteran option for a spot start may appeal to the Nats, given what they've seen from that trio in recent weeks.

Latos last pitched for the Chicago White Sox, who cut him loose in May. He went 6-2 with a 4.62 ERA in 11 starts. Latos has also played for the Padres, Reds, Marlins, Dodgers and Angels. He played under manager Dusty Baker in Cincinnati.

[RELATED: Giolito's velocity remains down, but he and Nats aren't worried]

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Nats react to bizarre play when ump hit by wild pitch in loss to Rockies

Nats react to bizarre play when ump hit by wild pitch in loss to Rockies

In the eighth inning on Sunday, when Koda Glover's 96 mile per hour fastball sailed past Wilson Ramos' glove, Ramos heard a sound behind him and it was loud. That ball hit something and it wasn't the backstop. Ramos knows that sound. This was different.

He turned and saw home plate ump Mike Muchlinski on the ground. Muchlinski had fallen to his knees in pain, having taken a direct shot to his left shoulder.

"I knew it was a very hard thrown baseball. I heard the impact and it was very, very hard and loud," Ramos said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. "Based on the velocity of the ball, I knew it had impacted him pretty hard. The reaction I did was just to make sure the umpire was okay."

Ramos then realized the play was live, that the ball had ricocheted to the backstop, that Rockies shortstop Daniel Descalso had taken off from second and was on his way home.

"When I looked for the ball, I looked in the wrong direction because I didn't find it," Ramos said. "I turned around and couldn't find the baseball right away, so I felt a little lost in that sense."

Descalso would score on what was ruled a wild pitch. Muchlinksi remained behind home plate to call the rest of the game. But the Nats had allowed an insurance run that came in handy for the Rockies later on, especially after Bryce Harper hit a solo homer in the ninth to make it a 5-3 game. 

"That would’ve been a one run game, a different story. The ball hit the umpire. Willie was concerned about the umpire. The batter kept running, Baker said. "I guess in essence you got to go get the ball then come back and see how he is. I’ve never seen that play before."

Technically, the play falls on Ramos, who should have tracked the ball to the backstop and retrieved it. He was the only one who had a chance at it. Glover was too far away, as was first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. 

Glover, though, took ownership of the original mistake, the errant pitch.

"Me and Ramos got crossed up. I thought he put down a different pitch. it's on me, I squared the umpire up. Honestly, I don't know how that run's able to score. At most, I thought he'd be told to got to third. But that's just baseball," he said.

Given Baker - who has been in MLB for six decades - had never seen such a play, it's no surprise that Glover, a rookie, hadn't either. 

They may never see it again. For Ramos, though, he'll have to keep it in mind moving forward and hope the result is different next time, if there is one.

"I honestly don't know what the umpires could have done in that situation," he said. "I really don't know what they could do in that situation. It's really hard."

[RELATED: Giolito decent, but Nats offense falls short in loss to Colorado Rockies]

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