Rendon returns to field

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Rendon returns to field

Top Nationals prospect Anthony Rendon returned to game action today for the first time since breaking his ankle in early April.

Rendon, the sixth overall pick in last summer's draft, started at third base and led off for the rookie league Gulf Coast Nationals. He went 0-for-2, lining out in the first inning and flying out in the third inning.

This was Rendon's first game action since April 7, when in only his second game with Class A Potomac he slipped and fell rounding third base, fracturing his left ankle in the process.

The Nationals had hoped all along the 22-year-old would recover in time to play before season's end. He's technically still on the disabled list and is appearing on a rehab assignment in the GCL, but there's a reasonable chance he could come off the DL and return to play at Potomac before the minor-league regular season ends Sept. 3.

Joe Ross' seventh-inning escape helps him get back in win column

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Joe Ross' seventh-inning escape helps him get back in win column

Part of the maturation process for any young starting pitcher in big leagues typically involves learning how to work through tough situations late in games — even if running on fumes. And in the seventh inning of Thursday's 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, Dusty Baker leaned on Joe Ross to do just that. 

With the Nats clinging to a one-run lead, the Cards sent Yadier Molina to the plate with men on first and second base and no outs as Washington's 23-year-old right hander's pitch count was climbing past triple digits. Though Baker had lefty reliever Oliver Perez warming in the bullpen just in case, the Nats' skipper trusted his starter to find a way to get through the frame.

That trust paid off; Ross struck out Molina and then induced a ground ball from Kolten Wong for an inning-ending double play. The key moment came on Ross' 110th pitch of the night — a career-high — which helped snap his personal four-game losing streak to even his record at 4-4. 

"Kind of a big deal," Ross said of the seventh. "[Baker] trusts the starters to work our way out of the jams. He’s definitely shown that not only with me but all of the other guys. I think it’s good you kind of earn that trust or he let's you go out there and do your job. To be able to get out of the inning was huge."

Of course, one inning doesn't define what a pitcher is made of, but Thursday's effort was yet another step in Ross' evolution as he showed an important trait that Baker wants to see from his rotation. 

"What it can do for him is to pitch to the situation," the manager said. "Sometimes you need a strikeout, which he got on Yadier Molina, a very tough hitter. And then he pitched to the situation to try get a ground ball from Kolten Wong, and that's what pitching's all about....You hit to the situation, and you pitch to the situation. We were fortunate enough tonight that Joe did both."

"It was big for me to kind of build that confidence late in the game to try and get out of there and give us a chance to win," Ross added. 

Ross' escape was impressive, but hardly surprising. The former San Diego Padres farmhand has shown poise beyond his years ever since he joined the Nats organization in December of 2014. And after Thursday's outing, he owns an ERA of 2.52 for the season, lowest among Nats' starters. Not bad for a guy who was once considered the secondary piece of the trade that sent top shortstop prospect Trea Turner to Washington.  

"It's a lot of fun to watch him pitch, especially at the age he is," Bryce Harper said. "Being able to come up and do what he did last year and do what he's doing now. He's got the stuff to be very, very good one day."

Bryce Harper cut up his batting gloves so they wouldn't be sold online

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Bryce Harper cut up his batting gloves so they wouldn't be sold online

When Bryce Harper came to the plate sans batting gloves for his third at-bat on Thursday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, the move appeared to be his latest attempt to break out of his month-long slump. With the gloves on, he had struck out and weakly grounded out in his prior chances, so perhaps this was just another trick to try and get him out of his funk. 

Cameras even caught Harper ripping his gloves in the dugout apart just before the plate appearance, so it was clear this was not an accident. But as he revealed after the game, while it was done intentionally, it wasn't for the reasons you'd think. 

"Nah, it's just so people don't sell them on eBay to tell you the truth," Harper said afterward. 

Huh? EBay?

"I always cut the batting gloves up," he continued, "and [they] ripped on the top of the hand and [I] had the bat boy come in and give me another pair and put them on and ripped them again."

Regardless of the motivations, going glove-less worked; Harper launched a mammoth home run to the third deck to tie the game, which marked his first long ball in nearly two weeks. 

"I guess the baseball gods don't want me to wear the batting gloves right now," he quipped. "I went up and hit a homer and came back and cut 'em up just so guys don't come out of the trash can and grab 'em and sell 'em. It's happened before."

Alrighty then. Apparently people have been trying to auction off Harper memorabilia before he was able to put a stop to it. So if you're looking to sell some game-worn Harper batting gloves, it sounds like you won't be finding any in the trash cans near the Nats dugout. 

Harper, Espinosa solo home runs back Ross as Nats top Cardinals

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Harper, Espinosa solo home runs back Ross as Nats top Cardinals

Postgame analysis of the Nationals 2-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday night: 

How it happened: The two offenses were quieted for most of the early innings, with Cardinals rookie shortstop Aledmys Diaz's solo home run proving to be the difference through 5 1/2 frames. 

But that's when Bryce Harper chose an opportune time to break out of his four-game hitless streak. The Nats' right fielder hit a towering solo shot — his 12th on the season — to tie the game in the sixth. That was followed by another solo homer in the following inning, this time by Danny Espinosa, to give Washington a 2-1 lead. 

In the ninth, Jonathan Papelbon came in and retired the side in order, sending the Nats home victors. 

What it means: The Nats move to 29-19 after notching their fourth win against the Cards this season. The victory also marked the 1,700th of Dusty Baker's managerial career, which ranks 17th all-time. He's second in career wins among active skippers to San Francisco Giants' Bruce Bochy. 

Joe Ross returns to form: Ross put together what was perhaps his best outing in nearly a month. He limited the Cardinals to one run on six hits over 7 innings, struck out four and issued one walk. Surprisingly, Ross' ERA now sits at 2.52, which leads the Nats rotation. 

After day off, Harper goes yard: In his first two at-bats against Leake, it appeared that Harper's month-long slump would continue for another night. He struck out in the first inning after being ahead 3-0 in the count, then weakly tapped a grounder to second base in the fourth. But the third time was the charm for the reigning NL MVP, who launched a majestic 434 foot-bomb to the third deck in right field. Who knows if this means Harper's finally out of his funk, but it's a start. 

Up next: The second of this four-game set between these two clubs takes place Friday night at 7:05 p.m. The Nats will lean on Max Scherzer (5-3, 3.80 ERA), while the Cardinals will send lefty Jaime Garcia (3-4, 3.59 ERA) to the bump.