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Sun wreaks havoc with Nats in loss to Brewers

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Sun wreaks havoc with Nats in loss to Brewers

There's apparently something about the September sun at Nationals Park, the way it hovers just above the third base stands in late afternoon and aligns itself perfectly with routine flyballs hit to center and right fields.

"Once 4:05 comes around, you've got the shadows at the plate," Bryce Harper said. "You've got the left field stands, with the red seats or whatever. And then you've got the sun monster behind. It's just something that happens, and you've just got to play with it and hopefully it doesn't happen any more."

"It" is the stomach-churning feeling outfielders get when they realize they can't see a routine flyball fast approaching them from underneath that bright sun. "It" was a feeling both Harper and Jayson Werth experienced Sunday afternoon, each at critical moments during what would become a 6-2 loss to the Brewers.

Harper completely lost sight of Ryan Braun's fourth-inning flyball to center, letting it fall to the ground for a gift double. Braun wound up scoring Milwaukee's first run of the game.

"You can't catch what you can't see, you know?" Harper said with a shrug. "Nothing you can do about it."

Three innings later, Werth suffered the exact same fate, losing Carlos Gomez's flyball to right with the bases loaded and helping turn a 2-2 game into a comfortable lead for the Brewers.

"You guys saw the game," Werth said, walking past reporters without answering questions.

It would be one thing if these freak plays could be chalked up to one bad afternoon with a bad sky. But the exact same thing happened to Harper 14 days earlier, and there's legitimate reason to wonder if it might happen again.

The Nationals have four more home games this season, and two of them (tomorrow's series finale against the Brewers and the Oct. 3 season finale against the Phillies) are afternoon games.

Worse, there's a decent chance the Nationals will be scheduled to play one or more afternoon playoff games next month, creating the possibility of a similar play wreaking havoc at a most inopportune moment.

Which begs what may sound like a silly question but may actually have merit: Is there anything at all the Nationals can do to try to prevent this from happening again? (Aside, of course, from engineering a 2-square mile sun blocker and installing it on South Capitol Street in the next two weeks.)

"Well, we may come out early and try to shag some flyballs," manager Davey Johnson said. "Maybe when we have a night game or something. Seems to be around 2-3 o'clock when they're having trouble. Outfield coordinator Bo Porter was starting to play them around so they'd get a little better angle on the sun. And then they started hitting the ball where we weren't playing. Strategy, nothing worked today."

To be sure, there were other reasons the Nationals lost this game. Their lineup squandered multiple opportunities to bring home runners in scoring position. Their pitching staff surrendered 15 hits and issued four walks, giving the Brewers plenty of opportunities to score (which they did).

Really, though, the tone for the entire afternoon was established several days ago when Johnson named Chien-Ming Wang his starter. After Tuesday's rainout forced Wednesday's doubleheader, the Nationals had no choice but to use a spot starter for this game. And of the available options -- Wang, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke -- Johnson felt Wang was his best.

The veteran right-hander hadn't started a big-league game since June 19 and he hadn't started any game since Sept. 1 for Class AAA Syracuse, so the Nationals knew entering this one the odds of a long start were slim.

Wang actually pitched better than expected, keeping the ball in the strike zone and forcing the Brewers into hitting mostly groundballs. But a 30-pitch fourth inning -- aided in part by Harper's lost flyball -- left him with 69 pitches overall and left Johnson to turn to his bullpen early.

"As a player, I definitely want to keep pitching today," Wang said through interpreter John Hsu. "But I know I only have three days off since his last relief appearance and probably they consider for that reason, so they took me out."

Five different Nationals each pitched one inning of relief, none of them retiring the side. Ryan Mattheus took the brunt of the abuse, allowing three runs on four hits in the seventh, though again that inning was prolonged by Werth's misplay.

"I thought we played well," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "Balls we had chances on, we made plays. What are you going to do? Tip your cap to the sun."

All of it added up to a loss, the Nationals' sixth in their last nine games. The Braves' 2-1 victory in Philadelphia allowed them to close the gap in the NL East to 4 12 games and leave the Nationals' magic number to clinch the division at 6.

They'll be back on the field tomorrow for another 1:05 p.m. matinee against Milwaukee.

The forecast: 69 degrees and abundant sunshine.

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NL East: Braves trade for 2-time All-Star OF Matt Kemp

NL East: Braves trade for 2-time All-Star OF Matt Kemp

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Braves acquired pricey slugger Matt Kemp and $10.5 million from San Diego for troubled outfielder Hector Olivera.

Atlanta had tried for several months to deal Olivera following his April 13 arrest on domestic violence charges. He is eligible to play again in the major leagues on Tuesday following his 82-game domestic violence suspension. The Padres plan to designate Olivera for assignment when he comes off the restricted list Tuesday, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced.

Despite arthritis in both hips, Kemp could boost the weakest offense in the major leagues. Atlanta has baseball's worst record and ranks last in runs scored and homers.

The Braves have just one marquee everyday player, first baseman Freddie Freeman, and need more star appeal as they move a few miles north into a new suburban ballpark next year.

Kemp has a $21.5 million salary this year and is owed the same amount in each of the next three seasons.

San Diego is sending Atlanta $3 million this year as part of the trade: half on Aug. 15 and the rest on Sept. 15. From 2017-19, the Padres will pay the Braves $2.5 million annually, half each May 15 and July 15.

Olivera agreed in early 2015 to a $62.5 million, six-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, then was traded to the Braves last July. He has a $4 million salary this year, but lost $1,792,350 because of his suspension. He is owed $6 million next season, $6.5 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019 and $8.5 million in 2020.

San Diego acquired Kemp, a two-time All-Star outfielder with the Dodgers, from Los Angeles in December 2014. It took several days to consummate the trade because Kemp had to be cleared medically.

In 254 games with the Padres, Kemp is hitting .264 -- 28 points lower than his nine-year batting average with the Dodgers -- with 46 homers, 169 RBIs and 247 strikeouts.

Atlanta acquired Olivera from the Dodgers last July 30 in a three-team, 13-player swap that sent Alex Wood and Jose Peraza to Los Angeles.

This trade made financial sense with both teams trying to shed expensive contracts of players no longer fitting long-term plans.

Olivera is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett but was removed from the lineup before Saturday night's game.

He was arrested April 13 at a hotel near Washington, D.C., and Major League Baseball announced May 27 that he had agreed to the suspension, which was retroactive to April 30.

Olivera, who was moved from third base to left field before the start of spring training, hit .245, two homers and 13 RBIs in 30 games with Atlanta. He has a pending court date in Alexandria, Virginia.

In rebuilding the Braves, president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella have traded Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Melvin Upton Jr. and Andrelton Simmons for prospects.

Atlanta also has taken on bad contracts for declining players such as Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Bronson Arroyo. Dan Uggla was released in July 2014 despite the Braves still owing him $18 million.

[RELATED: Nats may have gotten a steal with Melancon]

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NL East: Marlins pitcher hurts elbow day after getting traded from Padres

NL East: Marlins pitcher hurts elbow day after getting traded from Padres

MIAMI (AP) -- Right-hander Colin Rea injured his right elbow and left in the fourth inning of his first start with the Miami Marlins on Saturday after being acquired a day earlier from the San Diego Padres.

Rea struck out Jedd Gyorko to lead off the fourth inning, then immediately waved to the trainer. He has right elbow soreness and is considered day-to-day.

Rea pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four.

David Phelps relieved Rea with the Marlins leading the Cardinal s4-0.

Rea, right-hander Andrew Cashner and prospect Tayron Guerrero were acquired for right-handers Jarred Cosart and Carter Capps and two minor leaguers, pitcher Luis Castillo and first baseman Josh Naylor.

[RELATED: After Melancon trade, what do Nats do with Papelbon?]

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New Nats CL Melancon to call Papelbon: 'It says a lot about his character'

New Nats CL Melancon to call Papelbon: 'It says a lot about his character'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- When Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker called Mark Melancon on Saturday from the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park, one thing that impressed them right away about their new All-Star closer is that he planned to immediately check in with Jonathan Papelbon.

"It says a lot about his character and makeup, and that was a big reason why he was such an attractive target to us," said Rizzo, Washington's general manager. "His performance level is great but his makeup and character are a lot of the reason that we went out and got him. That tells me he's team-first and Mark Melancon second."

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates to acquire Melancon, who supplants the struggling Papelbon as Washington's closer. Rizzo and Baker also spoke to Papelbon, who made it clear he "wants to win," Baker said.

Melancon is expected to join the Nationals on Sunday for their series finale at San Francisco.

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington tried to tell Melancon he had been traded. And tried. And tried.

"I felt bad because I missed his call three times because my phone was on silent, so I woke up to that," the reliever said after he awakened from his nap and learned of the deal.

A 31-year-old right-hander, Melancon has converted 30 of 33 saves with a 1.51 ERA this season and joins his fifth organization in eight years. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series; as part of the swap, the Pirates will pay Washington $500,000 on Sept. 1.

Once considered a possible successor to Mariano Rivera when he broke into the majors with the New York Yankees in 2009, Melancon said during the All-Star break he knew a trade was possible, given his contract status.

The move comes as the Pirates find themselves on the fringe of the wild-card race. While general manager Neal Huntington stressed the team remains committed to reaching the playoffs for a fourth straight season, the opportunity to deal Melancon -- who led the majors with 51 saves in 2015 and had 33 in '14 -- for two young arms with friendly long-term contracts was too good to pass up.

Baker's bullpen is taxed.

"We're getting some reinforcements," he said of Melancon.

Rivero is under team control through 2021 and hit 100 mph on the radar gun regularly during an extended relief appearance against the Pirates this month. If Melancon left as a free agent, Pittsburgh would have received a high draft pick as compensation.

"We knew full well that holding Mark Melancon would have been a good return, but at the end of the day we felt this was a better return for us," Huntington said.

This was the well-traveled Melancon's fourth season in Pittsburgh after he also pitched for Houston, Boston and the Yankees.

He will move his family once more -- his wife and three kids.

"This has been a blast. Pittsburgh has a special place in heart. My family has been treated so well," Melancon said. "The experiences we've had, just running through my mind all the wild-card games, just big games that we've been in. From where we started, to where we are now, it is an honor. It is an honor to be a Pirate. We got to go through those experiences together. My teammates are my best friends."

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft.

Pittsburgh will plug the 25-year-old Rivero into a seventh-inning role, with Neftali Feliz working the eighth and Tony Watson in the ninth. Watson was an All-Star in 2014 in a set-up role and will take over a position where Pittsburgh has enjoyed plenty of success during its rise from mediocrity. Each of its previous three closers: Melanon, Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan, made the All-Star team wearing black and gold.

Manager Clint Hurdle will miss Melancon but is confident in his bullpen options.

"I love the guy, love the family. Happy we had him. He helped us, I believe we helped him," Hurdle said. "We are not giving up anything, we aren't lowering the bar. We are not settling. Our organization made a baseball trade, with confidence that our bullpen is going to be in a good place. We are going to be able to compete this year, we are going to be able to add to our competition level in the years to come."

Huntington hinted the team may try to take the money it will save by not paying the remaining portion of Melancon's contract and use it before Monday's trade deadline. The Pirates need help in the starting rotation, which has been forced to turn to rookies Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow quickly as established players Jeff Locke, John Niese and Juan Nicasio faltered.

[RELATED: Nats may have gotten a steal with Melancon]

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