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From Teddy's mouth to Nats' ears

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From Teddy's mouth to Nats' ears

In a disconsolate clubhouse following Game 3 of the National League Division Series, Mark DeRosa suggested he might have a few words to say to his Nationals teammates before they took the field the following night with elimination staring them in the face.

So Thursday afternoon, DeRosa turned on the karaoke machine that has sat in his locker most of the season, grabbed the microphone and began reading an inspirational speech he's been reading to himself before big games since he played at the University of Pennsylvania.

Among the salient passages: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

When he finished the famous speech -- with perhaps a couple of unprintable words sprinkled in for maximum effect -- DeRosa paused and uttered the most important line of all.

"You know who spoke these words?" the veteran utilityman said. "Teddy Effin Roosevelt."

Yes, the speech that helped save the Nationals' season was "The Man in the Arena" by none other than the Rough Rider, The Bull Moose, the Trust Buster, the 26th President of the United States and the man whose caricature's futility in the nightly mascot race at Nationals Park for nearly seven years came to embody this franchise's woeful existence. At least, until he finally won the fourth-inning race on the season's final day and has proceeded to win it twice more in the postseason.

"I mean, it's fitting," DeRosa said. "It's perfect."

Hey, whatever works.

And there's no denying the effect the surprise pregame speech had on the Nationals in advance of the most important game they'd ever played. Across the board, players said DeRosa's speech struck the perfect balance between serious motivation and laugh-out-loud hysterics.

And no one was more impressed than Jayson Werth, the eventual hero of a 2-1 victory with his bottom-of-the-ninth homer off Lance Lynn and resident expert on all things Teddy (both the actual president and his racing mascot).

"I actually know that speech real well," said Werth, who was in the training room when he heard DeRosa begin his recitation. "I think it's a good one. It's kind of very parallel to the world we live in today. Not only that, but the fact Teddy gets disrespected for however many years it was. When I did some research on Teddy last year, I ran across that and I found it to be a very powerful segment of that speech. So when I heard D-Ro with some of that stuff, I was like: 'Somebody <i>finally</i> is reading this aloud in our clubhouse. I thought it was good."

Good enough to propel the Nationals all the way to victory in this series and to send them off to the NLCS against the Giants? Perhaps, though credit should probably be given more to the performance of a host of players in Game 4 than to the words that were spoken before they ever took the field.

Make no mistake, the Nationals are still alive because of Ross Detwiler, because of Adam LaRoche, because of Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen and -- most importantly -- because of Werth.

Put that all together and the Nationals now get the opportunity to host a decisive Game 5 tonight against the Cardinals, the momentum having suddenly and forcefully swung back in their favor.

"We knew this was a huge game for us," Clippard said. "We're at home. To get the momentum back, to win this game today and get it tied knowing that a win tomorrow gets us to the next level. The momentum is definitely on our side, and that's how we wanted it to happen."

Momentum in baseball, though, can a funny thing. Managers love to say momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher. So another rocky outing from Gio Gonzalez could kill the positive vibes altogether and tilt the pendulum back to the Cardinals.

The Nationals understand they can't just ride the emotion from Game 4 and assume it will carry them through Game 5.

"You shouldn't discount a win like that," Ryan Zimmerman said. "That's a heck of a win. To come back after yesterday, against a team like that, with a really good pitcher on the mound ... they had everything set up going their way. They blew us out yesterday. They had a 16-game winner on the mound. And Ross matched him. For him to do that and for us to grind out a win like that today and get to tomorrow -- which was the goal -- we'll enjoy it.

"But this win doesn't get us anything tomorrow. We'll wake up tomorrow and forget about this and get back to tomorrow and hopefully win tomorrow."

If anyone knows anything about the power of postseason momentum, it's the team currently occupying the visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park.

The Cardinals pulled off a similar feat in last fall's World Series, storming back to beat the Rangers in a dramatic Game 6 capped by David Freese's walk-off homer at Busch Stadium. They returned the following night for Game 7 and cruised to a 6-2 victory and a champagne celebration.

"I think you wipe it clean," Storen insisted. "I think we had a great approach today that you don't let the last couple days affect you. You can say that's great, we had a good time. We know how we got there. But tomorrow when we show up, we've got a new approach and we're going to be ready to battle. Because it's going to be ugly tomorrow, but it's going to be a lot of fun."

Indeed, there's nothing quite like a winner-take-all ballgame. Gonzalez and Adam Wainwright may be given the ball to start the game, but it'll be all hands on deck for both clubs.

That applies, of course, to the field of play. Does it apply to the choice of pregame speeches?

Will DeRosa offer a repeat rendition from Teddy?

"I don't think," he said. "I mean, if we don't realize what's at stake tomorrow..."

Don't worry, Mark. Everyone realizes what's at stake now.

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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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Nats place Stephen Drew on DL, call up infielder Difo

Nats place Stephen Drew on DL, call up infielder Difo

One day after the Nats got two players back from injury, they saw another go down, as infielder Stephen Drew was placed on the 15-day disabled list with vertigo-like symptoms.

Drew's DL stint is retroactive to July 24. The Nats called up infielder Wilmer Difo to take his place on the roster. 

Drew, 33, has only appeared in one game since July 17. That was on July 23 when he led the Nats to victory over the Padres with a walk-off RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth. That followed nearly a week-long battle with what was first described as the flu. He felt dizziness, had trouble sleeping and keeping food down.

An 11-year MLB veteran, Drew has thrived on the Nats' bench this season. Through 103 at-bats he has seven homers, 17 RBI and an .882 OPS. Drew has made the transition from everyday player to the bench look easy.

Difo, 24, debuted with the Nationals last May and has appeared in 15 MLB games. This is his first stint with the Nats this season. A switch-hitter, Difo is batting .255 with five homers and 33 RBI in 96 games with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.

[RELATED: Papelbon's struggles continue, Ramos heating up for Nats]

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