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When will Werth return?

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When will Werth return?

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.

Over the course of the day, we'll count down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season, beginning with storyline No. 5: Jayson Werth's return from a broken left wrist...

The image from May 6, of Jayson Werth writhing in agony on the ground in right field after a failed attempt to make a diving catch of Placido Polanco's sinking line drive, is hard to forget. Everyone in attendance at Nationals Park and everyone watching the nationally televised Sunday night game knew the injury was serious, and the only question was whether it was serious enough to prevent Werth from returning to play this season.

Ten weeks later, Werth is inching closer to a return to the Nationals lineup. His wrist is healed, and he's resumed some baseball activities, though he hasn't yet swung a bat. That milestone should come soon, and once it does the 33-year-old could be on a fast track back to the active roster.

The Nationals and Werth have targeted Aug. 1 for his return. That may be a bit too optimistic, but the club fully expects to have its veteran right fielder back for the stretch run. That return, however, raises two important questions:

1) What kind of player will Werth be upon his return? Can he pick up where he left off, hitting .276 with a .372 on-base percentage? Or will he not have regained enough strength in the wrist to swing an effective bat?

2) If Werth does enjoy a successful return, who's the odd man out of the Nationals' lineup, and who will lead off? Steve Lombardozzi has been the biggest beneficiary over the last two-plus months, essentially assuming leadoff duties and the starting left fielder's job. Werth's return, though, should bump Michael Morse from right to left field, and that could bump Lombardozzi to the bench. That, however, would force Danny Espinosa (or Werth or Bryce Harper) to lead off most nights. Perhaps Lombardozzi ends up splitting time at second base with Espinosa, with manager Davey Johnson taking advantage of their contrasting splits. If you combine Lombardozzi's left-handed stats with Espinosa's right-handed stats, you get a .299 batting average, .364 on-base percentage and .423 slugging percentage. That could make for a solid platoon at second base.

First things first. Werth needs to make progress in his rehab, go play in minor-league games and then return healthy to the Nationals' lineup. That process and potential resolution, though, promises to be one of the club's most-compelling storylines the rest of this season.

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others