Which players do Nats need to protect?

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Which players do Nats need to protect?

One of baseball's many obscure deadlines strikes tonight at midnight, when players eligible for the Rule 5 draft must be added to their club's 40-man rosters or else risk being snatched away by other organizations.

Rarely do these decisions result in total disaster for teams -- how many people even remember the Nationals lost Brad Meyers and Erik Komatsu in last year's Rule 5 draft, and how many of those remember both players were ultimately returned to the organization? -- but there's always a chance a team could make a major miscalculation and lose a top prospect.

So general manager Mike Rizzo and his player development folks have some important decisions to make before the end of the night.

For the uninitiated (or the confused) here's a quick refresher course on how this all works...

-- Any players in the Nationals' organization who signed at age 18 and have played in parts of at least five seasons, plus any who signed at age 19 and have played in parts of at least four seasons, must be added to the 40-man roster by tonight.

-- Any players who meet those qualifications and aren't added to the roster are free to be selected by another club in the Rule 5 draft (which is held on Dec. 6).

-- Those players must then remain on their new club's 25-man roster (or disabled list) an entire season or else be offered back.

As things stand at this moment, the Nationals have 36 players on their 40-man roster:

PITCHERS (16) -- Tyler Clippard, Ross Detwiler, Christian Garcia, Gio Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny, Cole Kimball, John Lannan, Ryan Mattheus, Yunesky Maya, Ryan Perry, Matt Purke, Henry Rodriguez, Craig Stammen, Drew Storen, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann

CATCHERS (5) -- Jesus Flores, Sandy Leon, Wilson Ramos, Jhonatan Solano, Kurt Suzuki

INFIELDERS (8) -- Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Steve Lombardozzi, Chris Marrero, Anthony Rendon, Carlos Rivero, Chad Tracy, Ryan Zimmerman

OUTFIELDERS (7) -- Roger Bernadina, Corey Brown, Bryce Harper, Tyler Moore, Michael Morse, Eury Perez, Jayson Werth

So, in theory, the Nationals have room to add four Rule 5-eligible players to the 40-man roster today. But they probably want to keep at least one or two open slots for free agents or trade acquisitions, lest they be forced to release someone else to clear space.

What minor leaguers are Rule 5 eligible? Basically, it's anyone drafted out of high school in 2008 or earlier and anyone drafted out of college in 2009 or earlier. Here's a partial list of the more prominent names...

RULE 5 ELIGIBLE PLAYERS
1B Justin Bloxom
RHP Paul Demny
OF Destin Hood
RHP Nathan Karns
2B Jeff Kobernus
OF Erik Komatsu
RHP Jeff Mandel
RHP Brad Meyers
LHP Danny Rosenbaum
RHP Rob Wort

Here are the pertinent questions: 1 )Which of those players would have a chance sticking in the big leagues for a full season with another organization? 2) From that group, which players are worth protecting?

Only a handful of the names appear like strong Rule 5 candidates: Rosenbaum, Karns and Kobernus. Rosenbaum, 25, has put together a nice minor-league career, pitched well last season at Class AA Harrisburg and could possibly hold down the fifth rotation spot or a long relief role on a big-league club in 2013. Karns, 24, hasn't pitched above Class A but was dominant last season and earned organizational pitcher of the year honors. And Kobernus, 24, has got blazing speed and a little bit of pop for a second baseman (though he battled injuries this season at Harrisburg).

The rest are either too raw to stick in the big leagues (Hood) or unlikely to make a major impact (Meyers, Mandel) so the Nationals can probably afford to leave them unprotected.

The educated guess here: The Nationals will add Rosenbaum and Karns to their 40-man roster before the end of the night but take their chances and leave Kobernus unprotected.

Nats begin series at World Series-champion Kansas City Royals

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Nats begin series at World Series-champion Kansas City Royals

Nats (17-7) vs. Royals (13-11) at Kauffman Stadium

The Nationals rolled through St. Louis this weekend to secure their first sweep of the Cardinals since 2007. It was an impressive series against a team that led baseball with 100 wins last year. And now, on Monday night, they will face another of MLB's most talented clubs.

The Nats begin a three-game set with the defending champion Kansas City Royals with an 8:15 p.m. first pitch. Gio Gonzalez (1-1, 1.42) and right-hander Edinson Volquez (3-1, 3.34) are the scheduled starters.

Gio is pitching his fifth game of the 2016 season and is off to the best start of his career. The Nats' southpaw is holding opponents to a .196 average and .489 OPS. The Royals, though, will be his biggest challenge to date.

Gonzalez will pitch to Jose Lobaton per usual, though Wilson Ramos is back from the bereavement list. The rest of the Nats' lineup is as expected with Stephen Drew in there as the designated hitter.

First pitch: 8:15 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Gio Gonzalez vs. Royals - Edinson Volquez

NATS

CF Michael Taylor
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Bryce Harper
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Daniel Murphy
LF Jayson Werth
DH Stephen Drew
C Jose Lobaton
SS Danny Espinosa
(LHP Gio Gonzalez)

ROYALS

SS Alcides Escobar
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Kendrys Morales
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvador Perez
2B Omar Infante
3B Christian Colon
RF Paulo Orlando
(RHP Edinson Volquez)

Follow along with GameView here.

Baker had his team rub a former player's ears for good luck vs. Cards

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Baker had his team rub a former player's ears for good luck vs. Cards

You're going to lobe this story. Wait, sorry, you're going to love this story.

Before the Nationals' weekend series against the Cardinals that started on Friday, a former player and current pal of Dusty Baker named Kirk Rueter stopped by to say hello. It was there when things took a turn for the weird, according to USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale.

As a pitcher under Baker with the Giants, Rueter apparently developed a reputation for having incredibly good fortune. With that in mind,  Baker — whose team had just been swept at home by the Phillies — wanted to take advantage of his penchant for luck.

So he had his buddy walk through Washington's clubhouse and told his roster to rub his ears.

Yes, this is a thing that happened.

The bizarre superstition, of course, seemed to work, considering the Nats took all three games from St. Louis, an organization that has given them fits before. Next up is a four-game tilt in Kansas City. Rueter better bring his ears. 

MORE NATIONALS: WHY NATS PITCHERS THROWING MORE PITCHES ISN'T WORRISOME

Bryce Harper named NL player of the month for April

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Bryce Harper named NL player of the month for April

Bryce Harper's hot start to the 2016 season has earned him the NL player of the month award for the month of April.

The Nats slugger saw his batting average dip to .286 by month's end, but finished April with nine homers, 24 RBI and six steals. Harper eclipsed the 100 career homers mark on April 14 and at one point hit a home run in four consecutive games. 

Other highlights from Harper's April include an eight game RBI steak, a six game streak of hitting home runs at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Harper's first career pinch-hit homer and his first two career grand slams. His first grand slam was on career homer No. 100.

The reigning NL MVP, Harper has won NL player of the month one other time in his career, in May of 2015. Max Scherzer also won the NL pitcher of the month award twice last season, in May and June.

Harper, 23, is batting .273/.390/.679 this season in 24 games. He was the co-NL player of the week for April 11-17 with Nolan Arenado of the Rockies.

Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles won the AL player of the month award for April.