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Zimmerman on target for Tuesday

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Zimmerman on target for Tuesday

Ryan Zimmerman took another step toward his return from the disabled list today when the Nationals' third baseman hit 20 balls off a tee and emerged with no pain in his inflamed right shoulder.

Zimmerman will take more swing off soft-toss pitching tomorrow, then possible take a full round of batting practice before the Nationals' game against the Phillies.

Though he wouldn't entirely rule out the possibility of returning to play Sunday night once he's officially eligible, Zimmerman said he's more likely to come off the DL Tuesday for the start of a road trip in Pittsburgh.

"If I had to guess, Tuesday rather than Sunday," he said. "I wouldn't rule it out. We really won't know until tomorrow. ... After I hit, it's a matter of whether they want me to waste hits in the minor leagues or get hits in the big leagues."

Manager Davey Johnson made it clear Zimmerman won't be sent on a minor-league rehab assignment, not even for one day.

"We're not going to waste those bullets," Johnson said.

Zimmerman, who hasn't played since April 20, has been able to keep himself in shape by participating in conditioning and fielding drills. He played catch this afternoon from as far away as 200 feet.

"That helps, because I've been able to keep my arm in shape and my legs in shape," he said. "So the game's not going to be a problem. It'll be whenever I can hit, I can go."

The news isn't as encouraging on Adam LaRoche, who is out of the lineup for the second straight day with a sore right oblique muscle. The veteran first baseman, who hurt himself diving for a ball during Wednesday night's game, attempted to take some swings this afternoon and still felt a twinge in his side.

The Nationals aren't giving a formal timetable for LaRoche's return, but asked today if he thinks the first baseman will need to go on the DL, Johnson replied: "No ... I'm hoping he won't."

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Cole struggles early, bullpen cracks late as Nats fall to Marlins

Cole struggles early, bullpen cracks late as Nats fall to Marlins

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-4 loss over the Miami Marlins on Friday night at Nationals Park.

How it happened: If the Nationals want to sew up home field advantage in their first playoff series, they still have more work to do — and only have two more games to do it.

The Nats were unable to help their cause Friday night, falling to the Marlins 7-4 in a rain-soaked affair that began nearly two hours after its scheduled start time.  

While the offense couldn’t come through late, it was starter A.J. Cole that put the Nats in a bind in this one. The 24-year-old rookie right hander forcing Dusty Baker to go to his bullpen early after yielding four runs (two earned) on six hits in just three innings of work.

But all it took was one inning for the Nats to even things up. Anthony Rendon and Stephen Drew opened the fourth with back-to-back solo home runs, and RBI hits by Jose Lobaton and Trea Turner make it 4-4 heading into the fifth.

The bullpen subsequently cracked, however, yielding a runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings to give the Marlins a 7-4 edge. The offense couldn’t mount a late rally, and that was all she wrote.

What it means: The magic number for home field advantage in the NLDS remains at two. As of this post, the Dodgers have yet to complete their game against the Giants, so there’s still a chance it could fall to one by Saturday morning.

Rendon reaches homer milestone: With his fourth-inning solo shot, Rendon became the latest Nats hitter join the 20 home run club. In fact, the Nats tied the 1965 and 2003 Braves as the only National League clubs with six players with 20-plus long balls in a season. (Interestingly enough, the Cardinals mathed that feat the Nats later in night after a Matt Holliday home run.)

But back to Rendon: For all the talk that the Nats offense sans Wilson Ramos will suffer, remember that Rendon has been one of the team’s best hitters since the All-Star break. Since then, he’s notched 11 homers, 20 doubles and 51 RBI. In other words, he’s fully returned to his ‘Tony Two-Bags’ form of 2014.

More accolades for Turner: D.C.’s favorite rookie had another one of his patented performances Friday night, going 2-for-3 with an RBI single, a triple and two stolen bases. He became the fourth player in MLB history to notch 10 home runs and 30 steals in less than 100 games, joining Rickey Henderson, Bobby Bonds and current Nats first base coach Davey Lopes. Since the break, he leads the team in both extra-base hits and steals. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Harper struggles: In his first game back since injuring his left thumb, Bryce Harper looked looked very much like a hitter trying to regain his timing at the plate. In four at-bats, he struck out four times — three of them swinging. It’s just one game, of course, but he and the Nats are quickly running out of time to rev up for October.

Up next: The Nats will continue their quest to gain home field advantage in the middle game of this three-game set. Washington will send Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.86 ERA) to the hill to oppose Marlins lefty Wei-Yin Chen (5-4, 5.02 ERA).

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Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

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Twitter: @MiamiHerald

Nationals honor Jose Fernandez before series opener against Marlins

The first game of the Nationals series against the Marlins started late after a nearly two-hour-long rain delay. However, before the first pitch, the Nats played a tribute to Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, whose recent death has left the entire MLB community in shock.

A video tweeted by @masnNationals shows both teams standing on the field, while the clips of Fernandez play on the video board in center field. 

The Marlins twitter also shared a video of the pre-game tribute.

Gio Gonzalez, who was good friends with Fernandez and attended his funeral on Thursday, is seen with tears in his eyes, waving his hat toward the sky. Gonzalez also hung a Fernandez jersey in the Nationals' dugout prior to the game. 

The Diamondbacks left a message for the Marlins in the visitor's clubhouse at Nationals Park before leaving town Thursday. 

Fernandez's death is reaching even further than baseball. The Miami Hurricanes tweeted a picture of decals they added to their helmets for their game tomorrow against Georgia Tech.

It is clear that although Jose may be gone, he will always be rememered by the entire sports community.