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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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Nats close homestand against Pirates day after clinch

Nats close homestand against Pirates day after clinch

Nats (90-64) vs. Pirates (77-77) at PNC Park

Saturday night was a big party in Pittsburgh as the Nationals clinched their third NL East title in the last five years. On Sunday, they have a quick turnaround with a 1:35 p.m. start to finish off their final homestand.

Rookie A.J. Cole (1-2, 4.68) will get the start as the Nats now turn their sights towards securing home field advantage in the NL Division Series. He's coming off a two-run, four-inning outing against the Marlins.

Right-hander Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 4.11) will pitch for the Pirates. A rookie, Glasnow has never faced the Nationals before.

The Nationals lead the Dodgers, their likely NLDS opponent, by just 1 1/2 games. They need to stay ahead of them to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. If they each finish with the same record, the Dodgers will get the tiebreaker due to their head-to-head record this season.

First pitch: 1:35 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - A.J. Cole vs. Pirates - Tyler Glasnow

NATS

CF Ben Revere
2B Wilmer Digo
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
1B Clint Robinson 
SS Danny Espinosa
LF Brian Goodwin
C Jose Lobaton
RHP A.J. Cole

PIRATES

TBA
RHP Tyler Glasnow

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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Dusty Baker on Nats clinching 2016 NL East title: 'I love this team'

Dusty Baker on Nats clinching 2016 NL East title: 'I love this team'

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jayson Werth's wide grin belied the fact that the Washington Nationals right fielder is an old hand at clubhouse celebrations, having played on eight division-winning teams during his 14-year big league career.

Werth's latest crown came Saturday night when the Nationals clinched their third National League East title in five years, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 behind 5 1/3 scoreless innings from rookie reliever Reynaldo Lopez.

"It's never gets old," Werth said. "Never."

Stephen Drew's two-run single capped a three-run first inning for the Nationals, who return to the postseason after a one-year absence. Their win ensured a playoff berth, and they won the division about 20 minutes later when the second-place New York Mets lost to Philadelphia.

"It's such a hard thing to accomplish," Werth said. "You spent six months trying to do it. It's why you go to spring training early, so you can do everything possible to put yourself in positon to win the division."

The Nationals won the division in Dusty Baker's first season as manager. He replaced Matt Williams, who fired following a 2015 season that began with high hopes of Washington reaching the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Baker had been out of the game for two years after being fired by the Cincinnati Reds following the 2013 season, four days after they lost to the Pirates in the NL wild card.

"That's what I came here for," Baker said, standing in a corner of the clubhouse and watching his players celebrate. "I'm telling you -- let these young men have a great time tonight, back to work tomorrow. First step in a four-step process. This step is the hardest to get. I'm just so happy for these guys. I love them. I love this team."

Lopez (4-3) came on to the start the bottom of the fourth inning with a 6-1 lead and allowed three hits while striking out five and walking one. He was removed a runner on first and one out in the ninth inning.

"He was really impressive," Werth said. "We still have some questions about our roster going into the postseason. He's a great talent and if he pitches like he did tonight he can really help us."

Marc Rzepczynski and Blake Treinen got one out each to end the game, and a pocket of Nationals' fans behind the visiting dugout cheered.

Joe Ross allowed one run and five hits over 2 2/3 innings in his second start since missing 2 months with right shoulder inflammation.

Drew's single came after Bryce Harper's sacrifice fly. Harper also drove in a run with a grounder during a three-run fourth that included three errors and increased the Nationals' lead to 6-1. Jayson Werth hit into a run-scoring forceout and Anthony Rendon had a sacrifice fly.

Wilson Ramos had three hits for the Nationals, and Drew and Werth added two each.