Wang tries to get back on track vs. Jays - 7:07 p.m.

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Wang tries to get back on track vs. Jays - 7:07 p.m.

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The start of Chien-Ming Wang's season hasn't exactly gone the way the Nationals (or the veteran right-hander) hoped it would, but tonight he'll get a chance to right his ship when he takes the mound in Toronto. Wang showed signs of progress from his first start to his second start, and he'll look to take another step forward tonight against the Blue Jays.

Wang will have a familiar target behind the plate in Jhonatan Solano, who gets the nod in place of Jesus Flores. This is Solano's third major-league start, and all three have come with Wang as his batterymate. Coincidence?

Meanwhile, Davey Johnson's plan to give Roger Bernadina more playing time was derailed when Bernadina strained his hamstring sliding into third base during last night's game. So Rick Ankiel is back in center field tonight (and probably tomorrow).

As you know, I'm not in Toronto for this series, so please enjoy the conversation among yourselves...

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Where: Rogers Centre
Gametime: 7:07 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 178
Weather: Indoors

NATIONALS (36-23)
LF Steve Lombardozzi
RF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
DH Michael Morse
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
CF Rick Ankiel
C Jhonatan Solano
(RHP Chien-Ming Wang)

BLUE JAYS (31-30)
3B Brett Lawrie
CF Colby Rasmus
RF Jose Bautista
1B Edwin Encarnacion
2B Kelly Johnson
SS Yunel Escobar
DH David Cooper
LF Rajai Davis
C Jeff Mathis
(RHP Henderson Alvarez)

UMPIRES
HP Adrian Johnson, 1B Gary Cederstrom (cc), 2B Lance Barksdale, 3B Fielden Culbreth

Barrage of homers lead Nats past Cardinals in series finale

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Barrage of homers lead Nats past Cardinals in series finale

Postgame analysis of the Nats' 10-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park.

How it happened: Sometimes in baseball all it takes is a second look at a pitcher and on Sunday the difference between the Nationals' first run through the lineup and their second against Cardinals starter Michael Wacha was quite significant.

For the first three innings, the Nats were held hitless, the only baserunner earned on a walk to Wilson Ramos. But then in the fourth, things quickly devolved for Wacha. The Cardinals right-hander gave up two hits to lead off the frame, the second to score a run. He then allowed a two-RBI single to Ramos with two outs.

The three runs in the fourth off Wacha gave them the lead, but a five-run seventh inning put this one on ice for the Nationals. Anthony Rendon led off with a solo homer and Jayson Werth cleaned up the rest with a pinch-hit grand slam. It was Werth's sixth career grand slam and his first ever as a pinch-hitter. It was also just the second pinch-hit grand slam in Nats' history following Justin Maxwell's in September of 2007. You don't see them very often.

Ramos then added a two-run homer in the eighth to make it 10-2. It was Ramos' third hit of the day.

Ten runs were more than enough help for Stephen Strasburg and the Nats' bullpen. Strasburg gave up one run on a homer to Brandon Moss, but otherwise limited damage throughout the afternoon with six hits and two walks spread across six strong innings. 

The Nats' bullpen ran into some trouble in the seventh with a bases-loaded jam with one out, but Felipe Rivero escaped the frame with just one run allowed and a lead intact. The run came on a sac fly by Matt Adams, but all things considered, it could have been much, much worse. 

What it means: The Nationals closed their homestand on a positive note as they get set for an 11-day road trip, which is tied for the longest one they have this season. They also finished their season series against the Cardinals with a 5-2 record. That's a nice change of course after they went 8-18 against them from 2012 through 2015.

Rendon smacks homer No. 4: Rendon added an insurance run in the eighth inning with a solo home run to right field on the first pitch he saw from reliever Jonathan Broxton. After having zero homers in April, Rendon has four this month. He has reached safely in 20 of his last 22 games. In 18 games going back to May 10, Rendon is 24-for-63 (.381) with two homers, six doubles, a triple, 10 RBI, 12 walks, 11 runs and three steals. He posted his 10th multi-hit outing of that 18-game stretch. Even taking Saturday night off did not cool him down.

Ramos hits No. 6: Ramos reached base four times on Sunday with a walk and three hits in three at-bats. He hit a two-run bomb to left field in the eighth inning, his sixth homer of the season. Ramos is now batting .336 through 40 games this season.

Zimmerman gets another XBH: After going 4-for-4 with two homers on Saturday night, Zimmerman notched another extra-base hit on Sunday with his double in the fourth inning. Zimmerman now has 10 doubles on the season and 14 extra-base hits in May after posting just four in April. The problem for Zimmerman has been consistency this season in putting together more than two solid games in a row. Just last week he had two hits in consecutive games on May 23-24, then went hitless in four straight outings. On May 10 he had two homers, but that was during a stretch where he went 5-for-37 across nine games. It has truly been feast or famine for the Nats' first baseman this season.

Harper drives in a run: Harper's RBI single to score Michael Taylor in the fourth inning gave him his fourth straight game with a hit. He also has an RBI in five of his last eight games despite only having four hits during that stretch. Harper has scored a run in four straight outings. Overall, though, it was another frustrating day for Harper, who went 1-for-4 with a strikeout. After he popped out in the sixth, he was shown on a television replay chucking his batting helmet in the dugout.

Strasburg left in, then pulled: Strasburg's exit after six innings was part of some creative managing for Dusty Baker. He sent Strasburg out to start the seventh after 104 pitches, but then brought in Oliver Perez before Strasburg even threw a pitch in the inning. He called on Perez once Cardinals manager Mike Matheny brought in Kolten Wong as a pinch-hitter. And once Matheny saw Perez come in, he replaced Wong with Aledmys Diaz to pinch-hit. There was a pitching change and two pinch-hitters inserted into the game all before a single pitch was thrown. The Nats, by the way, have now won all 11 of Strasburg's starts this season and 15 in a row dating back to 2015.

Up next: The Nats embark on a long road trip beginning with three games in Philly. They play three at the Phillies, then three at the Reds and White Sox. Monday night will be a 7:05 p.m. start with Tanner Roark (3-4, 2.71) set to pitch opposite Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (4-3, 3.97).

Cardinals manager Matheny on pitching to Bryce Harper

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Cardinals manager Matheny on pitching to Bryce Harper

Atop the majors with a 23.4 walk percentage, Bryce Harper is being pitched around more often than anyone this season. Both that approach from opposing teams and his struggles with not getting pitches to hit have been well-documented.

The St. Louis Cardinals, however, have been an outlier this season when it comes to how they've handled Harper. He's only walked twice in 25 plate appearances against them. That's an eight percent walk rate, about a third of his season average. He's struck out in 32 percent of his PAs against the Cardinals (8 SO in 25 PA) - much higher than his 18 percent season average - and is batting just .130 through six games vs. the Cards. Only the Mets have held him to a lower OPS than the .591 mark he has against St. Louis.

The Cardinals have been pitching to Harper and it hasn't hurt them all that much. He has three hits in six games and two are homers, but both were solo shots.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny spoke about the team's approach to Harper this weekend.

"Typically, a solo home run shouldn't beat you," Matheny said. "We do pitch him carefully. We have in the past and we'll continue to. A lot of it has to do with how he's swinging at the time and what the matchups look like and who's hitting around him. All that goes into the decision."

"We've had a little success against him, not that that's always going to continue because he's a good hitter, but when we had him at home we were pitching him tough and we were able to get outs. When you're able to do that, you try to stick with the approach that's working."

A 13-year MLB veteran before he went into coaching, Matheny was a catcher during the days of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and then when Barry Bonds was setting records with the San Francisco Giants.

Matheny knows there comes a time when hitters can get so hot there is just no point in pitching to them.

"Who's a guy we want to stay away from, is there somebody in the lineup you don't want to beat you and is there enough depth to where you can't do that?… Bonds had good players around him, but when he was hot there were just times where he just wasn't going to [allowed to] beat you. I could see Harper being viewed the same way," Matheny said.

"There were times in Barry Bonds' career was the best player on the planet and you couldn't get him out… There were times when Sammy was the hottest hitter in baseball and you just weren't going to let him beat you. I don't care who was hitting behind him. This kid, obviously he can be included in those kinds of conversations."

Ben Standig contributed to this report

Nats' Belisle feels ready, but not quite done with rehab games

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Nats' Belisle feels ready, but not quite done with rehab games

Fresh off three rehab appearances with the Single-A Potomac Nationals, the next stop for Nats reliever Matt Belisle is likely to be Double-A Harrisburg. Belisle expects to pitch two innings there on Tuesday before the team can determine his next step.

Belisle pitched two innings on Saturday night with the P-Nats and allowed two earned runs on four hits with three strikeouts. He feels like he could return now if needed, but it's not up to him.

"I'm ready," the 35-year-old said. "I feel great with the calf. I'm doing everything I can. The therapist and everybody have said I'm good to go. I'm ready to rock."

Belisle has been on the disabled list since April 27 with a right calf strain. The two runs he gave up on Saturday are the only ones he's allowed in four innings on his rehab assigment. He allowed six hits and struck out five in those games.

Belisle made seven appearances with the Nationals before injuring himself fielding a groundball against the Phillies on April 27. He says he feels good both physically and in terms of his performance on the mound.

"I never took off. I was pitching off the mound and doing side sessions quite a bit. I guess when you get up you lose a little bit of feel, but it's not like coming in and starting all over again," he explained. 

"I've done this a few times before. How you play catch is a big and important factor. The more action you get, the better… You need to step in ready to fire and go."