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Bryce Harper's hustle takes no All-Star break

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Bryce Harper's hustle takes no All-Star break

MIAMI -- It got kind of lost in the shuffle of last night's 5-1 victory over the Marlins -- which was highlighted more by Jordan Zimmermann's pitching dominance and Ryan Zimmerman's continued mashing at the plate -- but the Nationals' hustle on the basepaths shouldn't go unnoticed.

It began right out of the chute with Bryce Harper, who turned a top-of-the-first bloop single to left into a double. Actually, Harper was credited only with a single, with left fielder Logan Morrison charged with an error after booting the ball.

Harper, though, should have been given the double. Just listen to what he said about his mindset as he made contact with that pitch.

"I was thinking two out of the box," he said. "I saw they were playing me deep. They bobbled it, so it was even better for me."

Harper, of course, wasn't done hustling after reaching second base. Moments later, he caught Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson napping, none of them paying attention and none of them covering third base. So he bolted.

"I just saw Hanley and Reyes talking," he said. "That was the only thing I saw. And then Johnson was rubbing his hands with the ball. So I just took off. That's it."

You don't often see that kind of play in the big leagues, either because the defensive players aren't so lackadaisical or the guy on the bases isn't so aggressive. Harper, though, didn't see what the big deal was.

"I've been doing that since I was 13 years old," he said. "It's something I look for sometimes. That's what I saw, and I just took off."

Harper may not have been impressed with his own hustle, but his teammates certainly were.

"We talk about how Harper comes in and obviously brings us a little bit of energy," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "That baserunning play he made in the first inning kind of sparked my mind a little bit. I thought: 'Hey, would I have done that?' And then I was just a little bit more alert throughout the game."

That was especially obvious with one out in the top of the sixth, as Desmond stood on second base with Adam LaRoche on third and Jesus Flores at the plate.

Flores lofted a little looper to shallow left field. LaRoche held up at third base, thinking he might need to tag up if the ball was caught. Desmond, though, immediately took off from second, sending the ball would fall in for a hit and thus giving him a chance to score.

"I saw the left fielder was deep," he said. "I knew there was no chance he was going to get it. I didn't panic, but I was a little worried when Rochie came back and tagged up. I was like: 'What's going on? Am I missing something?' I just knew the outfielder was back."

Both guys did wind up scoring, though Desmond very nearly lapped LaRoche coming around third and crossed the plate just steps behind him.

"I could've easily caught him," Desmond said. "I was yelling: 'Go! Go! Go!'"

Those two runs weren't the difference in the game; the Nationals already led 3-0 at the time. But they did help keep their energy level up at a time when it easily could have dropped.

The Marlins certainly looked sluggish in their first game back from the All-Star break. The Nationals looked anything but.

"When you come back from the All-Star break, it's like starting the season new," Desmond said. "You want to know how you feel. You want to make sure you're the same way you were when you left. I think to get out and have Bryce make that heads-up play in the first inning, it kind of told everybody: 'Hey, we're back. We're all right. Same game, same players.' It kind of eased my mind a little bit."

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Bryce Harper knows why he didn't play well, but he won't specify why

Bryce Harper knows why he didn't play well, but he won't specify why

Bryce Harper struggled by his standards in 2016 and he says he know why it happened last year. While it was rumored last season that he was playing through injuries, Harper never really missed significant time, nor did he really say that his injuries were the reason for his disappointing numbers. 

Speaking with the media today at spring training, Harper hinted at his injuries from last season as he said he was just trying to stay in the lineup every day.  

Although Harper's statistics dropped off dramatically from his MVP season in 2015, his numbers weren't entirely awful last year. He still hit 24 homers, drove in 86 runs and he had an .814 OPS. 

With a full offseason to heal up, Harper will be a prime bounce-back candidate as he looks to help the Nationals win their third NL East title in the last four years. 

Related: Sorry D.C. sports fans, Bryce Harper is a Dallas Cowboys fan

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Nationals' Max Scherzer says he may not be ready for season opener

Nationals' Max Scherzer says he may not be ready for season opener

The Nationals aren't certain to have ace Max Scherzer ready to pitch for Opening Day. Scherzer, 32, was unable to compete in the World Baseball Classic this summer due to a stress fracture in his right ring finger. 

When he spoke to the media today at the first bullpen session of spring training, he said that the fracture has healed but the symptoms continue. 

Scherzer also said he'd just started throwing again this week. Manager Dusty Baker confimed that the Nationals don't know whether Scherzer will be ready to start the season. 

Any time a team's star pitcher suffers an unusual hand injury, it's cause for concern for the club and fans. 

Scherzer won the NL Cy Young Award last season and posted a 20-7 record as a starter. He also led the MLB with 284 strikeouts. 

Scherzer is an especially vital part of the Nationals rotation considering the injury history of Stephen Strasburg, who landed on the DL twice last season, once with soreness in the elbow that needed Tommy John surgery in 2010. 

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