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Closer controversy?

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Closer controversy?

The Nationals open tomorrow what promises to be the most compelling second half to a season since the franchise arrived in town in 2005, owners of the NL's best record but saddled with several major questions that need to be answered.

Today we're counting down the five most significant storylines to the remainder of the Nationals' season. Next up is storyline No. 4: Who winds up as the Nats' closer, Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen...

Drew Storen's pending return to the Nationals' bullpen was supposed to be neat and tidy. After missing three months following surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, Storen would re-assume his job as the Nats' closer, with Tyler Clippard returning to the setupfireman role that made him so valuable over the last three seasons.

Then something funny happened. Clippard started pitching better in the ninth inning than he ever did in the seventh or eighth inning. How dominant has the bespectacled right-hander been? Well, in 19 appearances since assuming closer duties in late May, he's 14-for-14 in save situations with a 0.49 ERA and .088 opponents' batting average.

Considering all that, manager Davey Johnson admitted it would be all but impossible to demote Clippard back to a setup job when Storen comes off the disabled list.

So the plan, for now, is to have Storen get his feet wet pitching in a setup role, something that could happen as soon as tomorrow if he's activated as expected following a four-appearance, minor-league rehab assignment.

What, though, happens if Storen rediscovers the form that allowed him to convert 43 saves one year ago and seemingly establish himself as the organization's long-term closer?

It may not matter. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? At the moment, Clippard is humming along and showing no signs of breaking down.

If, however, there is a slip up at some point, don't be surprised if Storen finds himself taking the mound for the ninth inning once again.

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Ten very good Pups in the Park who don't care that the Nats lost

Ten very good Pups in the Park who don't care that the Nats lost

Nationals Park opened its gates to dogs on Sunday for "Pups in the Park." Humans and their doggos got to sit in outfield section 140-143 with tickets being $30 per person and $10 per canine.

The Nationals ended up losing to the Reds, but that didn't put a damper on the afternoon for the guests of honor. 

Sometimes, its a blessing not to know what's going on. Just check out these ten happy puppers. 

1. Teddy, who's cuter than any racing president

2. Steve, who looks great in hats

Steve the dog 🐶 showing his natitude #pupsinthepark #nats

A post shared by Jen (@see_jho_run) on

3. Penny, who probably wasn't easy to carry around

Today was a good day to be Penny. #ballgame⚾️ #natsbestbuds #pupsinthepark

A post shared by Sheri (@pennysmom87) on

We took her out to the ball game! #pupsinthepark #natsbestbuds

A post shared by Sheri (@pennysmom87) on

4. Apollo, a Nats fan from a young age

5. Ellie, who plans to use this photo for #TongueOutTuesday

6. Auryn, who isn't even watching the game

Happiest little corgi in the park #aurynthedog @viano_perez #pupsinthepark #nats

A post shared by Taylor Pittman (@taylorp712) on

7. Moussie, who trimmed his beard just for the occasion

MOUSSIE IN THE PARK ⚾️🐶

A post shared by emma (@emmajekowsky) on

8. Dasher, obviously the favorite granddog

9. Bentley and Abby, whose moms can be overbearing 

Enjoying #pupsinthepark at @nationals game! #Bentley #Abby #ForcedPhotos 🐶🐶⚾️

A post shared by Mary Kennedy (@mkay0310) on

10. PJ, who squeezed into this selfie at the last minute

It's #pupsinthepark day at #nationals park. PJ is ready for a big Nats win!

A post shared by Luke Reeves (@lreevesm) on

Washington is now 13-19 in days games this season, significantly worse than their 31-11 night record. But these furry friends don't know that!

MORE NATIONALS: Roark's shaky start dooms Nats in loss to Reds

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Nationals can't overcome Tanner Roark's first inning, lose to Reds

Nationals can't overcome Tanner Roark's first inning, lose to Reds

WASHINGTON (AP) – Scooter Gennett homered and got four hits, and the Cincinnati Reds scored five times in the first inning off Tanner Roark en route to a 6-2 victory over Washington Nationals on Sunday.

The Reds won for just the second time in 15 games. Gennett's four hits were his most since he got five while becoming the 17th major league player homer four times in a game on June 6.

Gennett had an RBI single in the first and hit his 11th home run in the second. The second baseman also threw out Brian Goodwin at the plate on a fifth-inning relay, preventing Bryce Harper from recording an RBI on a three-hit day.

Scott Feldman (6-5) pitched seven innings. He allowed both runs on Michael Taylor's 11th homer.

Roark (6-5) gave up six runs over six innings and 115 pitches after requiring 40 to complete the first. The right-hander has now yielded 19 runs over his last three starts as his ERA has risen more than a run to 5.15.

Billy Hamilton led off the game with a double and scored a single by Gennett. Joey Votto also singled, and Gennett scored on Harper's throwing error from right field.

A grounder made it 3-0 before Tucker Barnhart hit a two-out, two-run double off Harper's outstretched glove.

Gennett homered into the Nationals' bullpen in the second.

Taylor homered in the fourth. He connected twice Saturday in Washington's 18-3 romp.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Reds: 3B Eugenio Suarez was out of the starting lineup for the first time since June 8, but came in as a defensive replacement and popped out in the ninth. He is hitting .180 over his last 17 games and is just 2 for 18 on the Reds' road trip.

Nationals: LHP Sammy Solis (elbow) made a fifth rehab outing on Saturday night, retiring two batters on 11 pitches.

UP NEXT

Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 2.70) draws the start Monday at St. Louis in a makeup game from an April 29 rainout. It is Finnegan's first outing since going on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury on April 16.

Nationals: Begin a four-game home series against the Cubs, who are combined .206 (20 for 97) against Gio Gonzalez (7-1, 2.96), Washington's starter on Monday.

MORE NATIONALS: Nats clobber Reds 18-3