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Controversy around him, Harper stays mature

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Controversy around him, Harper stays mature

So, Cole Hamels happily acknowledges he plunked Bryce Harper on purpose, saying "I'm not going to deny it" and "I'm just trying to continue the old baseball."

Then Mike Rizzo lambastes the Phillies left-hander, telling the Washington Post "I've never seen a more classless, gutless chicken bleep act in my 30 years in baseball" and saying Hamels is "fake tough."

And where is Harper during all this chaos? What does the Nationals rookie have to say about the maelstrom that has developed all around him, and about the pitcher who publicly admitted throwing at him in the eighth game of his career?

"He's a great guy, great pitcher and knows how to pitch," Harper said. "He's an All-Star. It's all good."

What does it say that between a 28-year-old former World Series MVP, a 51-year-old general manager of a major-league club and a 19-year-old outfielder with one week of big-league experience, the only one showing restraint right now is the 19-year-old?

This may come as a disappointment to all those scouts, opponents and media members who have been trying to label Harper as a punk from the moment he burst onto the national scene, but the kid has been a complete model citizen since his promotion to Washington nine days ago. He couldn't be any more respectful of the game, his teammates and opponents.

Wait, Bryce Harper? Respectful? Yes, that's right.

Credit his own increased maturity. Credit the Nationals' coaching staff and player development folks. Credit his family. Maybe even credit Scott Boras. Whoever is responsible for it, Harper has arrived in the big leagues under perhaps more scrutiny than any rookie in baseball history and has handled it all with aplomb.

He's said all the right things in front of cameras and notebooks, despite plenty of attempts by reporters to get him to slip up. He's done all the right things in the clubhouse, showing he knows his place among a roomful of veterans. And he's certainly played the game the right way, displaying more hustle and baseball instincts than guys with a decade more experience.

"He's smart," Ryan Zimmerman said. "I think his baseball IQ, and the way he adjusts and the things he does at his age is impressive. ... It's only the beginning of it. That's the scary part. He's only going to get better."

Harper plays the game with a boatload of emotion, but he also seems to understand how to channel that emotion into positive play. How many other big leaguers -- 19, 29 or 39 -- would have responded to Hamels' plunking last night the way Harper did?

He didn't charge the mound. He didn't try to overdo himself and make a stupid play on the bases. Instead, he hustled. He went first-to-third on Jayson Werth's routine single to left. And then (on the advice of Werth and third base coach Bo Porter) he timed Hamels' pickoff move perfectly, bolted for the plate and became the first teenager in 48 years to steal home.

"A lot of times, whether it's coaches or media, you get caught up and go: 'Wow,'" Porter said. "Is it 'wow' because he's playing the game unlike other people, or because he's playing the game the way it's supposed to be played? If you ask me, he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played."

And then at the end of the night, Harper stood in front of a dozen reporters trying to get him to say something controversial and revealed what truly matters to him.

"We lost 9-3. That sucks," he said. "I don't like losing. That's the only thing that comes in my mind when we walk away from that field."

Harper is a lot of things right now. He's electric. He's talented. He's taking the baseball world by storm.

Everyone wants to proclaim him the best 19-year-old in the big leagues since A-Rod, since Griffey, since Mantle. Whether he deserves to be lumped in with those greats remains to be seen.

But this much is certain: Bryce Harper's tremendous skills on the field at 19 are being surpassed by only one thing. His maturity.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

2017 MLB Power Rankings: The Dodgers don't lose anymore

The Dodgers are living their best life right now. 

Cody Bellinger looks like he's just going to go and hit two home runs a game for the rest of the year, Yasiel Puig is fun again and they're fresh off a 10-game win streak. Kenley Janson went 112 batters without issuing a walk. All of this is coming, by the way, during a year when Clayton Kershaw is more Very Good than he is Great. It's a good time to be a fan of an incredibly young and talented team in a top-5 market with a well-regarded front office that's been written a blank check. How did everyone not named the Dodgers do this week? To the rankings! 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

30. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 24-49
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance:  Maikel Franco (.333/.419/.481 last week)

And there goes Maikel Franco, right back on the trade block. The Phillies' rebuild is starting to look a lot murkier. 

29. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2017 Record: 27-50
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Brandon Belt (.316/.409/.947 last week)

It's weird to see the Giants play THIS poorly. Johnny Cueto is arguably the best available starter on the trade market though, and that obviously bodes well for their future. 

28. CINCINNATI REDS

2017 Record: 29-38
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 1-9
Notable Performance: Joey Votto (.360/.385/.680 last week)

When you go 1-9 over the last 10 and let the Nats put an 18-spot on you, you drop a spot or two in the rankings. Them's the rules. 

27. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 31-44
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Yangervis Solarte (.364/.462/.909 last week)

In an annual July tradition, the Padres will fleece someone for one of their relievers. Brad Hand in a Dodgers uniform, anyone? 

26. DETROIT TIGERS

2017 Record: 32-42
Previous Ranking: 15
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Miguel Cabrera (.400/.444/.840 last week)

The Tigers are our biggest fallers of the week. 2-8 in their last 10, including a frustrating Perfect Game bid broken up by a bunt single. Not their best week. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE

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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