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Failure to execute dooms Nats

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Failure to execute dooms Nats

MIAMI -- Among the many impressive traits Bryce Harper has shown during his first month in the big leagues has been an aversion to chasing pitches out of the strike zone, especially in big spots during ballgames.

Where some seasoned veterans have expanded their strike zone and let opposing pitchers get the best of them, the rookie has remained disciplined and unwilling to cave in.

And then came the eighth inning of Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Marlins, when for a rare moment the 19-year-old actually looked like a 19-year-old at the plate.

Given an opportunity to hit with the bases loaded and one out during what was at that point a one-run game, Harper struck out on three pitches from Miami reliever Steve Cishek, the dagger a 93-mph fastball at his eyes. Ryan Zimmerman's subsequent fielder's choice officially extinguished the potential rally and ultimately sent the Nationals to their second straight loss at Marlins Park.

"We missed our chance in that eighth inning," manager Davey Johnson said. "We had the right guys up that time. It just didn't happen."

Though the third strike looked like the biggest mistake of the inning, Harper was more upset about his inability to put either of Cishek's first two pitches (each thrown over the heart of the plate) into play. Instead, Harper fouled both offerings into the stands on the third-base side of the stadium, leaving himself in an 0-2 hole against the sidewinding right-hander.

"The last one, I think he just rode it up on me a little bit. He got me," Harper said. "But the first two I could have put in play. They were maybe a little off the plate. But they were pitches I could handle."

If it feels like everyone's nitpicking one at-bat, it's only because this was a game decided by only a handful of key moments.

The Nationals managed to execute one of them -- Corey Brown's perfectly placed, suicide squeeze to score Ian Desmond in the fifth -- but failed after that in allowing the Marlins to take the lead and then hold it.

Each of Miami's first two runs came as a result of poor execution by Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, beginning in the sixth when he was give a chance to stare down one of baseball's most fearsome hitters: Giancarlo Stanton.

The Marlins had a man on third and two out when Stanton (who has already clubbed 11 homers this month) stepped to the plate. The option to intentionally walk the slugger was readily available to Johnson, but the veteran skipper preferred to let Jackson take his chances against Stanton (who had walked on four pitches in the first and flied out to deep center field in the fourth).

"He's pitched to him all night, and he had success against him," Johnson said. "I'm not going to take it out of his hands at that point, even though he's a hot hitter."

With the count 1-1, Jackson tried to come inside with a fastball. Instead, he left it over the plate just enough for Stanton to turn on the pitch and send it down the left-field line for the go-ahead double.

"You're going to have situations where you're going to have to come at 'em and you just take your chances," Jackson said. "Here it is. Best stuff against best stuff. Sometimes you win it, sometimes you lose it."

The mistake that ultimately cost Jackson the game came one inning later, on an errant pickoff attempt. The ball scooted toward the right-field corner, and Chris Coghlan wound up on third base. Moments later, pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs lofted a sacrifice fly to left, bringing home what proved to be the winning run.

"It gave them an opportunity to come out with a lead," Jackson said. "It's a well-pitched ballgame on both parts. It's who can make the least amount of mistakes, and they capitalized on a mistake."

That's the kind of game it was, with both teams scratching and clawing for each run and Johnson resorting to a rare suicide squeeze call to produce his team's only tally against Anibal Sanchez (who improved to 8-0 in 19 career starts against the Nationals).

With Desmond standing on third base and one out in the fifth, Johnson gave the squeeze sign to third-base coach Bo Porter, who relayed it to Brown. The 26-year-old outfielder was in a big-league lineup for the first time, and to that point his brief career stat line including zero hits in five at-bats and three strikeouts.

Brown had never been asked to drop a squeeze bunt in his life, so his first thought was to make sure he correctly interpreted Porter's sign.

"Yesterday and today, Bo was going over the signs with me," Brown said. "I didn't do too well passing the test. I was kind of hoping that I saw it right."

Brown indeed saw it right, and he executed the bunt to perfection, recording his first career RBI in the process.

Little did the Nationals know that would be their only run of a frustrating night against a tough opponent.

"Edwin pitched a heck of a game to the only team in the NL East with a healthy lineup," Desmond said. "Pretty good game. It was a fun game to play in. Obviously it was a tough loss, but we showed a lot out there."

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Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan Rodriguez becomes first former Nationals player to be voted into Hall of Fame

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the first former Nationals player (2005-present) to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. He was inducted in his first year of eligibility, marking the 52nd first-ballot hall of famer in history. 

Rodriguez, who was the first free agent signed by current Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, played the final two seasons of his career with Washington in 2010-11. During his time in D.C. he hit .254 six homers and 68 RBI. Pudge's greatest contribution to the Nationals came from his leadership and work ethic. He guided Stephen Strasburg through his rookie season and also helped develop Wilson Ramos so he could pass the torch to him. 

During his 21-year career, Pudge made 14 all-star teams, won 13 gold gloves, won seven silver slugger awards, led his league in caught-steeling percentage nine times, and was named American League MVP in 1999 with the Texas Rangers. He became a World Series champion in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Pudge's 13 gold gloves are the most ever by a catcher, and his 2,844 career hits are the most ever by a player who appeared in 50 percent or more of their career games as a catcher.  

In addition to Rodriguez, former Montreal Expos great Tim Raines was inducted to the Hall of Fame. Raines is the franchise leader (Expos/Nationals) in walks (793), runs (947), stolen bases (635) and triples (82). Raines was an all-star seven times and he won a silver slugger in 1986 with the Expos. He is the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 RBI in a career, and the only player to steal at least 70 bases in six consecutive seasons. 

Related: Bryce Harper wants Nationals to spend money on players, not team store

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Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper wants Nationals to invest in Matt Wieters, Greg Holland more than facilities

Bryce Harper isn't one to keep his opinions to himself. The Nationals slugger is outspoken about what he wants, whether that's to "Make Baseball Fun Again" or to make at least $400 million on his next contract

On Wednesday, he gave his take on how the Nats should be investing their money this summer. Here's Harper responding to a tweet from ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Harper's message: Players over everything else. Sorry, gift shop. 

It's plain to see where the 2015 NL MVP is going with this. Obviously, he wants as much talent around him as possible for a chance to win the World Series. 

Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star catcher, and Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer, could be significant additions to Washington's roster. 

Harper is set to become a free agent in 2018, at which point an organization like the New York Yankees will be prepared to offer him both a massive salary and a massive investment in the players around him.

The slugger probably hopes his current team will try to surround him with winning pieces in an effort to keep him. But if a report about the Nationals' reaction to his contract demands proves accurate, they may have another agenda. 

There's Harper drama around the Nationals? Just a regular Wednesday here in Washington.

MORE NATIONALS: Nationals avoid arbitration with Harper, three others