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Gonzalez makes statement with complete game

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Gonzalez makes statement with complete game

Davey Johnson asked a lot of Gio Gonzalez last night in Houston. Throw at least seven innings to give an exhausted bullpen a break. No, wait, make that a complete game. On 117 pitches, two shy of your career-high. With the tying run on third and the winning run on second during the bottom of the ninth.

Oh, and while you're at it, would you mind clubbing your first career home run as well?

If it sounds like too much to ask of one player in one night, it probably was. Sometimes, though, it takes a brilliant (and gutsy) individual performance to carry a ballclub on his shoulders to a victory that wouldn't have been possible without him.

And in that regard, Gonzalez really showed the Nationals something during yet another tense win over the hapless Astros, this time by a score of 4-3.

The left-hander probably shouldn't have been on the mound in the bottom of ninth. Certainly he didn't appear to have anything left in the tank after he allowed a two-out, RBI single to Ben Francisco. With the lead now down to one run and the winning run now at the plate in the form of All-Star Jose Altuve, you kept looking to the dugout for the sight of Johnson strolling to the mound, signaling to the bullpen and taking the ball from his starter.

Except there wasn't anybody warming in the bullpen at that point. Drew Storen had pitched on three consecutive days and was deemed unavailable for this one. Same for Tyler Clippard, who had pitched five of the last six days.

No, this game was entirely in the hands of Gonzalez, win or lose. He continued to make things interesting when he surrendered a two-out single to Altuve -- though Bryce Harper really made it interesting with an ill-advised and wild throw to third base, allowing Altuve to advance to second. All of a sudden, the Astros were one base hit away from stealing this game.

But that's when Gonzalez dug deep for something extra when he needed it most. He struck out Matt Downs on four pitches: a pair of 94 mph fastballs followed by a pair of curveballs.

It was the first time in his career Gonzalez completed nine innings, and it was perhaps the most significant of his 14 victories as a National. Not because he was facing his toughest opponent of the season (he certainly wasn't). But because his team needed him to step up and pitch like an ace, and he responded in kind.

Johnson may be doing everything he can to keep his starters from going more than seven innings, but he needed to know Gonzalez could do it if asked.

You can bet the manager will remember this effort come late-September or perhaps October if confronted with the choice of giving Gonzalez the hook or leaving him in with a chance to finish what he started.

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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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