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Harper won't join All-Star teammates in KC

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Harper won't join All-Star teammates in KC

Despite a furious, last-minute campaign by the Nationals, Bryce Harper lost the NL "Final Vote" competition to Cardinals third baseman David Freese and thus won't appear in next week's All-Star Game unless he's a late injury substitution.

Freese won the online voting competition, Major League Baseball announced this afternoon, beating out Harper, Braves outfielder Michael Bourn and Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill.

Harper actually finished third, behind Freese and Bourn.

Though the Nationals' PR and marketing departments ran an aggressive campaign online and on Twitter, trying to encourage fans to vote for the 19-year-old outfielder, the baseball operations arm actually preferred he get to take the All-Star break off. Having started all but one game since he made his debut April 28, Harper talked this week about the physical and mental grind in the big leagues and how he looked forward to four days relaxing at home in Las Vegas.

Told this afternoon it didn't look like Harper would win the vote, manager Davey Johnson replied: "Good."

"I think he could use the time off, catch his breath," Johnson added, "rather than have the excitement of the All-Star Game."

Though Harper probably had more name recognition than anyone else on the ballot, Freese was a more deserving candidate based on his performance this season. Last season's World Series MVP for the Cardinals, Freese enters today hitting .285 with 13 homers and 50 RBI. Harper, who has 46 fewer plate appearances, is hitting .280 with eight homers and 23 RBI.

The Nationals still will have three All-Stars for the first time since the franchise arrived in town: pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, plus shortstop Ian Desmond. First baseman Adam LaRoche also could be a late addition if Cincinnati's Joey Votto is unable to play due to injury.

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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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