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'He was white as a sheet'

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'He was white as a sheet'

ATLANTA -- The official temperature at Turner Field when Stephen Strasburg took the mound Saturday afternoon was 104 degrees. One hour earlier, as Strasburg was getting ready to warm up for his start against the Braves, that number actually sat at 106 degrees, officially the hottest reading ever recorded in the city's history. The Clean Air Campaign classified this as a "Code Purple" day, which means the air quality reached "very unhealthy" levels.

Strasburg thought he had prepared for this. He'd known since making his last start Monday in Colorado -- where the gametime temperature was a record 100 degrees -- what awaited him in Atlanta, and according to teammates had been taking precautions for several days in anticipation of this outing.

But as the Nationals right-hander very slowly walked off the field in the middle of the fourth inning, his shoulders slumped, his uniform sopping wet, it was obvious to Davey Johnson what needed to be done.

"When he came back in, he was white as a sheet," the manager said. "And I said: 'That's it.'"

Thus ended the shortest start of Strasburg's season in disturbing fashion. As the young ace retreated to the air-conditioned clubhouse to receive three rounds of IV fluids and other treatments to address what the Nationals called "heat-related issues," his teammates fought their way through another five innings of torturous baseball, ultimately taking a 7-5 loss to the Braves that didn't seem as serious by day's end than Strasburg's health.

"It's obviously a great decision by Davey," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "You preach to kids: 'Hey, if you're hot and you feel dizzy, come out of the game.' I knew a kid who died at a young age in Florida. He felt like he was hot, he kept on practicing. And the next thing you know, he was gone. I was relieved they made the right decision and got Stras out and he didn't give too much of a fight. It was a responsible decision."

Shortly after this 3-hour, 14-minute ballgame played before a crowd of 26,491 that tried to seek refuge by retreating to the few covered sections of the stadium, Strasburg stood in front of his locker, a bandage covering his inner left elbow at the site of the IV injection. He seemed dejected that he couldn't pitch deeper into the late afternoon.

"Obviously I want to go out there and compete, and I expected a lot more of myself," he said. "By no means was I going out there thinking I wasn't prepared for it. I did everything I could to be ready for it as far as hydrating and everything. I've just got to learn from it."

Strasburg warmed up in the bullpen wearing a navy blue pullover, perhaps not wanting to soak his red game jersey before he ever threw an official pitch. It didn't take long for that to happen, though; by the time he walked off the mound following a 24-pitch first inning, he already looked fatigued.

Strasburg did contribute to the Nationals' cause. He actually delivered an RBI single in the bottom of the second after the Braves intentionally walked catcher Jesus Flores to load the bases for the pitcher (who now boasts a .375 batting average and 1.090 OPS).

But he really struggled during the bottom of the third, issuing two walks and two doubles and needing extra time between pitches to catch his breath and wipe sweat off his brow.

"I tried to go up there a couple of times, just calm him down and tell him: Hey, breathe. Take your time. Just trust yourself'" Flores said. "But I knew at the same time, the weather wasn't easy to handle it."

In between innings, Strasburg tried to cool off in the air-conditioned clubhouse. But he had no time for that after the third inning because he was due up third. He trudged to the plate, intending never to take the bat off his shoulder, yet still was forced to trot to first base after Atlanta lefty Mike Minor walked him.

By the time that inning ended and Strasburg slowly made his way to the dugout, Johnson realized he couldn't allow this to continue any longer.

"It was pretty scary, and he wasn't talking too good," said the manager, who also said the pitcher's blood pressure was "way up." "I found out later that he got a little dizzy while he was out on the mound. The problem was he was totally dehydrated."

Chien-Ming Wang had already been warming in the bullpen for an inning, just in case a change needed to be made. Because Strasburg (who wound up throwing 67 pitches) was being removed from the game due to a physical ailment, Johnson asked the umpiring crew to give Wang as much time as he needed to warm up.

Wang, a native of Taiwan who has become accustomed to pitching in excessive heat and humidity, wasn't so much fazed by the conditions as much as his continued inability to locate his bread-and-butter sinker. The veteran right-hander wound up getting tagged for four runs and five hits in two innings, turning what was a close game into a sizable deficit.

It was the latest in a string of poor outings by Wang, whose ERA now sits at 7.61 as he tries to right himself out of the bullpen.

"Coach gave me this opportunity," he said through interpreter John Hsu. "I just need to do my best and try to get myself back, just like before."

The Nationals' patience with Wang (who was re-signed for 4 million in November) appears to be running thin.

"He's just not right," Johnson said. "His release is not right, and I'm concerned about it. He's a veteran pitcher and it's not really spring training. We're in the heat of battle. So I don't know."

The date of Wang's next appearance remains to be seen. The date of Strasburg's next appearance tentatively remains Friday, against the Rockies in Washington. That's his final scheduled start before the All-Star Game, an exhibition he's likely to find out Sunday he'll participate in for the first time in his career.

"It's serious," Johnson said of the dehydration. "But it's not something he can't recover from."

A native of San Diego, where the temperature rarely exceeds 80 degrees, Strasburg knows he's going to have to deal with plenty more hot summer days on the East Coast.

He'll continue to prepare as well as he can, even though the precautions he took before Saturday's game still prevented him from overcoming the extreme elements.

"It just didn't seem to change the symptoms or anything," he said. "It's tough. I feel like I let the team down today. It's just something I've got to get over."

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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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