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Instant Analysis: Eight straight for Nats


Instant Analysis: Eight straight for Nats

Nats 6, Diamondbacks 5

Game in a nutshell: What could have been a nice pitchers' duel between Edwin Jackson and Wade Miley instead turned into a slugfest almost from the moment each guy toed the rubber in the first inning. Jackson gave up four early runs and looked to be in serious trouble, only to right his ship for a little while and reach the sixth inning. That bought some time for the Nationals' lineup to figure out Miley and torch the NL Rookie of the Year candidate for six runs (five in the top of the fifth alone). Perhaps the most credit for this victory, though, goes to Washington's bullpen, which managed to strand runners in scoring position in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings before Tyler Clippard closed it out for his 24th save. Thus, the Nationals extended their winning streak to a season-high eight games. At at 71-43, they continue to hold baseball's best record by three full games.

Hitting highlight: It's amazing what a difference some depth has done for the Nationals lineup. With Jayson Werth back healthy and just about everyone contributing in some way, the Nats are capable of exploding for a big inning at any moment. Which they did in the top of the fifth, plating five runs on five hits: a Steve Lombardozzi bunt single, a Werth RBI double, a Ryan Zimmerman two-run single, a Michael Morse RBI double and a Jesus Flores RBI single. Remember when it looked like this team was seriously lacking in offensive ability? Yeah, not so much anymore.

Pitching lowlight: This was a laborious outing for Jackson, who gave up runs in the first, second and third innings, gave up five extra-base hits and needed 111 pitches to navigate his way through 5 23 innings. Not that the start was entirely negative for the right-hander. He faced the minimum in the fourth and fifth innings and struck out three batters in a row at one point. It wasn't a high-quality start, but Jackson did manage to get past his early struggles and actually depart with the Nationals holding a lead.

Key stat: Jackson recorded the 51st win by a Nationals starter this season. That's only one shy of the team record for an ENTIRE season, set by the 2005 rotation.

Up next: The series concludes with a Sunday matinee inside Chase Field. Left-handers Ross Detwiler and Patrick Corbin square off at 4:10 p.m. EDT.

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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.