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Instant analysis: Nats 7, Pirates 4

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Instant analysis: Nats 7, Pirates 4

Game in a nutshell: Gio Gonzalez was lights-out for seven innings, striking out 10 to take over the MLB lead in that department. But the bigger story might have been the sudden outburst of power from the Nationals' often-lackluster lineup. Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady all homered, and LaRoche later added a clutch, three-run double to give the Nationals bullpen a nice cushion. Beleaguered closer Henry Rodriguez then finished it off in the ninth, earning his ninth save in 12 tries.
Hitting highlight: It seems like we write this every other night, but it bears repeating yet again: Where would the Nationals be right now without Adam LaRoche? The veteran first baseman delivered yet again, homering in the bottom of the sixth and then lacing a three-run double in the bottom of the seventh to break the game open. The 1,000th hit of LaRoche's career earned a standing ovation from the crowd of 25,942 and gave him 29 RBI for the season. That's tied with Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez for third in the National League.

Pitching highlight: The Nationals knew they were getting a good, young hurler in Gio Gonzalez, but not even GM Mike Rizzo could have expected the left-hander to be the best strikeout pitcher in baseball. With 10 Ks in seven innings against the Pirates, Gonzalez raised his season total to 60, one better than the Yankees' CC Sabathia for the major-league lead. If there was one thing to nitpick about Gio's start, though, it was the two walks he issued to light-hitting Yamaico Navarro and Rod Barajas. Both Pittsburgh batters came around to score after drawing their free passes, a good lesson for Gonzalez in the importance of keeping the ball in the strike zone.
Key stat: The only qualifying shortstop in the National League with a higher slugging percentage than Ian Desmond's .447 mark is the Cardinals' Rafael Furcal.

Up next: Jordan Zimmermann looks to even his record at 3-3 when he faces Pirates right-hander James McDonald in the finale of this abbreviated, two-game series. First pitch on Thursday is at 7:05 p.m.

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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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