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LaRoche gets well-earned praise

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LaRoche gets well-earned praise

The first standing ovation came as Adam LaRoche stood on second base, his bases-clearing double having just given the Nationals a comfortable lead over the Pirates they would not relinquish, the scoreboard congratulating the veteran first baseman on recording his 1,000th career hit.

The second standing ovation came moments later, after the bottom of the seventh ended and LaRoche began walking back toward the Nationals' dugout to swap out his batting helmet for his cap and glove. Realizing all this applause was directed solely at him, the 32-year-old quickly doffed that cap to the gathering of 25,942.

That's as much of a public display of emotion as you're ever likely to see out of LaRoche. Rest assured, he was beaming inside during that moment, the highlight of the Nationals' 7-4 victory.

"It was really special, to say the least," he said. "Obviously going through what I did last year and not being able to be a big part of it, and now to come back and have the fans behind me the way they are ... it was perfect."

Stop for a moment and think about how unlikely a scene this would have been only a few months ago, when Nationals fans' lasting image of LaRoche was either his .172 batting average or his left arm in a sling following season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Even after making a full recovery, LaRoche still spent much of the winter listening to chatter about the Nationals making a play for free agent Prince Fielder, a move that would have resulted in him being kicked to the curb despite his 8 million salary.

LaRoche, a baseball lifer whose father and brother played in the big leagues, said all the right things and insisted he wasn't offended by all the Fielder talk. But he did admit he entered this season feeling like he had something to prove. Not to the Nationals or to their fans. But to himself.

"I don't look at what's going on, on the outside and feel like I've got to come here and prove the salary, or prove missing a year," he said. "But as a competitor, I wanted to prove to myself that I could come back from this surgery and do what I know I'm capable of doing. So to come out and do it is nice reassurance."

This is beyond reassurance, though. A consistent, steady hitter throughout his nine-year career, LaRoche has never stormed out of the gates like this. Following Wednesday night's 3-for-4, four-RBI performance, he now ranks seventh in the NL in batting average (.339), ninth in home runs (seven), third in RBI (29), fifth in on-base percentage (.429) and sixth in OPS (1.024).

More importantly, he's consistently produced big hits in meaningful situations for a Nationals team missing Michael Morse and Jayson Werth and still waiting for Ryan Zimmerman to catch fire.

"He's been indispensable," manager Davey Johnson said. "We're missing the guys in the lineup. Even Zim's been struggling. And he's been one constant from Day 1. Drove in a lot of big runs. Just a big player."

LaRoche wasn't the only contributor to this victory. Ian Desmond and Xavier Nady also homered, the latter doing it for the 100th time in his career. Gio Gonzalez struck out a season-high 10 batters over seven strong innings. And Henry Rodriguez overcame his demons and faced the minimum in the ninth inning to earn the save.

But this was a night to recognize LaRoche and what he's meant to the Nationals through the first six weeks of this season. Obviously, it's still early, but if they held an MVP vote today, LaRoche would probably show up on the ballot. And he certainly deserves consideration for his first All-Star berth.

"I've never been mentioned in any All-Star ballots, considering my typical first halves (he was a career .229 hitter in April and May before this season)," he said. "It would be neat. It would be a true honor."

Whether LaRoche is recognized by the rest of the baseball world or not, his teammates and coaches know very well what he's doing right now.

"He's been mighty big," Johnson said.

"Mr. Clutch," Gonzalez added.

LaRoche, in his typical, laid-back, country-boy manner, shrugs it all off. He's never been one to seek the spotlight or the admiration of fans.

Nor is one to say I told you so to anyone who was ready to dump him over the winter.

"I don't think that's his personality," Desmond said. "I think he understands the game. He's been around the game his whole life, literally. I think he came back, and if anything, he wanted to fulfill his contract and not necessarily repay the organization, but show the organization that he's going to fulfill his contract and play well and make it worth their money."

As the season nears the quarter-pole, the Nationals are more than getting their money's worth out of LaRoche.

Eight million dollars for an MVP candidate? Not a bad price by today's standards.

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Bryce Harper launches mammoth home run into third deck at National Park

Bryce Harper launches mammoth home run into third deck at National Park

Bryce Harper had been in a little bit of a slump heading into Friday's game against the Padres, but in the seventh inning, he got back to what he does best. 

With a full count and a runner aboard, Harper launched an absolute bomb that landed in the third deck down the right field line at Nationals Park. That means a new seat will be painted red where the ball landed. 

Check out the blast for yourself: 

It was the 15th homer of the year for Harper, which leads the National League. 

More Nationals: Scherzer dominates Padres with 13-strikeout game

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Max Scherzer absolutely dominates Padres, piles up 13 strikeouts

Max Scherzer absolutely dominates Padres, piles up 13 strikeouts

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer allowed three hits over 8 2/3 innings, Bryce Harper and Michael A. Taylor hit two-run homers and the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 5-1 on Friday night.

Trea Turner added a solo homer and a double for Washington.

Scherzer (5-3) struck out a season-high 13. He allowed a single to Austin Hodges in the second, Ryan Schimpf's solo homer in the fourth and Allen Cordoba's single in the ninth, throwing 108 pitches, 81 for strikes

Scherzer, who tossed a season-low five innings in a loss to Atlanta last time out, retired 14 straight before Cordoba's single. After a walk to Yangervis Solarte, acting manager Chris Speier visited the mound, but he momentarily left Scherzer in.

However, after a strikeout and a hit batter, Speier called on Koda Glover who struck out pinch-hitter Hunter Renfroe to pick up his fourth save.

With Washington leading 3-1 in the seventh, Harper hit a towering shot into the third deck off reliever Kirby Yates, his 15th of the season.

After Schimpf's homer had tied it 1-1, Taylor quickly regained the lead for Washington when he homered with Matt Wieters aboard in the bottom of the inning.

Since taking over for injured center fielder Adam Lind on April 29, Taylor is hitting .307 (27 for 88) with five doubles, three triples, three homers and 10 RBIs.

San Diego starter Luis Perdomo (0-2) allowed three runs and six hits over six innings. He struck out six and walked two.

In the bottom of the first, Turner sent a 2-1 pitch over the wall in center field the Nationals' first leadoff homer of the season. It was the third of Turner's career.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Padres: OF Manuel Margot, who left Wednesday's game with right calf soreness, was in a walking boot. Manager Andy Green said the boot is a precaution for now. "Becoming increasingly likely that it's a DL stint, but he's active tonight," Green said. . RHP Carter Capps (Tommy John surgery) threw on the side Friday. "There's talk of facing hitters again on Monday or Tuesday," Green said.

Nationals: An MRI on OF Chris Heisey confirmed he has a ruptured right biceps tendon. However, he will attempt to rehab the injury without surgery and could return in a relatively short time. Heisey was on the field during batting practice, shagging fly balls in the outfield.

INSPEIERED LEADERSHIP

With manager Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California, bench coach Speier is the acting manager. Asked before the game about Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy being out the lineup, Speier deadpanned: "Actually, Zimmerman had a whiffle ball accident with his daughter, sprained his right wrist and Murph's back is blown out." He quickly added: "Just a day off."

UP NEXT

Padres: LHP Clayton Richards (3-5, 4.31) is 1-3 in 10 career appearances, six starts, against the Nationals with a 3.56 ERA

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (5-1, 3.28) faces his hometown team for the seventh time in his career. He is 5-1 with a 3.50 ERA against San Diego.