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Nationals not overly concerned injuries will affect defense in playoffs

Nationals not overly concerned injuries will affect defense in playoffs

Look around the field and the Nationals have questions about the health of many players, to varying degrees. 

At first base, Ryan Zimmerman is nursing a sore calf muscle. At second, Daniel Murphy has a left buttock strain. At catcher, Jose Lobaton has a right ankle that just over a week ago he described as good to play, but not great.

In the outfield, Jayson Werth missed the team's final two games with back tightness. Bryce Harper jammed his thumb late in the season and may or may not still be dealing with a neck and right shoulder issue.

Those injuries are all relatively minor. With the exception of Murphy, each ailment shouldn't affect their status for Game 1 on Friday. But add them all up, and combine them with Trea Turner's inexperience in center field, one could argue there are questions about the Nationals' defense as they get set for a playoff run.

"If they put their hands on it, most of the time you're out. It's just a matter of how much range they may have," manager Dusty Baker said. 

"I've got some capable guys that I can put in there, but then that makes my bench weaker as I interject guys into the game depending on when I interject them into the game. Do you have some younger, lesser players then facing some of their horses at the end? I'm going to be very cognizant of who they have left, who they may bring in and the matchups that might be coming. That's part of the job."

[RELATED: Dusty Baker: Playoffs 'where I'm supposed to be']

With ace pitchers like Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw on the mound, runs may come at a premium. They always do in the postseason. Small mistakes can loom large and alter games and series, especially when it's a best of five. 

Murphy himself learned that the hard way in the World Series last fall. His Mets committed five errors - two by Murphy himself - and it cost them against the Kansas City Royals. 

The Nationals, to be fair, have been among the best defensive teams in baseball this season. They had the second-fewest errors, the second-best fielding percentage and the fifth-best defensive efficiency rating. Defense is one of their strengths, but injuries can change everything and the Nats have a long list of them at the moment.

GM Mike Rizzo, for one, is not at all concerned.

"I love our defense. We're a very efficient defensive team," he said. "When we get to it, we catch it and we usually throw you out. So we feel good about that. Part of the defense is that guy in the middle of the field and we feel really good about that part of it."

The Nationals do have that working for them. If Scherzer has his strikeout stuff, defense may not matter as much as it usually does, at least in Game 1.

[RELATED: Nats to have Adam and Drake LaRoche throw out 1st pitch in playoffs]

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Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

SAN DIEGO -- Yangervis Solarte hit a two-run home run off Stephen Strasburg in the first inning of the right-hander's first start in almost a month and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 Saturday night.

Strasburg (10-4) retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a single to Jose Pirela and then the homer to the switch-hitting Solarte, who drove a 96-mph fastball to right for his 13th.

Strasburg then settled down against his hometown team, retiring 10 straight batters and 13 of 14. He went six innings, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out eight and walking one.

He hadn't pitched since July 23, when he went only two innings at Arizona. He went on the disabled list with an elbow nerve impingement.

Strasburg pitched at West Hills High in suburban Santee and then at San Diego State for coach Tony Gwynn before going to the Nationals with the No. 1 pick overall in the 2009 draft.

While Strasburg pitched well, the Nationals had only three hits.

San Diego's Travis Wood (2-1) also settled down after laboring through the first inning, when he threw 35 pitches but didn't allow a run. He was unscathed until the fifth, when he allowed a one-out single to Jose Lobaton and a two-out double to Adrian Sanchez. The run was unearned because of Woods' throwing error on Strasburg's sacrifice bunt that advanced Lobaton.

Wood allowed just the unearned run on three hits in seven innings, with two strikeouts and two walks.

Brad Hand pitched the ninth for his 11th save.

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Matt Grace, Howie Kendrick lead Nationals past San Diego Padres

Matt Grace, Howie Kendrick lead Nationals past San Diego Padres

SAN DIEGO -- Matt Grace pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in place of injured Max Scherzer and Howie Kendrick hit a leadoff homer and drove in two runs to help the Washington Nationals beat the San Diego Padres 7-1 on Friday night.

Scherzer was scratched from his scheduled start and placed on the 10-day disabled list with a sore neck. Grace and five relievers held San Diego to four hits.

Grace, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and pitched at UCLA, made his first big league start and his first start since 2012 when he was with Single-A Potomac. It was his 61st big league appearance.

The left-hander allowed two hits, struck out one and walked one. He retired Cory Spangenberg on a grounder to open the fifth and manager Dusty Baker came out to get him after 52 pitches.

Shawn Kelley came on and with one out allowed Dusty Coleman's solo homer into the second deck in left field, his fourth.

Joe Blanton (2-2) pitched a scoreless sixth for the win.

Kendrick homered to left on the third pitch from Luis Perdomo, his sixth leadoff shot this season and seventh homer overall. Kendrick also hit an RBI single with no outs in the seventh to chase Perdomo and give the Nationals a 5-1 lead. Pinch-hitter Alejandro De Aza hit a sacrifice fly one batter earlier.

Adam Lind hit an RBI single in the sixth.

Washington's Michael A. Taylor robbed Yangervis Solarte of a home run with a perfectly timed leap to catch the ball above the 396 sign in center field leading off the second, and right fielder Andrew Stevenson made a nice running catch of Wil Myers' fly ball with a runner on third to end the fourth.

Perdomo (6-8) allowed five runs, three earned, and six hits while striking out five and walking three.