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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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Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for the third no-hitter of his big league career ended with one out in the eighth inning, and he then gave up two unearned runs as the Miami Marlins rallied to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 Wednesday.

After backup catcher A.J. Ellis reached on an infield single for Miami's first hit, an error by first baseman Adam Lind and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. Scherzer threw a wild pitch that scored the tying run, and Giancarlo Stanton lined an RBI single -- the Marlins' only other hit -- to put them ahead.

Scherzer (8-5) threw no-hitters against the Pirates and Mets in 2015, and he seemed on his way to another when he began the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead.

He retired 18 in a row before Ellis hit a chopper that bounced in front of the plate and glanced off the tip of Scherzer's glove as he reached overhead for it. The ball rolled to shortstop Trea Turner, who failed in his attempt to make a barehanded pickup and rush a throw.

MORE NATS: 12-3 win over Marlins Tuesday

Official scorer Ron Jernick immediately ruled the play a hit, and Scherzer knew it. He picked up the ball and angrily flung it to the dugout -- not as a souvenir.

Washington totaled five hits against Dan Straily and three relievers. Kyle Barraclough (3-1) pitched the eighth, and A.J. Ramos worked around a two-out single in the ninth for his 10th save.

Scherzer threw a season-high 121 pitches and had 11 strikeouts, reaching double figures for the sixth game in a row, the team's longest such streak such the franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season.

He lowered his ERA to 2.08, best in the NL. He also leads the league with 145 strikeouts.

The other no-hitter in the majors this year was achieved on the same mound by Miami's Edinson Volquez against Arizona on June 3.

RELATED: 2017 MLB Power Rankings

The crowd of 22,659 for the 12:10 p.m. start included thousands of youngsters on camp day, and they gave the game a scream-filled soundtrack.

The score was 0-0 until Washington's Ryan Raburn hit his first homer of the year in the fifth. Raburn was a late replacement for outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who was scratched because he wasn't feeling well.

That was the only run allowed by Straily, who went six innings.

Scherzer walked Christian Yelich with two out in the first and hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch with one out in the second. That was Miami's last baserunner until the eighth.

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The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

Gio Gonzalez had some worrisome moments on the mound Tuesday night, including when a friend sitting in the first row behind the Washington Nationals' dugout was hit in the head by a flying bat.

"Next time in the front row everyone will be wearing a helmet," Gonzalez said.

The friend later said he was fine, and Gonzalez felt good too after pitching seven innings to beat the Miami Marlins 12-3.

Gonzalez (7-1) allowed three runs, including two on Marcell Ozuna's 19th homer , but struck out eight and won his fourth consecutive decision.

"Exactly what we needed," manager Dusty Baker said. "Gio's throwing the ball great."

He had plenty of support even before a five-run ninth. Bryce Harper started the scoring with a two-run single that extended his hitting streak to 13 games, and Daniel Murphy had two RBIs and hit his 12th homer . Stephen Drew had three hits and three RBIs, while Ryan Zimmerman drove in three runs with a double and a single.

Gonzalez, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, improved to 7-3 in 13 starts against his hometown team with an ERA of 2.19. He had a cluster of friends and relatives in attendance, and that's where Justin Bour's bat went when it slipped from his hands on a swing in the fifth inning.

"It's good to have friends here, but put them somewhere safe," Gonzalez said.

He said his pal who was hit received a souvenir later as compensation for being clubbed.

"Bour gave him a bat, which is pretty cool on his part, because we want the fans to come back," Gonzalez said.

The left-hander said it was too early to talk about the possibility of pitching in the All-Star game, which will be played in his hometown next month. His teammates are rooting for it.

"Gio has been great," Harper said. "I'm hoping he pitches like this the rest of the first half and gets the start here. It would be incredible to see."

The NL East leaders went 7 for 14 with runners in scoring position, but it was still 0-0 when Edinson Volquez (3-8) walked Michael A. Taylor and Trea Turner in the third inning, and they advanced on a double steal.

With two outs, Harper tried to bunt on the first pitch -- a curious move by the slugger -- and pushed it foul. He golfed the next pitch into center for the Nationals' first hit to put them up 2-0.

"I don't hit Volquez very well," Harper said. "If I can lay a bunt down with a guy at third and get a knock and score a run ... but it worked out."

Pitching to Harper backfired for Miami, so the next time he came to bat, when the Nationals again had a runner in scoring position, Marlins manager Don Mattingly opted for an intentional walk. Zimmerman foiled the strategy with a two-run double.

"They've got a good lineup," Mattingly said. "They put you in a box in a number of ways."

Volquez allowed a season-high six runs in 4 2/3 innings.