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Nats don't expect Burnett to return

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Nats don't expect Burnett to return

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nationals are resigned to the fact they aren't likely to re-sign Sean Burnett.

With as many as eight clubs in the mix for a left-handed reliever who could command a three-year contract in the neighborhood of $15 million, general manager Mike Rizzo all but conceded defeat this evening.

"We like Sean. We'd like to bring him back. But it has to make sense for us," Rizzo said. "And right now, I don't see a fit financially or term-wise. But he hasn't signed with anybody yet. We'll see where it leads us."

Burnett is the best available lefty on the market this winter after posting a 2.38 ERA in 70 appearances for the Nationals last season. He's the rare reliever who has established a track record of consistency and durability, boasting a 2.85 ERA while appearing in 283 games over the last four years (third-most in the majors).

Despite that track record, the Nationals are reluctant to make a long-term commitment to Burnett -- or any reliever -- given the typical volatility of the position.

They'll need to fill Burnett's role, however, and prefer for his replacement to be left-handed. Veteran Michael Gonzalez, who had a 3.03 ERA in 47 games for the Nationals last season, is a candidate to return on a one-year deal.

Fellow lefty Zach Duke, who signed a one-year contract of his own today, will be used as a long reliever and potential starter in case of injury.

"We'd like to get a second left-hander [in addition to Duke]," Rizzo said. "It's not a necessity, because our right-handers get out lefties so well. But in a perfect world, we'd like to get a second left-hander in the bullpen."

As things currently stand, the Nationals are looking at a bullpen of closer Drew Storen, setup man Tyler Clippard, Duke and right-handers Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen and Henry Rodriguez.

Right-hander Christian Garcia, who impressed out of the bullpen in September and made the postseason roster, will be stretched out next spring to potentially become a starter either in Washington or at Class AAA Syracuse.

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Nationals baffled by Dickey's knuckleball in Braves' 3-2 win

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Nationals baffled by Dickey's knuckleball in Braves' 3-2 win

ATLANTA  -- R.A. Dickey frustrated Washington with his knuckleball for eight innings, Ozzie Albies had three hits and the Atlanta Braves beat the Nationals 3-2 on Thursday night.

After Ryan Zimmerman's leadoff homer in the second inning, the 42-year-old Dickey gave up only one hit -- a two-out single by Trea Turner in the third -- over the next five innings. Turner was picked off first base.

Dickey (10-10) gave up two runs, four hits and no walks. He made a strong case that the Braves should pick up his $8 million club option for 2018.

Zimmerman lined his homer into the left-field seats, tying the game at 1. He set a career high with his 34th homer, his fourth off Dickey this season.

Arodys Vizcaino struck out the side in a perfect ninth for his 12th save in 15 chances. It was a strong return to form after Vizcaino walked all three batters he faced in a blown save Wednesday night.

The Braves scored two runs in the fourth off Tanner Roark (13-10). Albies singled, moved to third on catcher Matt Wieters' wild pickoff attempt and scored the go-ahead run on Freddie Freeman's fly ball to deep left field. Nick Markakis doubled past Zimmerman at first base and scored on Johan Camargo's single up the middle.

The Nationals trimmed the Braves' lead to one in the eighth. Anthony Rendon doubled to left field and scored on Wieters' two-out single.

Ender Inciarte continued his push for 200 hits when he led off the first with a triple to right field. It was his 191st hit, the third-highest total in the majors. Inciarte scored on Albies' single.

The game was delayed several minutes in the middle of the eighth. There was confusion as Nationals manager Dusty Baker attempted to make several defensive changes and had to go over the changes with home plate umpire Nic Lentz, who also took questions from Braves manager Brian Snitker.

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Ryan Zimmerman sets career high in homers vs. Braves

Ryan Zimmerman sets career high in homers vs. Braves

Ryan Zimmerman's resurgent season continues to get more and more impressive. 

Zimmerman hit his 34th home run of the season on Thursday night, setting a new career high. 

His previous career high was set in 2009, when he hit 33 while slashing .292/.364/.525 with a .888 OPS. 

He didn't get cheated on it, either: 

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