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Nats: Encouragingdiscouraging

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Nats: Encouragingdiscouraging

As the Nationals prepare to open another tough interleague series against another tough AL East opponent (the Tampa Bay Rays come to town tonight), it's time for another look at both the encouraging and the discouraging developments surrounding this team...

ENCOURAGING: The pitching staff continues to excel. Sure, there have been a couple of bumps along the way, but the staff's 2.96 ERA so far in June is significantly improved from May's 3.56 ERA. In 14 games this month, Nationals starters have yet to surrender more than three earned runs.

DISCOURAGING: The lone hiccup in that rotation has been Chien-Ming Wang. The Nats have gotten a quality start in 12 of their last 16 games. One of those non-quality starts was pitched by Gio Gonzalez, who lasted only 4 23 innings against the Braves on June 3. The other three all were pitched by Wang, who has yet to complete six innings in an outing this season.

ENCOURAGING: After bottoming out for a 20-game stretch that saw him hit a paltry .123 with a .520 OPS, Adam LaRoche appears to be getting back on track. He's 6 for his last 18 with four extra-base hits, producing a 1.178 OPS in that brief span. He may not ascend back to the All-Star level he played at through the season's first six weeks, but LaRoche is proving he can still provide pop at the plate and hits in the clutch.

DISCOURAGING: Ryan Zimmerman has seemingly lost all of his power. He has just one home run over his last 97 at-bats. (His career homer rate entering this season: one per every 25 at-bats.) He has only two extra-base hits this month.

ENCOURAGING: Tyler Clippard took over as closer on May 22 in Philadelphia. In 11 appearances since, he's allowed zero runs and one hit. Opponents are hitting .033 against him during that span.

DISCOURAGING: Before getting designated for assignment on Sunday, Brad Lidge made 11 appearances for the Nationals this season. He pitched a clean, 1-2-3 inning in only two of them. Overall, Lidge faced 51 batters with the Nats, with 23 of them safely reaching base.

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Bryce Harper knows why he didn't play well, but he won't specify why

Bryce Harper knows why he didn't play well, but he won't specify why

Bryce Harper struggled by his standards in 2016 and he says he know why it happened last year. While it was rumored last season that he was playing through injuries, Harper never really missed significant time, nor did he really say that his injuries were the reason for his disappointing numbers. 

Speaking with the media today at spring training, Harper hinted at his injuries from last season as he said he was just trying to stay in the lineup every day.  

Although Harper's statistics dropped off dramatically from his MVP season in 2015, his numbers weren't entirely awful last year. He still hit 24 homers, drove in 86 runs and he had an .814 OPS. 

With a full offseason to heal up, Harper will be a prime bounce-back candidate as he looks to help the Nationals win their third NL East title in the last four years. 

Related: Sorry D.C. sports fans, Bryce Harper is a Dallas Cowboys fan

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Nationals' Max Scherzer says he may not be ready for season opener

Nationals' Max Scherzer says he may not be ready for season opener

The Nationals aren't certain to have ace Max Scherzer ready to pitch for Opening Day. Scherzer, 32, was unable to compete in the World Baseball Classic this summer due to a stress fracture in his right ring finger. 

When he spoke to the media today at the first bullpen session of spring training, he said that the fracture has healed but the symptoms continue. 

Scherzer also said he'd just started throwing again this week. Manager Dusty Baker confimed that the Nationals don't know whether Scherzer will be ready to start the season. 

Any time a team's star pitcher suffers an unusual hand injury, it's cause for concern for the club and fans. 

Scherzer won the NL Cy Young Award last season and posted a 20-7 record as a starter. He also led the MLB with 284 strikeouts. 

Scherzer is an especially vital part of the Nationals rotation considering the injury history of Stephen Strasburg, who landed on the DL twice last season, once with soreness in the elbow that needed Tommy John surgery in 2010. 

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