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Nats-Phils rivalry now a two-way street

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Nats-Phils rivalry now a two-way street

Rivarlies in sports have to, absolutely must, be two-way relationships. A one-way rivalry can be just about the saddest thing to be realized, just ask Wizards fans about the LeBron James-led Cavaliers. Now that the Nationals look like a good baseball team, and the once-untouchable Phillies are vulnerable, the D.C.-Philly baseball matchup is becoming one of the best and most heated in sports.It took a series win by Washington, and an overall dominant stretch over Philadelphia, for it all to be realized. It was clear last night the Nats and their brash young star Bryce Harper finally got under the Phillies skin as Cole Hamels lost his cool and is now suspended five games. Throw in a taunting kiss from Shane Victorino - a clear reference to Harpers lore - and we have ourselves some storylines.Over at CSNPhilly.com, their Phillies writers have come to acknowledge the contentious relationship as a clear rivalry that could entertain sports fans of all walks for quite some time. Columnist Rueben Frank put the hatred within the Philly perspective and sounds pretty excited for what could be waiting for us in the future.You wanted a rivalry? You got a rivalry.Were only a month into the 2012 baseball season, but this is already getting good, he writes.
After the Nationals ill-fated Take back the Stadium ploy? After a weekend of Flyers and Eagles chants infuriated the locals at Nationals Park? After Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper Sunday night and then openly admitted to doing it? After Jordan Zimmerman hit Hamels two innings later? After Nationals GM Mike Rizzo called Hamels classless and gutless?Oh yeah, were on.
Many around baseball are looking now at the Nationals Take Back the Park campaign as the true catalyst for the rivalry, that Washingtons public efforts to turn away Phils fans shook the hornets nest. But now, if this rivalry continues it will clearly date back to Hamels beaning of Bryce Harper. According to Frank, even Hamels realizes what he did.Thats what makes it exciting in baseball, he said after pitching eight strong innings in the Phillies 9-3 win at Nationals Park in Washington. Thats what you want. To see your fans really get involved. ...You can feel the energy, and you want to play harder and I think thats what it really takes to get more people to watch our series when were playing each other. Its a long year, and when you have a series to look forward to, it kind of makes things go a little bit quicker and the excitement really takes you to another level of play.Frank and Phillies fans seem to look at Hamels pitch as a statement made by the team, on national television and against an upstart young team. The statement Hamels made when he hit Harper on national TV Sunday night was that the Phillies arent quite ready yet to relinquish N.L. East bragging rights to the upstart Nationals, Frank writes.Whether the message was received is hard to tell, but with another series between the two coming up on May 21, we should find out soon. The two teams also play six of their last nine games together. It is a rivalry that now has both teams buying in and the best could be yet to come.

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Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals Ace Max Scherzer will not be team's opening day starter

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said that Max Scherzer is not on track to be the team's opening day starter, and will most likely open the season as the third pitcher in the rotation. 

Scherzer has been the team's starter on opening day for the past two seasons, but a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger caused him to miss the start of spring training, and the World Baseball Classic. 

Scherzer did, however, make his first MLB spring training start of 2017 on Wednesday. The 2016 NL Cy Young award winner allowed two earned runs on five hits over 4.2 innings. He added four strikeouts and one walk, and reportedly looked just like you would expect from Max Scherzer. 

"To be out there competing, throwing all my pitches, throwing them for strikes, that's a great first outing," Scherzer told Eddie Matz of ESPN after the game. "Finger's good. Finger feels like a finger. I'm getting through that injury. It's behind me now."

With Scherzer set to open the season as the third starter in the rotation, that likely means that Stephen Strasburg will start on opening day against the Miami Marlins, and Tanner Roark will slot in behind him. 

While it's nice to have your ace pitcher starting on opening day, it's not a huge deal to have Scherzer start the season third in the rotation, especially because the Nationals starting rotation is the strength of the team

Related: Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches four scoreless innings to help Team USA beat Japan in WBC

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Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

Nationals' Tanner Roark pitches 4 scoreless innings in US defeat of Japan in WBC

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Luke Gregerson's final strike breezed past Nobuhiro Matsuda, and the rain-drenched American players celebrated on the field while a soaked crowd roared through the evening mist.

A daylong downpour couldn't dampen this resilient United States club or its fans, who will finally get to root for the home team in a World Baseball Classic championship game.

Brandon Crawford scored the tiebreaking run when Matsuda bobbled Adam Jones' grounder to third in the eighth inning, and the United States reached the WBC final for the first time by beating Japan 2-1 on Tuesday night at rainy Dodger Stadium.

Andrew McCutchen drove in an early run for the U.S., which will play Puerto Rico for the title Wednesday night. Puerto Rico edged the Netherlands 4-3 in 11 innings Monday.

"It means a heck of a lot," said McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger. "We've got a great group of guys on this team who have dedicated this time to be able to try and win some ballgames. Sacrifices had to be made, and there are no egos when that door opens. That's what's good about this team. Everybody is a superstar on this team. There are no egos."

The World Baseball Classic final has been played in the United States in each of its four editions, but the home team had never been able to play America's pastime on what has become its biggest international stage. The U.S. only reached the semifinals once before, in 2009.

While manager Jim Leyland's current roster is missing Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and many other American superstars, the All-Star-laden group that decided to participate has won two straight elimination games to earn a chance for the U.S.' first crown.

"Coming into this event, I didn't really want to talk about the fact that the United States has never won it (and) they've never gone to the finals," Leyland said. "I didn't think that was a big deal. I wanted this, for the players, to be a memory. I've talked a lot about it. Make a memory. Hopefully it's a real good one, regardless of the results (Wednesday). I know it is for me. It's been an absolute honor."

To reach the final, the Americans had to persevere through an uncharacteristic Los Angeles rain that drenched the playing field several hours before game time. They also had to beat a gifted Japanese team at its own game: pitching, defense and small ball.

Ryosuke Kikuchi hit a tying homer off reliever Nate Jones in the sixth inning for Japan, but the two-time WBC champions were twice let down by their normally sturdy defense.

McCutchen opened the scoring with an RBI single in the fourth moments after Kikuchi's two-base error at second. In the eighth, Crawford likely would have been out at the plate on Jones' innocent grounder, but Matsuda didn't field it cleanly and had to throw to first.

"Well, two plays," Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said through a translator. "Honestly, there were some mistakes, and then a run was scored. ... The team that makes mistakes will lose. That's what it means. I cannot blame them, though, for doing that."

Japan won the first two WBC tournaments before losing in the 2013 semifinals, and Kokubo's current team was unbeaten in this event.

"The players really did their very best," Kokubo said. "I really appreciate it. It's do-or-die, one semifinal."

Tanner Roark pitched four scoreless innings of two-hit ball before Leyland pulled him on the instructions of the Washington Nationals, who limited Roark to 50 pitches because he hadn't faced live hitters in nine days.

"I felt good enough to stay out there," Roark said.

Gregerson, the Americans' sixth reliever, worked a perfect ninth inning after Pat Neshek escaped a two-on jam in the eighth.

Leyland is confident he'll have a capable bullpen Wednesday after receiving texts from various pitching coaches around the majors on the status of their players. Toronto's Marcus Stroman, the starter, is free to reach the WBC's 95-pitch limit, Leyland confirmed.

Although the crowd of 33,462 strongly favored the team with five California natives in the starting lineup, thousands of Japanese fans showed up early and chanted throughout the game, accompanied by the brass band in the left-field bleachers.

Tomoyuki Sugano, the Yomiuri Giants ace with a seven-pitch repertoire, tossed six innings of three-hit ball for Japan, striking out six and yielding only one unearned run.

But Sugano was matched by Roark, who gave up just two singles and a walk in his four innings, also hitting a batter with a pitch.

After Christian Yelich reached second in the fourth inning when his hard-hit grounder was mishandled by Kikuchi, the standout defensive second baseman, Eric Hosmer worked out of an 0-2 count to draw a two-out walk.

McCutchen had just two hits in his first 14 at-bats in the WBC, but he drove in Yelich with a sharp single to left.

Kikuchi made up for his mistake in the sixth, driving Jones' fastball barely over the reach of McCutchen in right field for his first homer of the tournament.

Japan reliever Kodai Senga struck out the first four batters he faced with a 96 mph fastball and exceptional off-speed stuff, but Crawford then delivered a sharp single before Ian Kinsler doubled to deep left-center.

Neshek got cleanup hitter Yoshimoto Tsutsugoh on a fly to right to end the eighth.