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Nats third base coach on sixth-inning send of Werth: 'You feel like it might have cost us'

Nats third base coach on sixth-inning send of Werth: 'You feel like it might have cost us'

Trying to reduce the game that ultimately sunk the 2016 Nationals to one moment is an impossible task. This affair was too much of a thrilling, beautiful mess that oversimplification doesn't do it justice.

Between all the unconventional managerial moves, the hour-plus seventh inning, the unlikely appearance of Clayton Kershaw, Game 5 of the NL Division series between the Nats and L.A. Dodgers will go down as a classic that will take days — if not weeks — to unpack.

But in a contest that had so many twists and turns, there will be some who still won't be able to get past what Bob Henley did in the sixth inning.  

With the Nats up 1-0 and two out, their third base coach opted to send Jayson Werth toward the plate on a two-out double down the left field line from Ryan Zimmerman. The problem? Werth was trying to score from first, and Dodgers left fielder Andrew Toles got the relay throw in time to shortstop Corey Seager.

Werth was thrown out at the plate — and it wasn't even close. Catcher Yasmani Grandal caught Seager's relay while Werth was around 30 feet away, and waited to put the tag on him.  

“Does it hurt? Sure, it hurts,” Henley said in a hushed tone afterward. “Anytime it doesn’t work out and you feel like it might have cost us.”

The play ended the inning, denying Washington a desperately-needed insurance run in a game that ended in a 4-3 loss.

“I know [Werth]’s not an above-average runner, I understand that,” Henley said. “But we’ve been aggressive all year as a club, and I took a shot at it.”

“He's aggressive and there's two outs,” added manager Dusty Baker. “And with the hitters we had coming up after, he feels terrible about that because it didn't work. But Toles got to the ball very quickly, got rid of it, and you know, did what he was supposed to do, hit the cut-off man.”

Indeed, Henley’s aggressiveness is well known in the clubhouse. He’s affectionately known as “Sendley” to players, and they’ve been seen wearing shirts that honor his mentality: “Send ‘em one, send ‘em all, send ‘em short, send ‘em tall.”  

That mindset puts pressure on defenders to force them into making the perfect throw, which doesn’t always happen. On Thursday night, it did, and it cost the Nats dearly.

“We’ve been aggressive ever since I’ve been here on that play,” said Werth. “You live and die by those moments sometimes.”

The move was criticized instantaneously as many took to social media to voice their frustration about the risky call.

As Baker mentioned after the game, the blunder was not the sole reason the Nats are going home early. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in Game 5. They struck out 12 times. They couldn't drive runners in from third base with less than two out. And most of all, the four-run frame they yielded in the seventh inning proved to be too much to overcome.  

But the image of Werth being cut down at home could come to symbolize what this night, this series and this brief playoff run was — a missed opportunity.

“Heartbroken," Henley said. "I’m heartbroken. Our goal was to win it all. We’re a tight-knit bunch. We gave it all that we had. I’m just so proud of the guys and everyone. Just heartbroken.”

MORE: BULLPEN, BASERUNNING COST NATS IN SEASON-ENDING LOSS TO DODGERS

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Nationals vs. Braves Preview: Gonzalez looks to rebound

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals vs. Braves Preview: Gonzalez looks to rebound

ATLANTA -- One of the questions the Atlanta Braves brass must answer during the offseason is whether right-handed pitching prospect Lucas Sims belongs in the rotation or the bullpen.

Sims (2-5, 5.52 ERA) will make another start Wednesday against the Washington Nationals, who send veteran left-hander Gio Gonzalez (14-7, 2.68) to oppose him in the second contest of a three-game series at SunTrust Park.

The Nationals won the series opener 4-2 on Tuesday to take a 9-8 lead in the season series. The loss guaranteed Atlanta (67-82) would have a losing record for the fourth consecutive season.

RELATED: WHEN WILL BRYCE HARPER RETURN?

Gonzalez, like teammate Max Scherzer, is a candidate for the National League Cy Young Award. The southpaw is coming off a poor showing against Atlanta on Sept. 12, when he allowed five runs in five innings despite eight strikeouts.

"You get the strikeouts and then all of a sudden, the hits came in," Gonzalez said. "It was just one of those games. You take it for what it was, sweep it up the rug and get ready for tomorrow. It was one of those games you can't really understand what happened, just pick up where you can and go from there."

The Braves have fared well against Gonzalez. In 20 career starts against Atlanta, he is 4-11 with a 5.27 ERA. This season, Gonzalez is 0-2 with a 6.48 ERA in three starts vs. the Braves.

Sims, a rookie who was the team's first-round draft choice in 2012, has made 11 appearances (seven starts). He has made it clear that he prefers to be a starting pitcher.

The Braves moved Sims to the bullpen after his Sept. 2 start against the Chicago Cubs, when he allowed seven runs in three innings. Because he was stretched out, Sims had the ability to throw multiple innings out of the 'pen, which he did in two of his subsequent four relief appearances.

However, on Sunday, the Braves announced Sims as the starter for the Wednesday game and moved left-hander Max Fried to the bullpen. Fried is another rookie who will be under consideration to join the rotation in 2018.

"The kid never quits," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Sims. "He keeps pitching. He competes."

In seven starts, Sims has averaged 5 1/3 innings per outing. In 44 innings overall, he has recorded 31 strikeouts and 15 walks.

Sims has made only one appearance against Washington, that a perfect one-inning stint on Sept. 13.

Atlanta has had trouble scoring runs of late. Over the past five games, the Braves managed only 11 runs.

The Braves likely will be without catalyst Ender Inciarte on Wednesday. The center fielder left the game early Tuesday with right thumb soreness. Snitker said there was no structural damage and that Inciarte needs a day of rest.

"We just have to back off," Snitker said. "It's just sore."

Inciarte doesn't like to take a day off under normal circumstances, must less when he is chasing 200 hits. He was 0-for-2 on Tuesday, leaving him with 190 hits. He is trying to become the first Atlanta player to reach the milestone since Marquis Grissom in 1996.

Washington is close to getting its injured players back.

Outfielder Bryce Harper (hyperextended left knee) and infielder Stephen Drew (left abdominal strain) ran before the Tuesday game. Both are eligible to come off the disabled list whenever they are deemed healthy.

RELATED: MLB POSTSEASON 2017 BRACKET PROJECTION

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When will Bryce Harper return to the Nationals' lineup?

When will Bryce Harper return to the Nationals' lineup?

Bryce Harper hasn't seen the baseball diamond since August 12 and if you follow him on social media, you know the wait is nearly killing him.

In the past week however, he has been making positive steps in his road to recovery.

Before Thursday's game against the Braves, Harper was seen running foul pole to foul pole at Nats Park.

RELATED: NAT'S DANIEL MURPHY AND SON ATTEND CAPS PRACTICE

And prior to Sunday's game against the Dodgers, Harper took batting practice.

Then, on Tuesday, Harper batted in a simulated game prior to the team's road game against the Braves. He even ran around the bases to test out his injured knee.

These are all great signs, but when can we really expect him to return?

There have been rumors that it could be as soon as this week, so the Sports Junkies took matters into their own hands and ask general manager Mike Rizzo about it on their show Wednesday morning.

"Bryce had a very productive day yesterday, a very busy day," Rizzo said.

"He had a lot of work to put in yesterday. Harp came out looking good. The anchor leg, his left leg, which is Harp's back leg, his power leg, came through it fine. We'll see how he feels today, which will be very very important and see where we take it from there. He ran bases yesterday which was good and threw from the outfield, so he's slowly and cautiously getting back into a routine. Depending on how he progresses, we'll see where we take it from there. Hopefully, he can get a couple of games of live at bat under his belt before we have that four day break before the playoffs start."

RELATED: NATS FIRST MLB TEAM TO CLINCH PLAYOFF SPOT

So what exactly is Harper doing in a "simulated game?"

"It was just a hitting game for him. We brought up two minor league pitchers for him to see live stuff. What he and Steven Drew hitting, they probably had a total of about 10 or so at bats. 10 or 12 real at bats where four balls, three strikes type of thing, you hit a base hit you're out, that type of thing."

"You could do whatever you want in those games. So, we simulated with men on base, without men on base. The hitter did not know what the pitcher was going to throw and that was kind of the key to it, where you're recognizing spins and velocity and that type of thing. It's well beyond the batting practice that he's been getting recently. We'll continue to do this. We'll filter in some minor league pitchers as we go along and he'll get some time in that way until he can participating in game activities which we hope is sooner rather than later."

The magic date for Bryce Harper and the Nats is Friday, Oct. 6th when the National League Division series start and so does the Nats World Series run.