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No sweep, but no worries for Nats

No sweep, but no worries for Nats

For a split-second at the end of the eighth inning Wednesday night, as Ian Desmond awkwardly pulled up lame at first base, the fact the Nationals had just squandered another golden scoring opportunity seemed insignificant.

"Being out wasn't real important in that moment," said Desmond, who grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to quash a potential rally.

"I forgot about the game when I saw him," manager Davey Johnson said. "I thought for sure he pulled a hammy."

Once Desmond realized he hadn't actually injured himself -- he thinks he just hyperextended his knee -- he could return to kicking himself over making two outs on one swing of the bat in a crucial moment of what was at that point a one-run game.

"I mean, I'm probably doubly frustrated over my at-bats tonight," he said. "This the knee isn't really much of a concern to me. I think it was more of a scary, in-the-moment type of thing."

Frustrating as their eventual 5-1 loss to the Braves was, the Nationals at night's end were pleased simply to have taken two of three from their lone remaining challenger for the NL East crown and come out of this crucial series with everybody in one piece.

That wasn't a sure thing at a couple of points in this game. In addition to Desmond's brief scare, catcher Kurt Suzuki had team officials worried he broke his right hand after getting struck by a foul ball in the fourth inning. Suzuki's hand remained swollen throughout the game, but X-rays were negative and he insisted he'll be fine moving forward.

Not that the Nationals were overly pleased with their on-field performance. With an opportunity to sweep Atlanta and seize a commanding, eight-game lead in the division, they instead were stifled for seven innings by under-appreciated right-hander Kris Medlen, squandering what few scoring opportunities they had before turning sloppy in the field during the ninth inning.

"Obviously we don't like to make mistakes, but they happen," said Ryan Zimmerman, whose error allowed an unearned run to score. "It's going to happen, and we don't want it to happen, but it is what it is. It happened. We won two out of three and we move on."

As was the case the previous two nights, this was a tightly contested ballgame with an added element of tension thrown in because of the two clubs' current standing. Unlike the previous two nights, the Nationals were unable to make pitches when they needed, were unable to produce clutch hits when they were needed and were unable to make plays in the field when they really were needed.

Their biggest infraction in the latter category came via Bryce Harper in the top of the fifth. Starter Ross Detwiler had just walked Medlen on four pitches to bring up Martin Prado with two outs and two on, then served up a well-struck line drive to deep right-center. Harper took a circuitous route to the ball, moving several steps in before circling back, and ultimately couldn't recover in time. Prado wound up on second base with the two-run double that put the Braves ahead for good.

"I thought I had a good read on it," Harper said. "He hit it off his front foot, got some backspin on it, hit it hard and I had to bust my butt. I came in a little bit, just because he was off his front foot. But he back-spinned it. It was a good hit."

Those two runs proved important because the Nationals were unable to get anything going against Medlen, a Tommy John surgery survivor who is just now re-establishing himself as a front-line starting pitcher for Atlanta. The Nationals had opportunities to make a dent in Medlen, but they simply couldn't produce a big hit in a big moment.

Suzuki grounded into a double play with two on and one out in the second. Adam LaRoche popped out on the first pitch he saw with the bases loaded in the sixth. And Desmond grounded into his killer double play on the first pitch he saw from reliever Eric O'Flaherty in the eighth.

"That's just young hitters," Johnson said. "They get a little too excited. Desi's been pretty good about getting a pitch he really likes. He had a good swing at it. We're going to be a little anxious in those situations. We've gotten a whole lot better from last year, but we're still going to be a little over-aggressive."

A three-run ninth off Tom Gorzelanny -- with assists to Zimmerman and Suzuki for their throwing errors -- put this one out of reach and might have left the Nationals feeling less than totally satisfied with the night's outcome.

Then again, they entered this showdown holding a five-game lead over the Braves and they exited it holding a six-game lead with 38 to play. That's still a comfortable position to be in, right?

"Of course," Michael Morse said. "It's still a six-game lead. It's awesome."

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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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