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Now more than ever, Nats need LaRoche

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Now more than ever, Nats need LaRoche

PITTSBURGH -- It got lost in the shuffle amid Henry Rodriguez's sliders in the dirt and Rod Barajas' walk-off homer into the bleachers, but the most significant development of last night's loss to the Pirates from the Nationals' perspective might well have been Adam LaRoche's performance.

Back in the lineup after missing four games with a sore right oblique muscle, LaRoche looked like he never skipped a beat. He went 2-for-3 with a single, a walk and a towering, two-run homer in the top of the ninth off Joel Hanrahan that would have served as the game-winner if not for Rodriguez's blown save in the bottom of the inning.

LaRoche was understandably down in the dumps because of the way the game ended, but he was encouraged by his individual performance and the fact he was able to pick up right where he left off before getting hurt.

"It felt nice that I could get up there and take full swings with my side the way it's been feeling," he said.

LaRoche did have his right side packed in ice post-game, and he did have to take some swings off a tee in-game to keep himself loose, but the oblique muscle certainly didn't prevent him from doing anything on the field.

And that's a good thing for the Nationals, because right now they desperately need the veteran first baseman to keep himself in the lineup. With Jayson Werth out for the next three months with a broken wrist, with Michael Morse still sidelined at least another month with his lat strain and with Danny Espinosa struggling mightily at the plate, LaRoche has been one of the few constants in manager Davey Johnson's lineup.

LaRoche's .323 batting average ranks 10th in the NL. His .406 on-base percentage ranks eighth. His .954 OPS ranks ninth. And, of course, his play at first base has been superb.

With Bryce Harper asserting himself and Ryan Zimmerman now healthy again after a two-week stint on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, LaRoche gives the Nationals a formidable trio of big boppers. Which they certainly need, given the other holes in their lineup.

Espinosa continues to look lost at the plate; after striking out three times last night, he now has 37 for the season (second in the majors only to Adam Dunn).

"I'm concerned about him," Johnson said after the game. "But I have a lot of confidence in him. He'll be in there tomorrow."

The Nationals also continue to get zero production out of their left fielders, especially now that Harper has shifted to right field. Given yet another opportunity to assert himself last night, Roger Bernadina went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He also got twisted around trying to catch a first-inning drive to the warning track.

With left-hander Erik Bedard pitching for the Pirates tonight, look for Xavier Nady to get the nod in left field. But don't look for general manager Mike Rizzo to scour the rest of the league in search of another body who could take over that position, not with Morse's return anticipated.

"Like we said before, with injuries come opportunities," Rizzo said before yesterday's game. "We're going to give a handful of guys an opportunity to perform out there and see if they can help themselves in their career path and help the ballclub win some games. We feel comfortable with the guys we have in-house. We're going to give them opportunities to take the job, and for somebody to take the job and run with it."

All the more reason to appreciate just how valuable LaRoche has been. The veteran got plenty of negative attention last season when he hit just .172 and had to be shut down in May with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. But he's living up to the billing right now, and the Nationals are grateful to have him.

"People underestimate him because of what they saw last year when he tried to play hurt," Zimmerman said. "It's not easy to play through things like that. He gave it a shot. Unfortunately he couldn't do it, and so that's what a lot of people think of him as a player. Adam's a good hitter. He's a very underrated player."

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2017 ballpark foods that are way better than peanuts and Cracker Jack

2017 ballpark foods that are way better than peanuts and Cracker Jack

Back in the olden days, cotton candy or a plate of nachos were considered bold ballpark snacks. Thankfully, the olden days are over, and a new era of ballpark food has begun.

And in this era, a menu item isn't considered complete until it's fried, sandwiched between something else and then finally drizzled with some sort of sauce. 

So, what's on the menu for 2017? Well, peanuts, hot dogs and apple pie nachos, of course.

CLICK HERE TO FEAST YOUR EYES ON THE CRAZIEST BALLPARK FOODS YOU'LL FIND AROUND MLB THIS YEAR

With a new season about to begin, CSNmidatlantic.com has identified 10 of the most eye-popping and artery-clogging foods available around Major League Baseball in 2017. To see them, simply click on the link above or below to open our gallery (no fork and knife necessary).

After all, while peanuts and Cracker Jack are cute, they simply can't match up with a hot dog topped with bacon and a fried egg. 

CLICK HERE TO FEAST YOUR EYES ON THE CRAZIEST BALLPARK FOODS YOU'LL FIND AROUND MLB THIS YEAR

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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