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St. Louis native Detwiler has chance of a lifetime

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St. Louis native Detwiler has chance of a lifetime

ST. LOUIS -- Ross Detwiler sat by his locker Friday afternoon, doing the math in his head. The Nationals' magic number at that point was 3. He knew there was a chance he would take the mound today with the Nationals in position to clinch the NL East title, and he knew he really wanted that opportunity, unlikely as he thought that might be.

"You always want to be the guy to do it," he said. "I have a feeling it's going to happen before I get the ball. But it would definitely be a very special moment if I was the person that got handed the ball with a chance to clinch."

Well, turns out Detwiler will get that chance. The magic number is down to 1 this morning, so when the left-hander takes the mound at Busch Stadium, he knows he can pitch the Nationals to their first-ever division title, no matter what anyone else does.

And he can do it in his hometown, in front of dozens of friends and family.

A native of nearby Wentzville, Mo., Detwiler is making his first-ever start in St. Louis against the Cardinals franchise he grew up rooting for from his living room sofa.

"Any time you walk out onto a field that you watched on TV growing up, it's definitely pretty special," he said.

Detwiler has never pitched at the current Busch Stadium, which opened in 2006, but he did play in a high school game at the former Busch, across the street, in 2003.

He and his family made occasional trips into town to watch games from the stands, but the commute from Wentzville -- located 40 miles west of downtown St. Louis -- was a bit too much to allow for regular trips, especially on school nights.

Plenty of folks from his hometown will make the drive in today, though. Not only to see Detwiler try to pitch the Nationals to a division crown, but also to see their beloved Cardinals try to move a step closer to a Wild Card berth.

So, who exactly will the Detwiler clan be cheering for inside the ballpark today?

"I don't know. It's going to be kind of neat figuring that out," he said. "See, the Cardinals have such a strong following. Maybe not out loud, but definitely inside they're all Cardinals fans."

Whether he wins or loses today, Detwiler has firmly established himself as a front-ling, big-league starter this season, five years after the Nationals made him the sixth overall pick in the country out of Missouri State.

Teammates, coaches, even Detwiler himself point to one major reason above all else for his emergence this season: Confidence. At 26, he finally trusts his own ability and takes control when he's handed the ball.

Which is why, on this potentially significant day for the Nationals, Detwiler can't wait to be handed the ball.

"That's what I strive for," he said. "I want to be that guy that gets it done, the guy when you look back you say: 'He won the clinching game.' And then, the chance for that to happen, for it to be in St. Louis in front of everybody I went to high school with and grew up with, it definitely would be pretty special."

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Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

Nationals' Bryce Harper mashes monster homer on second pitch of spring training

The Nationals played their first game of spring training today against the Mets. They won, but that's not nearly the biggest story of the day. It was Bryce Harper's first at-bat that stole the show. 

On just the second pitch he saw of spring training, from lefty Sean Gilmartin, Harper mashed a ginormous home run to right center field. MLB.com shared video of the bomb. 

According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Harper smacked the ball at least 400 feet. In his second at-bat, he hit a line-drive single on the first pitch. 

Let's just say it was an exciting start to the year for Harper, who won the 2015 NL MVP only to endure a let-down last season. As Castillo points out, the slugger hit .226 against left-handed pitchers in 2016. 

Harper enters spring training at 230 pounds, up 15 pounds of muscle from last year. 

“I just felt going into the offseason you want to get as strong as you can, try to maintain your weight the best you can and just do everything the right way,” he told the Post. 

MORE NATIONALS: Baker thinks DC sports teams can win a championship this year

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Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals' Dusty Baker thinks Washington teams are positioned to win a championship this year

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is back for a second year and feeling optimistic for his Washington team. Spring training has begun in Florida and it has Baker thinking about how the Nats can create some excitement for local sports fans.

In an interview with American University’s WAMU radio station, Baker said D.C. wants to be a "city of champions.” Furthermore, he thinks it can be pulled off before the year ends.

"I came here to win a championship and you know I would love nothing more than to bring one to Washington. Washington, I didn’t know it before I got there, but it’s had a tough time getting out of the first round in a number of sports."

He projected the Nationals to bring home the next championship for the District, but he knows they have competition of late. 

"Washington Wizards are looking pretty good. I’m pulling for them first because their season ends before ours, so I’ve been really following them. The Capitals have a good thing going. I started watching the Redskins more this year.

"You know once it gets contagious in a city and you get a positive attitude throughout the city, then it transfers to the sports teams. So we want to be known as a city of champions, before the end of the year hopefully."

Baker has a reputation for bringing out the best in his teams, especially managing star players. He managed the San Francisco Giants for ten seasons before moving on to the Chicago Cubs, a team he managed for four seasons.

He's never won a World Series, but has taken a team to Game 7. He also finished third for the 2016 National League Manager of the Year award.

So, what are Baker’s steps for the Nationals to get that ultimate prize? A simple formula, really.

"I think that we’ve got to stay healthy, number one. We’re trying to fill the holes that we need to fill, and we’ve got to play," he said. "You know last year we were very close, we were one hit away or one play away or one pitch away from going to the next round against the Cubs."

While he says he came to win Washington a championship, he's also enjoying his time in the city. 

"I love D.C. Before that, San Francisco was my favorite town; that’s my home. But I tell you, D.C. is definitely in the running," he said. "I thought San Francisco had the best seafood, but man, you guys have the best seafood I think in the world."

Thanks, Dusty!

The Nationals play their first spring training game against the New York mets on Saturday.

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