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Storen likely 2 weeks from return

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Storen likely 2 weeks from return

ATLANTA -- Drew Storen took another important step today in his return from elbow surgery -- one of his final steps -- when he threw 40 pitches to live hitters in the cage at Turner Field prior to the Nationals' series opener against the Braves.

Though the Nationals aren't setting an exact timetable for the reliever's activation off the disabled list, the club's July 13 second-half opener in Miami is a target date.

"I'd say that's probably a really good timeframe there," maanger Davey Johnson said.

"I mean, it seems logical," Storen added.

Storen, who has yet to pitch this season following surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, will throw a two-inning, simulated game on Monday in Washington, then begin a rehab assignment with a minor-league affiliate sometime later in the week. That would give him ample time to make several game appearances (including on back-to-back days) before conceivably joining the Nationals for their second-half opener against the Marlins.

Storen was at first surprised during today's live BP session when batters Chad Tracy and Jhonatan Solano were consistently making solid contact off him.

"I was thinking: Man, they're seeing it pretty well," he said.

After the session, Storen learned that bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo was letting the hitters know what pitches were about to be thrown.

"Once I figured that out, I felt much better about it," Storen said.

Storen also feels great about the state of his elbow, which he says feels stronger now than it did while he was recording 43 saves last season. Only now does he realize he was probably dealing with the injury at the time.

"I'm pretty amazed," he said. "Even last year, after you're done pitching it would be a little swollen. I just thought that was normal. Now it feels really good."

Though he can see the finish line at last after three months of recovery and rehabilitation, Storen is wary of thinking too far ahead or just assuming he's in the clear now.

"This last 10 percent of the rehab is just as important as the beginning," he said. "It's kind of like doing a big school project. You've just got to do the annoying little things. You've got to do the bibliography. You really don't want to do it, but you're going to get counted off if you don't."

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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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