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Werth embraces leadoff role

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Werth embraces leadoff role

As he was getting close to returning from a broken left wrist, Jayson Werth asked Davey Johnson where the Nationals manager planned to hit him in his starting lineup.

Johnson said he was thinking about leading him off, to which Werth replied: "That's great."

"He's a student, he studies the game," Johnson said. "And he knows the talents of everybody else."

Indeed, a quick scan of the Nationals' projected lineup (especially once Ian Desmond returned from his own oblique injury) showed no traditional candidate to hit leadoff. Werth made the most sense.

"His approach, the way he approaches every at-bat, is really more in line with a leadoff hitter," Johnson said. "He takes a lot of pitches and a lot of times will try to hit the pitcher's pitch. He's not your normal, 6-foot-4, talented, gifted athlete that goes up there and tries to hit a bomb on the first pitch he sees. He's a good hitter, and he likes to look at a lot of pitches. ... He's an on-base table-setter, and he's a run producer. It's the best of both worlds."

The new look paid off Friday night, when Werth went 2-for-4 and twice reached base to start a rally that would later be capped by a home run. And if the veteran outfielder continues to do what he's done since returning from the DL three weeks ago, he'll be as productive a leadoff man as there is in baseball.

In 14 games, Werth is hitting .413 with a .509 on-base percentage. He's drawn nine walks while striking out only five times, and he's nearly driven in as many runs (eight) as he's scored (nine).

Werth's willingness to hit atop the lineup is a bit of a departure from his feelings on the subject last year when ex-manager Jim Riggleman used him there for 11 games in June. When Riggleman abruptly resigned and Johnson took over as skipper, Werth was moved down in the order and stayed there the rest of the season.

This time around, the 33-year-old has embraced the idea.

"I think I'm capable of hitting leadoff, just because I see a lot of pitches and I get on base a lot," he said. "Whether you drive the ball or hit the ball out of the yard or get hit, whatever, I think the most important thing is getting on base for your teammates. If that means I'm going to hit leadoff and do that, that's fine. If I'm going to hit sixth and do that, that's fine, too. I'll hit anywhere. But I like the way it sets up."

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Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

Nationals beat Braves, snap losing skid behind Stephen Strasburg's strong start

ATLANTA (AP) -- Stephen Strasburg struck out a season-high 11 and kept up his recent domination of the Atlanta Braves, leading Washington to a 3-2 win Sunday that stopped the Nationals' four-game losing streak.

Strasburg (5-1) allowed five hits in 7 2/3 innings, beating Atlanta for the second time this season and improving to 7-1 in his last nine starts against the Braves. He is 10-8 overall against Atlanta.

He reached double digits in strikeouts for the second time this season after fanning 10 Braves on April 20.

Strasburg faded in the eighth, when Dansby Swanson hit a two-run double. Koda Glover struck out Nick Markakis to end the inning and finished the six-hitter for his third save.

Daniel Murphy hit a second-inning homer off Jaime Garcia (1-3) and the Nationals added two unearned runs in the third.

Matt Adams was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and hit into a ninth-inning double play in his debut for Atlanta, a day after he was acquired from St. Louis. Matt Kemp led off the ninth, and Adams hit a line drive that was caught by Ryan Zimmerman, who stepped on first base.

Garcia allowed three runs -- one earned -- and seven hits in eight innings with no walks.

Washington took a 3-0 lead in the third following fielding errors by Markakis in right and Garcia. Bryce Harper had a run-scoring single.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon and C Matt Wieters were given days off from the starting lineup. Rendon entered at third base in the eighth.

Braves: RHP Kris Medlen allowed one hits in six scoreless innings Saturday in his first start for Class A Florida. He missed most of 2016 with shoulder problems after his second Tommy John surgery. "That would be a real nice piece to have," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. Medlen pitched for Kansas City in 2015-16 and his last season with Atlanta was in 2013, when he was 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Following an off day, RHP Jacob Turner (2-2) is expected to start when the Nationals will open a series against Seattle on Tuesday.

Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4) will take a 0-3 career record in three starts against Pittsburgh into Monday night's series opener against the Pirates.

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2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

2017 MLB Power Rankings: As Bryce Harper goes, so do the Nationals

A week ago, the Nationals were looking unstoppable. Bryce Harper was hitting walkoff dingers left and right, there were multiple winning streaks, and the bullpen was only sorta bad. 

2017 MLB POWER RANKINGS

A week's worth of games later - against the Braves, Pirates and Phillies, no less - and the Nats don't look nearly as stainless. Harper's hitting under .200 since his Mother's Day walkoff, the team lost 5 of 6, and the bullpen turned back into a pumpkin. Because of that, there's a new team at the top of the Power Rankings this week. Who is it? To the rankings! 

30. MIAMI MARLINS

2017 Record: 15-28
Previous Ranking: 24
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Dee Gordon (.318/.400/.364 last week)

Stanton hasn't homered in over two weeks, a stretch of 12 games. After going 2-8 over the last 10, including that weird Dodgers game, the Marlins have seen better weeks.  

29. SAN DIEGO PADRES

2017 Record: 16-30
Previous Ranking: 29
Last 10 Games: 3-7
Notable Performance: Brad Hand (.300/.500/.600 last week)

Wil Myers' underwhelming season continues. The outfielder is hitting .150 over the last week, and only .219 over the last month. The Padres best position player is only worth .6 bWAR, and that's 5th-best on the team.

28. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2017 Record: 15-26
Previous Ranking: 23
Last 10 Games: 2-8
Notable Performance: Daniel Nava (.429/.429/.571 last week)

They ran into Texas at exactly the wrong time. Getting starts that are consistently like Aaron Nola's last one will be huge for his development this season. 

27. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2017 Record: 18-25
Previous Ranking: 27
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Notable Performance: Lorenzo Cain (.087/.125/.087 last week)

They're starting to play better, but upcomming series with the Yankees and Indians aren't making life any easier for KC. Jason Vargas (?!) has been their most valuable player this year (2.0 bWAR). 

26. ATLANTA BRAVES

2017 Record: 18-23
Previous Ranking: 30
Last 10 Games: 7-3
Notable Performance: Matt Kemp (.375/.423/.708 last week)

Losing Freeman for three months because of some dumb unspoken beef is just a testament to how stupid unwritten baseball rules are. The silver lining to this year, though, is that the Braves are going to fleece some team for Matt Kemp in July. 

SEE THE REST OF THE RANKINGS HERE