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Wilson Contreras powers Cubs past the Nationals, 7-4

Wilson Contreras powers Cubs past the Nationals, 7-4

CHICAGO -- Although it was supposed to be a day off for Willson Contreras, the Cubs regular catcher was in the lineup playing left field on Saturday.

As far as manager Joe Maddon is concerned, Contreras can rest when he's not red hot at the plate.

Contreras homered and drove in three runs, Alex Avila homered for his first hit with the Cubs and Chicago beat the Washington Nationals 7-4 to even the series between division leaders.

Contreras is batting .444 (8 for 18) with three homers and 11 RBIs in the five games of the current home stand and has reached base in 19 straight.

"I had to keep him in the lineup," Maddon said. "I mean, he's swinging the bat so well."

Kris Bryant and Jon Jay each added a run-scoring hit as the Cubs snapped a three-game losing streak.

Bryce Harper hit his 28th homer and threw out a runner at third base for the Nationals, but struck out in two key spots.

John Lackey (9-9) allowed three runs (two earned) and six hits in five innings to win his fourth straight start. Wade Davis got the final three outs -- striking out Harper, the potential tying run, to end it -- for his 23rd save.

"He's definitely tough in that situation," Harper said of Davis. "I had one pitch that I could drive and I hit it foul. I knew if I missed a pitch against him, it would be a tough at-bat."

Harper also struck out against Lackey in the fifth with a runner in scoring position.

Washington starter Edwin Jackson (2-2) allowed four runs and six hits in five innings. Harper's solo shot in the first gave the Nationals a quick lead, but the Cubs responded with four in the bottom of the inning. Bryant drove in the first run with a double and Contreras followed with an RBI single to score Bryant. After a single by Ben Zobrist -- Contreras was thrown out by Harper trying to advance to third -- Avila's two-run shot made it 4-1.

"It felt really good," said Avila, who was acquired on Monday to back up Contreras. "I glad to get it over with and out of the way."

Washington scored twice in the fourth to make it 4-3. Anthony Rendon had a sacrifice fly and Matt Wieters added an RBI single.

Contreras' two-run blast off Matt Grace in the sixth was for a 6-3 lead and Jay's RBI single in the seventh made it 7-3.

The Nationals added an unearned run in the eighth to cap the scoring.

Contreras believes the key to his hot streak is simply taking advantage of the pitches he can handle.

"That's what hitting is all about," he said. "Just being ready for your pitch, and if you get it, take advantage of it."

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Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

Why Nationals' Max Scherzer picked college over pros — at first

When Max Scherzer was a teenager, he didn't know that one day he'd actually become a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He had no guarantee he'd make it to the majors, much less play in five consecutive MLB All-Star games. 

All he knew was that he had the option to go pro as a kid or go to college, and back then, the Nationals' ace needed a contingency plan in case baseball didn't work out. Fortunately for Scherzer, it did, but he doesn't regret going to college at the University of Missouri, telling Santana Moss on CSN's "Route 89" going to school was a no-brainer.

"It was actually a really easy decision," Scherzer told Moss. "When you get drafted out of high school, you're going to be going into the minor leagues, and that can take three to five or six years — multiple years — in the minor leagues, and you're forfeiting your right to further your education."

Scherzer was drafted in the 43rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, but he opted to play for Mizzou for three years, which turned out to be a great decision. The Arizona Diamondbacks then drafted him in 2006 in the first round as the 11th overall pick. 

"A lot of times when you sign out of high school, you don't make it to the major leagues," Scherzer continued. "So I realize that your education — that's your safety net.

"You need to further your education in college, and if you do get drafted out of college, you're in a much better position to try to chase your dreams because if it doesn't work out, you still have one year left of school and that's much easier to obtain rather than try to go through four years when you're not coming out of high school."

MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound

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Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

Nationals offense provides no support in Strasburg's return

SAN DIEGO -- Yangervis Solarte hit a two-run home run off Stephen Strasburg in the first inning of the right-hander's first start in almost a month and the San Diego Padres beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 Saturday night.

Strasburg (10-4) retired the first two batters he faced before allowing a single to Jose Pirela and then the homer to the switch-hitting Solarte, who drove a 96-mph fastball to right for his 13th.

Strasburg then settled down against his hometown team, retiring 10 straight batters and 13 of 14. He went six innings, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out eight and walking one.

He hadn't pitched since July 23, when he went only two innings at Arizona. He went on the disabled list with an elbow nerve impingement.

Strasburg pitched at West Hills High in suburban Santee and then at San Diego State for coach Tony Gwynn before going to the Nationals with the No. 1 pick overall in the 2009 draft.

While Strasburg pitched well, the Nationals had only three hits.

San Diego's Travis Wood (2-1) also settled down after laboring through the first inning, when he threw 35 pitches but didn't allow a run. He was unscathed until the fifth, when he allowed a one-out single to Jose Lobaton and a two-out double to Adrian Sanchez. The run was unearned because of Woods' throwing error on Strasburg's sacrifice bunt that advanced Lobaton.

Wood allowed just the unearned run on three hits in seven innings, with two strikeouts and two walks.

Brad Hand pitched the ninth for his 11th save.