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Wrapping up an eventful weekend for the Nats

Wrapping up an eventful weekend for the Nats

If you were out of town over the holiday weekend, you sure missed some eventful stuff at the ballpark. The Nationals took three of four from the Cardinals, informed Stephen Strasburg he'll make only two more starts this season, called up John Lannan, Eury Perez, Sandy Leon, Zach Duke and Christian Garcia from Class AAA Syracuse and lost Sean Burnett, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Michael Morse for a brief period of time due to injuries.

Oh yeah, and they won their 82nd game of the season, most for any D.C. ballclub since 1969.

Since there's a decent chance you missed some or all of that, let's recap the biggest stories of the weekend, with some links back to the original articles...

-- Yesterday's 2-1 victory over the Cubs was the Nationals' 82nd of the year, ensuring the club's first-ever winning season. While the consensus opinion around most of the clubhouse involved shrugs and talk of accomplishing even greater things, there were a few folks (particularly those who have been in the organization a while) who noted the significance of this win. "I think that's huge for the city and everything," Ross Detwiler said. "Obviously we're not done yet, but somebody like Ryan Zimmerman, who's been here the whole time and he's been on losing teams year in and year out ... I'm just happy for him to be on a winning team."

-- After Stephen Strasburg tossed six scoreless innings during Sunday's win over the Cardinals, manager Davey Johnson revealed the right-hander will make two more starts before he is shut down: Friday night against the Marlins at Nationals Park, then Sept. 12 at the Mets. Then on Monday, Strasburg sat down for a long conversation with Johnson, Mike Rizzo and Steve McCatty, during which he made it clear he wants to pitch through the remainder of the season. That, of course, wasn't going to happen no matter what Strasburg said, but let the record show he is opposed to the shutdown.

-- Yesterday's win also featured Tyler Clippard escaping a self-created jam in the top of the ninth to record his 30th save. That's no small accomplishment, considering the only other Nationals relievers to save that many games are Chad Cordero (2005, 2007) and Drew Storen (2011). It's also no small feat considering Clippard didn't get his first save opportunity this season until May 22. That means he's saved 30 games in less than 3 12 months. "It's a nice feather on the cap," he said. "I think more importantly, it's been fun to contribute to a lot of the wins we've had this year. That's the most fun part for me."

-- The Nationals may need Clippard, Drew Storen and others to continue to make big contributions late in games, because Sean Burnett is dealing with elbow discomfort again. The lefty had this earlier in the season and pitched through it with only minimal issues, but his numbers of late (16 hits allowed in his last six innings) suggest the elbow has become a real factor in his performance. Johnson said he'll probably hold Burnett out for a couple of days; we'll see if it turns into anything more significant than that.

-- Perhaps in part because of Burnett's situation, the Nationals added two more pitchers from Class AAA Syracuse yesterday: Zach Duke and Christian Garcia. Each will pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the month, and each made it to D.C. through perseverance. If you haven't read the full story on both guys from yesterday, I encourage you to click on the link and appreciate just how much this means for each of them.

-- Meanwhile, Michael Morse was mysteriously pulled from yesterday's game during the fourth inning. Is he having a problem with his thumb? His hand? Or was something else going on? I'll let you all try to interpret what both Morse and Johnson said after the game.

-- The minor-league season ended yesterday for most of the Nationals' affiliates, and the club announced its organizational player and pitcher of the year: Matt Skole and Nathan Karns. Skole, 23, led all players in the organization with 27 homers and finished second with 102 RBI, splitting his season between low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac. The third baseman, a fifth-round pick in last summer's draft out of Georgia Tech, hit .292 overall with a .427 on-base percentage. Karns, 24, went 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 24 games (18 starts) between Hagerstown and Potomac. A 12th-round pick in 2009 out of Texas Tech, the right-hander was shut down after pitching 116 innings, during which he allowed only 70 hits. Both Skole and Karns will be honored at Nationals Park before Friday night's game against the Marlins.

-- Finally, while yesterday's win marked a milestone for the Nationals and D.C. baseball, it also marked the end of a long streak for yours truly. You see, I hadn't covered a team (in any sport) with a winning record since 1996, when as a student at Northwestern I covered the 9-3 football team. Since then, it had been nothing but .500 or worse seasons for me: the 1997 Cubs and 1998 Diamondbacks as interns, the 1999-2000 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi basketball teams, the 2001-02 Orioles, the 2003-04 Redskins and then 2005-11 Nationals. As a reporter, I've obviously got no rooting interest in any team I cover, but I think it's fair to say it's a tad more enjoyable covering a winning team than a losing team. Which has made this season particularly enjoyable to chronicle.

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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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