Harper, for Maybe the Final Time as a National, Gives DC a Moment They’ll Never Forget

Harper, for Maybe the Final Time as a National, Gives DC a Moment They’ll Never Forget

By Matthew Jacobson

Often when I write for this site, I do my best not to mince words. This season, by the standards set by just about everyone, from national media to local media, to the coaching staff and players, and to the fans, has been a disaster. The Nationals sit 5.5 games back of the first place Philadelphia Phillies (who are doing all they can to acquire Manny Machado from the Orioles), their star players (save Anthony Rendon and Max Scherzer) have all fallen below what we expected of them come the beginning of the season. There have been calls to fire the manager, trade star players, and even sell at the deadline, a concept that would have been considered unheard of at the beginning of this season.

But last night, none of that mattered. Last night, for possibly the last time, Bryce Harper shined on the national stage, repping himself, his team, and his city.

Harper, who made a few enemies by showing up to the Stanley Cup Finals in DC wearing Vegas Golden Knight gear (Bryce was born and raised in Sin City), more than made up for it last night.  Harper was introduced to raucous applause in front of his home fans, and himself was decked out with an American flag arm sleeve and a DC flag headband. Personally, I think he looked ridiculous, but at the same time, it was awesome to see him embrace a city that during the past 6 years has embraced him as one of our own.

Harper’s first-round opponent was Freddie Freeman, a man who has made a living torturing the Nats on the baseball diamond, and the fans let him have it. For all the crap that DC fans have had to put up with during the extensive “loser generation,” these past few months have shown just what a championship can do. Freeman joked about getting booed, but the crowd wasn’t joking. They were behind their hometown hero, and it helped. Harper continuously egged the crowd on during each of his three matchups, and afterward sang their praises, saying how much of a boost they gave him.

The ballpark was electric last night on a national stage, and often I found myself getting emotional, thinking about how this could be the last time Harper puts on this type of show for his home fans in DC. Harper has done his best not to discuss publicly his upcoming unrestricted free agency, but with the Nationals struggling as much as they are, it’s difficult not to think about the future. Harper, who plays the game with incredible passion and vigor (much to the chagrin “baseball purists”), likely wants to end up in a place where he can win. Before this season, we all felt that the Nationals were that place, and despite a closing window, DC has proven itself to be a great town for baseball, and last night’s festivities served to reinforce that notion.

Harper defeated Freeman, Max Muncy, and Kyle Schwarber, en route to a home run derby victory at Nationals Park. I could go into more detail about how he won, including an epic final-round showdown with Schwarber that would’ve been worth the price of admission alone, but I feel like this sort of topical analysis doesn’t show just how significant this moment was for DC baseball fans.

Harper more than likely won’t be a National after this year, which is just the unfortunate reality of sports these days. The Islanders saw it with John Tavares. The Oakland Athletics have seen it time and time again with big stars whom they could not afford to pay. Hell, Johnny Damon left the Red Sox a year after ending the curse to sign with the Yankees. Players have the right to make their money, and Bryce Harper is no different. The Nationals likely have to play .600 baseball just to have a shot at the postseason.

Looking back on this year a few years from now, what will likely be Harper’s last with the team that drafted and developed him, may be unpleasant. At the very least, we’ll have last night to look back on fondly.

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Max Scherzer is Named National League Starting Pitcher for All-Star Game

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Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

For the second straight year, Max Scherzer will get the start in the MLB All-Star Game but this particular time will be even more special with the simple fact of the game being played at Nationals Park. Inside the Norfolk Southern Club at the ballpark, National League manager Dave Roberts of the Dodgers entered the podium with Scherzer, signifying that he will get the start.  Continue reading “Max Scherzer is Named National League Starting Pitcher for All-Star Game”

Home Run Derby Came a Day Early at Futures Game

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By Michael Marzzacco

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The future of Major League Baseball was on display Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park to kick off All-Star week in our Nation’s Capital. The stars of tomorrow put on a show with a combined eight home runs in Team USA’s 10-6 win over the World in the Futures Game. It was USA’s second win in a row and their eighth in the last nine years.  Continue reading “Home Run Derby Came a Day Early at Futures Game”

Nats Minor League Notebook July 11-12

 

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Photo: Potomac Nationals

 

By Michael Marzzacco

From staff and wire reports:

Syracuse (AAA International League):

Wednesday: All-Star break.

Thursday: The Syracuse Chiefs dropped the opening day of the four-game series to the Pawtucket Red Sox, 7-3, Thursday night at McCoy Stadium. Jose Marmolejos had two extra-base hits including a home run in the loss.

Pawtucket (42-46) started the scoring in the second. Sam Travis was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a single, to third on a groundout, and scored on a Phillips Valdez wild pitch for the game’s first run.

Syracuse (37-52) squared the game in the top the third. Jaff Decker doubled to start the inning, and stood on third after a groundout to the right side. Tuffy Gosewisch followed with a sacrifice fly to right field to give the Chiefs their first run.

The PawSox answered back with two runs in the third. Dan Butler walked and after a strikeout, Tony Renda hit a ground ball to third. Drew Ward made a short-hop pick, but his throw was wide allowed Butler to score and Renda to reach third on the error. Renda then scored on Mike Ohlman’s single to give the PawSox a 3-1 lead.

The Chiefs again closed the gap. Jose Marmolejos hit an opposite field home run to bring the score to 3-2.

The game held at 3-2 until the sixth. Mike Olt was hit by a pitch with two outs, and then the PawSox loaded the bases after Mike Miller singled and Butler walked. Tim Collins came in and threw a wild pitch that scored Olt from third.

In the seventh, Pawtucket pushed the lead to 5-2. Renda walked, moved to third on a single and scored on a fielder’s choice grounder to second to add to the total.

Syracuse grabbed a run back in the eighth. Marmolejos doubled to start the frame. After a one out single, Chris Dominguez hit a sacrifice fly to center to bring the score to 5-3.

Anuery Tavarez capped the scoring with a two-run home run off Chris Smith, the first runs allowed by Smith since May 29th.

The Chiefs and PawSox continue their series Friday night at 7:05 p.m. LHP Tommy Milone is scheduled to start for the Chiefs opposite LHP Drew Pomeranz on a Major League rehab assignment for the PawSox.

Harrisburg (AA Eastern):

Wednesday: All-Star break.

Thursday: The Harrisburg Senators defeated the Hartford Yard Goats 4-3 Thursday night at FNB Field. Zach Collier sealed the victory by robbing Forrest Wall of a home run in the top of the ninth for the final out of the game.

“That was a fun game,” Senators manager Matt LeCroy said. “I hope people at the park enjoyed it like we did.”

Wall opened the scoring in the second with a two-run home run off Senators starter Logan Darnell to put the Yard Goats up a pair.

That lead was short-lived as the Senators came back to take the lead in the bottom of the frame. Jake Noll and Alec Keller hit back-to-back doubles to start the inning to put the Senators on the board. One batter later, Osvaldo Abreu crushed a 1-1 pitch from Yard Goats starter Frank Duncan over the left field fence for his sixth home run of the season as the Senators took a 3-2 lead.

Abreu added to the lead by driving in his third run with an RBI single in the fourth to score Keller, who doubled to leadoff the frame.

Hartford cut the lead to one with a run in the fifth on a run-scoring groundout by Brandon Bednar.

Darnell (5-4) worked six innings of three-hit ball while limiting the Yard Goats to five hits and a walk. The left-hander has thrown three consecutive quality starts.

“(Darnell’s) throwing more balls over for strikes and he’s had a pretty mix (of pitches),” LeCroy said. “He did a nice job once we got the lead and kept us in it. Hopefully, he’ll continue to do what he’s doing and give us a chance.”

After Dakota Bacus and Roman Mendez tossed scoreless seventh and eighth innings, Ronald Pena came on to pitch the ninth. With the Yard Goats down to their final out, Forrest Wall hit a deep drive to right when Zach Collier leapt and reached over the fight field fence to rob Wall off a home run and seal the 4-3 victory.

“I got pretty excited,” LeCroy said. “That’s one of the top catches I’ve ever seen. He had to really get up to get to that ball and time it perfectly.”

Hartford starter Frank Duncan took the loss after surrendering four runs in four innings. Pena earned his second save of the season with a perfect ninth.

Abreu finished 2-for-3 with a home run, double and three RBI to lead the Senators offense.

“Hopefully this night boosts his confidence,” LeCroy said. “He’s working every day with (Senators hitting coach Brian Rupp). Hopefully, this will get him going”

The Senators and Yard Goats continue the series Friday night. Jaron Long gets the call for the Senators while Hartford counters with starter Evan Grills. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at FNB Field.

Potomac (High-A Carolina League):

Wednesday: A night after a dramatic come from behind ninth inning win, the Potomac Nationals (43-44, 6-14) scored twice in the middle innings, and clung on for a 2-1 victory over the Lynchburg Hillcats (41-46, 12-8). Lynchburg left the tying run at second base in the eighth inning, and the tying run at first base in the ninth frame.

In his Carolina League debut, RHP Kyle Johnston (W, 1-0) pitched six-shutout innings. Johnston allowed seven hits and struck out three. The right-handed starter induced three double plays in the start, as the Hillcats went 0-7 with RISP in the loss.

LHP Sam Hentges (L, 5-6) cruised through three innings for Lynchburg, as he struck out seven of the first 11 batters that he faced. Potomac then had five straight men reach base in the fourth inning, but failed to score, as DH Ian Sagdal was caught stealing at second base, and LF Nick Basto was thrown out at the plate on a bases loaded groundout.

In the fifth inning, Potomac finally got to Hentges, as SS Edwin Lora led off with a double, while a bunt single from 2B Bryan Mejia put men on the corners with no outs. Lora scored on a double play groundout from CF Jack Sundberg . Sagdal followed with a single, but he was later thrown out at the plate on a two-out double from Basto.

An inning later, the P-Nats made it 2-0, as 1B Aldrem Corredor led off the frame with a walk against Hentges. The left-handed starter quickly retired the next two hitters, as Corredor moved to second base. With two outs, C Jakson Reetz provided the eventual game-winning hit with an RBI single past 2B Jorma Rodriguez. Hentges departed for RHP Jared Robinson, who combined with LHP Ben Krauth for 3.1 innings of shutout relief for the Hillcats.

After six frames from Johnston, the P-Nats got a scoreless seventh inning from RHP A.J. Bogucki. In the eighth inning, RHP Jorge Pantoja gave up a one-out single to LF Conner Capel, who eventually scored on a sacrifice fly from RF Trenton Brooks. A single from CF Jodd Carter pushed the potential tying run to second base, but Pantoja struck out DH Dillon Persinger, which ended the frame. In the ninth inning, RHP James Bourque (SV, 5) allowed a one-out single to Rodriguez, but picked up two strikeouts and a groundout, as he notched a save for the second straight game.

Thursday: Behind a three-run double from 3B Ian Sagdal and a two-run home run from LF Nick Basto, the Potomac Nationals (44-44, 7-14) picked up a 6-3 victory on Thursday night over the Lynchburg Hillcats (41-47, 12-9). After Potomac dropped the series opener on Monday night, the P-Nats won three straight and took the series from Lynchburg.

The series finale got off to a rocky start, as RHP Joan Baez (W, 4-8) looked like he may not get out of the first inning. Baez opened his outing with a walk and single, and after two quick outs, loaded the bases on his second walk of the inning. DH Jodd Carter followed with a two-run single, but Baez struck out 1B Emmanuel Tapia to end the frame. Baez threw more than 30 pitches in the first frame, as Potomac trailed 2-0 after just one inning.

The P-Nats went quietly in the first two innings against LHP Tanner Tully (L, 3-9), who faced one over the minimum through the first 2.1 innings. In his sixth consecutive quality start, Tully surrendered four runs, three earned, over six frames. The left-handed starter has just one win over the six straight quality start span.

Potomac finally cracked the Lynchburg starter in the third inning, as Tully loaded the bases with one out on a walk and two singles. With the bases full, Sagdal plated three runs with a double into the left-centerfield alley, which gave Potomac the lead. Tully got DH Aldrem Corredor to ground into an inning-ending double play, which kept the Potomac lead at just 3-2.

Already ahead 3-2, Potomac plated what ended up as the game-winning run with a two-out rally in the top of the fourth inning. After two quick outs, 1B David Masters reached on a throwing error by 3B Alexis Pantoja. 2B Bryan Mejia followed with a single, while SS Luis Garcia made it 4-2 Potomac with an RBI single.

Baez continued into the sixth inning, as C Li-Jen Chu led off with a single. CF Conner Capel followed with an RBI triple, which made it a one-run game and put the tying run at third base with no outs. Baez got Carter to pop out, while Potomac then went to the bullpen and brought in RHP Jeremy McKinney. The right-handed reliever walked Tapia, retired 2B Jorma Rodriguez on a failed safety squeeze bunt attempt, and got Pantoja to ground out to end the inning. The Hillcats went just 1-9 with RISP in the loss.

After the Hillcats got two scoreless frames from LHP Billy Strode, they turned to RHP James Karinchak for the ninth inning. Entering the game, Karinchak had allowed just one earned run in his first 19 outings of the season. Sagdal led off with a single, and after C Tres Barrera fouled out to right field, Basto connected on his first home run with Potomac. The two-run blast made it 6-3 Potomac, the eventual final.

In the home half of the ninth inning, LHP Hayden Howard (SV, 1) allowed a one-out single to Rodriguez and two-out single to SS Ernie Clement, but the Potomac left-handed reliever got LF Mitch Longo to foul out to Barrera to end the game.

The series win ended a brief one-city road trip for the P-Nats, as Potomac is set to return to Northwest Federal Field for a four-game series with the Frederick Keys, which will get underway on Friday.

First pitch at Northwest Federal Field on Friday is set for 7:05pm. The Potomac broadcast will get underway at 6:50pm with the P-Nats Leadoff Show. You can listen to the Potomac broadcast at potomacnationals.com, at http://bit.ly/P-NatsBroadcast, or on the TuneIn Radio App.

Stars Shine for Nats in 5-4 Win

Stars Shine for Nats in 5-4 Win

By Matthew Jacobson

Coming into last night’s game against the Mets, Anthony Rendon had not only been the Nationals’ best hitter this season, but arguably their most consistent as well. Rendon, who homered twice in a 5-4 win to open a 4-game series with a win, has been a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season so far for the Washington Nationals. Sure, the moments have been there from the team as a whole, but the lack of consistency and puzzling managerial decisions (more about this later) have made the Nationals an infuriating team to watch, let alone root for.

Following a Juan Soto opposite-field single, Rendon smacked the first pitch he saw into the left field bleachers, providing Max Scherzer with a 2-run advantage before he even stepped on the mound. Scherzer, a likely frontrunner to start the All-Star Game for the National League (in his home ballpark nonetheless), has set the bar so high for himself during his tenure with the Nats that his last few starts have been, by his standards, disappointing. Scherzer did exactly what the Nationals needed him to do last night, and he put the team in a position to win. Scherzer went seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits, walking two, and striking out five. He allowed two solo home runs, a problem he has run into more and more as of late, but as mentioned earlier, he pitched well enough to give the Nats a shot. Rendon would hit another homer, a solo shot, and Bryce Harper tacked on a 2-run moonshot to right field, giving the Nats five runs, and they would need each and every one of them to hold on to this win.

Approaching the 8th inning, it looked like all three of Kintzler, Madson, and Herrera were ready to go. Dave Martinez elected to send Kelvin Herrera, who was one of the best closers in baseball before coming over via trade from Kansas City, out for the 8th inning. Herrera, whose stats are far and away better when he pitches the ninth, struggled, allowing several baserunners, as well as a solo home run to Asdrubal Cabrera, cutting the Nats lead to one run. Herrera struggled in the 8th, but allowed just the one run, putting Ryan Madson (whose stats show he’s better used in the 8th inning), in position for the save. Madson locked it down, inducing a tailor-made double-play ball to Trea Turner, but one has to wonder; with both pitchers (all three including Kintzler) available, why switch their roles?

It’s clear by the numbers that Madson prefers the 8th inning and Herrera the 9th, so why would Dave Martinez flip-flop them? Lucky for him it didn’t cost his team the game, but with every game meaning so much from now until the end of the season?  Martinez needs to do everything in his power to get this team turned around. This means concrete strategy, not using 7 different lineups in 8 games, and pitching relievers where they’re most comfortable. He can talk all he wants in press conferences about the inevitable turnaround he seems to think is on the horizon, but he needs to do more than that. He needs to lead, and find consistency in a ballclub that has been anything but since the start of June.

Tanner Roark, he of 3-11 record and 4.76 ERA, looks to guarantee at least a split of this four-game series, the Nationals’ last before the All-Star break. Noah Syndergaard comes off the DL to face the Nationals. Syndergaard is 4-1 with a 3.06 ERA. First pitch is slated for 7:10 PM.

Nats Minor League Notebook: Stephen Strasburg Makes a Start in… Lynchburg

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Photo: @DennisABC13

By Michael Marzzacco

Tuesday was an interesting night down on the farm. Stephen Strasburg was on a rehab assignment but his only option was to join the PNats in Lynchburg as the Senators and Chiefs are each taking part in All-Star Game festivities. Strasburg had a great outing as he struck out five batters over 3.1 innings. The PNats would rally and stun the Hillcats.  Continue reading “Nats Minor League Notebook: Stephen Strasburg Makes a Start in… Lynchburg”