June 2012

An Unlikely Pair

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Despite his stellar ERA of just over 3.00, Edwin Jackson has won just three games this season. The vagaries of pitching wins can be discussed ad nauseum, so we’ll leave that column for someone else, some other time (shameless plug alert: perhaps the next Inside Pitch, available beginning this Friday, FREE, at Nats Park). What’s intriguing, though, is a running theme throughout each of Jackson’s triumphs: the presence of Adam LaRoche.

Edwin Jackson has gotten consistent support on the mound from Adam LaRoche, dating back to their days in Arizona.

When Jackson turned in one of the Nationals most impressive pitching performances of the season – a complete game, two-hitter of the Reds back on April 14 for his first win of the year – it was LaRoche’s two-run double that broke a 1-1 tie and led to the eventual 4-1 victory. Jackson would not win again until last Wednesday, at home against the Mets, when LaRoche’s three-run, first-inning home run and subsequent sacrifice fly were enough to singlehandedly beat the Mets in a 5-3 final. And again, Monday night in Toronto, with a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning, LaRoche blasted an upper-deck monster of a home run to stretch the lead to 4-1. Toronto would get no closer than that three-run margin the rest of the night, as Jackson earned his third win.

In fact, in Jackson’s 12 starts this year, LaRoche is batting .383 (18-for-47) with three doubles, four home runs and 15 RBI.

We have mentioned before in this space (following the sparkling, two-hit performance in April) that this odd trend actually goes all the way back to when the two were teammates in Arizona in 2010. LaRoche’s solo home run provided the lone run of support for Jackson’s no-hitter on June 25 that year. He also drove in a pair in Jackson’s other spectacular outing in 2010, eight innings of shutout ball in which he allowed just four hits while fanning 12 against the Marlins.

So what is it about Edwin Jackson starting that seems to bring out the best in Adam LaRoche? We really can’t be sure, but we know one thing for certain: we’ve already got this upcoming Sunday circled, when Jackson is slated to toe the rubber in the finale of the Yankees series. With right-hander Ivan Nova scheduled to start for New York (LaRoche has hit nine of his 11 homers and 21 of 26 extra-base hits against righties), we’ll have our eyes on the powerful lefty in the box all afternoon long.

What to Watch for: 6/12

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Washington Nationals (36-23) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (31-30)

RHP Chien-Ming Wang (1-2, 5.11) vs. RHP Henderson Alvarez (3-5, 3.76)

The Nationals head into tonight’s matchup looking to extend their four-game winning streak. Washington also hopes to remain undefeated (4-0) in Interleague Play this month.  A win for the Nationals tonight would not only give Chien-Ming Wang his first win as a starter in 2012, but would also give the team their third consecutive series victory.

STATE OF THE NATIONALS

Washington enters today at a season-best 13 games over .500, the team’s best mark since July 2005 (54-41 after 95 games). The Nationals have not reached 14 games over .500 since they were 54-40 thru 94 contests in July ‘05. The Nats have won four straight and would match their season-best win streak with a victory tonight. A win would also clinch the series; Washington is 13-4-3 in series play this season, including 7-3 in road series.

ZIM CLOSING IN ON 1,000 HITS

Ryan Zimmerman needs just nine hits to reach the 1,000-hit plateau for his career. Since Zim made his debut on September 1, 2005, only two MLB third basemen have posted more hits: David Wright (1,099) and Adrian Beltre (1,021).

In addition, Zimmerman owns the Nationals (‘05-present) mark with 991 hits and will become just the eighth player in Nationals/Expos franchise history to reach 1,000, joining Tim Wallach (1,694), Tim Raines (1,622), Andre Dawson (1,575), Gary Carter (1,427), Jose Vidro (1,280), Vladimir Guerrero (1,215) and Warren Cromartie (1,063).

ESPINOSA HEATING UP

Four games into this Interleague road trip, Danny Espinosa is 5-for-15 (.333) with four doubles, three RBI, three runs scored and two stolen bases. Furthermore, in his last 10 games, Espinosa is batting .297 (11-for-37) with three walks, five doubles, a triple, four RBI, and seven runs scored.

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Nationals Announce Draft Signings

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The Nationals announced today that they have signed 23 of their 40 selections in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, including 10 of the top 14. The complete Draft list is below, with signed selections in bold. For detailed scouting reports on the Nationals top 10 selections, click here.

RD PICK PLAYER POS B/T HT WT DOB SCHOOL
1 16 Lucas Giolito RHP R/R 6’6 230 7/14/94 Harvard-Westlake HS (CA)
2 80 Tony Renda 2B R/R 5’8 180 1/24/91 University of California-Berkeley
3 111 Brett Mooneyham LHP L/L 6’5 235 1/24/90 Stanford University (CA)
4 144 Brandon Miller OF R/R 6’2 215 10/8/89 Samford University (AL)
5 174 Spencer Kieboom C R/R 6’1 220 3/16/91 Clemson University (SC)
6 204 Hayden Jennings CF L/L 6’1 170 10/16/92 Evangel Christian Academy (LA)
7 234 Robert Benincasa RHP R/R 6’1 180 9/5/90 Florida State University
8 264 Stephen Perez SS S/R 5’11 175 12/16/90 University of Miami (FL)
9 294 Derek Self RHP R/R 6’3 205 1/14/90 University of Louisville (KY)
10 324 Craig Manuel C L/R 6’1 205 5/22/90 Rice University (TX)
                 
11 354 Brian Rauh RHP R/R 6’2 200 7/23/91 Chapman University (CA)
                 
12 384 Carlos Lopez 3B R/R 6’2 220 1/18/90 Wake Forest University (NC)
                 
13 414 Elliott Waterman LHP L/L 6’5 230 11/24/90 University of San Francisco
                 
14 444 Jordan Poole RF R/R 6’3 210 9/11/91 Chipola Junior College (FL)
15 474 Brandon Smith CF R/R 6’3 195 5/1/94 Woodbridge HS (CA)
16 504 Ronald Pena RHP R/R 6’4 210 9/19/91 Palm Beach State College (FL)
                 
17 534 Blake Schwartz RHP R/R 6’3 200 10/9/89 Oklahoma City University
                 
18 564 David Fischer RHP R/R 6’5 200 4/10/90 University of Connecticut
                 
19 594 Bryan Lippincott 1B L/R 6’3 210 9/26/89 Concordia University (MN)
                 
20 624 James Brooks SS R/R 6’1 185 10/12/88 University of Utah
                 
21 654 Austin Chubb C R/R 6’1 220 4/17/89 Florida Southern College
                 
22 684 Will Hudgins RHP R/R 6’4 200 2/12/90 University of Notre Dame
                 
23 714 Casey Selsor OF L/L 6’1 190 2/23/90 University of Texas-San Antonio
                 
24 744 Kevin Dicharry RHP R/R 6’4 200 11/27/89 University of Texas
25 774 Freddy Avis RHP R/R 6’2 195 11/3/93 Menlo HS (CA)
26 804 Skye Bolt CF S/R 6’1 170 1/15/94 Holy Innocents Episcopal HS (GA)
27 834 Cody Poteet RHP R/R 6’1 183 7/30/94 Christian HS (CA)
28 864 Hunter Bailey SS R/R 6’1 180 5/17/89 Oklahoma State University
                 
29 894 Leonard Hollins RHP R/R 6’3 185 7/31/91 Chipola Junior College (FL)
30 924 Robert Orlan LHP R/L 6’1 200 9/28/90 University of North Carolina
31 954 Michael Boyden          RHP R/R 6’1 180 6/18/90 University of Maryland
32 984 Michael Mudron LHP L/L 5’11 190 2/4/90 California State San Bernardino
33 1014 Mike McQuillan 2B L/R 5’11 175 10/2/89 University of Iowa
34 1044 Jake Jefferies 2B S/R 6’1 180 8/7/93 Foothill HS (CA)
35 1074 Cory Bafidis LHP L/L 6’1 190 8/22/90 Texas Wesleyan University
36 1104 Max Ungar C R/R 6’3 200 8/10/94 Charles E. Smith Jewish School (MD)
37 1134 Tyler Watson LHP L/L 5’11 160 6/9/93 Georgetown HS (TX)
38 1164 Jared Messer RHP R/R 5’11 185 7/14/91 Malone College (OH)
39 1194 Mitchell Williams C L/R 5’10 186 8/16/94 Coosa HS (GA)
40 1224 Ricky Gutierrez CF R/R 6’1 170 2/15/93 American Senior HS (FL)

Weekly Review (6/4)

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Here at Curly W Live, we will be conducting a weekly review every Tuesday of all the storylines from the week that was. If you’re new to the site or have just been too busy to stay current with all the day-to-day action, this is your way to get caught up on everything going on with the team.

Monday brought with it the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, in which Washington snagged prep right-hander Lucas Giolito with the 16th overall pick. Meanwhile, the Nationals returned home as they continued their stretch of 33 straight games versus east division opponents with a three-game set against the New York Mets. The teams went extra innings on Tuesday, as Ian Desmond became the first player since Cincinnati’s Art Shamsky in 1966 to tie a game three separate times in the 8th inning or later before Bryce Harper hit the first walk-off by a teenager since 1988 in a 7-6, 12-inning win. On Wednesday, Adam LaRoche homered in the first inning on his way to a four-RBI night in support of Edwin Jackson, as the Nationals won their second series in as many tries against the New York National League Ballclub. The Mets bounced back on Thursday behind a sparkling performance by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to salvage the final game of the set, 3-1.

Washington then hit the road for just the club’s second visit to Fenway Park in team history since the move from Montreal. Friday night, the Nationals recorded their first-ever win in Boston, using a superb team effort to back a 13-strikeout performance from Stephen Strasburgon the two-year anniversary of his Major League debut – in a 7-4 victory. The team struck early on Saturday, jumping out to a four-run lead early, then hanging on late for a 4-2 victory thanks to some solid work by the bullpen. The Nationals then capped off the week with a Sunday victory for just their second full-series sweep of the year, as Tyler Clippard recorded his third save in as many days in a 4-2 final.

Mon: OFF

Tue vs. NYM: W, 7-6 (12)

Wed vs. NYM: W, 5-3

Thu vs. NYM: L, 3-1

Fri @ BOS: W, 7-4

Sat @ BOS: W, 4-2

Sun @ BOS: W, 4-3

Weekly Record: 5-1

What to Watch for: 6/11

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Washington Nationals (35-23) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (31-29)

RHP Edwin Jackson (2-3, 3.11) vs. RHP Brandon Morrow (7-3, 2.90)

The Nationals move on to another Interleague series at Rogers Centre in Toronto to face the Blue Jays starting Monday night. Washington is looking to strengthen its lead in the NL East, but Toronto ace Brandon Morrow may prove as a major challenge in tonight’s series opener.

CANADIAN HOMECOMING

The Nationals return north of the border for just the fourth time since relocating from Montreal to Washington, D.C. prior to the 2005 season. This marks their first Canada trip since June 2007 when they dropped two of three to the Blue Jays, and where they are just 2-7 in Canada since making the move. Two Nationals coaches have Blue Jays ties as bench coach Randy Knorr played five seasons (‘91-’95) and won two World Series rings with the Jays and bullpen coach Jim Lett coached on Toronto’s staff from ‘97-’99.

EDWIN LOOKS TO CONTINUE THE WINNING WAYS

Edwin Jackson collected just his second win of the season in his last start (6/6 vs. NYM) despite seven quality starts in 11 outings so far in 2012. Tonight, he makes his 14th career start against the Blue Jays. He is 3-0 with a 4.43 ERA (20 ER/40.2 IP) in his last six starts against Toronto dating to July 30, 2008.

NL BROOMS MAKE RARE APPEARANCE AT FENWAY

With a weekend series sweep over the Red Sox, the Nationals became the first National League team to sweep a series at Fenway since the Atlanta Braves did so in June ’02. Roger Bernadina broke a 3-3 tie with a RBI-double in the ninth inning off Alfredo Aceves, scoring Bryce Harper from first base. Jordan Zimmermann posted seven innings of three-run ball, before turning it over to Tom Gorzelanny (win, 2-1) and Tyler Clippard (8th save).

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First Things First

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For all of the hype surrounding this weekend’s three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox on the road at Fenway Park, perhaps Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa summed it up best when reflecting upon the feat.

“I think we were the team to beat right here,” he explained. “We’re the first-place team.”

Indeed, they are. They were when the weekend began, and found their lead padded to two games when Atlanta finally saw its six-game win streak come to an end on Sunday. Nevertheless, the national media was paying more attention this weekend to all the things that Nationals fans have been watching since Opening Day, now more than two months in the rear-view mirror.

That’s the thing about playing at Fenway: wherever the Red Sox reside in the standings, everyone is watching. It is one of those venues that puts you under the magnifying glass of the entire country. Peter Gammons, the Hall-of-Fame writer who covered the Sox for decades before ascending to the National stage, was unapologetic in his gushing over the Nationals fan support, those who showed up to cheer the team on in a hostile environment. As The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell pointed out in his column this morning, The Boston Herald even called the Nats “The most exciting team in baseball.”

The last such moment of national attention for this team came during NATITUDE Weekend against Philadelphia in early May. While the Nationals won that encounter – taking two-of-three including a dramatic, extra-inning victory to open the set – they lost in the nationally televised finale, missing perhaps the opportunity to claim the attention that they demanded this weekend in Boston.

Sunday’s heroes Bryce Harper (right) and Roger Bernadina (middle) celebrate with Rick Ankiel. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Given the opportunity to close out the sweep once again, they did not disappoint. Following a dynamic team performance Friday and a solid effort on Saturday, the Nationals were in a battle in the finale. Bryce Harper, who was given his first day off since his call-up, found himself thrust into the middle of a tie game with one out in the ninth inning. He drew a five-pitch walk, then spent the bulk of the next two at-bats trying to size up Boston reliever Alfredo Aceves for the best time to steal. With a quick delivery to the plate, Aceves kept Harper on the bag until two outs and two strikes, when the rookie finally broke for second on the perfect pitch, a letter-high fastball that Roger Bernadina laced towards the right-field corner. With his momentum already at full blast (nearly overly so, as he struggled to keep his footing heading into second base), Harper tore around the 270 feet toward home, slapping the plate with the go-ahead run as he slid across well ahead of the relay throw back to the infield.

That allowed Tyler Clippard to come out of the ‘pen for the third straight day, and for the third straight day he shut the door on the Red Sox, silencing the Fenway crowd. His final masterpiece, a literally knee-buckling changeup to Dustin Pedroia, iced both the game and the cake of the weekend’s heroics. It marked the second road sweep in just over two weeks for this team, showing the continued growth that they have already experienced since that Phillies series just over a month ago.

Speaking of those Phillies, they now trail the front-running Nationals by eight games in the NL East, and by a staggering 10 games in the all-important loss column. So, yes, a three-game road sweep of a team with the history and tradition always makes for a great weekend. But with a much-less talked about three-game set against a less-heralded (yet quite talented) Toronto team beginning Monday night, it is where the Nationals sit as a result of that sweep that matters far more.

First place.

What to Watch for: 6/10

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Washington Nationals (34-23) vs. Boston Red Sox (29-30)

RHP Jordan Zimmermann (3-5, 2.82) vs. LHP John Lester (3-4, 4.64)

SWEEP STAKES

The Nationals need a win today to secure a weekend sweep of the Boston Red Sox. Washington has two series sweeps this season, April 20-21 vs. MIA (3rd game of series was PPD due to rain) and May 25-27 at ATL. The Nationals are 1-11 this season when playing the final game of a series with a sweep on the line. While the Nationals have never swept the Red Sox, the Expos did it twice (both times at Olympic Stadium in Montreal: Sept. 1-3, 1997 & June 7-9, 1999).

START ME UP

Gio Gonzalez (8-2) earned the win yesterday, holding the Red Sox to just two runs in 6.1 innings. Gio held Boston to just three hits, improving his batting average against to an MLB-best .168. According to Elias, that is the lowest opponent batting average through 12 starts since Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano posted a .163 BAA through 12 outings in 2006.

Jordan Zimmermann takes to the hill today for his first start at Fenway Park. However, today is not Jordan’s first start against the Red Sox. He tossed 7.0 innings of one-run, five-hit ball to grab the win in his only start against Boston on 6/25/09 at Nats Park.

STATE OF THE NATIONALS

With a series-ending win today, Washington would improve to 12 games over .500 for the first time this season. The last time the Nationals reached 12-over was in July 2005 (55-43 after 98 games).

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What to Watch for: 6/9

Washington Nationals (33-23) vs. Boston Red Sox (29-29)

LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-2, 2.31) vs. RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-0, -.–)

STRASBURG AND HARPER MAKE HISTORY AT FENWAY

On the two year anniversary of his MLB debut, Stephen Strasburg fanned 13 batters, one shy of his career high, and allowed just two runs in 6.0 innings en route to his fourth straight win. Strasburg has now collected 208 strikeouts in 29 career games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is just the 6th pitcher since 1900 to reach 200 Ks in 30 or fewer games…the others: Hideo Nomo (23 games), Kerry Wood (23), Dwight Gooden (25), Mark Prior (27) & Herb Score (29).

With a two run homer in the fourth inning last night, Bryce Harper (19 years, 236 days) became just the 11th teenager ever to homer at Fenway Park and the second-youngest visiting player to homer at Fenway. Only Robin Yount (19 years, 204 days) did it at a younger age.

ROAD WARRIOR GIO

Starting with a road win win at Fenway on Aug. 26, 2011, Gio Gonzalez is 8-1 with a 2.19 ERA in last 10 road starts. For 2012, Gio is 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA in six road starts, with his lone defeat coming at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers on 4/29.

TYLER MADE

A pair of “Tylers” made their mark on last night’s 7-4 victory over the Red Sox. Recalled from Triple-A Syracuse on 6/7, Tyler Moore collected his first career multi-hit game and legged out his first career double, finishing the night 2-for-4 with a double and three runs scored.

Tyler Clippard came in for Brad Lidge in the ninth inning with Daniel Nava on second base and one out. He induced two fly outs by Dustin Pedrioa and Adrian Gonzalez to record his sixth save of the season.

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The Other Guys

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All of Saturday’s stories, as you might expect following last night’s performances from Washington’s most celebrated young stars, focused on Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Deservedly so, as the former became the first pitcher since Mike Mussina in 2001 to fan 13 Red Sox at Fenway Park, and the latter notched the first three-hit game by a teenager at the historic venue since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989.

Their influence was stamped all over the game, from Strasburg opening and closing his performance with a pair of strikeouts to Harper corralling the final out of the game on Adrian Gonzalez’s harmless, shallow fly to center field, probably the easiest defensive chance he had to record all night. But the real story of these Nationals is the quality performances that are flying under the radar, all of which were key in delivering the resounding 7-4 victory Friday night in Boston.

Strasburg and Harper stole the show, but the game would not have been won without a strong supporting cast.

How about Danny Espinosa, inserted at the top of the lineup for his strength against left-handed pitching to face Boston’s own crafty southpaw, Felix Dubront? Espinosa responded by powering a double high off the top of the Green Monster in his first at-bat. Following a walk and another double in his next two plate appearances, Espinosa’s slash line against lefties sits at .368/.467/.684. Yes, that’s an OPS of 1.151.

Then there’s Ian Desmond, quietly putting together an All-Star caliber first half. He came up with arguably the biggest hit of the entire game on Friday. After Boston had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning, the Nats struck back for a run in the third and had the bases loaded for Adam LaRoche with one out. Dubront whiffed the first baseman on a nasty hook, bringing up Desmond with two outs. He responded with a clutch two-run, two-out double to put Washington ahead for good. In all, 13 of his 28 RBI have come with two outs. That number leads all NL shortstops, as do Desmond’s 16 doubles and 25 extra-base hits.

There was another rookie who put together an impressive game Friday night, as well. That would be Tyler Moore, who was summoned back to the big leagues after largely riding the bench in his first stint, prior to his option back to Syracuse. Starting in left field, with the daunting defensive task of managing the Green Monster behind him, Moore notched a pair of hits, including a double, and scored twice out of the eight spot in the lineup.

Then there was the veteran, Xavier Nady, who rounded out a game full of great pitching and clutch hitting with what may be the Nationals defensive play of the year to date. Playing right field in a tricky and unfamiliar ballpark, he ranged back on a shot by Adrian Gonzalez and crashed into the short wall in front of the Nationals bullpen, snagging the ball in his mitt just as he collided with the barrier to rob the Sox slugger of a home run.

Finally, there was Tyler Clippard, who found himself in a save situation with the lead trimmed to 7-4 in the ninth and the heart of the Boston lineup coming up. He induced harmless flyouts from Dustin Pedroia and the aforementioned Gonzalez to lock down his sixth consecutive save. He has pitched 5.1 innings of no-hit ball over those six chances, walking just one and striking out six.

So while Strasburg and Harper are understandably getting the lion’s share of attention from Friday’s triumph, the Nationals are sitting at 10 games over .500 at 33-23 because of a true team effort.

 

What A Difference A Day Makes

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The Washington Nationals head into a three-game series in Boston Friday night in a situation that surprises many on the outside of the baseball world. The Nationals reside in first place in the NL East, while the Red Sox pull up the rear of the AL East, albeit with a winning record of 29-28. Peripheral fans, who see Boston as a perennial playoff contender and winner of two of the last eight World Series, and the Nationals as a franchise with no winning seasons under its belt, might feel that the natural order of the game has been turned on its head this season. But really, that transformation began exactly two years ago, in what may arguably have been the most significant 24-hour period in the history of the young Washington franchise.

Bryce Harper has been one of the biggest stories of the 2012 season.

The first round of Major League Baseball’s 2010 First-Year Player Draft was televised on MLB Network, beginning at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, June 7. The number one overall pick had been preordained for months, as the Nationals had made clear their intentions to select 17 year-old catcher/outfielder Bryce Harper out of Southern Nevada College, much the same way they had taken San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the first selection the year prior. They did so just a few minutes after 7 o’clock, and so began this defining 24-hour stretch.

Fittingly, Strasburg – after overwhelming batters at each of his Minor League stops – had been summoned to make his Major League debut the very next day. He took the field in front of more than 40,000 raucous fans at Nationals Park and turned in a performance for the ages, striking out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates, including the last seven batters he faced that night, to set a new franchise record.

24 hours after Harper was drafted, Strasburg took the baseball world by storm.

While it was just a single game, and Harper was still unsigned, seemingly several years away from the Major Leagues, there was good reason to hope for a bright future as a Nationals fan.

Fast-forward two years, and here we stand, with Harper having just recorded his first Major League walk-off (and the first by a teenager since 1988), and Strasburg putting up All-Star-caliber numbers atop the rotation. It is only fitting that the two phenoms take their show on the road this weekend to one of baseball’s most hallowed grounds, Fenway Park, where Strasburg will face the Red Sox for the first time in his career Friday night.

It is amazing to think what a difference two years makes, but perhaps more so, the difference those pivotal 24 hours made – from a few minutes after 7:00 p.m. on June 7 to the same time on June 8, two years ago.

Meanwhile, Strasburg, Harper and the first-place Nationals will take the field a few minutes after 7:00 p.m. Friday night (7:10, to be exact), seeking their first-ever win at Fenway.

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