July 2012

What to Watch for: 7/25

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Washington Nationals (57-39) vs. New York Mets (47-50)

RHP Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 2.85) vs. RHP Jeremy Hefner (1-3, 5.85)

All-Star Gio Gonzalez rebounded from his toughest start of the year five days prior against the Mets to deliver arguably his best outing in a Nationals uniform, allowing just three hits over 7.0 innings in Washington’s 5-2 win. The Nationals have dominated the Mets, taking eight of the 11 matchups so far this year, and will look to complete the three-game road sweep this afternoon.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Espinosa SS

7. Bernadina CF

8. Leon C

9. Strasburg RHP

STREAKER!!!

Danny Espinosa has hit safely in 10 straight games, going 17-for-40 (.425) with four doubles, a triple, a homer, six RBI, two walks and seven runs scored. Espinosa’s 10-gamer is tied for the second-longest hit streak posted by a National this year, trailing only Steve Lombardozzi’s 13-game run, which ended last weekend.

GETTING SERIES

After last night’s win, Washington is now 19-7-6 (win-loss-tie) in series play this season, including an 9-1-3 mark against NL East rivals (2-0-2 against ATL, 1-1-1 against MIA, 4-0 against NYM, 2-0 against PHI). With a win today, the Washington Nationals would secure their fourth road sweep of the season. Note that the Nationals have completed more sweeps on the road than they have at Nationals Park (two).

STRASBURG TAKES ON QUEENS

In just his second career start at Citi Field, Stephen Strasburg looks to get back in the win column against the New York Mets. Earlier this year, Strasburg tossed 6.0 scoreless innings to pocket the win on April 11, in first career start at Citi Field. In his last start, the righty tossed 5.1 innings as the Nationals built a 9-0 lead, but Atlanta eventually rallied to steal the win.

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What to Watch for: 7/22

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Atlanta Braves (52-42) vs. Washington Nationals (54-39)

RHP Jair Jurrjens (3-3, 6.20) vs. LHP Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.15)

The Nationals rebounded from a 4-0 loss in the first game of yesterday’s double-header to notch a 5-2 victory in the nightcap and split the twin-bill behind strong performances from John Lannan and Roger Bernadina, who had five hits overall on the day. Now, Washington looks for a split of the four-game series with lefty Ross Detwiler on the hill against Braves right-hander Jair Jurrjens in today’s finale.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse LF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Espinosa SS

7. Bernadina CF

8. Leon C

9. Detwiler LHP

LANNAN LIFTS NATIONALS SPIRITS AS THEY SALVAGE SPLIT

John Lannan allowed a pair of first-inning runs in his 2012 debut, but blanked the Braves on two hits in innings 2-7 as Washington won the “nightcap” of Saturday’s  twinbill, 5-2. The win marked Lannan’s ninth in his career over the Braves, the most in MLB since he first faced them on April 12, 2008.

THIS SHARK AIN’T TANKING

In 18 games since June 28, Roger Bernadina is 13-for-27 (.481) with three walks, four runs scored, two RBI and five stolen bases, rasing his on-base percentage for the season from .314 to .358.

NO REST FOR THE WEARY

Thanks to a pair of home doubleheaders (July 21 vs. ATL, Aug. 3 vs. MIA), the Nationals are just nine days (5-5 record to date) into a stretch in which they will play 35 games in a 34-day stretch from July 13-August 15.

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What to Watch for: 7/21

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Atlanta Braves (51-41) vs. Washington Nationals (53-38)

Game 1: RHP Ben Sheets (1-0, 0.00) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (5-5, 3.89)

Game 2: RHP Randall Delgado (4-9, 4.52) vs. LHP John Lannan (NR, -.–)

The Nationals stormed out to a 9-0 lead in Friday night’s series opener, only to have the Braves come back for an 11-10 victory in 11 innings. Washington powered out three home runs in the loss, though, including just the second all year off Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth (leading to his second blown save) by Danny Espinosa, and the longest home run in the history of Nats Park, a 465-foot, three-run bomb by Michael Morse in the first inning.

NATIONALS LINEUP, GAME 1:

1. Lombardozzi LF

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Desmond SS

7. Espinosa 2B

8. Flores C

9. Jackson RHP

LET’S PLAY TWO

According to MLB’s Official Baseball Rules and the Elias Sports Bureau, “A doubleheader is two regularly scheduled or rescheduled games, played in immediate succession,” so today’s day-night or split “doubleheader” is actually not considered a doubleheader. Pragmatists, however, know that the Nationals are 4-3-6 (sweeps-swept-splits) when playing twice in a single day, or 14-12 overall, since landing in D.C. in 2005.

LOMBO SKOFFS AT TRISKAIDEKAPHOBIA

Steve Lombardozzi has hit safely in 13 straight games. Note that Lombardozzi executed a sacrifice bunt in his lone plate appearance on July 7 vs. Colorado, but that did not terminate his hitting streak per Rule 10.23(a) in the Official Baseball Rules. His 13-gamer is the longest hit streak posted by a National this season.

EDWIN LOOKS TO FINALLY TOP BRAVES; LANNAN MAKES 2012 DEBUT

Over his six-year major league career, Edwin Jackson has beaten 25 of 30 MLB teams, but never the  Braves. In addition to never beating Atlanta, he has yet to top the Nationals, Phillies, Padres and Cardinals. In the nightcap, John Lannan will make his 2012 MLB debut. Since facing Atlanta for the first time on April 12th, 2008, Lannan’s eight career wins against the Braves are tied for the MLB lead with Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels.

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What to Watch for: 7/20

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Atlanta Braves (50-41) vs. Washington Nationals (53-37)

RHP Tommy Hanson (10-5, 4.02) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (10-4, 2.66)

The Nationals are coming off another series win that saw them take two-of-three from the New York Mets earlier this week. They face an Atlanta team that sits 3.5 games back in second place as the teams open a crucial four-game series over the next three days in D.C.

NATIONALS LINEUP

Lombardozzi LF

Harper CF

Zimmerman 3B

LaRoche 1B

Morse RF

Desmond SS

Espinosa 2B

Flores C

Strasburg RHP

BIG SERIES

The Nationals and Braves begin a series tonight that is scheduled to include four games in a 48-hour period from Friday at 7:05 p.m. through Sundy at 1:35 p.m. A June 1 rainout necessitated Saturday’s day/night doubleheader, which will include John Lannan’s 2012 debut and Ben Sheets’ second start with the Braves. Washington leads the season series, 6-2, and has outscored Atlanta, 44-28 along the way.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, STRAS!

On his 24th birthday, starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg will make his fourth start against Atlanta in 2012. The righty is 2-1 with a 4.20 ERA (7 ER/15.0 IP) against the Braves so far this season. Strasburg looks to build on his six shutout innings in his last start, 7/15 at Miami, in which he allowed just six hits and one walk in a 4-0 Nationals victory.

NL EAST FEAST

Including a 9-4 mark at home, Washington is 20-12 (.625) overall against NL East foes this season (6-2 vs. ATL, 4-5 vs. MIA, 6-3 vs. NYM, 4-2 vs. PHI). The Nationals .625 intradivision winning percentage is MLB’s best, despite having played 19 of their 32 NL East tilts on the road.

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What to Watch for: 7/19

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New York Mets (46-45) vs. Washington Nationals (53-36)

RHP R.A. Dickey (12-1, 2.66) vs. LHP Gio Gonzalez (12-4, 2.93)

The Nationals keep their brooms close by as they head into the series finale with the Mets, having taken the first two games of the set. Today’s All-Star pitching battle features Washington’s Gio Gonzalez, looking for his first win in the second half of the season, against New York’s R.A. Dickey, whose knuckleball held the Nats to only one run in a loss that spoiled similar hopes for a home sweep in early June.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse LF

6. Espinosa SS

7. Bernadina CF

8. Flores C

9. Gonzalez LHP

NATIONALS SOLID FROM A (ADAM) TO Z (ZIMMERMANN) IN EDGING METS

Jordan Zimmermann worked six scoreless innings to buy enough time for Adam LaRoche to hit a two-run, sixth-inning homer in the Nationals 4-3 win on Wednesday vs. the New York Mets. Washington moved to a season-high, 17 games above .500 with the victory and improved to 13-5 in one-run games at Nationals Park. Steve Lombardozzi’s two-run double in the seventh provided the cushion required.

THE DUKES OF A DOZEN WINS

With 12 wins apiece, Gonzalez and Dickey square off today in D.C., each with an eye on potentially becoming MLB’s first 13-game winner. Gonzalez and Dickey are currently tied for the MLB lead in wins with Tampa Bay Rays lefty David Price and Texas Rangers southpaw Matt Harrison.

SERIES BUSINESS

With Wednesday’s 4-3 victory, the Nationals clinched another series win. Washington is now 18-7-5 (win-loss-tie) in series play this season, including a 7-1-2 mark against NL East foes.

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What to Watch for: 7/18

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New York Mets (46-44) vs. Washington Nationals (52-36)

RHP Chris Young (2-3, 4.26) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (6-6, 2.48)

The Nationals and Mets battled through an epic affair last night, with Washington prevailing, 5-4 in 10 innings. Jordan Zimmermann, who is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA (2 ER/19.0 IP) in July takes the hill looking for his fourth consecutive win as the Nats look to take their third straight series over the Mets this season.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Morse RF

6. Moore LF

7. Espinosa SS

8. Flores C

9. Zimmermann RHP

WILD PITCH ENDS WILD NIGHT AT NATIONALS PARK

Pedro Beato’s wild pitch with two outs in the 10th plated the winning run as Washington edged NYM, 5-4, on Tuesday. The contest that featured four fruitful rallies and three blown saves in the game’s final two innings. After Jordany Valdespin hit a dramatic, three-run pinch-homer in the top of the ninth, Danny Espinosa sent the game to extra innings with a two-out, two-strike RBI-single. With the Nationals again trailing by a run, Bryce Harper’s RBI-triple in the 10th tied the game and set the stage for Beato’s decisive wild pitch.

HALF AND HALF

The Nationals rank second in the Major Leagues with a 1.80 ERA (6 ER/30.0 IP) from their starting staff since the All-Star break. Only the Giants (0.64) mark has been superior. Washington’s starting staff posted an MLB-best 3.25 ERA in the season’s first half.

ZIM’S AS HOT AS THE WEATHER

In 19 games dating to June 24, Ryan Zimmerman is batting .354 (eighth in NL in that span) with eight doubles (tied, second), 7 home runs (second), 21 RBI (first), 18 runs (third) and a 1.142 OPS (fourth).

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Spin City

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Unbelievable. That’s a word often thrown around the English language, when really we mean incredible, or spectacular, or amazing. There’s a difference. Unbelievable literally means, as the great Jack Buck so famously put it, that we don’t believe what we just saw. There are incredible, spectacular, amazing games all the time around the game of baseball. What transpired Tuesday night between the Nationals and Mets in eight innings of pure, efficient, low-scoring baseball and two innings of sheer insanity, was hard to grasp.

Detwiler is now 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 14 K in 14.0 IP vs. the Mets this season.

The Nationals played the type of game we’ve become accustomed to seeing them play all season long – close, low-scoring, and well-pitched. Following seven shutout innings from Ross Detwiler (who has dominated the Mets, allowing just one run over 14 innings against them this season), the bullpen was set up perfectly with a 2-0 lead for Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard.

Burnett twirled a scoreless eighth, and then everything went bananas. Clippard, who had not blown a save since being inserted into the closer’s role in mid-May, gave up singles to the first two batters, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. After a big strikeout by Scott Hairston, Mets Manager Terry Collins made the unthinkable, yet totally logical decision to pinch-hit for struggling, high-priced slugger Jason Bay with a rookie who had only 77 Major League at-bats under his belt. That rookie, Jordany Valdespin, belted a ball deep to right-center field that would video replay would confirm to be a home run, putting the Mets ahead, 3-2, and seemingly dealing the Nationals a crushing blow to open the second half of the season at home.

Danny E-SPIN-osa’s two-out, two-strike game-saver negated Jordany Valde-SPIN’s late heroics.

But the Nats weren’t done yet, not by a long shot. With two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, Washington was down to its last strike, as Danny Espinosa stood in against Mets closer Bobby Parnell. After surviving five straight breaking balls from the righty, Espinosa ripped a 98 mile-per-hour fastball right past Parnell and into center field for a base hit, tying the game at 3-3 and sending the affair to extra innings.

The pendulum of momentum swung again in the top of the 10th as Josh Thole put the Mets ahead once again, driving a two-out, opposite field double to make it a 4-3 game. But that only set the stage for an even more remarkable finish.

The Nationals sent three rookies to the plate to start the inning with the game on the line: Jhonatan Solano, Steve Lombardozzi and Bryce Harper. Solano, pinch-hitting, roped a single over the shortstop to open the frame. Lombardozzi dropped a percet sacrifice bunt, easily moving the runner into scoring position. Then it was Harper’s turn. He wasted no time, lacing a shot to the wall in right-center field to score Solano and tie the game once more, belly flopping into third base with a game-changing triple.

From there, the Mets intentionally walked both Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond to load the bases with one out, setting up the force. Collins was once again rewarded for his decision-making – at least initially – as Adam LaRoche bounced a ball to first base, which Ike Davis turned into a force out at home, leaving the bases loaded with two outs for yet another rookie, Tyler Moore, who had homered earlier in the game. As it turned out, Moore never needed to take his bat off his shoulders in his final at-bat.

Zimmerman and company celebrate another walk-off Curly W.

Pedro Beato, the reliever summoned specifically to face the right-handed slugger, bounced a 1-2 breaking ball in front of home plate. The ball took a high, soaring carom off the catcher, allowing Zimmerman – who stalled initially – to almost jog home from third with the winning run.

It was the Nationals eighth walk-off win of the year, and arguably the most exciting game of the season. In all the madness, it was almost enough to forget the most unbelievable story of the entire night: Zimmerman scoring from third on a wild pitch in extra innings for a walk-off win in the first game of the second half of the season. Why is that significant? Those who attended the 2012 home opener can certainly tell you, as that game ended the exact same way: with Zimmerman scoring from third on a wild pitch in extra innings for a walk-off win.

Considering the way the first half of the season played out, if you believe in omens, there could not have been a better one to begin the second half at home.

What to Watch for: 7/17

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New York Mets (46-43) vs. Washington Nationals (51-36)

LHP Jon Niese (7-4, 3.73) vs. LHP Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.43)

The Nats are coming off of a series split in Miami and face the Mets at home in D.C. as they open a three-game set tonight. Washington has won both series against New York this season, and hopes to continue that trend, beginning with a battle of lefties this evening.

NATIONALS LINEUP

1. Lombardozzi 2B

2. Harper CF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Morse RF

5. LaRoche 1B

6. Moore LF

7. Espinosa SS

8. Flores C

9. Detwiler LHP

NL EAST BEASTS MEET THIS WEEK

Tonight, the Nationals begin a seven-game, six-day, two-series homestand that includes visits from the New York Mets (three games through Thursday) and Atlanta Braves (four games, Friday-Sunday, including Saturday’s doubleheader). Washington kick-started the season’s second “half” by splitting a four-game set at Miami, a series in which they outscored the Fish, 13-8, and posted 11 more hits.

NO REST FOR THE WEARY

Thanks to a pair of home twinbills (Saturday vs. Atlanta, August 3 vs. Miami) on the horizon, the Nationals are just four days (2-2 record to date) into a stretch in which they have 35 games scheduled in a 34-day stretch from July 13-August 15. The Nationals have one off day in that span, July 30. In addition, 21 of the Nationals’ first 25 post All-Star break contests come against NL East foes: eight against Miami (2-2 thus far), six against the Mets, four against Atlanta, and three against Philadelphia.

THE NATIONAL DET

Starting pitcher Ross Detwiler makes his 13th start of the season, second against the Mets. On April 10 in Flushing, NY, Detwiler tossed five shutout innings, allowing only two hits to the first two batters of the game. Over the last two seasons, the southpaw has made eight starts against NL East foes, with the Nationals going 7-1 in those games. Individually, Detwiler is 4-1 with a 3.07 ERA (15 ER/44.0 IP) in those eight starts.

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District 9: Lucas Giolito

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We are putting our own spin on the traditional “10 Questions” format this season. To mix it up a little, we are asking players, front office members, coaches, prospects and others nine questions we think you’d like to know the answer to, then taking our favorite submission through Facebook and Twitter from the fans for the final question.

The Washington Nationals inked their 2012 first-round pick just 30 seconds before the signing deadline on July 13. Lucas Giolito, a tall, power-pitching right-hander who has touched triple digits on the radar gun as a teenager, was highly regarded by talent evaluators everywhere and when he was still available when the Nationals picked at 16, EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo said it was a “no-brainer” for Washington to draft him. Curly W Live sat down with the youngster as he visited Nationals Park on Tuesday afternoon for the first time as an official member of the organization.

Nats fans will get their first look soon at Lucas Giolito, who reports to Viera this week.

1. It must have been a tough decision turning down an offer to play at a powerhouse program in your own backyard like UCLA. What was the turning point for you in signing with the Nats?

It definitely took a lot of thinking about UCLA. Coach (John) Savage and the whole UCLA baseball program is unbelievable. But, coming to D.C. in that first trip I took out here, being on the field, meeting the guys, seeing the city was really a huge turning point. Being able to be a part of it was unreal.

2. You visited D.C. a month ago when the Yankees were in town. What was your favorite part about that trip?

Probably going out seeing all of the monuments, all the sights. I’d never been to D.C. before. So seeing the city was a great experience.

3. Your mother, father, uncle and grandfather have all worked in the entertainment business in LA. Did you ever have any interest in getting into acting?

Yeah, a lot of my family is in the entertainment industry but I really never got into it. I actually never really watched a lot of the movies or television shows they were in. I was mostly focused on playing baseball.

4. How do you know Samuel L. Jackson, who gave you a shout out on Twitter after you signed?

My dad is friends with Sam, he’s played golf with him in the past. Sam’s actually given me some autographs, an autographed Mace Windu lightsaber and stuff like that. So we go back a little.

5. Was there a friendly rivalry between you and teammate Max Fried, taken seventh overall by the San Diego Padres?

I know Max really well. I’ve known him for a couple of years now. When he got to Harvard-Westlake for his senior year – he was a senior transfer – we kind of had a friendly rivalry from the start. We’re best friends, but we always like to compete against each other, so competing against each other at the next level will be even cooler.

6. Before the draft, people drew comparisons between you and Roy Halladay. What does it mean to you to have people use your name in the same sentence as a Cy Young Award winner?

Giolito chose D.C. over his hometown of Los Angeles.

That feels unbelievable. Obviously I’m not anywhere close to a Roy Halladay or a (Justin) Verlander or a (Stephen) Strasburg like we have here in D.C. But to be able to work hard and try to get to that kind of point is something I’m really focused on.

7. When you look at the young pitching talent already in this organization, how excited do you get thinking about the possibility of joining them in the big leagues in a few years?

I couldn’t be more excited to maybe pitch in the same place as Strasburg, Gio (Gonzalez), (Jordan) Zimmermann, all those guys. I have so much respect for them and what they’re doing. Being able to start at the bottom to try to work my way up there is unbelievable.

8. At 6’6”, you are a half-foot taller than Gio Gonzalez. How do you feel about the nickname “Little Gio?”

I think it’s kind of funny. I wouldn’t mind that. Obviously I know Gio is a much bigger name than me, so it kind of fits.

9. What’s your first order of business now that you are officially a Washington National?

The first thing I want to do now that I’m part of the team is go to the game tonight and root on, well, I guess I can call them my teammates of the future. I’m really excited.

Fan Question, from @mthardyyy on Twitter: How does it feel to be drafted by such a young organization with such a bright future?

I couldn’t agree more. I think that the Nationals organization is the best organization in baseball and I’m so excited to get started and move my way up.

The Iron Man In The Mask

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There is a rather crass saying around the game of baseball, for those players sitting in the Minor Leagues, next in line behind big league starters: they’re just a slip in the shower away from the Show. The point is not to make light of injuries, but to emphasize just how fragile any player’s hold on his position really is.

Flores has been a rock behind the plate for the Nationals this year.

Three years ago, Jesus Flores learned just how tenuous his own claim to the Nationals starting catching job was. After respectable half-seasons worth of time in Washington in both 2007 and ’08, Flores had his breakout year in 2009, batting .311/.382/.522 with four homers and 15 RBI in 26 games before a torn labrum cost him the rest of his year. Following offseason surgery, the backstop missed the entire 2010 season, and found himself back at Triple-A Syracuse in 2011, watching veteran Pudge Rodriguez and rookie sensation Wilson Ramos split time in Washington. He made it back to the big leagues late in the season, but hit just .209/.253/.314 in 30 games, and seemed poised to be, at best, the backup for Ramos in 2012.

Of course, nobody could have predicted the injury woes that would befall the Nationals catchers this season. First, Ramos twisted his knee while trying to chase down a passed ball on Sunday, May 13 in Cincinnati, tearing his ACL and ending his season. The very next day, Sandy Leon – Ramos’ replacement – was barreled over at the plate by San Diego third baseman Chase Headley and suffered a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for weeks. With Jhonatan Solano, the only other prospective catcher in the minors, on the Disabled List himself, that led to the Nationals summoning Carlos Maldonado from Triple-A and thrusting Flores into the starting role that he had not filled in nearly three years.

Some fans may have forgotten that it was Flores who caught Edwin Jackson’s two-hitter in April.

While his numbers have not approached those he posted earlier in his career, Flores has been a sturdy presence at a crucial position that dearly needed one. He has handled the game’s best pitching staff, while blocking breaking pitches in the dirt and taking foul ball after foul ball off the mask, the pads, even his meat hand, seemingly every night.

He has had his moments with the bat, too, though they have largely gone unnoticed. His first home run of the year broke a 3-3 tie in the final home game of the Baltimore series, but was quickly upstaged by Stephen Strasburg’s first career blast, which followed as the back end of back-to-back shots. His next roundtripper snapped a scoreless tie against then-NL ERA leader Brandon Beachy and the Atlanta Braves, but again it was Strasburg’s seven innings of four-hit, shutout ball with nine strikeouts that would dominate headlines following the 2-0 Nats victory.

And while Solano has healed from his injury and has filled in nicely as the backup for the Nationals, batting .294/.333/.559 in limited time prior to the break, there is a good reason that Flores continues to be the Nationals iron man, starting the lion’s share of games behind the plate. After all, he leads all Major League catchers with at least 50 games played with a 3.12 catcher’s ERA entering play on July 17. With a team whose fortunes will be dictated by their pitching, that’s more than enough evidence for manager Davey Johnson to know that his staff – and their blazing fastballs – is in good hands.

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