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Daily Wrap: Live BP gets underway, SportsCenter visits Nationals camp & more

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by Amanda Comak

VIERA, Fla. — It was a very busy day here at Nationals camp as Photo Day overtook the morning, and the first live batting practice session of the Spring overtook the afternoon. All the while, ESPN’s SportsCenter was broadcasting live from the Nationals’ workout with sit-down interviews with Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Mike Rizzo and Drew Storen, along with Matt Williams and Ryan Zimmerman.

News of the Day: Live Batting Practice sessions commence

It’s usually about this time of the spring when bullpens and fielding drills leave everyone wanting a little bit more. And that’s when live batting practice arrives. Live BP, while still practice for everyone, does usually provide a bit more in the way of entertainment and evaluation. The pitchers are always ahead of the hitters, but it’s good for both to see one another on opposite ends once again.

The highlight on Sunday was Max Scherzer throwing his first live batting practice as a member of the Nationals.

Scherzer looked sharp, though few Nationals hitters offered at his pitches as it was their first time seeing live pitching in quite some time. He did, however, entertain.

After finishing his bullpen warm-up, Scherzer and Nationals Manager Matt Williams removed their caps and hummed the Star Spangled Banner. Then Scherzer got to work.

“It’s part of Max’s thing,” Williams said later Sunday afternoon. “He always takes that break for the national anthem when he prepares to start a game. He wanted to take the break, so we hummed it for him. (We) made him feel comfortable in that regard so he could go out and start BP.”

Images of the Day

 

Social Media of the Day

Your 2015 #Nats starting pitchers. #aces

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#TonyTwoBags showed off his pro flow at photo day this morning. #Nats #SpringTraining

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Video Highlights of the Day

 

Quote of the Day

You have to simulate it like it’s a real game. It’s all about the little things.” — Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer on humming the national anthem before live batting practice, which he says he does before every live BP session he’s thrown. 

Daily Wrap: The Full Squad arrives, Bryce Harper talks title & much more

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by Amanda Comak

All that’s left now is for Matt Williams to hold his first team meeting of the year and for the full Washington Nationals squad to take the field Thursday morning. Baseball will truly begin tomorrow as the Nationals will hold their first full-squad workout, provided the weather here on the Space Coast Cooperates.

The Nationals’ position players took their physicals today and came out of them well. It was great to see Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Wilmer Difo and Yunel Escobar make their first appearances at camp this spring. And there’s so much more fun to come in the days ahead.

First, to the daily wrap…

News of the Day: Full-Squad is ready to go

The Nationals’ pitchers and catchers had a light workout Wednesday morning, with the pitchers getting the day off from bullpen sessions.

Williams met the media for his daily briefing with some good news: no issues with the position players’ physicals and the Nationals’ full-squad will be ready to go on Thursday morning. The only issue now will be whether or not the weather will cooperate with storms in the forecast.

No matter, the 2015 Nationals will be together for the first time. That’ll make it a pretty sunny day, regardless.

A few injury updates the manager shared: “We’re ready to go tomorrow,” Williams said. “Of course, Jayson (Werth, who is coming off surgery to the AC joint in his right shoulder) is limited in that regard because he’s post-surgery, so we’ll watch him. With regard to Nate (McLouth) he’s on a throwing program, so we’ll monitor that, too, but everybody is good to go.”

Images of the Day

 

Social Media of the Day

 

Quote of the Day: 

“I absolutely love this organization. I love the city that I play for. And I’m not done here. Like I said five years ago when I first signed here, I’m going to bring back a title to D.C., no matter what. I’m getting chills thinking about it. I absolutely want to do that for this organization, this town. I don’t care how long it takes me, I’m going to stick and do what I need to do to help this organization win.” — Bryce Harper 

Daily Wrap: Ryan Zimmerman works at first, Ian Desmond arrives & more

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by Amanda Comak

The full squad is almost complete. Position players are required to “report” by tomorrow night and they’ll take their physicals on Wednesday. The first full-squad workout is nearly here!

But first, to today’s Daily Wrap:

News of the Day: Ryan Zimmerman gets his first work of the spring at first base

Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman — and yes it’ll take some time before that’s no longer strange to write — arrived at the team’s Spring Training complex on Monday morning and immediately got to work at his new position. Zimmerman was out on the field at Space Coast Stadium early on Monday working one-on-one with Nationals Manager Matt Williams on the finer points of first base.

“It’s a process,” Williams said Monday afternoon. “It’s a new position… So as part of his initial introduction to it this spring we’re just going over the basics — footwork, positioning, his thoughts on where he would like to play, what he can and can’t do, what he feels comfortable with. That was just the little bit of introduction today. Thatll happen everyday. We did it this morning. Got some personal time in.”

The manager, however, knows what kind of a glove his new first baseman possesses. And he seems to have no doubt the transition will be an easy one for the Gold Glove winner.

“Infield is infield is infield,” Williams said. “It’s the opposite side of the diamond, but he’ll adapt to that quickly. For me the thing that’s going to be something he has to think about is being the cutoff guy, (and) making sure he’s on all of the relay stuff. But we’ll get a chance to go through that in Spring Training — walk through it, go live through it, and game through it. He’ll be fine.”

Images of the Day

 

Social Media of the Day

It's even more fun to watch Max Scherzer work when you S L O W. I T. D O W N. #Nats

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Doug Fister is ready for his close up! #Nats (Photo credit to @donaldmiralle)

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Quote of the Day

“I’m going to enjoy this ride… I’m going to enjoy every single day. I’ve got a lot of friends and family in this organization. I’m going to make sure I don’t slight them in any way by throwing in any other distractions. I owe it to everybody here to give my 100 percent concentration, and that’s what I’m going to do. Everything else is not really going to be talked about. It’s time to go.” — Ian Desmond, upon reporting to camp for the start of the final season of his contract. 

Daily Wrap: Matt Williams’ option is picked up, the first workout is in the books & more

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by Amanda Comak

Welcome back to the Daily Wrap, a Spring Training feature that debuted last season.

We’re kicking things off early this year, jumping right into the thick of it with the first Pitchers and Catchers workout of the year. It was a busy day in Nationals land, even if it was just the first workout. So let’s jump right in.

News of the Day: Nationals exercise 2016 club option on Manager Matt Williams

The Nationals were happy to announce they’d picked up the 2016 club option on Manager Matt Williams’ contract Saturday morning, solidifying his spot in the dugout through this upcoming season and the next. Williams shared the organizational enthusiasm.

“I’m excited,” Williams told reporters in his first media session of the season. “I’m excited to be a part of the organization and the fact that (my option) got picked up. I’m honored to have that done. The organization is fantastic. They’ve supported all of us since the day I arrived here and I’m just very pleased and excited for the spring.

“I’m happy that I’ll be here through this year and next year. I look forward to the challenge every single day.”

Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo said he felt it was important for the team to pick up Matt’s option in advance of the start of Spring Training.

“It’s always good to know the manager’s going to be around for a while,” Rizzo said. “I think the players respect him greatly.”

Images of the day:

Social Media of the Day: 

Friendly game of catch between #aces this morning! #Nats

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A little post-bullpen chat with the bossman. #Nats

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#Focus

A photo posted by @nationals on

 

Quote of the Day: 

“He’s phenomenal. He doesn’t change — whether it’s starting or relieving, where he pitches in the rotation. Whenever we give him the ball, it’s his day to pitch and he’s excited and ready to pitch.” — Nationals Manager Matt Williams on do-it-all right-hander Tanner Roark.

Nationals exercise 2016 option on contract of Manager Matt Williams

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by Amanda Comak

The Washington Nationals exercised the 2016 club option on manager Matt Williams’ contract on Saturday, solidifying the 2014 BBWAA National League Manager of the Year’s spot in the dugout through the next two seasons.

“We are happy to pick up Matt’s option for the 2016 season,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “It shows the great confidence we have in Matt to continue to lead this team on the field.

“During his rookie season, he helped us navigate through injuries and led us to our second NL East Division title in three years. His leadership has earned him the respect of our players, coaches and his colleagues around the league.”

Atlanta Braves v Washington NationalsIn his rookie season in the dugout, Williams led the Nationals to the 2014 National League East division title, as well as the best record in the National League with 96 regular-season victories. Working to strengthen a culture of accountability in the clubhouse and hard-nosed play on the field, Williams guided the Nationals’ talent-laden roster back to the postseason following a one-year absence.

“Matt’s accomplishments on the field speak for themselves,” said Managing Principal Owner Theodore N. Lerner.  “He takes great pride not only in how the game is played, but in our players.  We are fortunate to have Matt as our manager and look forward to him leading us to new heights.”

After stewarding the Nationals through early injuries and inconsistencies before their ascension to the largest divisional lead in Major League Baseball (17.0 games), Williams earned the 2014 BBWAA National League Manager of the Year award and the 2014 Sporting News NL Manager of the Year award.

He was the first rookie manager since 2006, and only the fourth first-year manager in history to earn the BBWAA honors.

The decorated former third baseman was named the fifth manager of the Nationals on Nov. 1, 2013, replacing Davey Johnson.

Pitchers and Catchers Report

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by Amanda Comak

The first “official” day of the spring arrived on Thursday morning as the Washington Nationals pitchers and catchers reported to Viera, Fla. for Spring Training.

 

While it is certainly an official date, reporting is actually not as formal as it sounds. Pitchers and catchers just need to alert a team official that they have made it to the area by Thursday. Friday they’ll take their physicals, and the first workout for pitchers and catchers will begin bright and early on Saturday morning. That’s when the real action will get going.

Nonetheless, there were a lot of hugs, high-fives and smiles today as returning Nationals reunited with their teammates and new Nationals got acquainted with their surroundings.

#Repost from @mlb.
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We missed baseball hugs. #BaseballBegins

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There were a few surprises, too. Like Danny Espinosa’s magnificent mustache.

And there was already plenty to talk about.

Spring Training Preview, Part V: Outfielders

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by Amanda Comak

Pitchers and catchers will report to the Washington Nationals’ Spring Training facility in Viera, Fla., in just nine days, so as our review of the Nationals’ 40-man roster hits the home stretch, we reach the outfield.

With the exception of swapping corner assignments, the Nationals’ outfield unit is once again one of the most stable in the Major Leagues. Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Bryce Harper will all return as the Nationals’ starting unit, with Nate McLouth, Michael A. Taylor and Brian Goodwin rounding out the 40-man outfield talent. And that doesn’t even include Ryan Zimmerman, Kevin Frandsen, Tyler Moore, and Jeff Kobernus, infielders on the Nationals’ 40-man who also have outfield experience.

We’ve already previewed the Nationals’ catchersrelievers, starting pitchers and infielders; now let’s review the 2015 outfielders.

*Note, 2014 totals reflect only Major League stats.

Bryce Harper

Division Series - Washington Nationals v San Francisco Giants - Game Four2014 Season Totals: .273/.344/.423, 115 wRC+, 9.6% BB rate, 26.3% K rate, 1.3 fWAR in 395 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .278/.363/.489, 137 wRC+, 11.4% BB rate, 20.4% K rate, 4.3 fWAR in 597 PA.

If the 2014 Postseason was any indication, Bryce Harper could be on the verge of posting a career season. Returning from a thumb injury on June 30, Harper hit .268 with a .342 on-base percentage and a .424 slugging percentage in his final 78 games of the season, clubbing 12 home runs. In the Postseason, though, Harper was one of the Nationals’ best at the plate, slugging .882 in the four-game series (smacking three home runs, one double and driving in four runs). Putting injuries behind him, Harper is expected to move to right field on a primary basis this season, giving the Nationals the added use of his strong throwing arm in a new spot.

Denard Span

2014 Season Totals: .302/.355/.416, 117 wRC+, 7.5% BB rate, 9.7% K rate, 3.8 fWAR in 668 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .282/.338/.387, 104 wRC+, 7.5% BB rate, 11.1% K rate, 2.8 fWAR in 637 PA.

Miami Marlins v Washington NationalsComing off a career year in many offensive categories, including 31 stolen bases, Denard Span returns to the top of the Nationals’ lineup as a consistent presence and one of the best leadoff men in the league. After securing the Nationals’ single-season record for hits (184) and leading the league in that category, the Nationals are looking for another solid season out of their slick-fielding outfielder. Span did spend the offseason rehabbing a core muscle injury but is working to be ready to go at full speed by the start of Spring Training. Entering his third season in Washington, Span’s comfort level with his surroundings, working with his fellow outfielders, as well as hitting coach Rick Schu should all bode well for the final year of his existing contract.

Jayson Werth

2014 Season Totals: .292/.394/.455, 141 wRC+, 13.2% BB rate, 18.0% K rate, 4.8 fWAR in 629 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .285/.374/.454, 134 wRC+, 11.8 % BB rate, 18.6% K rate, 2.8 fWAR in 536 PA.

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals - Game OneConsistency has come to be Jayson Werth’s hallmark in a Nationals’ uniform, and as he enters his fifth season in the District, the expectation that he will remain a stalwart in the Nationals’ lineup remains. While Werth will be working to come back from arthroscopic surgery on the AC joint in his right shoulder, his averages from the previous three years are telling: .303 BA, .394 OBP, .479 SLG, and his projections reflect another strong season. Moving to left field should allow him to rest his legs a little more throughout the season, and hopefully keep him fresh deep into October.

Nate McLouth

2014 Season Totals: .173/.280/.237, 50 wRC+, 9.9% BB rate, 21.6% K rate, -0.6 fWAR in 162 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .238/.312/.354, 88 wRC+, 8.7% BB rate, 17.6% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 164 PA.

Nate McLouth’s first season in the District was derailed by a torn labrum in his right shoulder, but while the surgery to repair the injury ended his 2014 season prematurely, the Nationals are hopeful he will bounce back well in 2015. The left-handed hitting outfielder gives the Nationals good depth as he can play all three outfield positions, and his bat off the bench should be a nice weapon for Nationals manager Matt Williams.

Michael A. Taylor

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals - Game Two2014 Season Totals: .205/.279/.359, 80 wRC+, 7.0% BB rate, 39.5% K rate, 0.1 fWAR in 43 PA.
2015 Steamer Proj.: .226/.286/.354, 79 wRC+, 7.2% BB rate, 28.1% K rate, -0.3 fWAR in 368 PA.

Michael A. Taylor’s breakout season saw him post eye-popping numbers in Double-A Harrisburg (.313 BA, .336 OBP, .539 SLG, 17 2B, 22 HR, 34 SB), earn a midseason promotion to Triple-A Syracuse and the Major Leagues shortly thereafter with a debut that featured his first hit, as well as home run, at Citi Field. The offseason trade of Steven Souza Jr. pushed Taylor up on the Nationals’ depth chart. Taylor is considered one of the most athletic talents in all of Washington’s system, projecting as good insurance for the Nationals, particularly in center field, where he has the potential to develop into a plus defender.

Brian Goodwin

2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: .225/.301/.331, 82 wRC+, 9.2% BB rate, 25.2% K rate, 0.0 fWAR in 1 PA.

A first-round selection by the Nationals (No. 34 overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Goodwin had a solid year at Double-A Harrisburg, made good progress in a late-season promotion to Triple-A and performed very well in the Arizona Fall League in 2014 (.296/.333/.444). That was enough to earn him a spot on the Nationals’ 40-man roster for the first time. The promising young outfielder figures to give the Nationals another good depth option as he projects mostly as a center fielder but can play left and right field as well.

Nationals agree to terms with RHP Casey Janssen

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by Amanda Comak

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue JaysThe Washington Nationals added a veteran right-handed arm to the back-end of their bullpen on Monday, agreeing to terms with right-handed pitcher Casey Janssen on a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2016.

Janssen, 33, joins the Nationals after 10 years in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, including five consecutive Major League seasons with an ERA of 3.95 or lower.

“We are happy to add Casey Janssen to our stable of relief arms,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “We’re excited about what he will bring to our bullpen – on the mound, as one of the most effective and consistent relievers the last several years, as well as in the clubhouse.

“He is a veteran guy who has a plethora of experience in late, high-leverage innings, and we’re thrilled to add him to our mix.”

In 2014, Janssen was 3-3 with a 3.94 ERA over 45.2 innings pitched. From 2011-2013, however, Janssen was 11-2 with a 2.46 ERA while appearing in 173 games (102 games finished), racking up 58 saves, 170 strikeouts, and posting a 0.977 cumulative WHIP over 172 IP.

Before the All-Star break in 2014, Janssen was 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in 23 games (22 IP) with 14 saves. Over the course of his career, Janssen is 29-24 with a 3.52 ERA, 90 saves, and 368 strikeouts in 493.0 IP.

The third Blue Jays pitcher ever to record three straight 20-save seasons, the veteran right-hander has significant experience in late-inning roles, including 90 career saves – 81 of which were earned in the previous three seasons alone.

With the addition of Janssen, the Nationals have designated right-handed pitcher Eric Fornataro for assignment. Fornataro was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals on a waiver claim in November 2014. In eight Major League games in 2014, Fornataro was 0-0 with a 4.66 ERA.

Nationals sign RHP Max Scherzer to seven-year contract

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by Amanda Comak

Solidifying their starting rotation as arguably the best assembled in Major League Baseball, the Washington Nationals agreed to terms with 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer on a seven-year contract on Wednesday. Scherzer will be announced in a 2 pm press conference.

Scherzer_baseballcard_wasScherzer, 30, joins the Nationals after seven Major League seasons with the Detroit Tigers (2010-14) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2008-09) and on the heels of back-to-back All-Star campaigns.

“We are delighted  to welcome Max Scherzer to our organization,” said Theodore N. Lerner, Managing Principal Owner of the Washington Nationals. “An incredibly talented and widely-feared pitcher, Max brings even more depth to an already outstanding rotation. We are confident he will make significant contributions to our pursuit of winning a World Series championship.”

The right-hander is 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA in 207 career games (198 starts) during his seven year career. Since 2012, he has posted at least 10.0 strikeouts/9.0 innings pitched and has eclipsed the 200.0 inning barrier for two straight seasons (2013-14). Since 2009, his first full Major League campaign, Scherzer has made at least 30 starts each season while posting double-digit wins in five straight years (2010-14).

“We could not be happier to add a player of Max’s caliber to our stable of starting pitchers,” said Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo. “It’s not every day that a team adds a Cy Young Award winner to its roster. He is a playoff-tested ace, and we’re excited to call him a part of our family.”

While helping to lead the Tigers to four consecutive AL Central titles, Scherzer earned the 2013 AL Cy Young award after leading the American League in wins (21), while ranking second in strikeouts (240), strikeouts per nine innings (10.8), quality starts (25), batting average against (.198), and fifth in ERA (2.90) and innings pitched (214.1). Scherzer followed that up by going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA in 2014, while posting a career-high 220.1 IP, striking out 252 batters (10.3 batters per nine innings), and finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting.

During his five seasons in the American League, Scherzer has averaged 203 innings pitched per season, to go along with 216 strikeouts (1,081 total) and a 3.52 ERA.

The right-hander joins a rotation that includes three pitchers who finished in the top-10 in 2014 National League Cy Young voting: Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg, along with 15-game winner Tanner Roark, who posted the 12th-best ERA in the NL (2.85), and two-time All-Star Gio Gonzalez.

Before the acquisition of Scherzer, ESPN.com had already ranked the Nationals rotation as the best in the Major Leagues entering 2015.

Originally drafted by Rizzo, who was then the Diamondbacks’ Vice President of Scouting Operations, Scherzer was selected by Arizona  in the first round (No. 11 overall) of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of  Missouri.

Scherzer made his Major League debut on April 29, 2008, and since that time he has compiled the eighth-most strikeouts (1321) of any starting pitcher in the Major Leagues – putting him on a short list of strikeout masters with the likes of Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw.

Nationals acquire INF Yunel Escobar from A’s

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by Amanda Comak

Chicago White Sox v Tampa Bay RaysAdding depth to their middle infield, the Washington Nationals acquired infielder Yunel Escobar from the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday, in exchange for right-handed reliever Tyler Clippard.

Escobar, an eight-year Major League veteran, joins the Nationals after stops in Atlanta (2007-10), Toronto (2010-12) and Tampa (2012-14). He was traded to the A’s just four days ago (Jan. 10), along with INF/OF Ben Zobrist, in exchange for C John Jaso, INF Daniel Robertson, OF Boog Powell and cash considerations.

The slick-fielding infielder is a career .276 hitter with a .347 on-base percentage and a .381 slugging percentage. A shortstop for the majority of his Major League career, Escobar has started 950 games at shortstop since 2008 – the most in the Major Leagues over that span. Escobar started 20 games for the Braves at second base in 2007 – a season after which he finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting – and has experience at third base as well.

Escobar, 32, hit .258 with seven home runs and 39 RBI in 137 games for Tampa Bay in 2014. In his previous two seasons, both with the Rays, Escobar has averaged 145 games played and hit .257 with a .328 on-base percentage, 45 doubles, 16 home runs and 95 RBI.

Against National League opponents (472 games), Escobar is a career .291 hitter with a .366 on-base percentage and a .407 slugging percentage.

After defecting from Cuba in 2004, Escobar was drafted by the Braves in the second round (No. 75 overall) of the 2005 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Washington Nationals - Game TwoClippard, 29, went 34-24 with 34 saves and a 2.68 ERA in 414 games spanning seven seasons with Washington.

Acquired in Dec., 2007, from the New York Yankees in exchange for RHP Jonathan Albaladejo, Clippard is the only reliever to appear in more than 70 games each of the last five seasons (2010-14). He went 7-4 with one save and a 2.18 ERA in 2014 and, for the second time in his career (also 2011), led Major League Baseball in holds with 40. His 2014 season was just the third 40-hold campaign in MLB history (TBR’s Joel Peralta 41 in 2013, SDP’s Luke Gregerson 40 in 2010).

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