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Harper, Nats heating up at the right time

by Jacob Emert | MLB.com

Bryce Harper seems to be in the midst of one of those stretches. Harper went 2-for-4 with a home run in Sunday’s 8-4 win, his third consecutive game with a home run.

In the past seven games, Harper is 9-for-17 with 11 walks, three home runs and six RBIs.

“I think it’s one, his stroke is under control as evidenced by the last couple of games,” manager Matt Williams said. “Granted, the balls are going out of the ballpark. But the telling at-bat is the one to left in the last at-bat today.”

In the eighth-inning, Harper stayed on a 96-mph fastball from Atlanta’s Edwin Jackson and stroked a single to left field.

“He’s under control,” Williams said. “He’s seeing it well. He’s got good knowledge of the strike zone. If he gets the proper pitch then he has a chance to hit it over the fence. But if you try to force it, it doesn’t happen very often.”

The recent stretch has come at an opportune time for the Nationals, who are set to begin a vital three game series with the Mets over the next three days.

It’s not only Harper, though. Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon, all key cogs in Washington’s offense who missed much of the season with respective injuries, seem to finding their strides.

“Our whole team is swinging the bat right now,” Harper said. “One through nine, I think everybody is really having good ABs and doing what we need to do as a team. I’m just out there trying to help out and do the things I can to win ballgames. That’s all I care about.”

The Nationals enter the series four games back of the Mets in the NL East after gaining 2.5 games on New York in the past four days.

Nats’ Zimmerman scratched with sore foot

By Bill Ladson

WASHINGTON — Nationals manager Matt Williams told team broadcaster Dave Jageler that first baseman Ryan Zimmerman was scratched from Sunday’s lineup against the Braves because of a sore left foot.

Zimmerman has been dealing with a sore foot since June. In fact, he spent almost a month on the disabled list because of plantar fasciitis.

Williams is hoping that Zimmerman can return to the lineup Monday afternoon against the Mets, who are in first place in the N.L. East by five games entering Sunday’s action.

Zimmerman has been the Nationals’ hottest hitter. Since August 23, Zimmerman is 20-for-51 [.392] with seven home runs, 25 RBIs.

With Zimmerman out of the lineup, Tyler Moore received the start at first base and is hitting eighth in the lineup.

September 6: Braves @ Nationals

Teams: Washington Nationals (70-65, -5.0 in NL East), Atlanta Braves (54-82, -20.5 in NL East)

Streaks: Nationals: W4, Braves: L11

First pitch: 1:35 pm ET

Watch & Listen: MASN/ 106.7 The FAN

WSH Lineup: Jayson Werth LF, Anthony Rendon 2B, Bryce Harper RF, Yunel Escobar 3B, Ian Desmond SS, Wilson Ramos C, Michael Taylor CF, Tyler Moore 1B, Joe Ross RHP

ATL Lineup: Nick Markakis RF, Jace Peterson 2B, Freddie Freeman 1B, A.J. Pierzynski C, Nick Swisher LF, Adonis Garcia 3B, Andrelton Simmons SS, Michael Bourn CF, Manny Banuelos LHP

Transactions: None.

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacobEmert.

Gio has quality outing against Braves

WASHINGTON — Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez had his best outing in over a month in an 8-2 victory over the Braves on Saturday night.

Gonzalez had a no-hitter until the sixth inning, when Nick Markakis singled to right-center field to start the inning. Gonzalez left the game after throwing 106 pitches in six innings. Thirty of those pitches came in his last inning, during which the Braves had the bases loaded with two outs, but Andrelton Simmons grounded into a force play to end the threat.

“I thought he commanded the strike zone well today,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “He threw some good breaking balls to strike guys out. … He managed pitched counts in innings two through four. He was able to get through six for us.”

As usual, Gonzalez gave credit to the people who played a role in his 10th victory of the season.

“Defense, offense and definitely our catcher. Wilson [Ramos] did a great job back there mixing it up, trying to pound the strike zone,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just being on the same page with your catcher. It helps out a lot, especially with Willie just wanting to be aggressive today. You can hear him, he was telling me yesterday and he was telling me today, ‘Let’s go, let’s pound the strike zone.’

“Before the game I also told Cat [pitching coach Steve McCatty] I trust Willie’s game and I’m going to follow his program, and it worked. He knows what he’s doing back there, and he’s caught some great games.”

Under the radar, Rivero continues to thrive in Nats’ bullpen

by Jacob Emert | MLB.com

WASHINGTON – With Friday night’s game tied at one and manager Matt Williams already in his bullpen, Felipe Rivero was called upon to bridge the middle innings to setup man Drew Storen and closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Rivero did so with great success, setting down all six Braves he faced in order. The Nationals ended up walking off on 10th-inning Michael Taylor’s home run to win 5-2.

That sort of high-leverage situation has become more common for Rivero in the second half of the season, and the vast majority of the time he has proved up to the task.

“I think that going into the whole process he had been a starter,” Williams said. “So getting used to coming out of the bullpen and getting used to warming up and knowing when it is that he’s ready is important. He’s ready now in five, six pitches. So that’s a good sign that he’s made that adjustment. The question marks were: will he throw enough strikes? What will the velocity of his fastball do coming out of the bullpen? Those questions have been answered and he’s taken to it really well.”

Rivero, 24, has posted a 2.72 ERA in 36 1/3 innings over 34 appearances in 2015, his first season in the big leagues.

With a power fastball that sits in the high-90s, he has displayed the willingness and ability to get aggressive with hitters. He has 30 strikeouts — which leaves room for improvement with a high-velocity fastball and a plus slider — but only six walks.

“He understands what the job is at hand and coming out of the bullpen you certainly don’t want to give them a free pass,” Williams said. “Make them earn it and he’s done a great job of that.”

It is unclear whether Rivero’s future with the Nationals is as a starter or out of the bullpen – he’s established the ability to succeed in both roles in the Minor Leagues. For the short term, as the Nationals continue to try to chase down the Mets in the National League East, Rivero continues to be an unheralded bright spot in Washington’s bullpen.

September 5: Braves at Nationals

Teams: Washington Nationals (69-65, -5.0 in NL East), Atlanta Braves (54-81, -20.5 in NL East)

Streaks: Nationals: W3, Braves: L10

First pitch: 7:05 pm ET

Watch & Listen: MLB Network, MASN/ 106.7 The FAN

WSH Lineup: Jayson Werth RF, Anthony Rendon 2B, Bryce Harper CF, Ryan Zimmerman 1B, Clint Robinson LF, Yunel Escobar 3B, Ian Desmond SS, Wilson Ramos C, Gio Gonzalez LHP

ATL Lineup: Nick Markakis RF, Pedro Ciriaco 2B, Freddie Freeman 1B, Nick Swisher LF, Cameron Maybin CF,  Andrelton Simmons SS, Hector Olivera 3B, Christian Bethancourt C, Shelby Miller RHP

Transactions: None.

Stay informed: 

  • Taylor comes off the bench for special moment (link)
  • Last night’s gamer: Nats walk-off on Taylor’s 10th inning homer, gain game on Mets (link)
  • Barrett beings recovery from surgery (link)
  • Storen installs phonebooth in Nationals bullpen (link)
  • Saturday’s preview vs. Atlanta (link)

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacobEmert.

By the numbers: Harper’s impressive plate discipline put in historical context

by Jacob Emert | MLB.com

Bryce Harper made headlines on Thursday night with a spectacular score line — zero at-bats, zero hits, four runs, one RBI and four walks.

He saw 20 pitches in Washington’s 15-1 drubbing of Atlanta and didn’t swing once, as his walk total climbed to 104 for the year – second to only Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (116).

In 2015, 38.6% of the pitches thrown to Harper have been been in the strike zone, per FanGraphs.com’s zone %, the lowest percentage in all of baseball this season (note: this shows only where the ball was pitched — in or out of the zone — not the outcome — ball or strike). Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo and Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce are on his tail at 38.7%, but still, Harper has seen the fewest strikes as a percentage of total pitches in the MLB.

For context, Harper is on pace for a 127 walk season. Barry Bonds walked 198 times in 2002 and 232 times in 2004. In both those seasons, Bonds saw a significantly higher percentage of strikes than Harper is this year (43.1% in 2002; 44.1% in 2004). In fact, since FanGraphs began calculating zone % in 2002, Harper’s 2015 number is 13th lowest — Vladimir Guerrero saw 32.7% of his total pitches in the strike zone in 2007, and he probably hit half of the other 63% for home runs.

Harper has consistently said that he is content taking his walks and letting the players behind him drive him in. From Thursday night: “I’ve got confidence in everybody on our team to get a job done behind me,” Harper said. “I’ll take my walks when I can. And when they throw the ball over the plate, I’ll take my hits, too.”

Harper has displayed impressive patience this season, especially when juxtaposed against what he’s doing when he decides to swing. But the numbers show there is even more room to improve in terms of discipline. The 22-year-old has swung at 28.9% of the pitches out of the strike zone (O-Swing %) this season. That ranks 52nd in baseball. In 2014, the league average was 31.3%.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 1.55.53 PM

from BrooksBaseball.net

For comparison, 41.9% of the pitches Votto has seen this season are in the strike zone, but he has swung at pitches outside of the zone only 19.2% of the time (best in baseball this year). That is why Votto and Bonds have higher walk totals despite seeing a fewer percentage of pitches outside of the zone. In 2002, hitters across were thrown more strikes and chased fewer balls. Votto’s 19.2% would have ranked 109th, tied with Ryan Klesko, Neifi Perez and Terrence Long. John Olerud swung at only 9.1% of the pitches outside of the zone that year, and Bonds chased 11.5% of those pitches.

Back to 2015 and Harper. His walk total is impressive. No one should or will complain about 104 walks in 133 games. But, they also suggest a significant percentage of the balls he takes miss the zone by a substantial amount. In other words, Harper is a little better than league average in staying away from balls out of the zone, so his incredible walk percentage (19.4% of at-bats) is a result of pitchers giving him nothing near the zone. The fact that he hasn’t chased those pitches way out of the zone this season, even when the rest of the lineup around him has struggled, is a testament to his patience.

*Data from FanGraphs.com

September 4: Braves @ Nationals

Teams: Washington Nationals (68-65, -6.0 in NL East), Atlanta Braves (54-80, -20.5 in NL East)

Streaks: Nationals: W2, Braves: L9

First pitch: 7:05 pm ET

Watch & Listen: MASN / 106.7 The FAN

WSH Lineup: Jayson Werth RF, Anthony Rendon 2B, Bryce Harper CF, Ryan Zimmerman 1B, Clint Robinson LF, Yunel Escobar 3B, Ian Desmond SS, Jose Lobaton C, Tanner Roark RHP

ATL Lineup: Nick Markakis RF, Cameron Maybin CF, Freddie Freeman 1B, A.J. Pierzynski C, Adonis Garcia 3B, Jace Peterson 2B, Andrelton Simmons SS, Michael Bourn LF, Julio Teheran RHP

Transactions: None.

Stay informed: 

  • By the numbers: Harper’s impressive plate discipline in historical context (and why it can be even better) (link)
  • Last night’s gamer: Zimmerman, Nationals jump out early, drub Braves (link)
  • Zeroic: Harper feat not seen in 100 years! (link)
  • Turner, adjusting to new role, picks up first MLB (link)
  • Friday’s preview vs. Atlanta (link)

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacobEmert.

Turner, adjusting to new role, picks up first hit

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Trea Turner had some conflicting feelings after he crossed first base in the bottom of the seventh inning on Thursday night at Nationals Park. The rookie infielder had just beaten out a slow ground ball to second base for what potentially was his Major League hit — pending the decision of the official scorer.

“I thought I was out. Then I was hoping they gave me an error a little bit, but then I was hoping for the hit,” he said. “Obviously, your first one, you want it to be special or legit, whatever you want to call it, a line drive somewhere, a base hit. I was hoping for both sides a little bit, but obviously it’s nice to get that out of the way … I’ll take it.”

After a long pause, the scorer made his decision: single. It may have been a generous call, given that Braves second baseman Jace Peterson double-clutched before throwing to first baseman Nick Swisher, who dropped the ball. But Turner, running at a blazing top speed of 21.187 mph, according to Statcast, forced the issue.  

And while the hit might not have been pretty, Turner wasn’t going to complain, almost two weeks after his debut, and in his 10th career at-bat. The ball sat in his locker, though Turner planned to give it to his parents for safe keeping.

“You take what’s given to you and can’t complain with any bloop hits, because you’re going to line out a lot,” Turner said. “That’s what I figured out in Triple-A a little bit. I think I started out 0-for-15 or 0-for-18 or something, hit a few line drives, hit a few soft ones and just had those fall in. So when you get a hit, you just take it.”

Indeed, Turner generally been a slow starter. He went 0-for-10 in his first three games for the Padres’ Double-A San Antonio affiliate to begin the year. After a brief stint at Double-A Harrisburg following his move to the Nats organization, he climbed to Triple-A Syracuse and went 0-for-17 over his first five games. He still ended up batting better than .300 at all three of those stops. 

Since getting called up on Aug. 21, Turner had been 0-for-9, though he arguably should have had an infield single in his debut on another close play at first. But this is a different challenge for the 22-year-old top prospect, not only because it’s the big leagues, but also because he is having to adjust to coming off the bench. All eight of his appearances have come as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner or defensive replacement.

“I’ve been seeing it good, I just feel like I haven’t always been on time with the pitches and haven’t got in a rhythm like I would normally getting four or five at-bats every day,” Turner said. “So it’s tough, but you’ve got to battle.”

He’s been leaning on another rookie, albeit a much older one, in Clint Robinson. Like Turner, Robinson has been forced to adapt to a bench roles for much of this season, racking up 39 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter.

“He hangs out with me in the dugout a little bit and has been asking questions, kind of picking my brain a little bit about what I’ve learned this year,” Robinson said. “He knows I’m new to it just like he is. But I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him. He’s going to be a good player for a long time.”

September 2: Nationals @ Cardinals

Teams: Washington Nationals (66-65, -6.5 in NL East), St. Louis Cardinals (86-46, +6.0 in NL Central)

Streaks: Nationals: L2, Cardinals: W3

First pitch: 8:15 pm ET

Watch & Listen: MASN 2, ESPN / 106.7 The FAN

WSH Lineup: Jayson Werth LF, Anthony Rendon 2B, Bryce Harper RF, Ryan Zimmerman 1B, Yunel Escobar 3B, Ian Desmond SS, Wilson Ramos C, Michael Taylor CF, Max Scherzer RHP

STL Lineup:  Matt Carpenter 3B, Stephen Piscotty LF, Jason Heyward RF, Jhonny Peralta SS, Brandon Moss 1B, Tommy Pham CF, Kolten Wong, 2B, Tony Cruz C, Tyler Lyons LHP

Transactions: The Nationals recalled LHP Matt Grace and RHP Rafael Martin from Triple-A Syracuse.

Stay informed: 

  • For Nats’ bullpen, loss to Cards twice as tough (link)
  • Nats erupt early, only to drop heartbreaker (link)
  • Nats call up catching prospect Severino (link)
  • Wednesday’s preview vs. St. Louis (link)

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JacobEmert.

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