Nats' Harper says he's improving after returning from injury

Stephen Strasburg will be Nationals' Game 1 starter on Friday

"Bryce got him", Maddon said. Gonzalez had one of his best seasons with the Nationals this year, going 15-9 with a 2.96 ERA. Now the Nationals need their least reliable postseason pitcher to keep them afloat, or Max Scherzer's Game 3 return might be just a formality.

No, that man did not drive all the way from Chicago for the game.

For seven-and-a-half innings, Game 2 resembled Game 1 in almost every way but one: the Nationals scored a run.

The Nationals were flummoxed by Cubs lefthander Jon Lester, who allowed only Anthony Rendon's solo homer. It didn't matter because MVP candidate Anthony Rendon - who committed fewer errors than any third baseman in the majors this season - flubbed an easy chopper that put Javier Baez on base to start the sixth, leading to two unearned runs that seemed more like 20. It did not discharge the lid off Washington's offense.

Picking up today's victory for the Nationals was Oliver Perez.

But now they get to sit on that for a day, and a day spent in Chicago. The Nationals are 2-5 in the last 7 meetings in Chicago.

Then again, it's worth noting that a year ago against the Dodgers, Washington dropped the opener at home - in a game started by Scherzer - only to rebound and win the next two. Hendricks threw seven shutout innings in this game, and struck out six batters in the process. How Washington's revamped relief corps-the team added Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle and Brandon Kintzler, all former closers, at the trade deadline after a disastrous first half-would handle the playoffs was an open question coming into the series, with plenty of worries that a bullpen without a truly dominant late-inning option could once again sink the team's World Series hopes. Both sluggers adjusted accordingly for their second encounters. He batted for Hendricks in the eighth and doubled to left field. He only worked for less than an inning but was on at the right time.

Nats' Harper says he's improving after returning from injury
Nats' Harper says he's improving after returning from injury

In time Turner will learn to have a better at-bat in that situation, but considering the fact he has walked just 48 times in 759 career at-bats he still has a ways to go. The ruling was upheld. At 3-1, what would be next?

Before the eighth inning at Nationals Park, the Nationals were shriveling.

Harper had been slumping as he didn't have a hit through the first 16 innings of the NLDS.

ESPN's Jesse Rogers spoke more with Harper and Bryant about the PSA and being from Las Vegas. But the left-hander threw 34 pitches over 2 1/3 innings in relief Wednesday during Arizona's wild-card win over Colorado, so it will be interesting to see how fresh he looks. He did so even when the Nationals threatened in the fifth inning with a single by Zimmerman and walks by Michael A. Taylor and Howie Kendrick. One of those position players is speedy outfielder Leonys Martin. Lester was on the ropes. Lester was visibly frustrated and couldn't find the strike zone.

A Cubs fan reached over the railing in right field to grab Rizzo's shot, but the umpires upheld the home run after a replay review.

That made a victor of Oliver Perez, who pitched to one man in the eighth, inducing an inning-ending double play off Rizzo's bat. A long battle in which Edwards failed to locate his fastball-several times the righty tried to jam Harper inside-gave way to a meatball of a curve, and Harper banged it a long way to right to tie the game (-.388).

There is nothing more frustrating on earth than watching a lineup featuring Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Zimmerman get completely blanked by a guy who throws an 87 miles per hour fastball. Murphy lashed a single anyway, leaving a favorable matchup for Zimmerman. The dread was forgotten.

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