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Harper powers Nationals to fifth straight win

Club keep pace with Braves in NL East, remain half-game back
May 29, 2018

BALTIMORE -- They are two of the game's biggest stars plying their trade practically down the road from each other. They've long been viewed in the context of one another, and they are on track to be the two most sought-after players on the free-agent market this winter.That made this

BALTIMORE -- They are two of the game's biggest stars plying their trade practically down the road from each other. They've long been viewed in the context of one another, and they are on track to be the two most sought-after players on the free-agent market this winter.
That made this matchup between the Nationals and Orioles also serve as a showdown between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and the two exchanged a pair of solo home runs in the first inning.
Ultimately, the night belonged to Harper, who collected three hits to lead the Nationals to their fifth consecutive victory, a 3-2 win over the Orioles, that helped Washington remain a half-game behind Atlanta in the National League East. The Nationals have endured a slow start through the season's first month and injuries to key players -- four of their expected starting position players are on the disabled list -- but are on the doorstep of where so many expected them to be at the start of the season.
"I think it was just a matter of the guys that came up to fill in or the guys that came over to fill in, just started getting comfortable with their roles and really bought in," left-hander Sean Doolittle said. "We've won some close games. We've won some ugly games. We've won a lot of close-scoring games, but we've gotten contributions from a lot of different guys. And I think that's been the key for us ... it's almost like there are reinforcements on the way, but the guys that have been here, they've stepped up big time and it's been good."

Two of Washington's late additions to the roster and a pair of former Orioles contributed to Tuesday night's victory as Mark Reynolds connected with a solo home run -- his sixth in just 12 games with Washington -- and Jeremy Hellickson battled through a blister to pick up a victory against his former team with five innings of two-run ball. Then, four Nats relievers combined for four scoreless innings to close out the Nationals' ninth consecutive road victory, matching a franchise record (2011 Nats and 1994 Expos).
But the night also belonged two of baseball's stars as they continue to showcase themselves in a year in which their every move will be projected for its future impact. Even though they have each struggled a bit recently, both Harper and Machado so routinely rise to the occasion. They exchanged homers in the first inning -- Harper's NL-leading 17th and Machado's 16th -- and singles in their second at-bat.
"There's a certain pride, these guys know each other," O's manager Buck Showalter said. "I know what it looked like, home run-home run. Single, single. Frankly, it's like when Manny gets challenged with someone throwing at him you've all seen how he responds … He likes to be in those moments as opposed to shirking away from them. That's why he's so good, he likes to be put on that stage."

And Harper does as well. He is nearing the end of one of the more unusual months of his career where his batting average has steadily dropped while his strikeouts are rising. However, he has continued to hit the ball hard despite his batting average on balls in play, which entered the day at .203.

"I felt good. Felt good all year," Harper said. "So just keep going and keep hitting it over the fence."
The Nationals were unable to add to their one-run lead after leaving the bases loaded in the top of the eighth inning, leading to a key at-bat against Machado in the bottom of the inning. After Adam Jones collected a one-out single against Brandon Kintzler, Machado approached the plate as the go-ahead run and engaged Kintzler in a eight-pitch battle that ended when he softly popped out to left field to end the threat.
Juan Soto went 3-for-3 with an intentional walk and swiped his first career stolen base. Soto became the youngest player to get intentionally walked since Ken Griffey Jr. did so in 1989. The 19-year-old phenom is now batting .393/.485/.607 and collected four multi-hit games in his first nine games in the Majors.

"What's surprising me most is you look at him, and he doesn't act like a 19-year-old," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "He does things really, really well. Today, he stole third base. And we asked him: 'What made you go?' And he said: 'I was sitting there and I was timing him, timing him, timing him, and he did the same thing over and over again. And I said, 'OK, I can do this.' And he ran. What 19-year-old you know does that? Applies it and goes with it?"
The Nationals won a challenge in the sixth inning when Michael A. Taylor's stolen-base attempt with one out was overturned. Taylor was initially ruled out, but a replay review showed he had beaten the tag.

The Nationals wrap up this three-game series with the Orioles on Wednesday night when Max Scherzer takes the mound, aiming to continue his dominant start to the season. Since he joined the Nats in 2015, he has tossed at least eight innings in three of his four starts against Baltimore. David Hess will be the opposing pitcher. First pitch is scheduled at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.