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Nats take finale, move closer to home field

September 29, 2016

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' lineup Thursday was once again missing many of its usual stars, with Wilson Ramos out for the season and Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper nursing injuries. But that didn't stop Dusty Baker's squad, which rode big games from several replacements to a 5-3 win over the

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' lineup Thursday was once again missing many of its usual stars, with Wilson Ramos out for the season and Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper nursing injuries. But that didn't stop Dusty Baker's squad, which rode big games from several replacements to a 5-3 win over the D-backs at Nationals Park.
Filling at catcher, second base and right field, respectively, Pedro Severino, Wilmer Difo and Michael Taylor combined to go 5-for-11 with two home runs and four of Washington's five RBIs. That trio led a Nationals offense that tagged Arizona starter Robbie Ray for five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.
"All of our young guys don't appear to be intimidated at all by being young," Baker said. "They're about to venture into territories that they haven't been before."

On the mound, the Nationals received a strong but brief outing from Joe Ross, who is working his way back from a shoulder injury. The righty exited after four innings, allowing only one run on a Jake Lamb RBI single in the third. After Sean Burnett recorded two outs in the fifth, Reynaldo López shut down the D-backs until the ninth, when a two-run homer from Sócrates Brito cut Washington's lead in half.

"It looked like he was in command," D-backs manager Chip Hale said of Ray in the early innings. "Guys were making plays, looked really good. Then just missed location on Severino, who got the home run, and then after that, [Ray] just wasn't the same."
Mark Melancon recorded the final two outs to secure a win for the Nationals (93-66), who hold a two-game lead over the Dodgers (91-68) for home-field advantage in the National League Division Series, with the Dodgers holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Dominican duo goes deep: Difo and Severino are both Dominican-born rookies signed by the Nationals in 2010. Both earned callups this summer and gave the team reason to keep them around. And they both hit key solo home runs for Washington on Thursday. Severino's shot, his second of the year, tied the game in the bottom of the third inning. Difo's homer, the first of his career, extended the team's lead in the fifth.

Lopez's performance -- 3 2/3 solid innings in relief -- added to what Baker called "Dominican Republic Day."
"On my behalf, very excited that all three of us were able to do a great job for the team today," Difo said. "Just keep working hard to show everybody that we deserve to be here, and that we can contribute and help the team win."

Not what you want: Ray did not finish up his season on a positive note. Over his final four starts, he allowed 18 earned runs in 19 innings. Still, he was the only starter on the staff to make all of his starts this year, and he struck out 218 batters. Working on his secondary pitches will be an offseason priority.

"Coming out, I felt really good," Ray said. "Then, just kind of lost it. It's frustrating. It's not typically how you want to end your year, but I felt like for the most part I've made some pretty big strides with my curveball, and I threw some really good changeups today, also. Now it's just take it into the offseason and just work hard."
Ross lasts 90 pitches: Ross has steadily upped his pitch count since his return from the disabled list on Sept. 18 -- from 51 in his return to 64 in his second start back to 90 on Thursday -- but he has struggled to last deep into games. Against the D-backs, he needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning and exited the game after lasting only four frames. Efficiency issues aside, Ross pitched well Thursday, allowing three hits, two walks and one run while striking out five.

"Ninety pitches is too many for four innings, in my opinion," Ross said. "I didn't do a very good job of putting them away once I got ahead. I was just kind of nibbling around the zone. Other than that, I thought I was throwing well. I just didn't give myself a chance to go later in the game." More >
Early exit: One day after collecting his 200th hit of the year, D-backs second baseman Jean Segura walked in his first at-bat and singled to center in the third, putting him five hits behind Luis Gonzalez for the club record. Segura, though, was forced to leave the game with a 1-1 count during his seventh-inning at-bat when he experienced cramping under his left rib cage.

"He cramped up," Hale said. "He didn't feel like it was any kind of a pull. He just felt like he had a cramp under his ribs. The trainers feel like it's OK, but we'll see tomorrow. You never know until you wake up tomorrow, but we're hoping it's OK so he can continue his quest for Gonzo's record."
D-backs right fielder Yasmany Tomás was scratched from Thursday afternoon's lineup due to a stiff neck. It is an issue that has plagued Tomas in the past.
"Sore neck," Hale said. "Same kind of thing we've dealt with kind of all year on the road. Sometimes the hotel pillows get him. Last night was one of them. The exact same thing that we've had to pull him out, I think twice now, that he's had missed time with."
Leading off the fourth inning, the D-backs' Mitch Haniger hit a hard grounder into the hole in the left side of the infield. Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa backhanded the ball but fired wide to first base, pulling Ryan Zimmerman off the bag. Zimmerman reached back to tag Haniger, but the umpire ruled the runner safe. The Nationals challenged the call, and after a one-minute, four-second review, the ruling was reversed, giving Washington the first out of the inning.

With two outs in the bottom of the fourth and two runners on base, Ross hit a ground ball to the left side that third baseman Lamb fielded and fired to first. Ross was called safe as Taylor scampered home from second, but the call was overturned after a 29-second review, ending the inning.

D-backs: The D-backs return home to face the Padres in the final three games of the season. Rookie Braden Shipley will start for the D-backs at 6:40 p.m. MST on Friday. This will be Shipley's 13th big league appearance and 11th start. He allowed three runs (two earned) in four innings when he last faced the Padres.
Nationals: The Nationals will host the Marlins in a three-game set to close out the regular season. In the first game of the series, set to start at 7:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park, Washington will start A.J. Cole, who went 2 2/3 innings in his last outing before being ejected for throwing at a batter. He was issued a five-game suspension but will pitch while the punishment is under appeal.
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Alex Putterman is a reporter for based in Washington.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.