- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Puffed skin was the lone outcome of Michael A. Taylor fouling a ball off his face Wednesday.

That’s right. He hit a foul ball straight down that then kicked straight up and clipped Taylor just under his right eye. He was wearing sunglasses at the time, immediately reached for his eye and wondered if there was blood. Everyone watching could be forgiven for thinking this is the most preposterous injury situation yet for a Washington Nationals club flooded with play-stifling pains.

Taylor remained in the game, which the Nationals lost to the Anaheim Angels, 3-2, on a heat-filled afternoon in Nationals Park. The loss wrapped a 6-3 homestand and ticked the team one step closer to Oct. 1, which is the remaining priority this season.

The end of the regular season is 44 games and 46 days away. The Nationals’ loss coupled with a Miami win to slash Washington’s division lead to 13 ½ games. Each day is just another tick toward the postseason, at this point, filled with injury watches and internal hope there will be no medical issues.

Outfielder Brian Goodwin was placed on the 10-day disabled list Wednesday. Veteran Alejandro De Aza was called up to take his place. Injured outfield Jayson Werth ran bases. Trea Turner increased his activity. Bryce Harper sat at his locker postgame with his left foot on the outer wall of his locker, looking un-irritated as he continued to heal the world’s most-celebrated bone bruise.

On the West Coast, the Los Angeles Dodgers pushed to 50 games over .500 in the middle of August after Tuesday night’s win. They are a tick off the pace of the 116-game-winning 2001 Seattle Mariners, who own the best record in baseball history during a 162-game regular season. The Central division has become a three-team scrap between the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers. Even the Pirates are lurking in that division. The other two divisions in the National League are merely passing time until a chill replaces the heat.

The Nationals did not lack storylines during an arduous homestand. The rain caused multiple problems, not the least of which was Harper’s injury. It irritated fans, irritated Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, both of whom have since suggested MLB needs to do something about the first base bag, which is hard and slick when wet. The one in Nationals park has done in Adam Eaton this season and almost dismantled Harper.

“It went well, but you tend to remember your last game,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “7-2 sounds better than 6-3, but we’ll take 6-3. Now, it’s time to go back on the road and hopefully play as well as we have all year on the road. It’s tough to lose that one, especially the way Tanner [Roark] was dealing.”

Roark’s ERA has taken a distinct dip month-by-month since June. It was 8.31 for that month. July followed with 3.52. It’s 3.30 so far in August. Wednesday, he allowed three runs on just four hits in seven innings. Anaheim third baseman Luis Valbuena hit a double and home run. Right fielder Kole Calhoun also homered. Afterward, Roark lamented two supple fastballs that the Angels hit for home runs. Otherwise, he was pleased.

Baker was, too. His rotation is on the verge of being whole again. Max Scherzer is well past the neck spasm that put a scare into the club. Stephen Strasburg pitched five innings Monday night for Potomac. He could start this weekend in his hometown of San Diego. That would be Strasburg’s first major-league game since July 23. Roark’s ERA has regrouped. Edwin Jackson has handled his clubhouse DJ duties admirably. He has also pitched well. He has a 3.30 ERA in five starts.

Ryan Zimmerman’s 28th homer of the season produced Washington’s two runs. He continues to build toward a career year at age 32. Zimmerman’s 28 home runs are his most since he hit a career-high 33 in 2009. His average is .310. He was one of three hitters in Wednesday’s lineup who also played on Opening Day for the Nationals. Zimmerman, and the rest of the Nationals, just keep moving forward despite a new injury developing again and again.

“That’s just part of it,” Zimmerman said.

One other notable outing came Wednesday: reliever Sammy Solis pitched 1 ⅔ innings. Like Roark, Solis has been progressively yanking his ERA downward. It’s easier for Solis to do because the left-hander has pitched so seldomly this season. But, Solis finding his way gives even more depth to Baker’s recently supplemented bullpen. Once the playoffs come, Solis could be summoned when a strikeout is needed before Baker wants to use Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson or Sean Doolittle.

Working in Solis and others over the next few weeks is one of the few benefits of the remaining schedule. Washington expects to get healthy and right soon. Turner should be eligible to return from the disabled list in about two weeks. Werth is moving closer. Solis and Matt Albers are finding new spots in the bullpen. They all just want the remaining trek to October to be uneventful.

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