- - Friday, July 20, 2018

There is a cigar on the desk of Dave Martinez, the rookie manager of the Washington Nationals.

Perhaps it is there to light up after a thrilling victory, but certainly, the mood was not festive Friday night as his two best starting pitchers had a heated argument in the dugout in the fifth inning of an 8-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

During batting practice the players wore red shirts with their number on the back and the word NATIONALS, not their name. That team unity thing didn’t seem to last long.

Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg walked off the mound and into the Nationals dugout, where Scherzer gave him a pat on the left shoulder with pitching coach Derek Lilliquist nearby.

Strasburg, taken out with his team losing 6-2 in the fifth, sat down on the bench and then exchanged words with Scherzer. Strasburg then got up and angrily headed down the runway toward the clubhouse, with Scherzer behind him.

What happened?

“You gotta be in the (Nationals) family. You’re not,” said a stern Strasburg, when asked by a reporter what took place with Scherzer.

Strasburg, who now has a 3.90 ERA, gave up six earned runs in just 4.2 innings.

“We had a really good conversation. I will say that,” Martinez said of his talk with Strasburg and Scherzer. “They are very competitive. I am glad we talked. It is over. Let’s move forward. These guys are professionals.”

“This stuff happens,” Martinez added. “I have been on a team where guys wanted to choke each other. It is a long season.”

It was in September 2015 that former Nationals pitcher Jonathan Papelbon confronted outfielder Bryce Harper in the Washington dugout, as Papelbon went for the throat of the young slugger.

The manager then was Matt Williams, in his second and final year at the helm.

Now the Nationals have another controversy under another rookie manager.

“It was a really good conversation,” Martinez said of his pitchers. “I will leave it at that. They want to win. You can see that. We don’t give up. At the end of the day they want the W. I tell them to keep fighting. It will turn around. Tomorrow is another day.”

Strasburg is now 6-7 this year.

“I wouldn’t say he was off. He made a couple of bad pitches. That is what cost him,” Martinez said. “I really believe he did well.”

Atlanta (53-42) is now six games ahead of the Nationals. Washington began the day 5.5 games back of the first-place Philadelphia Phillies.

Meanwhile, the Braves picked up a win in the first of a three-game series with the Nationals, who are one game under .500 at 48-49.

“It couldn’t have been any better,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said of the start to the series. “Loved the way we ran the bases (with four steals). I loved the aggressiveness.”

The Nationals, on the other hand, are left to wonder if their season will go south like it did in 2015 when Papelbon and Harper came to blows in the final days of the year.

At least this time no grabbing and pushing took place.

“I wouldn’t say it is par for the course,” Martinez said of the heated discussion. “We move on. They are competitors. The way I look at it is they want to take ownership. They got heated up. Tomorrow they will be hugging, probably.”

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