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After missing three games because of a groin injury, Harper returned to Washington’s lineup for the Beltway Series opener, and he went 2-for-3 with a home run, a walk and two RBIs in the Nats’ 6-4 loss. Given what happened last year, when Harper was a shell of his 2015 MVP self and reports surfaced that he was hampered by a neck injury for much of the season, his productive Monday was a shiny silver lining on an otherwise dull night.
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Starter Gio Gonzalez Jersey, who came into the game sporting a perfect 3-0 record and a 1.64 ERA that was the lowest among major league starters, got torched. In the first inning, he served up three gopher balls, and the O’s jumped to a 4-0 lead. On the night, Gonzalez allowed six earned runs, just one fewer than he had given up in his first six starts combined.Sluggers Ryan Zimmerman Jersey and Daniel Murphy Jersey, who came into the game with an average average (whatever that is) of .388, combined to go 0-for-7. It was just the third time this season that the pair have gone hitless.In the fourth inning, normally dependable third baseman Anthony Rendon Jersey, whose five defensive runs saved are tied for second-best at the position, botched a routine throw to second base that could’ve resulted in an inning-ending double play but instead allowed the Orioles to score their sixth and final run.Last but certainly not least, after rallying in the top of the ninth against closer Brad Brach Jersey, the Nats self-destructed when pinch runner Trea Turner Jersey, who represented the tying run at second base, got caught in what turned out to be a walk-off rundown.Bryce Harper Jersey ranks second in the majors in batting and leads the National League in runs, walks and on-base percentage. Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesNeedless to say, Harper’s productive night was a welcome bright spot, especially after what happened last week in DC. Against the Diamondbacks on Thursday, the 24-year-old right fielder tweaked his groin in the third inning, when he made a spectacular, head-first diving catch along the right-field line. Three innings later, he was pulled from the game. Even though skipper Dusty Baker said afterward that the early exit was purely precautionary, and even though Harper joked about how much he loves playing in Philly (12 homers in 36 career games there), he proceeded to miss the entire weekend series.Limited Luis Sardinas Jersey “I could’ve definitely played in Philly,” said Harper, who ranks second in the majors in batting (.385) and leads the NL in runs (36), walks (27) and on-base percentage (.511). “But the training staff and the skipper, of course, didn’t think it was a good idea. So we went with that. I had no problem with that. Got work in and did everything I could to stay in the best mindset and shape I could, then just come out here and try to have good at-bats.” Luis Sardinas Jersey #16 Apparently, his plan worked. After whiffing (and getting booed by Baltimore fans) in his first at-bat against Kevin Gausman Jersey, Harper walked and hit an RBI single in his next two chances against the O’s starter. Then, facing reliever Darren O’Day Jersey in the eighth inning, Harper battled his way through a seven-pitch at-bat that culminated in a solo shot to left-center. His 10th bomb of the season, it came on the date (May 8) that he hit his 10th homer back in 2015, when he went yard 42 times en route to winning the NL MVP award. Monday’s blast was also Harper’s first opposite-field home run of the season, and that’s a positive sign that wasn’t lost on his manager. “He hit that ball to left field like a right-handed hitter,” Baker said after the game. “That shows me that his hip rotation and everything was good. I’m glad I held him out another day. Maybe he’ll start rolling again from here. He looked good. He looked real good.” Most importantly, he looked healthy.