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Washington Nationals aim to keep momentum vs. Cincinnati Reds

By
Harvey Valentine, The Sports Xchange
Cincinnati Reds manager Jim Riggleman looks to his bullpen after making a pitching change in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 21 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Cincinnati Reds manager Jim Riggleman looks to his bullpen after making a pitching change in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 21 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals will look to continue their on-field success and put an end to the clubhouse issues that have taken up a lot of the oxygen at Nationals Park the last few days when they host the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday night.

The Nationals (54-53) completed a two-game sweep of the New York Mets on Wednesday with a 5-3 win that came hours after general manager Mike Rizzo off-loaded his second relief pitcher in two days.

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One day after Brandon Kintzler was sent to Chicago for a Class A pitcher, Shawn Kelley was designated for assignment. In Tuesday's 25-4 rout of the Mets, Kelley gave up a ninth-inning home run, slammed his glove to the ground and glared into the Nationals' dugout.

Kelley said after the game that his ire was directed at the umpires, one of whom was telling him to slow his motion while the other was hurrying him along. Rizzo, and many observers, thought Kelley was upset about pitching in what had been a 25-1 game.

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"It's pretty cut-and-dried. You guys all saw it," Rizzo told reporters. "The act that he portrayed on the field last night was disrespectful to the name on the front of the jersey, the organization, specifically (manager) Davey Martinez. And you're either in or you're in the way. And I thought he was in the way."

Kintzler, according to reports, was considered the source of anonymous quotes about the state of the Nationals clubhouse, something he denied in an interview with a local radio station on Wednesday.

Thursday's visit from the Reds provides its own unique back story as former Washington manager Jim Riggleman returns to Nationals Park as interim head man for Cincinnati.

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Riggleman took over the Nationals in July 2009 following Manny Acta's dismissal. On June 23, 2011, he resigned amidst a winning streak, unhappy that the team had not picked up his option for 2012.

"I know what the right thing to do is," Riggleman told the Washington Post at the time. "You don't keep a manager on a one-year deal in major league baseball. I'm not happy about it. I just feel in my heart it's the right thing to do."

He finished with a record of 140-172 with the Nationals.

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Riggleman has been credited with reviving the Reds (48-60), a team that took three of four from the Phillies before dropping two straight to the Tigers, including an ugly 7-4 loss on Wednesday.

"When you play like that, you're not supposed to win," Riggleman told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It's not bad effort; it's bad performance. We just have to somehow find a way to clean it up. It was very sloppy."

Max Scherzer (14-5, 2.30 ERA) opposes Cincinnati right-hander Tyler Mahle (7-8, 4.53) in the opener of a four-game series.

Scherzer has won four straight, allowing nine earned runs in 28 innings while striking out 26 batters and walking six.

He is 3-1 with a 3.05 ERA in five starts against the Reds.

Mahle, who is facing Washington for the first time, is coming off a trio of bad starts. He gave up three runs on six hits in one inning against the Phillies last time out. He was 1-2 in July with an 8.62 ERA.

Washington's Bryce Harper is hitting .333 (12-for-36) with six extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in 11 games since winning the Home Run Derby.

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