The Baseball Page: July 8, 2012

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Nationals report

Harper happy to get break

Nationals rookie outfielder Bryce Harper wasn't exactly disappointed with the news that he had lost out on the final National League All-Star spot. The 19-year-old will have plenty more chances to stand alongside the game's elite.

"Hopefully in the next couple of years I can get in there," Harper, who was hitting .283 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs entering Saturday, said this week. "I'm excited to get back home for a couple days and just calm down for a little bit and hang out with the family."

He may have young legs, but a few days in his native Las Vegas instead of Kansas City, Mo., should do a world of good for Harper, who has been nursing a sore back among other minor ailments. It's a direct result of his style of play, which has costs as well as benefits for the Nats.

"He should be able to play every day all day," teammate Ryan Zimmerman joked. "No, he's played great. He's played hard every day. He comes here ready to work. Even when you are 19 years old, you need a break every now and then. He can heal up a little bit and get some of those bangs and bruises that all of us need some time off to let heal."

MLB storylines

1 Mets not going away » The Nationals' hold on first place in the National League East is overshadowing another surprise as the second half of the season approaches: The New York Mets are still hanging around. If you had said the Marlins or Braves before the season, it would have made sense. But New York was an almost universal choice to finish last in the division after losing shortstop Jose Reyes to rival Miami. The Mets were a half-game out of a wild-card spot entering Saturday, and the ERA of their rotation (3.52) was just behind those of the Nats (3.30) and Dodgers (3.35).

2 Trout time » Even Bryce Harper admits at this moment he's not on the same level as Los Angeles Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout. The 20-year-old is now a legitimate candidate for American League MVP. Yes, he basically sat in the minors for the first month of the season. But he led the AL in batting average and was fourth in both on-base percentage and OPS entering Saturday. But he is also an elite defensive player and can affect a game with his legs (26 steals). It has been 11 years since a player was named both MVP and rookie of the year, but Trout might do it.

3 Boston's back » All year long the Boston Red Sox have been better than their situation showed. With the Red Sox in last place in the American League East with a 12-19 record on May 10 and with players griping about manager Bobby Valentine, memories of last year's September crash lingered. But since then Boston has fought its way back above .500 and for all the drama entered Saturday three games out of the second American League wild-card spot. Now, can the Red Sox survive without Dustin Pedroia, who is on the disabled list with a thumb injury?

Who's Hot

1. Ryan Zimmerman » The Nats star had nine extra-base hits in 10 games after his cortisone shot.

2. Joe Mauer » The Twins catcher had eight hits in the first five games of July.

3. Ryan Vogelsong » Entering Saturday, the Giants righty had allowed two earned runs in his last 14 innings.

Who's Not

1. B.J. Upton » The Rays center fielder had just six hits in his previous 13 games entering Friday.

2. Dan Uggla » The Braves infielder, who has never hit fewer than 27 homers, has been stuck on 11 since June 9.

3. Adam Jones » The Orioles are fading along with their center fielder, who began July in a 4-for-21 slump.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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