Nationals say wins, not Hamels, are their focus

Posted: May 22, 2012

WASHINGTON - One of baseball's newer rivalries resumes when the Washington Nationals begin a three-game series with the Phillies on Monday at Citizens Bank Park.

Of course, when these teams last met earlier this month, much that makes a rivalry compelling was in place - including bad blood.

This will be their first meeting since the Phillies' 9-3 nationally televised Sunday night win May 6 in Washington. That's when Cole Hamels plunked Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and later admitted that it was his way of welcoming the rookie phenom to the major leagues.

Hamels' honesty earned him a five-game suspension and most likely a few enemies in the opposing clubhouse.

Yet Harper says he doesn't really care and isn't dwelling on what happened in the past.

"I am just trying to go there and get W's," Harper said after going 2 for 4 with a two-run triple in Sunday's 9-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park. "They've got a great pitching staff, we've got a great pitching staff, and it's going to be a fun three days down there in Philly and I am excited to get going."

Knowing the reputation of Phillies fans, Harper actually looks forward to receiving the type of greeting that Philadelphia sports fans shower on opponents.

"Hopefully, I get a couple of boos; that would be awesome," said Harper, who is hitting .244 with two home runs and seven RBIs. "I am excited to get in there and play, and hopefully they won't throw any batteries at me."

He was referring to the incident when D-cell batteries were thrown at the St. Louis Cardinals' J.D. Drew in 1999. (Drew had been drafted by the Phillies but spurned their offer.)

Like Harper, Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, who has been the team's most effective hitter (.311, seven home runs, 31 RBIs), doesn't believe that there will be any post-Hamels fireworks during this series.

"I've got to think it's over with and hope that everybody is mature enough to put this behind them," LaRoche said.

Nationals righthander Edwin Jackson is scheduled to face Hamels on Wednesday. Don't expect Jackson to receive a rousing ovation. He was the winning pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of last year's National League division series against the Phillies.

Now he's with a new team, and when asked whether there was any lingering animosity over the Hamels incident, Jackson said one objection overrides everything else.

"Pretty much it is what it is and it is what you make of it," Jackson said. "We are out there to win games. Anything extra, we handle that in stride, but the main objective is to go out and win a game."

Both teams have more important matters - specifically keeping pace in the National League East, baseball's only division in which every team is .500 or better.

The Phillies can take some consolation from knowing they won't have to face Stephen Strasburg on the mound or at the plate.

Strasburg earned the win Sunday, allowing three runs (one earned) while striking out eight and walking one in five innings. He threw 90 pitches and also had two hits, including his first career home run.

Afterward, manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg had biceps soreness, although the hard-throwing righthander claimed that he didn't.

"I got a little tired and tight, but that is nothing different than any other outing," said Strasburg, who missed most of last season after Tommy John elbow surgery in September 2010.

What makes things interesting is that this is the first time since the Montreal Expos moved to Washington in 2005 that the Phillies and Nationals both are considered division contenders.

Even though the Nationals went 10-8 last year against the Phillies, they still finished 211/2 games behind them in the NL East. This season, the Nationals are 24-17, while Phillies are 21-21.

"Philly, there is no question this is a rivalry," LaRoche said. "Being this close, being in the division, and both being solid clubs now, I could see this being something for a long time."

Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or Follow @sjnard on Twitter.

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