At 20 years old, Bryce Harper is the youngest player on the Nationals roster by more than two years. But in the past two games, he has shown leadership -- both on and off the field -- well beyond his years.
After the Nationals were trounced by the Tigers in consecutive games earlier this week, Harper spoke out and said that the team needed to play more like a family in order to gain ground in the National League East.
"That's the biggest thing right now. You have to have heart. You have to play as a family. Everybody has to want it, starting with the manager on down to everybody," Harper said Wednesday. "Everybody wants to win this and keep going and whatnot. We need to keep doing that. We need to keep going, play better, get better, better [at-bats] in certain situations and pitch better also. It's just something we need to do."
Harper backed up his words with his bat in Friday's 4-1 win over the Brewers, hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning and adding an RBI in the ninth. The Nationals have now won four of their past seven games, but they've failed to gain ground on the Braves, who won their eighth straight game on Friday.
If the Nationals plan to make a run, they will need to continue to get production at the back end of their starting rotation, beginning with veteran Dan Haren, who will start Saturday. Haren has struggled for most of this season but been solid since coming off the disabled list in July. In his four starts since the DL stint, Haren has a 3.13 ERA with 18 hits allowed, six walks and 26 strikeouts.
"It's good to see him having fun and just to see him pitch well," Denard Span said. "It's definitely going to be important for us if he can get going with our pitching staff already as good as it is, and he's just been pitching good for a long time in this league."
Donovan Hand will make his third straight start and his sixth start of the season for the Brewers on Saturday. He has jumped into an injury-depleted rotation which has used 11 different starters this season and isn't getting any healthier. Yovani Gallardo left the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader with a hamstring injury, and Tom Gorzelanny left his start on Friday after being hit in the elbow by a line drive.
Hand started on Sunday against the Rockies and allowed three runs on eight hits over six innings, his longest start since 2009, when he was a starter in Double-A.
"Really, three pitches today defined my outing," Hand said after the Brewers' 6-5 loss. "Three out of 79 [pitches] shouldn't do that for me, because the other 76 were pretty good. But I got to go six [innings], so hopefully we can build on that next time."
Nationals: Rizzo gets extension, promotion
While the Nationals have not played up to their preseason expectations this year, they've made progress over the past couple of seasons under general manager Mike Rizzo. The organization rewarded Rizzo on Thursday with a contract extension and promotion to president of baseball operations.
"The buck stops with me," Rizzo said Friday. "There is nobody above me, nobody to look to above me. They are my decisions and I'm going to run the baseball operations department in its entirety. It's the hiring and firing, implementation of policies and philosophies."
The organization wanted to sign Rizzo during the season so that he could lead the search for the team's new manager after Davey Johnson retires at the end of the season.
• Minor League pitching coordinator Spin Williams joined the Nationals on Friday and will be the team's interim pitching coach over the weekend while Steve McCatty recovers from an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. Before Friday, Williams had not been a big league coach since 2005, when he was a pitching coach for the Pirates.
Brewers: Segura returns to the lineup
All-Star shortstop Jean Segura rejoined the Brewers' lineup on Friday after missing the past two games. Segura was in a 3-for-23 funk and had been hit on the forearm by a pitch against the Rockies before going 2-for-4 on Tuesday.
Segura took two games off in addition to the team's off day on Thursday. He went 1-for-3 with a walk on Friday.
"Just wanted to keep it fresh and come back here and continue to work," Segura said. "Just a couple days to get rest."
• Tyler Clippard allowed a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning on Friday, ending a 15-inning scoreless streak.
• The Brewers lead the Major Leagues with 100 stolen bases this season after leading the Majors with 158 last year. Carlos Gomez stole a pair of bases in Friday night's loss.
Tom Schad is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.