|Nats host Marlins in possible Harper finale|
WASHINGTON -- Free-agent-to-be Bryce Harper will obviously play more games at Nationals Park regardless of what happens in the offseason.
Even if he leaves the Nationals, he'll return at some point in a different uniform and likely be the subject of a video tribute and warm ovation. Or he'll re-sign with Washington and spend the prime years of his career in a Nationals' uniform.
The Nationals (80-78), though, play their final home game of a disappointing 2018 season Wednesday afternoon against the visiting Miami Marlins (62-95). For Harper, it could be the last time he dresses in the spacious home clubhouse and makes his way down the stairs to the Nationals dugout behind first base.
After entering the All-Star break with a .214 batting average, Harper thrilled the hometown crowd with a win in the Home Run Derby. He carried that success into the second half and is hitting .246 with 34 home runs, 129 runs scored, and career highs in RBIs (100) and walks (129) with four games remaining.
"Credit to him," manager Dave Martinez said. "He started off really slow and to be where's he at now ... is a testament to what kind of player he really is."
Harper, the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, and agent Scott Boras will be able to listen to offers from other teams while the Nationals determine if Harper is part of the future or if they will use that money to fill needs that could include starting pitching, a catcher and a second baseman.
"Excited about the future," Harper told thesportscapital.com of what's ahead for the Nationals. "If I'm going to be part of that future, and hopefully I am, and if I'm in those plans for the Nationals organization and (ownership), then we'll see what happens."
Miami left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (6-11, 4.66 ERA) opposes right-hander Tyler McGowin (0-0, 6.75) in Wednesday's finale, which could be affected by rain, which has been a near-constant of late at Nationals Park.
Chen has a 2.88 ERA over his last seven games and is coming off a home win against the Reds in which he allowed three hits over seven shutout innings. He has a 1.62 home ERA in 13 starts, but a 9.29 road ERA in 11 outings.
"I can't explain why I can pitch like this at home, and not so much on the road," Chen told MLB.com. "I probably should practice more in spring training."
Chen is making his fourth 2018 start against the Nationals and is 0-1. For his career, he's 1-6 with a 4.84 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) versus Washington.
McGowin will be making his first major league start in place of Tanner Roark, who will remain in Atlanta with his family following the birth of his son.
The Nationals, who have moved ahead of the Phillies for second place in the NL East, won their second straight over the Marlins on Tuesday. Max Scherzer (18-7) struck out 10 batters to become the third pitcher in the last 15 seasons -- joining Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw -- to strike out 300 batters in a season.
Scherzer improved to 5-0 against the Marlins in 2018.
"I think it's fun for our guys, that challenge with him, because it's the best," Marlins manager Don Mattingly told the Miami Herald. "I think that challenge is good for hitters. It lets you know where you're at."
Anthony Rendon continued his torrid hitting, clubbing a homer and driving in four runs for the second straight night. He has five homers in his last nine games, and has 91 RBIs despite missing a month because of injury.
"He is on fire," Martinez said. "He works good at-bats. He uses the whole field."