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Bryce Harper of Washington Nationals avoids free agency talk

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WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper didn’t walk out the door. But he didn’t walk into a trap, either.

“I’m a National now,” Harper said Tuesday, when asked about his future prior to Washington‘s series opener against the visiting New York Yankees. “We’re going into the series trying to win some ballgames. That’s the only thing on my mind. Just trying to beat a good team over there.”

Harper’s goal went unrealized Tuesday, as the game was suspended by rain with the score tied 3-3 in the middle of the sixth inning. The game is set to resume Wednesday at 5:05 p.m., ahead of the previously scheduled 7:05 p.m. second game of the series.

New York, which came here with the best record in baseball (28-12), has long been considered a potential destination for Harper, whose contract expires after this season. Even though the Yankees acquired 2017 National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in December, they’re still one of several teams thought to be among the primary contenders for Harper’s services.

Back in February, when Harper addressed reporters for the first time this year, he said that if anyone asked about his status beyond the 2018 season, he’d “be walking out right out the door.” On Tuesday, the former NL MVP stood in front of his locker and danced around several questions pertaining to the Yankees and his future.

“Every single time we go in to face somebody, we’ve got to do things to keep track of what’s important,” said Harper, “and that’s winning ballgames and doing the things we can as a team to play well. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing — if it’s the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies, name it. Doesn’t really matter the team or the atmosphere. Just trying to go in there, try to win ballgames.”

The Nationals have been winning ballgames despite the fact that their star right fielder has been slumping. Although Harper entered Tuesday leading the majors in walks (41) and tied for the lead in home runs (13), he’s hitting just .186 over the past four weeks, dropping his average to .236 on the season.

Washington began its two-game set with New York having won 13 of its past 15 contests to move within 1.5 games of the first-place Atlanta Braves in the NL East. The hot streak has come without contributions from several injured regulars, including second baseman Daniel Murphy and left fielder Adam Eaton.

Eaton, who has been out since injuring his ankle in early April, had arthroscopic surgery on Thursday. He revealed Tuesday that he expects to miss six weeks.

“I’m pumped to get off to rehab and strengthen the crap out of this thing and be back for half the season,” said Washington’s leadoff hitter, who missed most of last season after injuring the same ankle and his knee in late April. “That’s my goal, for sure. Three months of baseball. Give me enough time to get into the grind of things. I’m excited to get back.”

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Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw throw simulated game, nears return

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LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw is one step closer to a return with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Kershaw pitched a four-inning simulated game Saturday, raising the possibility that he could be back in their rotation next week. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner has been on the disabled list nearly a month with left biceps tendinitis.

Asked if he should be able to go in five days, Kershaw said: “Yeah, I should be.”

Kershaw got up and down, mirroring game conditions, and pitched to Cody Bellinger, Chase Utley, Austin Barnes and Enrique Hernandez. Kershaw is 1-4 with a 2.86 ERA this season.

It’s not certain he’ll pitch in five days, when the Dodgers play Philadelphia in the finale of a 10-game homestand.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who watched the workout with Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations, wants to see how Kershaw feels before determining when and where he will pitch next. Roberts had not yet talked to Kershaw before speaking with reporters.

“That’s really encouraging,” Roberts said after learning Kershaw said he should be ready to be back in the rotation. “For us, we’ve still got to talk through some things and make sure the right situation is for Kersh. A lot of it depends on how he feels (Sunday) and how things play out. Having him pitch today, feeling good coming off the mound, a lot of positives.”

Through this stint on the disabled list, Kershaw found himself examining his mechanics.

“You never should focus on mechanics when you’re competing. That’s what the in between is,” Kershaw said. “I’ve never really been a mechanics guy. The past few weeks I’ve been working on it a little bit. It’s probably the first time that I can remember that I really focused on it.”

Kershaw declined to explain what motivated him to focus on mechanics. The 30-year-old left-hander was positive about where he’s at now.

“It’s so hard to tell. Been working on little stuff here and there,” Kershaw said. “You start focusing on getting hitters out and you stop thinking about your mechanics. Start worrying about trying to get people out. Hopefully muscle memory is ingrained in there. Felt a little bit better today.”

Kershaw hadn’t felt as positive following his previous bullpen, but he was encouraged Saturday.

“You can’t simulate a big league game. All the things you do to prepare to pitch a big league game, you really don’t know where you’re at until you’re in one,” Kershaw said. “You do all you can to prepare. Ultimately, the only way to figure out if you’re ready or not is to face guys. I feel like I didn’t lose a whole lot from where I was but worked on a lot these last few weeks to try to get better and try to get healthy.”

The Dodgers, who were one win away from the World Series title last year, are below .500.

“Being on the DL is no fun. Thankful that it wasn’t too incredibly long,” Kershaw said. “Just to be able to get back out there. You don’t feel a part of the team a whole lot when you’re on the DL. It’s good to be out there and hopefully help a little bit.”

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Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia returns to lineup after knee surgery

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BOSTON — Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is back after being sidelined by offseason knee surgery.

The 2008 American League MVP and four-time All Star went 0-for-4 with a walk and scored in Boston’s 8-6 victory against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

He received a standing ovation when he came up with the bases loaded and two outs in the first. He flied out to right to end the inning.

“It was great to be back, a great win for us, and it was exciting,” he said. “I’ll never forget that first at-bat. That was pretty cool.”

The 34-year-old Pedroia admitted to some nervousness in the clubhouse before batting practice.

“Yeah, it’s been a long time, a lot of work put into to get to this point,” he said. “So, yeah, I’ll be a little nervous.”

Pedroia had cartilage-restoration surgery on his left knee seven months ago. He was not in Boston’s Opening Day lineup for the first time since 2007.

He batted sixth in his return to the Red Sox (36-16).

“I don’t want to break up the top two,” manager Alex Cora said. “I’m very comfortable with them the way they’re getting on base.

“I think that’s a good spot for him to have traffic in front of him.”

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Cleveland Indians place Andrew Miller on DL

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The Cleveland Indians have placed Andrew Miller on the 10-day disabled list, as the left-handed reliever deals with right knee issues that also marred his 2017 season.

Miller allowed three runs in less than an inning of an 11-2 loss to the Houston Astros on Friday. He has struggled since missing two weeks with a strained hamstring.

“I’m definitely not sharp,” Miller said after Friday’s game. “I wish I had the answers. I think there’s flashes of it, but it’s been a pretty big grind lately.”

A two-time All-Star, the 32-year-old left-hander was on the DL twice last season with patellar tendinitis in his right knee.

He was officially placed on the DL this time with right knee inflammation.

Right-hander Evan Marshall was recalled to fill the open roster spot.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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