The Nationals could use Bryan Harper to keep Bryce around in 2019

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The Nationals might have to get creative if they want to retain outfielder Bryce Harper beyond 2018, and Byron Kerr of MASN Sports speculates that they could use Bryce’s older brother, Bryan, in order to do so. Bryan Harper, a left-handed reliever in the Nats’ minor league system, is currently working his way back from Tommy John surgery and could be ready for his next stint in the minors as soon as 2018, with his big league debut not far behind.

The 28-year-old southpaw last appeared for the Nationals’ Double- and Triple-A affiliates in 2016, pitching to a combined 2.18 ERA, 3.6 BB/9 and 8.1 SO/9 through 45 1/3 innings. He was diagnosed with a forearm strain in August and underwent Tommy John surgery several months later, with a requisite recovery period that kept him sidelined through the entire 2017 season. With a return to full health, Harper could presumably slot into a bullpen that features fellow lefties Sean Doolittle, Sammy Solis, Enny Romero and Matt Grace.

This isn’t a perfect plan, certainly, but one that might still appeal to the 25-year-old Bryce as he eyes free agency next fall. Kerr adds that the brothers haven’t played together since their college days, and it’s not too ludicrous to imagine Bryan suiting up for the team in the next couple of years — provided that he can replicate some of his pre-TJ results on the major league level. Of course, that may not be enough to sway Bryce into signing an extension with the Nationals, who told reporters they “firmly believe” their star outfielder will test the market in 2019.

Pujols hits 701st career home run, connects for Cardinals

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ST. LOUIS — Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 701st home run, connecting Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pujols launched a slider from former teammate Johan Oviedo over the Big Mac Land sign in left field at Busch Stadium. The solo drive in the fourth inning made it 1-all.

Pujols faced Oviedo for the first time and made the 24-year-old righty the 456th different pitcher he’s homered against.

The St. Louis star hadn’t homered in a week since hitting No. 699 and 700 at Dodger Stadium last Friday. Pujols had gone 10 at-bats without a home run after two starts and one pinch-hit appearance.

The Busch Stadium crowd gave the 42-year-old Pujols a long standing ovation before he came out of the Cardinals dugout to tip his cap for a curtain call.

Pujols hit his 22nd home run this season for the NL Central champion Cardinals.

Pujols is fourth on the career home run list behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).