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Back end of Nats’ bullpen truly has been elite

Jul 3, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT

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All-Star rosters will be announced on Sunday, and while most of the discussion in relation to the Nationals has been about the worthiness of Adam LaRoche or Anthony Rendon, we haven’t talked a whole lot about the worthiness of several members of their bullpen.

And we should be, because there are no shortage of worthy candidates out of baseball’s best bullpen this season.

Rafael Soriano, despite the occasional hold-your-breath ninth inning, owns a 1.06 ERA and 20 saves in 22 opportunities. Drew Storen has a 1.03 ERA and a ridiculous, 22-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Aaron Barrett has a 1.93 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 28 innings. And Tyler Clippard has a 1.95 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 37 innings of work.

Yes, that’s four relievers with sub-2.00 ERAs. Only the Nationals and Padres can claim that.

Really, though, this stretch of dominance extends further back than Opening Day. Go back to last August and you’ll find equally effective work from the Nationals’ bullpen.

Over their last 140 2/3 combined innings, the Soriano-Storen-Clippard triumvirate — Barrett was still in the minors in 2013 — has posted a collective 1.60 ERA, with a 0.98 WHIP and a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Not too shabby.

There are nights in which those three relievers are unhittable, but there are also nights in which they have to dig deep to post a zero on the scoreboard. We saw that last night, when Clippard and Soriano both pitched their way out of jams to preserve the Nationals’ 4-3 lead.

Clippard had a man on base and two out with Troy Tulowitzki at the plate. Perhaps the frontrunner for NL MVP at the midway point of the season, Tulowitzki had hit the ball hard all night and was the one guy the Nationals didn’t want to beat them in this series.

So how did Clippard get Tulo? By getting ahead in the count with fastballs, then unleashing an 0-2 splitter that was as devastating a pitch as he has thrown all season. Tulowitzki flailed helplessly at the pitch, which started at the knees and then broke down to the dirt, and Clippard pumped his fist as he hopped off the mound.

“I didn’t want to lead off with an offspeed pitch there,” the reliever said. “I just felt like he might’ve been sitting on something soft. Traditionally, that’s what I started the other guys off with, so I wanted to just come right after him. And I was able to do that. I threw him three fastballs, set up the splitty nice and was able to bury it.”

Soriano got himself into a bit more of a jam in the ninth, walking Michael McKenry with two outs after an 11-pitch battle, then allowing a bloop single to D.J. LeMahieu, moving the tying runner to third. He fell behind Josh Rutledge 2-0, then battled back and got the pinch-hitter to loft a harmless flyball to right field to end the game.

“He’s a really good pitcher,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “I think watching on TV or watching from the stands, his misses, people take those as uncalculated. But he knows exactly what he’s doing, exactly where he wants to put the ball and he executes it a lot. Kind of like [Livan Hernandez], I’ve started to kind of learn what his sequences are. I’ve got 100 percent confidence in him every time he takes the mound.”

At this point, everyone should have extreme confidence every time anybody out of the back end of the Nationals’ bullpen takes the mound.

  1. Sonny G 10 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    Got new-posted, so I’ll repeat my post here.

    Last night on the broadcast, FP was talking about Werth working with hitting coach Schu to stand more upright. He went on to say that power hitters stand more upright and non-power hitters crouch, like Span. I tweeted him saying Bryce Harper crouches and he tweets back “Bryce Harper has only 1 home run.” Sounds like he is saying Harper is not a power hitter. I was shocked at that. Do I have it all wrong. What do the rest of you think? Is Bryce a power hitter or not?

    • David Proctor - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      I don’t think he’s saying Harper’s not a power hit, but that perhaps he believes Harper’s crouch is sapping his power this year. That’s ridiculous though. Harper has always crouched. He crouched when he hit 22 in 2012 and 20 in 2013.

      • Sonny G 10 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:48 AM

        That’s how I see it. Thanks to all for your responses.

    • natsjackinfl - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:04 PM

      All good responses but, Harper still only has 1 more home run than my canine companion of the same name.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:28 PM

        Thanks hysterical truth of the matter!

    • mwstatsguy - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      There’s no doubt that Harper is a power guy, and that’s what puts butts in the seats. But in terms of creating runs, he’s essentially the same as Span. The best way to compare is by Runs Created from Bill James. It considers hitting, baserunning, sacrifices, and other factors. Harper this year has 0.128 runs created per at bat, and Span has 0.130. Personally, I’d rather see the tater, but I make my living betting on baseball, so I go with the numbers-except that I always bet on the Nats to win.

  2. tcostant - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    BASEBALL IS CHANGING BEFORE OUR EYES.

    Over the last few decades, baseball was work the counts, get the pitch count up and get to the pen.

    Now, it seems like every pen, has many guys that throw 95+ and most are better than the starter. Now the rage is be aggressive and get a pitch to hit early and keep the starter in, but keeping the pitch count down.

    BASEBALL IS CHANGING BEFORE OUR EYES.

    • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      Was there ever a time that baseball was NOT changing?

      Read Bill James’s Historical Abstract for some perspective. One of my favorite stories involves Michael Kelly , AKA King Kelly, who played in the 1880s and 1890s.

      Kelly was player-manager for his team (I forget which) and was sitting on the bench when an opposing batter hit a foul pop that Kelly saw no one on his team was going to get to.

      Kelly jumped up and yelled to the umpire, “Kelly in for…” (whatever the name was of one of his infielders), and caught the popup for the out.

      Whereupon the rules were changed to forbid substitutions while the ball was in play.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:33 PM

        Very interesting! Thanks for that. Learn something new here everyday.

      • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:05 PM

        Great short bio on King Kelly here. He’s the reason a runner today is automatically out if he passes another base runner. And he was the greatest player ever at going from first to third or second to home using a tactic you couldn’t possibly get away with today. He invented sliding into second to break up a DP (considered a dirty tactic at the time) and invented the hook slide.

        And he was America’s first media star. A real character.

      • tcostant - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:29 PM

        Candice – great point!

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:43 PM

        The way I heard the story, Kelly was on the bench because he was both late, and too hung over to play. But at some point, there’s a popup near the dugout and he runs out, yells “KELLY NOW CATCHING FOR CHICAGO!” and makes the play, and after a long “That can’t POSSIBLY be legit!” argument, he was obliged to finish the game, hungover as he was. I understand they changed the rule the next day.

        Slide, Kelly, Slide!

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:57 PM

        Just finished reading it. Man, what a life story! Feel a bit sad about the end.

        BTW if you all haven’t, check out Gehrig’s speech read out by today’s 1b.

      • letswin3 - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:48 PM

        Kelly was also the inspiration for the song “Slide Kelly Slide” which was the first “pop” song recoded on that fancy new Edison high tech device, and was the impetus for pop music as we know it.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 5:55 PM

        Does that count as a jinx? It was in the video I linked to …

    • Nats fool - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:36 PM

      To a certain extent this is true. The point is to force the pitcher to give you what you can drive and recognize a drivable pitch. As the starter tires, the velocity and movement on his fastball generally declines. A starter will need to mix it up. This is where a lot of scoring is done, especially where a pitcher does not have good off-speed stuff. The goal is not to drive up pitch counts, but to drive pitches while not striking out. The Saber guys tend to dismiss strikeouts. Avoiding the strikout is key.

      • Section 222 - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:58 PM

        The Saber guys tend to dismiss strikeouts? Seriously?

      • Nats fool - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:16 PM

        Yes, to the extent that an out is an out. OPS measure OBP plus Slugging. It doesn’t tell why your OBP was low. OPS understates strikeout percentage and overstates home runs to a lesser extent.

      • bowdenball - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:37 PM

        The saber guys do not dismiss strikeouts. Every single person who considers themselves sabermetrically inclined will tell you that putting the ball in play is a better result than a strikeout, by far.

        Also, OPS is not “sabermetric.” OBP and slugging have been around for decades and decades. If anything sabermetricians put less stock in them than regular fans. It’s just that they put even LESS stock in more “traditional” statistics like batting average and RBIs because those are even more flawed than OBP and slugging.

  3. cumberlanddan - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    In his Nats career as a reliever, Tyler Clippard has now allowed 271 hits in 420 1/3 innings. I know I am cherry-picking one statistic. Nonetheless, that is truly elite.

  4. Sonny G 10 - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    I must say that I’m coming around on Soriano. Last night I felt confident that Soriano would get the save even when the Rockies had a guy on third. I was impressed with the 94 mph fastball he cut loose with as well.

    • veejh - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:41 PM

      Me too. Posted something similar during the game.

    • tcostant - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:33 PM

      Soriano is at the point when you at least get a draft choice for him now. You make a qualifying offer to him and if he takes it that is more than okay.

  5. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 3, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    Not every pen has a bunch of flamethrowers. I think the only truly shutdown BPs in the NL — apart from the Nationals — are ATL, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and those more because of one dominant reliever without 1 thru 4 depth the Nats can throw out there.

    Because of client meetings I saw only the top of the ninth last night. Soriano had maybe his best “stuff” of the season. The clunker was the BB. But Desmond is absolutely correct — Soriano picks his spots, strategically and tactically. He knows going in where he can get his outs. He won’t give in and throw a cripple just to get a strike. Most of his BBs reflect only his unwillingness to give in. He’d rather give up a BB than risk being undone by a pitch he really doesn’t want to throw. He was cool as a cucumber last night, and the COs were visibly sweating bullets.

    My view of Soriano has changed radically this season. I may not want to pay him $15MM next season but this year he is serving the Nats very well.

    • natsjackinfl - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:12 PM

      That “clunker” was a terrific 10 pitch battle between pitcher and hitter. That was followed by a soft fly to short right that only fell in because of the “no doubles” defense.

      Definitely the best stuff Rafael has shown all season.

      I was watching the Rockies broadcast during Tulo ab against Clippard. On the last pitch the announcers hesitated for about 2 seconds and one finally said “Filthy”. One word summed it up perfectly.

      • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:20 PM

        That “clunker” was a terrific 10 pitch battle between pitcher and hitter.

        Cunegonde was going nuts through that entire AB and was ready to spit nails – the metal kind, not the fingers kind – when he walked McKenry. But I told her the same thing; the guy is fouling off pitch after pitch – GOOD pitches – and Soriano wasn’t going to serve him a meatball on a platter. Walk the guy and move on.

      • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:21 PM

        …Tulo ab against Clippard. On the last pitch the announcers hesitated for about 2 seconds and one finally said “Filthy”.

        I can’t lip-read for squat; anyone have any idea what Tulowitzki was saying to the ump after that pitch?

      • bowdenball - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:32 PM

        Candide-

        I assume Tulo was complaining about Strike 2, which was an iffy called strike if I remember correctly.

      • Section 222 - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:43 PM

        He looked like he said, “Was that a splitter?” with a look of disbelief on his face.

      • bowdenball - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:02 PM

        Perhaps I was wrong. Thanks, 222.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:38 PM

        bb, strike 2 was pretty much off the plate, that much is correct. No idea what Tulo said, but I was imagining the HP ump saying, “Right, like you wouldn’t have swung at that anyway!”

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:03 PM

        I’m glad Clip had the faith in the splitter. I posted to throw it before he did but with a runner on base he’s been hesitant. His new arsenal is great.

    • natsjackinfl - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:14 PM

      Williams ended it perfectly in his pregame presser yesterday. Those national buffoons (mostly ESPN) are completely lost on true details.

    • Brookstoor - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:28 PM

      If only Kilgore’s inept colleagues at The Post weren’t trying to stir up their own versions of this episode, it might pass sooner.

      • natsjackinfl - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:47 PM

        +1 on Kilgore’s inept colleagues. Really disappointed in Boswell. He should be better than that. You expect Wise and Reid to be clueless. I mean who on the Nats would take either of them in their confidence?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:00 PM

        Yep, after the quote was made I knew it would take over the news. It wasn’t smart but certainly wasn’t the worst thing said. Rizzo probably got Boras on the phone and said this better be the last time I address his public speaking.

        A minor distraction blown up by the media.

    • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:32 PM

      And of course, you can always believe everything players and managers say to the press.

      Not saying MW and BH aren’t exactly as they claim to be, just that one of the things every player learns is that you keep the disputes in the clubhouse. So everything may be fine between Matt and Bryce, or maybe not.

      • Brookstoor - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:37 PM

        But Candide, that would in fact be a step in the right direction. Keeping it in the club house is what Bryce “failed” to do and the reason we have this mess in the first place.

      • David Proctor - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:38 PM

        It’s not so much their quotes that I believe. But Kilgore is rarely wrong and he seems to have several unquoted sources who confirm what MW and BH say.

      • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:54 PM

        Keeping it in the club house is what Bryce “failed” to do and the reason we have this mess in the first place.

        This wasn’t a case of a dispute within the clubhouse; it was a case of Harper giving a reporter his unfiltered opinion on what would be best for the team, without thinking through the necessary consequence of what he was saying – that Span would have to go to the bench. I have a neighbor – I bet we all do – who has no mouth filter, and she’s 64 years old. No thought enters her head without leaving through her mouth. Hope Harper learns faster than she does.

        But Kilgore is rarely wrong and he seems to have several unquoted sources who confirm what MW and BH say.

        I don’t question the accuracy of Kilgore’s reporting of the quotes, and we all saw MW’s post-game presser the other day where he said he totally has Harper’s back. I’m just saying that what ball players and managers say to the press is not necessarily an indication of what’s going on behind the closed clubhouse doors.

        I’m reading The Baseball Codes based on a recommendation I saw here a few weeks ago (apologies to the recommender for not remembering who it was), and almost every page has an anecdote where the public face of the team’s explanation regarding an incident – a beanball, hot-dogging a HR, running up the score – turned out to be dramatically different from what the real explanation was.

      • Brookstoor - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:32 PM

        Well Candide, notwithstanding your charming story of your neighbor, I don’t consider those two things to be completely separate issues.

      • bowdenball - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:04 PM

        If there’s been discord in the Nats’ clubhouse since Harper’s comments I hope he walks in there tomorrow morning and poops in the middle of the floor. Can’t argue with the results!

  6. Section 222 - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Great comments by Desi, and I love the Livo comparison. The unflappability is part of what gives his teammates confidence. I’m sure they don’t like to see a reliever sweating profusely, scowling at the HP umpire, pacing around the mound and taking 30 seconds to throw the next pitch. Soriano knows exactly what he’s doing.

    The battle with the guy he walked was a very impressive at bat. It was much better to walk him than to throw a meatball. If the top of the order was coming up, the calculation might have been different.

    • Candide - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      The battle with the guy he walked was a very impressive at bat. It was much better to walk him than to throw a meatball.

      Off to owe you a drink. Maybe two, for your prescient use of the word, “meatball.” BRB.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:33 PM

      As I commented to my Currently Strawberry Blonde Cubs Fan Wife, at some point you just get tired of looking at the same guy up there fouling off good pitches. Get somebody else in there who will miss something.

      • Sonny G 10 - Jul 3, 2014 at 6:46 PM

        Isn’t that the truth. I remember about 62 years ago I was pitching in a little league game against a hitter like that. It must have been fifteen or twenty pitches this guy fouled off. For the life of me I could not blow one past him and he couldn’t square one up on me. I remember feeling embarrassed and very frustrated. I don’t even remember what the outcome was, but I was so grateful when it was over. Never had anything like that happen again, but I’ll remember that at bat until the day I die.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 8:02 PM

        And if Motte goes ahead and walks Werth, maybe we never get a chance to blow game 5.

    • Doc - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:17 PM

      Now we Canucks can have a competitive discussion: Who’ the better 1B guy–Votto or Morneau??

      Without the concussion DL, Morneau would have had a really good career.

  7. David Proctor - Jul 3, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    “Nationals prospect Lucas Giolito tossed seven innings for Low-A Hagerstown on Wednesday, scattering four hits, allowing one run while striking out five.

    Giolito yielded one single, one double, one triple, and one home run. This was the deepest into a game that he has pitched in his professional career. He is holding opposing batters to a .180/.253/.315 line. The Nationals front office is going very slowly with Giolito, but he may be promoted to High-A Potomac later this summer in order to see how he fares against better hitters.”

  8. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:03 PM

    As I thought might happen as I didn’t see another team needing him:

    “@Nationals: #Nats 1B/3B Greg Dobbs has accepted outright assignment to Triple-A Syracuse.”

    • therealjohnc - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:15 PM

      Wow, that Syracuse roster is getting crowded. With Tyler Moore and Brock Peterson already at 1b, and the guy at 3b (Brandon Laird) is the youngest of the lot (26) and has a respectable .821 OPS. I wonder – who is getting dropped to make room for Dobbs?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:23 PM

        Maybe a AAA DL move or a trade of TyMo.

      • masterfishkeeper - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:44 PM

        Nats traded Peterson the other day.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:01 PM

        Masterfishkeeper, thanks, that got by me. Figured a move was going to be made. Been waiting on a TyMo trade for a while.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 4:47 PM

        Didn’t they sell him outright to the Dodgers?

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 4:49 PM

        Apparently so, yes. To the Dods for cash considerations

  9. Danny - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    We all know not to take ESPN seriously but here it goes. For their all star picks 2 of their 5 experts have J Zimm in, 1/5 has LaRoche in as a reserve, and 4/5 has Rendon in as a reserve. LaRoche is behind stiff competition at 1B.

    • Section 222 - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:43 PM

      Interesting. One of those competitors at 1B is Justin Morneau, who just went 6-11 in the three game series we just completed. He’s slashing .315/.349/.517 with 14 homers so far this year — .303/.337/.487 with 5 homers on the road for those who will want to discount Coors Field numbers. ALR’s slash is .302/.408/.498 with 12 homers.

      • Doc - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:08 PM

        Now we Canucks can have a competitive discussion: Who’ the better 1B guy–Votto or Morneau??

        Without the concussion DL, Morneau would have had a really good career.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:14 PM

      Rendon would be my 1st pick then LaRoche then Fister then JZim then Clip then Sori.

  10. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 1:31 PM

    Ian Desmond said. “I think watching on TV or watching from the stands, his misses, people take those as uncalculated. But he knows exactly what he’s doing, exactly where he wants to put the ball and he executes it a lot.

    I think that bears repeating. Every called ball is not a miss.

  11. Sec 3 My Sofa - Jul 3, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    WHY am I seeing a link to a May 11 story about LaRoche to the DL in the More from Nats Insider headline box? That’s really disconcerting.

  12. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    A few weeks ago I commented on Sori hitting 95+ velo. Where is this new velo coming from?

    • David Proctor - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:22 PM

      Charlie said last night he thinks Soriano might not have been fully healthy last year.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:35 PM

        Thanks David. I’ve been intrigued by the new velo. I think that 95+ could’ve been from extra rest.

    • Section 222 - Jul 3, 2014 at 3:58 PM

      MW said last night that the higher velo came from being rested. I’m not so sure. Seems like it’s been higher much of the year. But I’ve never seen 95 or more than 95. 94 is the highest I’ve seen and that’s rare. More like 92-93, which is still a few MPH (MPHs?) more than what we saw last year.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 4:04 PM

        He had the one game 2 weeks ago where he was throwing lasers. I will try to research it tonight. It could’ve been a juiced radar gun.

  13. Danny - Jul 3, 2014 at 4:28 PM

    Remember when we took 3/4 from the Giants when they were proclaimed best in NL at 42-21. Well Mikey Mo and crew have stopped hitting and they are about to be 47-38. Only a half game ahead of your Nationals.

  14. masterfishkeeper - Jul 3, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    Interesting that the very astute Dave Schoenfeld doesn’t think the Nats will be making any trades before the deadline:

    http://espn.go.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/49258/trade-deadline-preview-nl-east

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 4:58 PM

      I would still think about dumping Hairston for a speedster that could pinch-run and steal bases, and look for a lefty upgrade for the bullpen in place of Blevins.

      • veejh - Jul 3, 2014 at 5:39 PM

        Yeah, Blevins had been shaky. Not sure he’s the guy during the playoffs where a LOOGY is needed in a tight spot. I can see him crashing and burning in that situation.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 5:42 PM

        Blevins is too weak for a playoff team. No wonder Billy Beane got rid of him.

      • David Proctor - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:43 PM

        Maybe Det becomes that guy.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 7:48 PM

        I hope so David. If he does, I wonder if they shift him to the lefty setup in place of Blevins and also as LOOGY stopper.

  15. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 3, 2014 at 4:46 PM

    Giants rise and fall on pitching. Across the lineup, they’re not consistent hitters, espec. w/out Posey. If the pitchers aren’t shutting the other teams down — and overall their pitchers are no more consistent than their hitters — the team suffers. They’re not that good, not that deep. Unless they run into large patches of good fortune they won’t run and hide from anyone.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 3, 2014 at 4:52 PM

      The Giants went in the tank when the Nats cooled th down. Morse has been a mess since then.

      I hear they are considering Bernadina for depth.

Archives

NL EAST STANDINGS

W L GB
WASHINGTON 55 44 --
ATLANTA 55 46 1.0
NEW YORK 48 53 8.0
MIAMI 47 52 8.5
PHILADELPHIA 43 57 12.5
Through Wednesday's games

UPCOMING SCHEDULE
THU: OFF
FRI: Nats at Reds, 7:10 p.m.
SAT: Nats at Reds, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Nats at Reds, 1:10 p.m.
MON: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
TUE: Nats at Marlins, 7:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Marlins, 12:40 p.m.
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