Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Mark Leiter Jr. faces playoff-ready lineup

Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Mark Leiter Jr. faces playoff-ready lineup

Phillies (53-88) at Nationals (87-54)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies lost their third straight game Friday night in an 11-10 defeat highlighted by a key Odubel Herrera miscue in the field and a spirited comeback attempt against the Nationals' bullpen (see story). In Game 3 of the Phils' four-game set with the Nationals, Mark Leiter Jr. will take the mound Saturday against journeyman RHP Edwin Jackson. Here are some thoughts.

• The Phillies have had some embarrassing moments during this losing-filled season, but Herrera's play in the third inning may have taken the cake. He completely misplayed a ball in center field to give the Nationals an inside-the-park grand slam (see video).

It's certainly not the first inside-the-parker the Phillies have given up this season, but it was just a case in which Herrera did everything you can't do in that situation. He went in right away, hesitating before realizing that his only chance left would be to leap, and then missing the ball, which quickly rolled to the wall. It was not what the Phils need to see from their one player locked up long term.

• As for the positives from the defeat, there are a couple of pretty obvious ones. Nick Williams drilled a three-run homer as part of a four-hit night. But as usual, the steady rookie could be overlooked because Rhys Hoskins continues to mash.

Before he picked up his two hits, he took Max Scherzer on a ride with a 13-pitch at-bat before striking out. That's not something you see out of a typical player a month into his MLB career.

And then he hit his 13th home run. Oliver Perez shouldn't be facing Hoskins, but the Nationals had a six-run lead, so they stuck with their lefty specialist and paid with a three-run shot that cut their lead in half. 

• Onto tonight's pitching matchup, Leiter had the worst start of his career last time out. He was just two starts removed from seven innings of one-hit ball against the Miami Marlins and had a 3.52 ERA over his previous 46 innings before facing the Mets on Monday at Citi Field.

Lasting just 10 outs, Leiter gave up nine runs, eight earned, on nine hits as the Mets plastered him. He allowed two home runs after 13 2/3 innings of homer-less ball in his last two starts. Facing the same team 25 days earlier, he held them to one run in five innings while striking out seven. 

The 26-year-old righty threw two scoreless innings against the Nationals earlier this season but has yet to start against the division rival. 

• Jackson has been in the big leagues since 2003, when he broke in the majors as a 19-year-old starter for the Dodgers. In 15 big-league seasons, he's played for 12 different teams, including multiple stints with the Nationals. He earned an All-Star appearance in 2009 and has been traded six different times.

This season, he started with the Baltimore Orioles' Triple A affiliate and made it to the majors. After appearing out of their bullpen and allowing seven runs (four earned) in five innings, he was designated for assignment and soon picked up by the Nationals.

And surprisingly enough, he's been pretty good. In nine starts, he's pitched to a 3.29 ERA in 54 2/3 innings. He toned down his walk rate while not allowing the plethora of hits that have plagued him in recent seasons. His 1.8 homers per nine is his worst rate since his second season. He doesn't strike out too many batters, fanning 40 in his time with the Nationals.

He's coming off a lackluster outing against the Brewers. In 5 2/3 innings, the righty allowed two home runs, leading to five runs (four earned). The five runs were the most he's allowed this season.

• The Phillies are now 5-9 against the Nationals this season despite outscoring them, 73-69, in the 14 games. A lot of that is because of a 17-3 win in April, but the Phillies have also played the Nats tough. Eight of the nine losses have been by two or fewer runs. 

• On Friday, the Nationals gave a glimpse at both how they can be dangerous in the postseason and why they might be a quick out. 

How they can be dangerous is simple: The offense. With Trea Turner healthy, they now add his speed and hitting (three hits, including a double and a home run Friday) to the powerful trio of Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon in the middle of the order. Howie Kendrick has also continued to tear the cover off the ball in Washington. It's not hard to imagine that offense breaking through against strong pitching staffs in October.

But their pitching staff is a question mark. Sure, they won despite Scherzer having an off outing. But Scherzer being off is something they can't afford next month. It's part of how they lost Game 5 of the NLDS last year. And the bullpen behind him simply can't be trusted. Perez won't be facing powerful righties like Hoskins, but they don't have a fearsome back end. Shawn Kelley, who they hoped would be a high-leverage option this season, allowed three runs without getting an out Friday and now has a 7.99 ERA.

• You'll notice that I didn't mention Bryce Harper in their bevy of offensive threats. His return from injury could decide the Nats' fate and whether they can finally win a postseason series. His presence further extends that lineup and he's the type of talent that can win you a series by himself. If he doesn't come back, the Nationals may not have the offense to outslug the similarly stout Cubs. 

• Back to the Phillies, Freddy Galvis not starting on Friday shouldn't necessarily be a surprise but it is an important statement. With his lineup card, Pete Mackanin announced that the team would be prioritizing J.P. Crawford's development. As they should. They need to see Crawford man short in the big leagues so they can determine their plans at the position moving forward (see story).

That doesn't mean Galvis should be shoved off the position, but the team needs to see Crawford in action, plain and simple. This month isn't about wins and losses and the team needs to instead look towards development.

• Triple A Lehigh Valley lost, 4-2, in Game 2 of its five-game playoff series with Scranton Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees' affiliate. The teams are tied 1-1 through two games.

Scott Kingery went 1 for 4 with a walk while Brock Stassi 1 for 3 with an RBI and a walk. Dylan Cozens was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Coming in as a reliever, Mark Appel threw a scoreless inning despite walking three batters.

Morphine found in Roy Halladay's system before fatal plane crash

Morphine found in Roy Halladay's system before fatal plane crash

Roy Halladay had morphine in his system when the plane he was piloting crashed and he tragically died in November, according to Halladay's autopsy report, released Friday.

Zolpidem, the generic name for Ambien, and amphetamines were also found in Halladay's system.

As TMZ points out via the Food and Drug Administration, the amount of Zolpidem found in Halladay's system (72 ng/ml) is more than enough to impair a driver and increase the risk of an accident.

Halladay had a blood alcohol content of 0.01, according to the autopsy report. 

The official cause of Halladay's death was blunt force trauma, with drowning a contributing factor.

The crash took place on Nov. 7 in the Gulf of Mexico, with more details emerging in a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board two weeks later.

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

AP Images/USA Today Images

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”