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Another blown save costs Nationals first game of double-header against Phillies

Another blown save costs Nationals first game of double-header against Phillies

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After the Nationals' latest blown save, Washington manager Dusty Baker said he's open to a move to bolster his faltering bullpen.

He also knows he might have to wait a while.

Shawn Kelley struggled Sunday before Koda Glover allowed Ty Kelly's tiebreaking RBI single in Philadelphia's three-run ninth inning, sending the Nationals to a 4-3 loss to the Phillies in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.

"You're always pushing for a trade, but there ain't nobody trading right now," Baker said after his team suffered a third blown save in six games. "Sometimes you have no choice but to have patience. Nobody's going to drop you down a knockdown closer out of the sky until there's some teams out of it."

Aaron Altherr opened the ninth with his eighth homer. Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp hit consecutive doubles off Kelley, and Freddy Galvis walked before Kelly's clutch swing lifted Philadelphia to its third win in 14 games.

"We've been in a hole, trying to climb out," Philadelphia manager Pete Mackanin said.

The Phillies also came back from three runs down to win in the teams' series finale last weekend in Philadelphia.

"That's how it's been against these guys all year," Altherr said of the Nationals relievers, who entered Sunday with a combined NL-worst 5.18 ERA. "We know their bullpen has been struggling a little bit. Never give up, never quit, keep fighting."

Kelley (3-1) blew his second save in five opportunities. The right-hander was activated from the disabled list Friday after being sidelined with a back strain and got the win with a scoreless inning in Saturday's 6-4 victory.

"I wasn't 100 percent," Kelley said of the quick turnaround. "But we don't always pitch 100 percent every time out. The bottom line is, in that situation, I want the ball there. And I've got to do my job, and I didn't."

Joaquin Benoit (1-2) pitched a scoreless eighth for Philadelphia, and Hector Neris finished for his fourth save.

Bryce Harper hit his 12th homer for NL East-leading Washington, and Trea Turner added a two-run shot.

Gio Gonzalez allowed one run and four hits in 6 2/3 innings, but saw a late lead disappear with the bullpen for the second time this season.

"This is just, `Turn the page, hey it happens, it's part of baseball,'" Gonzalez said of Kelley. "I know for a fact that he put his heart out there and he tried his best, you know."

Tommy Joseph hit an opposite-field homer off Gonzalez in the seventh, setting up Philadelphia's late rally.

TRAINERS ROOM

Phillies: INF Howie Kendrick (abdominal strain) is about to begin swinging the bat and will have at least one rehab game before returning, Mackanin said.

Nationals: LF Jayson Werth was out of the lineup for both games after leaving Saturday night's game because of groin tightness.

HOMER HAPPY

Harper has homered five times in eight games against the Phillies, even after missing an entire series with a groin injury.

SO IT'S BEEN A WHILE

Hellickson's fourth start against Washington in the season's 34th game is the earliest a Phillies starter has seen a team that many times since Jumbo Elliott faced the Brooklyn Dodgers for a fourth time in the 32nd game of the 1931 season.

UP NEXT

Phillies: Game 2 right-handed starter Vince Velazquez has a 6.88 ERA in six career starts vs. Washington, including an 8.18 ERA in two starts this season.

Nationals: Righty ace Max Scherzer aims for his 53rd career double-digit strikeout game -- and third straight -- to pass the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw for the most among active players.

MORE NATIONALS: Bryce Harper said he wants to be like John Wall

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Inside Baseball: The Nationals' bullpen is currently bad and potentially great

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USA TODAY

Inside Baseball: The Nationals' bullpen is currently bad and potentially great

Welcome to Inside Baseball. Here, we're taking a quick peek at what's going on ... inside ... baseball. 

We're almost a month into the MLB season, and that sweet noise you hear is the sound of sample sizes starting to become reliable! So far, the Red Sox are very good except for the nights they're getting no-hit, Derek Jeter's Marlins and their .227 winning percentage "aren't accepting a losing culture," and Mike Trout is well on his way to another historically-great 3rd place finish in the MVP race. 

AT NATS PARK

As it stands today, the Nationals are sitting in 4th in the NL East. It's early, they haven't been healthy, etc. etc., whatever. It hasn't been great. Their pitching staff features the best rotation in baseball paired alongside one of the worst bullpens in baseball. No bullpen in baseball has a higher homerun/flyball percentage (18%) than the Nationals. Only two teams - the Rockies and the Royals - strand runners on base at a lower clip than the Nationals (64.0 LOB%). If you really want to get into the weeds, their Win Probabilty and Clutch numbers tell a grim story too. 

Don't smash that panic button yet, though (maybe just lightly rest your hand on it?). There are a few reasons to believe that maybe the bullpen isn't actually as bad as they've been the first month.  They're striking out hitters at an elite level so far - only the Brewers and the Yankees have better K/9 and K% numbers than the Nats.  If you take take a look back at which bullpens led the league in strikeout numbers over the last handful of years, you'll see a *lot* of playoff teams. In the three-true-outcome era, having a bullpen that gets swings-and-misses is inarguably valuable. The Nats have that. 

Taking a look at their individual numbers, it's clear there's an excellent backend hidden somewhere in the bullpen right now. Sammy Solis' ERA is almost four runs higher than his FIP (fielding-independent pitching), a clear sign that Solis has pitched well but been a victim of the Nats' shoddy defense. The same goes for Ryan Madson, whose ERA sits at almost seven despite an FIP under three. Assuming that bullpen roles become more established once the data catches up, the Nats' bullpen could look a lot better in a month or two. 

AROUND BASEBALL

What you should know: Manny Machado's half-season showcase is going swimmingly. He's slashing .360/.447/.708 with eight homers through the first month or so of games. He's posted a 208 wRC+, which is a fancy way of saying he's been 108 percent better than league average at the plate so far. He's been the most valuable hitter this season and the second-most valuable player overall. Meanwhile, the Orioles are 6-17 and already 12 games out of first place in the AL East. It hasn't even been a month yet. Is this the year the the MLB trade deadline is exciting?!

What you should watch: Angels @ Astros (4/24-4/25)

Shohei Ohtani is pitching on Tuesday night, so that's reason enough. But, if you need more, there's also Mike Trout, the defending World Series champs, and Justin Verlander pitching on Wednesday. It also happens to be a battle between the best two teams in the AL West, separated by half a game for first place. If there's such a thing as exciting April baseball, it looks like this. 

Player of the week: I know we already talked about him, but no one's been better than Manny Machado over the last seven days. He's hitting .500/.586/1.208 with five homers during that span. After being bit by historically bad luck during the first half of last season, Machado has been putting up monster numbers ever since:

Random baseball gif: 

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Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO  -- Mac Williamson hit a two-run homer in the sixth to lead the Giants past the Washington Nationals 4-2 on Monday night.

Chris Stratton (2-1) struck out five over 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits.

Williamson, playing his first home game at AT&T Park this season after being called up during the recent road trip, connected with a deep drive to right-center off Shawn Kelley after he relieved starter Gio Gonzalez (2-2). Gonzalez walked Brandon Belt to end his day before Williamson crushed the first pitch he saw from Kelley.

The 464-foot shot by Williamson is the furthest homer by the Giants this year, topping his previous 434-foot homer Friday after he was promoted to face the Angels in Anaheim. Earlier Monday, Williamson drove in his team's initial run on a fielder's choice in the fourth.

Only three home runs have travelled further in 2018, according to MLB StatCast: Franchy Cordero (489), Avisail Garcia (481) and Marcell Ozuna (479)

San Francisco kicked off a 10-game homestand by winning back-to-back games for only the second time this season and first since April 4-7. The Giants were coming off their first series victory of the season against the Angels.

The Nationals' runs came on a pair of sacrifice flies, by Howie Kendrick in the third and pinch-hitter Andrew Stevenson in the seventh.

Gonzalez allowed three runs and four hits, struck out four and walked three in five innings.

In his only other start against Washington, Stratton threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts last Aug. 13.

Hunter Strickland, who brawled with Bryce Harper during Washington's last visit to AT&T Park in late May 2017, finished for his fourth save in six chances. Harper didn't bat in the ninth.

NATS TRADE COLE

Washington traded right-hander A.J. Cole to the New York Yankees for cash. The 26-year-old Cole was 1-1 with a 13.06 ERA in four games for the Nationals and was designated for assignment last week.

BAKER REUNION

Ex-Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who guided Washington to back-to-back NL East titles before his firing after last season, visited the ballpark to see his former club.

Did he plan the visit in advance?

"Maybe," Baker said, grinning.

Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg hustled out to give Baker a big hug behind the batting cage.

"What's up Dusty, how you doing?" Strasburg said.

Baker also visited with third base coach Bob Henley, the loan holdover from his coaching staff.

Baker is now working in an advisory role to Giants CEO Larry Baer while getting to watch son, Darren, play his freshman college season at California in Berkeley.

"I am good," Baker said. "How bad can it be between Cal, San Francisco and Sacramento?"

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Adam Eaton, on the disabled list retroactive to April 9 with a bone bruise in his left ankle, won't be rushed back until he is completely pain-free. "When you see him in the lineup he'll be ready," manager Dave Martinez said. "He's coming along. When we get him back this time we don't want any issues." ... OF Brian Goodwin remains in Florida with pain in his bruised left wrist.

Giants: LHP Will Smith is eagerly anticipating his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of last season, and he could come off the DL as soon as Tuesday. He pitched twice for Class-A San Jose and three times so far for Triple-A Sacramento. He is scheduled to throw consecutive days for Sacramento on Wednesday and Thursday then another short outing Sunday. "We're close. We're getting there," Smith said, noting it will be "awesome. I'm ready to go." ... RHP closer Mark Melancon (flexor strain in pitching elbow) is scheduled to play catch during Thursday's off day. There is no timetable for his return, manager Bruce Bochy said. ... LF Hunter Pence (sprained right thumb) did some hitting and is scheduled for early batting practice Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Giants lefty Ty Blach (1-3, 4.10 ERA) will face the Nationals for the first time in his career when he pitches the middle game of the series opposite right-hander Tanner Roark (1-1, 3.24).