Postgame analysis of the Nats' 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night at Nationals Park:
How it happened: Wednesday was apparently turn-back-the-clock night for Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson, as the former Rookie of the Year made a vaunted Nationals lineup look adequate in their first shutout loss of the 2016 season. The right-hander had been beat around in his previous two starts, but somehow found his groove against a Nats lineup that could not provide their own starter, Gio Gonzalez, any run support. Gonzalez was also very good on Wednesday, but it's hard to win when your offense scores zero runs. The Nationals dropped their second straight game for just the second time this season and now face a potential sweep on Thursday. They have yet to be swept this season.
What it means: The Nationals are not closing this homestand like they would like and, if this is a sign of more to come, it's happening at a bad time. The Nats' road trip beginning Friday is a tough one with three games at the St. Louis Cardinals, three more at the Kansas City Royals and then four at the Chicago Cubs. Going into that type of stretch, the Nats would prefer to be riding high, but they are not trending in the right direction. And with the Mets' win over the Reds on Wednesday, the Nats are now just one game ahead of New York in the NL East.
Gio continues strong start: Gonzalez has enjoyed some good years in Washington, but never has he started a season with the Nats quite like this. The lefty put in another solid start on Wednesday night with two runs allowed (one earned) through 6 1/3 innings on five hits and three walks.. Gio now holds a 1.42 ERA after four starts with at least six innings pitched in each of those outings. That's the best ERA he's ever had through four starts in a season. He had a 1.52 ERA in 2012 at this point and that year he made the All-Star team and went 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA. His third-best ERA at this juncture was 2011 when he held a 1.80 mark after four starts. That was the other year he made the All-Star team. Now, his numbers this year may be a tad misleading given the opponents he has faced. The combined record of Gio's four opponents so far is 33-50 (.397). His next two starts will be at the Royals and at the Cubs. Can he keep it up? They should prove a good test.
Zim keeps struggling: Ryan Zimmerman has at times this season looked like the perfect complement to Bryce Harper as the Nats' cleanup hitter, a guy who can protect the reigning MVP and force lineups to pick their poison. Zim, though, has gone super cold in recent days and on Wednesday went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He had an RBI in Tuesday night's game, but is now 2-for-15 in his last three outings. After beginning the season with hits in his first four games, he's now 9-for-48 (.187) in his last 12. Wednesday night saw Zimmerman strike out to end the first with Harper on second and fly out to end the sixth with Harper on first. It's not often you see Zimmerman go through a prolonged slump like this.
Hellickson too much: Hellickson set a season-high in strikeouts just 4 1/3 innings into his start and ended up going seven scoreless with two hits and three walks allowed. Hellickson finished with eight strikeouts including one against Harper, just his 10th of the season. Hellickson, in fact, set Harper, Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy all down with strikeouts in the fourth inning. It was a surprisingly dominant outing from the Phillies pitcher who entered the day holding a 5.21 ERA.
Up next: The Nationals close out there series with the Phillies on Thursday with a 4:05 p.m. first pitch. Tanner Roark (2-2, 2.63) will start for the Nats with right-hander Aaron Nola (1-2, 4.50) set to pitch for Philly.