Postgame analysis of the Nationals' 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night at Nats Park:
How it happened: If someone were to tell you entering the 2016 season that one Nationals starting pitcher would be a significant outlier in their rotation, that one pitcher's ERA would stand out high above the rest in late April, Max Scherzer would probably be the last guess. Weirdly enough, that's where the Nats stand at this point, as Scherzer once again labored through an uneven outing, this time in a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night. Scherzer allowed three runs through six up-and-down innings and Oliver Perez surrendered another in relief, as the Nats lost just their fifth game of the season. Bryce Harper had a chance to win it in the final at-bat of the bottom of the ninth with Anthony Rendon on first, but his groundout to third base sealed the loss.
What it means: These may not be your NL East doormat Phillies of yesteryear. It's only four games, but the Nats and Phillies are now 2-2 in head-to-head matchups. Tuesday night was a good one for the visitors who saw 23-year-old right-hander Vincent Velasquez hold his own against the Nats' offense, and their own lineup give Scherzer fits. They moved to 10-10 on the season, while the Nats dropped to 14-5. The Phillies may still be far away from becoming true players in the division, but they already look like a surprisingly tough team to face 19 times a year.
Scherzer's 1st inning woes: Scherzer again found trouble early in this one with two runs allowed in the first inning before he recorded his first out. He walked Odubel Herrera on just four pitches to lead the inning off, then served up a two-run bomb to right-center to Andres Blanco. Eight of Scherzer's 15 earned runs this season have come in the first inning. Three of the five homers he's given up have been in the first. He now has a 14.40 ERA in the first inning and a 2.42 mark in other frames. Scherzer now has a 4.35 ERA on the season through five starts, having allowed 15 earned runs in that stretch. This is the third time in Scherzer's career that he's allowed 14 earned runs or more in his first five starts of a season. The last time was in 2013, the year he won the AL Cy Young award. Scherzer would end up going six innings on Tuesday on 116 pitches with three runs allowed. That is technically a quality start, but this one wasn't smooth. He also gave up seven hits and four walks. He has 12 walks in five outings this season.
Harper intentionally walked twice: We may start seeing more of this, as long as Ryan Zimmerman continues to be inconsistent at the plate. Harper was intentionally walked twice on Tuesday night with two outs and a runner on base. In the third inning Zimmerman popped out to the catcher in foul territory. He then ended the seventh inning by striking out looking to reliever David Hernandez. Zimmerman did notch an RBI single in the fifth, but teams are starting to figure out he can be much more preferable to face than Harper in certain situations.
Taylor may be heating up: Michael Taylor has been languishing in the Nats' leadoff spot for much of this season, but with two singles on Tuesday, Taylor now has two consecutive multi-hit games. His batting average went above the Mendoza Line for the first time this season, as he's now batting .206 through 17 games. Taylor also walked on Tuesday and has four hits and two walks in his last eight plate appearances.
Injury scare: Reliever Matt Belisle faced just one batter in the top of the eighth inning before leaving with an apparent injury. Manager Dusty Baker, pitching coach Mike Maddux and trainer Paul Lessard all came out to check on him and watch him throw warmup pitches before Dusty called on Felipe Rivero to replace him. It's unclear what is ailing him, but he only threw three pitches before they took him out.
Up next: The Nationals continue their series against the Phillies with a 7:05 p.m. start on Wednesday night. The starters will be Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 1.42) for the Nats and Jeremy Hellickson (1-1, 5.21). Hellickson was the Phillies' Opening Day starter this year.