Phillies

Instant Replay: Nationals 6, Phillies 1

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Instant Replay: Nationals 6, Phillies 1

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WASHINGTON -- The Phillies were expecting to face Stephen Strasburg when they got to the ballpark on Friday afternoon and it’s a good thing they didn’t.

A late scratch with forearm soreness, Strasburg was replaced by right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, who scratched out five innings to hold off the Phillies in a 6-1 victory.

The Phillies got off to a good start, scoring a run with one out in the first. However, struggling righty Kyle Kendrick served up plenty of hittable pitches in his 4 1/3 innings as the Nats rolled to their seventh win in a row.

The loss drops the Phillies to 68-79.

Starting pitching report
Kendrick flirted with trouble throughout his 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs -- two came after he left the game -- on eight hits and a pair of walks. Kendrick allowed at least one hit in each inning and escaped the fourth with his lone goose egg of the night.

At 10-13 and with a 4.70 ERA, Kendrick leads the National League in hits allowed with 207. In his last nine starts covering all of August and September, Kendrick is 1-6 with a 6.90 ERA and has allowed 64 hits in 45 2/3 innings.

Nats’ emergency starter Ohlendorf allowed a run in five innings on five hits and three walks. The righty was in trouble in the first inning by surrendering hits to three of the first four hitters he faced. But from there Ohlendorf retired the next nine in a row and 11 of 13 leading into the fifth inning.

Bullpen report
A night after the Phils’ ‘pen tossed 4 2/3 innings of scoreless ball, it turned in 3 2/3 innings of shutout ball Friday night. Cesar Jimenez, Luis Garcia, Zach Miner and Joe Savery shut down the Nats in relief of Kendrick. However, Garcia allowed two inherited runners to score when Wilson Ramos hit a bases-loaded single off the pitcher’s foot.

At the plate
Carlos Ruiz went 2 for 4 and knocked in the Phillies’ only run. But he also was thrown out at second by leftfielder Bryce Harper while trying to leg out a hard-hit ball off the fence. Harper also got an assist when Freddy Galvis doubled and was called out when he slipped off the bag.

Otherwise, the Phillies’ offense was fairly quiet against Ohlendorf and a stream of relievers. At least they didn’t have to face Strasburg.

For the Nats, Ryan Zimmerman went 3 for 5 with a leadoff homer in the third. Ramos also hit a leadoff homer in the second to go with his two-run single off Garcia’s foot.

Up next
The series continues on Saturday night with a pair of lefties squaring off. Cole Hamels (7-13, 3.45) faces Gio Gonzalez (10-6, 3.31) in a battle of former Phillies’ prospects. Hamels is 1-1 with a 2.11 ERA in three starts against the Nats this season and 14-6 with a 2.52 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 178 2/3 innings against Washington in 27 career starts.

Gonzalez is 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA in seven career starts against the Phillies.

Another gem for Vince Velasquez, who's finally conquering his league-worst pace

Another gem for Vince Velasquez, who's finally conquering his league-worst pace

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Vince Velasquez has been locked in since mid-June, which has been crucial for the Phillies with Nick Pivetta headed in the other direction.

The Padres couldn't touch Velasquez Sunday night, managing just two hits and a walk in his seven shutout innings (see first take). That's been a common theme for Velasquez over his last six starts, a span in which he has a 2.38 ERA and .134 opponents' batting average.

These last two starts in particular, Velasquez had pitched with a faster pace and more efficiency. Against the Mets and Padres — granted, the two worst offenses in the NL — he's thrown an average of just 13.2 pitches per inning.

He's picked up his pace on the mound, too, which was necessary. Velasquez entered Sunday night's game with the slowest pace in between pitches in all of baseball at 27.5 seconds.

"I think that's what has pretty much been the big turnaround for me," Velasquez said after his gem. "Finding that tempo and pretty much driving it through the game."

"That was as good as he's been all year," manager Gabe Kapler said. "The tempo, the pace and the energy levels were right on.

"It's the combination of keeping his rhythm and his pace but not losing control of his body. It's somewhere right in the middle. ... When he gets runners on base, he's done a really good job of holding runners on. The pickoff (of Freddy Galvis) was notable but just as important, he does a great job holding the baseball. As a runner at first base, you have difficulty timing your jumps and before you know it, your body shuts down naturally.

"Across the board, I think he's been an exceptional athlete for us on the mound."

The Phillies are finally seeing signs of growth from Velasquez. He's looked like more of a pitcher and less of a thrower lately. He hasn't been running the insanely deep, foul-ball fueled counts while in search of a strikeout.

Velasquez's next start will be a more accurate gauge of whether he's truly turned a corner because it comes at Great American Smallpark in Cincinnati against a potent Reds lineup.

Despite the weakness of the Padres' offense, Velasquez did win a high-pressure battle in the sixth inning Sunday against former All-Star Eric Hosmer, by far the most dangerous hitter in San Diego's lineup. With two men on, two outs and the Phillies up 1-0, Velasquez battled back from a 2-0 hole to induce a shallow flyout to left field.

The Phillies went on to win 5-0 but that was the biggest spot in the game, the kind of moment when a well-placed knock from Hosmer could have changed the complexion of the rest of the night.

"He really has seemed to flourish when we've asked him to pitch a little bit deeper into games and he's earned the right to do that," Kapler said after Velasquez's longest start of 2018. "Two strong outings in a row, very encouraging for Vinny."

Two years and three months ago, Velasquez made his best start as a major-leaguer against the Padres, striking out 16 in a three-hit shutout. He did it with a big, upper-90s fastball that missed bat after bat.

On Sunday, Velasquez attacked in a different way. He started exactly one-third of the batters he faced with a first-pitch breaking ball or changeup. He could have been as fastball-happy as ever against a Padres team on pace to strike out more than any club in the history of baseball, but mixing it up Sunday made sense. The Padres have been one of the majors' worst teams vs. non-fastballs, hitting .202.

Pitching, not throwing.

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Phillies option Aaron Altherr and Mark Leiter Jr. to Triple A Lehigh Valley

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Phillies option Aaron Altherr and Mark Leiter Jr. to Triple A Lehigh Valley

Aaron Altherr is headed to Triple A, where he’ll get a chance to play every day and rebuild some confidence after struggling for nearly four months.

Altherr, who batted fifth in the Phillies’ opening day lineup and was a big part of their outfield arrangement to start the year, was optioned to Lehigh Valley following Sunday’s doubleheader. Last season, Altherr hit .272 with 19 homers and 65 RBI in 412 plate appearances.

Reliever Mark Leiter Jr. was also optioned to Triple A, with corresponding roster moves coming Monday.

In his lone plate appearance Sunday against the Padres, Altherr came in as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning. After working a 3-1 count, he swung through two fastballs to strike out.

Altherr is hitting .171 in 248 plate appearances, with 12 double plays. He has the highest double-play rate of any player in the majors this season. 

Against lefties, Altherr is hitting just .164.

Leiter had a difficult outing in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader, allowing six hits and three runs in two innings of work. For the season, Leiter has a 5.74 ERA in 11 appearances. 

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