Darick Hall's power bat and a shutdown effort from the bullpen propelled the Phillies to a 5-3 win over the Nationals Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
It was the eighth of the last 10 series the Phillies have won. At 44-39, they’re back to a season-best five games over .500.
Trailing by two, they turned the game around in the third inning with five consecutive productive plate appearances. The same hitters who failed in the first inning when the Phils had runners on second and third with nobody out came through the second time through the order. Rhys Hoskins walked with one out, moved up to second on Nick Castellanos' opposite-field single and scored on Hall's 403-foot double to the wall in center. J.T. Realmuto drove in another run with a sacrifice fly, and Didi Gregorius followed with an RBI triple off the wall in right, narrowly missing his first homer in 187 plate appearances.
Hall did have enough distance on his seventh-inning tracer, homering off the foul pole in right field. Hall is 9 for 31 (.290) in his first week in the majors with two doubles, four homers and seven RBI. He responded to an 0-for-4, four-strikeout performance Wednesday with two extra-base hits Thursday.
"Darick's been kind of a spark for us," manager Rob Thomson said after the win. "He's a pretty calm guy, he's got a lot of poise and he's just out there playing baseball like he's on a sandlot. That's what I hope for all of our guys that come up, that they relax and treat it like they're in Lehigh Valley or Reading. I know that's tough but that's when you get the best performance from them."
Left-hander Bailey Falter started and allowed two runs over four innings, throwing 78 pitches. Thomson pulled him for Nick Nelson to begin the fifth inning with Josh Bell due up. Bell doubled and walked against Falter on Thursday and homered twice off of him two weeks ago when the teams met in D.C.
It proved to be the right move as Nelson retired Bell and the right-handed-hitting Nelson Cruz. Nelson pitched two scoreless innings and has been effective lately as the bridge between the starter and back-end of the Phillies' bullpen. Over his last four appearances, Nelson has pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings, put only four men on base and struck out seven.
The key to the game, though, was the way Jose Alvarado navigated through the teeth of the Nationals' lineup in an important seventh inning, striking out Soto, Bell and Cruz in order.
"Just focus on the target, that's it," Alvarado said of his approach since returning from a brief minor-league assignment geared toward improving his control.
Alvarado has made nine straight scoreless appearances, striking out 14 batters in his last 6⅔ innings.
"He's done a nice job for a while now," Thomson said. "When he's throwing strikes, he's tough to hit. A 95 mph cutter is tough and he's got the four-seam at 100 mph. When you’re looking at Soto, Bell and Cruz, that’s probably the best part of their lineup. We thought before the game that would be a spot where we’d use him."
Brad Hand allowed a run in the eighth and Seranthony Dominguez pitched the ninth for his third save.
"Everybody's kind of calmed down a little bit, knowing where they're going to pitch and what part of the game they're going to pitch," Thomson said. "I think that helps them out. They've responded and pitched well."
Falter has gone five, four and four innings in his last three starts in place of injured Zach Eflin. His highest pitch count of the season came on May 27 in New York when he threw 82 over three innings. Thomson thought Falter had about 10 pitches left Thursday but was more interested in having a reliever, Nelson, begin the fifth inning.
Falter was optioned to Triple A after the game with a corresponding roster move coming Friday. His turn comes up again for the Phillies Tuesday in Toronto but he won’t make that start. Thomson will have more on the Phils' rotation situation for the Blue Jays series on Friday in St. Louis.