Phillies

Nationals 2, Phillies 0: Max Scherzer outduels Jake Arrieta as Phillies lose nightcap of doubleheader

Nationals 2, Phillies 0: Max Scherzer outduels Jake Arrieta as Phillies lose nightcap of doubleheader

Updated: 11:19 p.m.

BOX SCORE 

Two runs in 18 innings didn’t cut it for the Phillies Wednesday in Washington, D.C. 

The Phils fell to the Nationals in the second game of their doubleheader, 2-0. They lost in the afternoon, 6-2 (see observations)

Brian Dozier crushed a 3-2 sinker from Jake Arrieta that split the plate over the left-field wall in the second inning to give the Nationals the lead. The only other hit Arrieta allowed in his six innings was a fourth-inning single by Adam Eaton.

Victor Robles added an insurance run in the eighth inning with a homer off Pat Neshek.

Max Scherzer outdueled Arrieta in a contest between former Cy Young Award winners, throwing seven scoreless innings and recording 10 strikeouts.

The Phillies are 39-34, four games behind the Braves in the NL East. 

Quite a sight 

Scherzer started despite breaking his nose in batting practice Tuesday, when he bunted a foul ball against his face.

He took the mound looking like he’d already been through a fight or two, with a dark bruise encircling his right eye. 

Sluggish start

Jean Segura led off with a single that could have been a double had he run hard out of the box. Juan Soto dove and failed to catch Segura’s bloop to shallow left field, but Segura settled for a single despite the ball ending up behind Soto. Segura was stranded on third base when Scherzer struck out Rhys Hoskins looking on a 3-2 breaking ball to end the inning.

It was a missed opportunity for the Phillies’ offense against Scherzer, who’s allowed 10 first-inning runs in 16 starts this season and pitched like the three-time Cy Young Award winner he is once he escaped the early trouble. 

Arrieta’s night 

Outside of his lapse to Dozier, Arrieta was excellent. 

He induced just one swinging strike on 48 sinkers but spotted the pitch well down in the zone. Ten of Arrieta’s 18 outs came via the ground ball. 

Manager Gabe Kapler elected to pinch-hit for Arrieta in the top of the seventh, sending J.T. Realmuto to the plate with two outs and Cesar Hernandez on second base. Realmuto struck out swinging.

Tip of the cap 

Like Arrieta, Scherzer pitched very, very well. His electric stuff helped him power through the Phillies’ best threat of the night.

He worked around Hernandez’s leadoff double in the seventh by getting Brad Miller to swing through a 97.5 mph, 3-2 fastball, striking out Andrew Knapp on a 96.7 fastball and baffling Realmuto with a wipeout slider on his 117th and final pitch of the night. 

A nightmare return

Neshek's first game back from the injured list couldn't have gone much worse. After serving up a one-out home run to Robles, Neshek got Kurt Suzuki to fly out to left field. He then grimaced following a 1-0 sinker to Trea Turner that missed outside. Neshek left the game with a limp.

Kapler told reporters after the game that Neshek has a left hamstring strain and will "likely" go on the IL again.

Seeing the ball well … just not hitting it 

Bryce Harper was hitless in the doubleheader, though he did walk four times. He saw 16 pitches in three plate appearances against Scherzer. 

Harper’s struggles against the fastball continued as he swung through or fouled off four heaters in the heart of the zone. 

Still no sign of Franco 

Maikel Franco started neither game of the doubleheader. Scott Kingery played third base in the afternoon, Miller in the nightcap. In June, Franco is hitting .143 (4 for 28). His last multi-hit game was on May 13, and it appears he’s no longer a regular option for Kapler.

Up next

The Phillies wrap up their series against the Nationals Thursday night (7:05 p.m./NBCSP).

They begin a seven-game homestand Friday with the first matchup of a three-game set vs. the last-place Marlins. 

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What’s more unthinkable, pitching to Freddie Freeman or Phillies being winless in Aaron Nola’s last six starts?

What’s more unthinkable, pitching to Freddie Freeman or Phillies being winless in Aaron Nola’s last six starts?

ATLANTA – Taking two of three from the Atlanta Braves on the road usually leaves a team with a spring in its step as it heads to the airport to get out of town.

But there was a palpable disappointment in the visiting clubhouse at SunTrust Park late Thursday afternoon. Time is running out for these Phillies. Winning series is no longer good enough. They need sweeps and they failed to get one with ace Aaron Nola on the mound Thursday. A damaging 5-4 loss to the Braves left the Phillies 3 ½ games back in the NL wild-card race with just 11 games remaining.

Bryce Harper said all the right things after the loss. He mentioned how the Phillies scratched and clawed during the three games in Atlanta, mentioned how they need to do that again over the weekend in Cleveland, mentioned how they still have a chance.

But a few lockers down, J.T. Realmuto’s silence was telling. He politely declined to speak to reporters.

Manager Gabe Kapler does not have the luxury of declining interviews. He found himself under the microscope for a fifth-inning decision in which he let Nola pitch to Atlanta slugger Freddie Freeman in a tie game with two men on base and first base open. There was one out. A walk would have set up a potential double play.

Prior to the at-bat, Freeman was 0 for 6 with five walks in the series. This situation seemed to call for another walk, intentional or unintentional, but Nola went right at Freeman with a first-pitch fastball and the National League’s co-leader in RBIs drove in his 118th and 119th runs of the season with a hit to right to give the Braves a lead that they never relinquished.

Earlier in the game, Nola gave up a two-run homer to Ronald Acuna Jr. He also allowed a solo homer to rookie Austin Riley in the sixth as the Braves built a 5-3 lead.

The Phils pecked away at the lead with a run in the eighth, but the comeback fell short.

Nola is winless in his last six starts and has been roughed up in three of his last four. He was accountable for his struggles and said he’s simply given up too many runs. He disputed the notion that Freeman’s hit — and the decision to pitch to him — was the turning point in the game.

“It didn’t really cross my mind, honestly,” the right-hander said of pitching around Freeman and going after Adam Duvall. “I feel like I’ve had pretty good success against Freddy. Fastball kind of caught a little too much of the plate.”

Nola is a competitive beast on the mound and those types of pitchers usually don’t like to walk batters. So, did Kapler consider taking the decision out of Nola’s hands and ordering an intentional walk of Freeman?

“Given how early it was in the game and given the fact that he's 9 for 41 off Aaron and Aaron has had a lot of success against Freeman in the past, you trust your horse there,” Kapler said. “You trust your ace. And I trust him immensely to make a big pitch in that situation.

“I think Aaron wants to go after every hitter. It's something we talk about pretty frequently. He feels like he can beat any hitter. We feel like he can beat any hitter. He had a history of beating Freddie Freeman. At that point in the game, it felt like the right thing for Aaron and the club to let him go after Freddie.”

Nola has struggled in three of four starts this month. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a loss against Boston last weekend but has been tagged for 20 hits and 14 runs over 15 innings in his other three starts this month. Two of those starts have been against the Braves.

“I haven’t been the best this month, obviously,” Nola said. “I’ve given up a good bit of runs and home runs. I haven’t really shut the other team down in a few games. Had a couple bad games where I’ve given up four or five runs. It’s hard to win those games for sure when you’re giving up those kind of runs.”

Harper did not realize that the Phils were winless in Nola’s last six starts.

“I’m kind of shocked, actually,” he said. “I had no idea. Definitely, that’s tough. He goes out there and puts his heart out there every single day for us. He’s our guy.”

The unfortunate irony in all this is that the Phils arranged their rotation so that Nola can start every fifth day in a playoff chase. As Harper said, he’s their guy, and they wanted him on the mound as much as possible. The strategy has not paid off, however.

“Yeah, I'd really like to be able to score some more runs for Aaron,” Kapler said. “Maybe get him an early lead and put a little confidence in him. I can understand. It's certainly disappointing.”

Nola said he’s not fatigued.

“I feel fine,” he said. “My body is healthy.”

He lines up to pitch one of the games in Tuesday’s doubleheader at Washington.

What will the Phillies’ playoff chances look like then?

Will they even still be in the race?

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Freddie Freeman and the Braves make Phillies and Nola pay in costly loss

Freddie Freeman and the Braves make Phillies and Nola pay in costly loss

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA – The Phillies failed to complete a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves on Thursday afternoon. Aaron Nola was roughed up for the third time in his last four outings and the Phillies suffered a 5-4 loss.

The Phillies are winless in Nola’s last six starts, a stretch coinciding with the team’s decision to pitch him every fifth day regardless of the schedule.

Freddie Freeman had a game-changing two-run single against Nola after the Phils passed on walking him to set up a potential double play in the fifth inning. An inning later, Nola gave up a homer to rookie Austin Riley as the Braves built a 5-3 lead. The Phils pushed home a run in the eighth to make it a one run game, but Freeman, the Braves’ first baseman, made a play on Haseley’s line drive to stop the damage as the Phils left two men on base. 

The loss was a blow to the Phillies’ already faint postseason hopes. They immediately fell 3 ½ games back in the wild-card race with a chance to be four back by the end of the day.

There are just 11 games left.

The Phillies are 78-73. They need four wins to have their first winning season since 2011.

Atlanta’s magic number for winning the NL East is one.

Nola’s day

He was not sharp. He gave up nine hits, including two homers, in just five innings of work. He walked two and struck out four.

Nola has struggled in three of four starts this month. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a loss against Boston last weekend, but has been tagged for 20 hits and 14 runs over 15 innings in his other three starts this month. Two of those starts have been against the Braves.

If the Phillies stay on turn in their rotation, Nola would start one of the two games in Tuesday’s doubleheader at Washington.

Defensive issues

On Wednesday, general manager Matt Klentak praised the team’s defensive improvement this season. Then the club went out and made three errors, two by second baseman Cesar Hernandez.

Hernandez did not make an error in this one but he did have a costly misplay that led to a Braves’ run in the fifth inning. Hernandez could not immediately get the handle on a ground ball by Ozzie Albies and that prevented him from getting the lead runner at second and possibly starting a double play. He had to settle for the out at first base.

The misplay put runners at second and third with one out in a tie game and Freeman quickly untied it with a two-run single.

Hernandez has one more year of salary arbitration before free agency. He is making $7.75 million this season and could be in line to make about $10 million in 2020. Scott Kingery is projected to be the full-time second baseman at some point. Will the Phillies deal Hernandez this winter to open the spot for Kingery? It’s complicated. Hernandez could be difficult to move at that salary, especially when teams know he could become a free agent if the Phillies don’t offer him a contract.

This is one of the many questions the Phils must deal with in the offseason.

Freeman makes ‘em pay

After Hernandez’ misplay in the fifth, Nola had to face Freeman with one out and runners on second and third in a tie game. The situation seemed ripe for walking Freeman to set up a double play with Adam Duvall coming to the plate. The Phils had, in fact, walked Freeman five times previously in the series. But Nola pitched to Freeman and the Braves slugger, previously 0 for 6 in the series, lined a two-run single to right field to score two runs as the Braves took a 4-2 lead that they never relinquished. 

Up next 

The Phillies move on to Cleveland for a three-game interleague series. The Indians are right in the thick of the American League wild-card race and need the series as badly as the Phillies do.

Pitching matchups: 

Friday night – LHP Drew Smyly (4-6, 6.22) vs. RHP Shane Bieber (14-7, 3.26) 

Saturday night – LHP Jason Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. RHP Zach Plesac (8-6, 3.64) 

Sunday night – RHP Vince Velasquez (7-7, 4.89) vs. RHP Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.34)

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