ryan zimmerman

'Excruciating loss' to Nationals makes you wonder if Phillies are running out of gas

'Excruciating loss' to Nationals makes you wonder if Phillies are running out of gas

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WASHINGTON — If you’ve watched the Phillies stagger and stumble over the last couple of weeks you probably had a bad feeling when they left the bases loaded in a one-run game in the top of the ninth inning Wednesday night.

You probably looked at the wasted opportunity and thought, “Hmmm. That could come back to haunt them.”

It did.

In a most painful way.

The Phillies suffered one of their most difficult losses of the season when rookie reliever Seranthony Dominguez gave up a two-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The 8-7 loss was the Phillies’ fourth in a row and dropped them three games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East (see first take). The Phils are 68-58 overall and 5-10 in their last 15.

There are 36 games remaining and rookie manager Gabe Kapler is unbowed.

“This is a good test for us,” Kapler said moments after Zimmerman’s 11th career walk-off homer. “It’s a big challenge. Big challenge to have a tough week like we've had and then to have an excruciating loss like this one. Our guys aren't going to hang our heads. We're going to come back swinging tomorrow. We're going to be prepared. Looking forward to having (Aaron) Nola on the mound. We have a lot of trust and confidence he can help us weather the storm.”

The Phillies entered the month of August in first place in the NL East and have already blown past last year’s win total of 66.

Is it possible that they are running out of gas? After all, they have blown 4-1 leads on consecutive nights and seen two of their best relievers, Victor Arano and Dominguez, give up leads. On top of it all, the defense continues to be bad and it was again Wednesday night.

“I'm not concerned about our club,” Kapler said. “I know that we have issues. I know that we are imperfect. But I don't worry about a four-game stretch. I don't worry about a 10-game stretch. I and we pay attention to the ways we can move the ball forward, the ways that we can take small steps forward, the ways we can control and impact the game. It doesn't make sense for us to harp on some of the things that have happened over the last couple of days. What makes sense for us is to keep our chins up, put our chests out and get ready for tomorrow against the Nationals.”

De facto team captain Rhys Hoskins took a stance similar to his manager’s: There is still gas in this team’s tank.

“If you can’t get up for a pennant race at the end of August and September, you probably should play something else," Hoskins said. "You probably should play a different sport. Check yourself at the door. I don’t think being tired is anybody’s thought in here. As soon as we get there with what’s at stake and what’s going to be at stake in the next five weeks, I think everybody will be just fine as far as being tired.

“The ball hasn’t bounced our way very often the last week. Obviously, tonight is rough. You never want to lose a game at all, let alone lose like that. But I think the sense in this clubhouse is that there is no panic. We’re young. A lot of us haven’t been here before, but the veteran guys in this clubhouse, the guys with experience, the guys that have been through this before, have just stressed to stay the course. There’s no need to change much. We got to where we were by trusting our work, trusting our preparation. So I think as long as there’s no panic — I don’t think anybody’s hitting the panic button — I think we’re going to be OK.”

The Phillies have a tough assignment as they try to avoid a sweep on Thursday. Yes, they have their ace, Nola, on the mound, but so do the Nationals. They will have Max Scherzer, winner of the last two NL Cy Young Awards, on the mound.

The Phils have wasted plenty of good starting pitching lately. That wasn’t the case in this one. Zach Eflin struggled and gave up an early 4-1 lead built on the backs of big hits by Maikel Franco and Justin Bour. The Phillies, however, regained the lead — twice — and got some good relief work from Hector Neris and Tommy Hunter in taking a 7-5 lead into the eighth inning.

Pat Neshek gave up a triple and sacrifice fly in the eighth inning as the Nats made it a one-run game.

The Phils had a golden chance to add some insurance in the top of the ninth, but Asdrubal Cabrera popped out and Bour struck out with the bases loaded. Earlier in the game, Bour had an RBI double and a solo homer.

Kapler seldom admits to feeling any negative vibes. Nonetheless, he was was asked if leaving the bases full in the ninth gave him a bad feeling.

“No. No,” he said. “We felt like we were positioned to win that baseball game.”

Dominguez got the first two outs in the ninth then could not put Juan Soto away and the Washington rookie turned around a 2-2, 98-mph fastball and stroked it to right for a double.

Four pitches later, Zimmerman belted a 2-1 fastball over the wall in right and one of the Phillies’ worst losses of the season was in the books.

“It’s hard because things didn’t go the way I wanted them to go,” Dominguez said. “But I’m not going to put my head down. I’m going to keep working hard. Tomorrow's a new day.”

And another tough test for a reeling team.

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Phillies' skid takes heartbreaking turn on walk-off loss to Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

Phillies' skid takes heartbreaking turn on walk-off loss to Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

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WASHINGTON — The Phillies suffered an excruciating 8-7 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night.

Ryan Zimmerman clubbed a two-run home run against Seranthony Dominguez with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Nats the win.

Rookie Juan Soto set up the walk-off homer with a two-out double to keep the game alive.

It was Zimmerman’s 11th walk-off homer.

The loss dropped the Phillies three games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East.

The Phils have lost four in a row.

Zach Eflin did not have a good start and for the second night in a row the Phillies squandered an early 4-1 lead.

Hector Neris and Tommy Hunter combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Pat Neshek gave up a run in the eighth as the Nats cut the Phillies’ lead to one run. Dominguez blew the one-run lead in the ninth.

The Phils hit three homers. Maikel Franco clubbed a two-run shot in the first and Justin Bour and Cesar Hernandez had solo blows. Bour and Carlos Santana also contributed important RBI doubles.

Eflin gave up 10 hits and five runs over 3 1/3 innings. He let a three-run lead get away as the Nats sent nine men to the plate in the third inning to tie the game at 4-4.

The Phillies parlayed a leadoff walk by Nick Williams and singles by Jorge Alfaro and Roman Quinn into a run as they took a 5-4 lead in the top of the fourth. That lead did not last long. Trea Turner and Bryce Harper singled against Eflin with one out in the bottom of the inning. Harper then stole second and Turner was able to scamper home with the tying run when catcher Alfaro’s throw bounced errantly into center field.

Phillies catchers lead the majors with 19 errors.

The Phillies took the lead yet again on a two-out, pinch-hit double by Santana in the top of the sixth. Hunter was able to put up a zero in the bottom of the inning to preserve the lead. Before Hunter, Neris got five outs out of the bullpen.

Santana did not start as manager Gabe Kapler went with Bour at first base. The move paid dividends as Bour kick-started a two-out rally in the first inning with an RBI double that preceded a two-run homer by Franco. The homer gave the Phils an early 3-0 lead. Two innings later, Bour clubbed a solo homer against Stephen Strasburg to give the Phils a 4-1 lead.

The Phils look to avoid a sweep on Thursday afternoon. Aaron Nola and Max Scherzer will go against each other in a marquee pitching matchup.

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The surprising good news that helped Vince Velasquez in D.C.

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The surprising good news that helped Vince Velasquez in D.C.

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WASHINGTON — Vince Velasquez got a big piece of good news about two hours before game-time Saturday.

Ryan Zimmerman, who is 4 for 9 against him with a homer, double and two walks, was scratched with side stiffness.

It meant the Nationals' red-hot lineup, even after the return of Anthony Rendon, wouldn't be as imposing. 

Sure, a 1-4 of Bryce Harper, Rendon, Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick is good enough to beat you, but the Nationals' 5-9 hitters Saturday were Andrew Stevenson, Pedro Severino, Rafael Bautista, Tanner Roark and Wilmer Difo.

You're forgiven if you've never heard of four of those guys. That bottom of the order was more like a Triple A lineup than a fearsome major-league lineup.

And Velasquez was able to take advantage in an important game for both him and the Phillies. The Phils won, 3-1, limiting the Nats to two hits and positioning themselves for a series win Sunday when Jake Arrieta opposes Max Scherzer (see story).

"Once I found out [Zimmerman] was out, I was a little bit shocked," Velasquez admitted. "I mean, every time we face them he’s always in the lineup against me. So we kind of changed up the game plan a little bit, but again we had a plan of attack and executed it the way we wanted it."

Facing an inexperienced group after the Nationals' first four hitters, Velasquez was able to rear back and attack. It helped that he was finally able to conquer the beast that is Harper, retiring him three times after Harper had previously gone 5 for 6 against him with a double, homer and two walks.

Velasquez allowed just one hit over five innings, a solo homer, walking four and striking out four.

This was Velasquez's 46th start as a Phillie. In two of them, he exited after an inning with an injury. So for all intents and purposes, he has made 44 starts. In 22 of them, exactly half, he has pitched well — games ranging from quality start to dominance.

So pretty much half the time, the Phillies know they'll get the good Velasquez.

Gabe Kapler saw a different attitude from his sometimes electric, often inconsistent right-hander.

"One of the things I noticed about Vinny today was a little bit calmer demeanor," Kapler said. "He's a pretty hyped-up guy. Seems like there's a lot of adrenaline going for Vinny most of the time. I don't think today was different, but I do think there was a little bit turned down. It was a little bit subdued, a little bit more calmed down, a little bit more natural."

Velasquez's next start comes Thursday afternoon against a weak Giants offense. It should provide him the opportunity to make it back-to-back successful starts.

Hey, he's just glad to have a respite from the Braves.