WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, 8-2, on Tuesday night. Here are five observations from the game...
1. Tuesday night became intense fast. The first inning felt like a postseason game. Andrew McCutchen singled, Jean Segura singled and Bryce Harper was suddenly up.
Harper was booed. Hard. He was also handled by Max Scherzer, who struck him out in his first two at-bats. But the strain of that first inning added up.
Scherzer was gone after the fifth, with a hard-earned line of five innings, seven hits, one earned run and nine strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches. The last time Max Scherzer lasted only five innings? Aug. 28, 2018 against the Phillies.
Despite his opening strikeouts, Harper eventually turned the night in his favor. A Scherzer curveball was hit for a double. He drove in another run against Matt Grace. The crown on his evening came in the top of the eighth inning when a two-run homer off Jeremy Hellickson expanded the Philadelphia lead to 8-2, sending the Nationals on a clear path to loss number three and Harper gleefully around the bases. He finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs. Philadelphia is 4-0.
“Emotional day,” Harper said. “You're coming back here, where you've spent seven seasons of your career, and try to just go about it the right way and play your game and not worry about your surroundings and things like that.”
2. Trea Turner was hit on the right index finger when he squared to bunt in the bottom of the first inning. Turner sat on the ground, was attended to by head athletic trainer Dale Gilbert, then came off the field extremely irritated after his finger was checked on. Wilmer Difo replaced Turner, who, it turns out, has a broken right index finger. There is no timetable for his return.
“I couldn’t move it,” Turner said. “I never had anything dislocated so I figured that’s what it was. I think it might have been a combination of that. Also with a break I’m not really sure but I couldn’t move it so I knew something wasn’t good.
“I was hoping it was dislocation just because I feel like that would be a better scenario than a broken bone but just frustrated.”
This is a hugely problematic injury. Possibly losing Turner for an extended period sends Difo into the lineup -- for now. The Nationals have to decide if this enough to summon prospect Carter Kieboom from Triple-A Fresno. It’s also an early test of the problems Washington encounters when needing to bring a player all the way from its new California affiliate. Kieboom’s assignment with the Grizzlies was announced Tuesday afternoon. The only option to arrive in Washington by Wednesday morning from Fresno is a red-eye out of San Francisco. The Nationals play at 1:35 p.m. Wednesday.
Any lineup with Difo will likely include a shuffle that flips Victor Robles from the bottom to one of the top two slots. He could simply hit second, replacing Turner, or move into the leadoff spot, pushing Adam Eaton down a place. The latter is unlikely because moving Eaton down brings one of the Nationals’ two regular left-handed bats closer together. Manager Davey Martinez wants to keep them separated as much as possible, which is why he regularly put Turner and Anthony Rendon back-to-back despite both being right-handed.
Brian Dozier represents another option to join the top third of the order. Dozier recorded his first hit of the season Tuesday night, and hit just .215 in 2018, but would provide some pop hitting out of the second spot in the order.
The Nationals also have to consider how close to major-league ready Kieboom’s defense is. His shortstop play last season at Double-A Harrisburg was viewed as average. Kieboom began playing second base more often because of Turner’s presence at shortstop in the major leagues. His defense at either place would be a concern in the major leagues.
3. The middle of the bullpen remains an issue. Wander Suero threw 16 pitches to start the sixth inning, recorded one out and was quickly removed. Matt Grace replaced him. Grace allowed two hits in his ⅔ of an inning. They picked up two earned runs each en route to three outs. At that point, the Nationals’ bullpen ERA was 15.12 during the first three-plus games of the season.
If the roster appeared to have a preseason weakness, this was it. A mix of ineffective pitching with questionable button-pushing from Martinez has produced an ill-fated mix early to prove those concerns correct.
4. Matt Adams started Tuesday because Martinez wanted to give Ryan Zimmerman back-to-back days off. Adams was removed from the game in the fourth inning because of back spasms following a head-over-heels tumble while pursuing a foul ball up the first base line. Adams is day-to-day, according to Martinez.
Zimmerman emerged to hit in Adams’ place. He flew out to right field. The question is what this means for Wednesday. Will Martinez push the 35-year-old Zimmerman to play a day game after a night game, especially following a time when he wanted to give Zimmerman a day off?
He might have little choice. The alternative is to start Jake Noll against Cy Young finalist Aaron Nola with the Nationals clawing after any possible win. An off-day Friday helps their options. However, being forced to play Zimmerman three in a row with this schedule is less than ideal.
5. A few minutes after Harper’s pregame press conference ended, Howie Kendrick walked out of the Nationals clubhouse with a smile and cup of coffee. Kendrick is in Washington because he’s close to returning from a hamstring strain.
“We wanted to bring him back, get some eyes on him, see where he’s at,” Martinez said. “He’s going to work out with us a couple of days. He’s actually doing well. We just want to get him here and watch him work out with us and see where he’s at.”
Kendrick played “a couple of games” on the minor league side in West Palm Beach, Fla., while the season began up north. He can be activated Thursday. That likely means the end of Jake Noll’s time in the major leagues.
Michal A. Taylor (left knee, hip sprains) is not in Washington. He will be sent to Double-A Harrisburg to begin a rehabilitation assignment Friday.
“Michael hasn’t really played the outfield yet so he’s going to start rehab assignment,” Martinez said. “He’s doing well. But he needs to play some games, get out in the outfield. He’ll play Friday and then we’ll evaluate after that.”
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