WASHINGTON -- The Phillies lost another game Wednesday night and moved closer to what seems like an inevitable summertime fire sale.
It’s not clear when the purge will begin, but when it does, pitcher A.J. Burnett will surely be made available to teams looking for starting pitching help.
Burnett, however, hasn’t helped his value lately. He was roughed up for 10 hits and eight runs in an 8-4 loss to Washington on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay). The misery of the latest Phillies loss was extended by an hour and 48 minutes because of a rain delay in the seventh inning.
The Phillies have lost 11 of their last 15 games and a season-high five straight to fall to nine games under .500.
There was a bright side to this latest loss: The Phillies did not get shut out. They were blanked for the seventh time in 27 games Tuesday.
They managed four runs off Washington ace Stephen Strasburg, though two were unearned after the Nats made a pair of errors in the fifth inning.
John Mayberry Jr. connected for a pinch-hit, two-run homer off Strasburg in the top of the seventh. It was his third pinch homer of the season.
Phillies hitters struck out 13 times in the game. Strasburg registered 11 of those strikeouts and did not walk a batter in seven innings. Jimmy Rollins struck out four times for the first time in his career in a regular-season game.
Despite all those strikeouts, manager Ryne Sandberg said he saw good approaches and a number of hard-hit balls from his team.
When you’re going as badly as these Phillies, you take whatever positives you can get.
Burnett was not pleased with his outing. He walked four batters and three of them eventually scored.
He leads the majors with 41 walks.
“Unaggressive walks,” Burnett said. “That’s my fault. I’ve got to go after hitters. That’s not who I am.”
Burnett sailed through the first three innings before allowing four runs in the fourth. He walked two in that inning and allowed two doubles and an RBI single to the opposing pitcher.
The Phillies scored a pair of unearned runs in the top of the fifth to make it a 4-2 game, but Burnett gave up a solo homer to Anthony Rendon in the bottom of the inning as the Nats went back up by three runs.
“For somebody who harps on shutdown innings, I’ve been pretty horse(bleep) at it,” Burnett said. “Sorry about the language, but I have been. Your guys throw up runs, you have to put up a zero after that. That’s how you get momentum on your side.”
The Phillies signed Burnett to a $16 million contract just as spring training was starting. The hope was that the veteran right-hander would join Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee atop the rotation and lead the Phillies back to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
Three and a half months later, Hamels is not getting run support, Lee is on the disabled list with a sore elbow and the Phillies are 6½ games back in the NL East. They are close enough to be within striking distance, but few people believe this team, which has been above .500 just five days since last year’s all-star break, is good enough to make a run and close the gap.
In theory, a pitcher like Burnett might be attractive to a team looking for a veteran starter, but there would be obstacles in trading him. He is owed the remainder of his $16 million salary. He has a limited no-trade clause. He has been pitching with a hernia that will likely require surgery at the end of the season.
The biggest hurdle in trading Burnett might end up being his work on the mound. He had a 2.06 ERA in his first seven starts. But his ERA over his last six starts, including Wednesday night’s, is 7.25, and he has walked 22 batters in 33 innings over that span.
“I will be better,” Burnett promised.
The Phillies need him to be.