Roberto Hernandez didn’t find out until Saturday afternoon he was starting against the Nationals on Sunday afternoon.
Maybe Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg should keep these things secret from Hernandez more often.
Making an emergency start in place of ailing Cole Hamels, who’s been battling the flu, Hernandez blanked the Nationals over 7 1/3 innings, leading the Phillies to a 1-0 win and a 2-1 win of their first series this year with their biggest rival (see Instant Replay).
“Sometimes that works out better,” reliever Mike Adams said. “That way you don’t have as much time to think about it and sit there and have all these different thoughts going through your head. Sometimes it’s best when stuff just jumps up on you.”
Adams was one of three relievers who combined on the final five outs after Hernandez scattered four hits in his longest scoreless outing since 2010, when he pitched a complete-game shutout for the Indians against the Twins at Progressive Field.
The start was Hernandez’s first since April 25. He improved to 2-1 and lowered his ERA from a monstrous 5.74 to a somewhat less ungainly 4.50.
Hernandez doesn’t say much. He did say pitching on short notice was a non-issue.
“It’s not that big a deal,” he said. “You have to do what you had to do. No big deal.”
The Phillies built the only run of the game in the bottom of the first, when Jimmy Rollins tripled and Chase Utley drove him in with a single.
The two teams combined for just six hits the rest of the way. Gio Gonzalez retired 19 of the final 23 batters he faced, and Hernandez, who allowed five base runners in the first three innings, allowed just two in his final 4 1/3.
“He's gotten better as we've gone along, as far as command, using his pitches,” Sandberg said of Hernandez. “His pitch count is better than it was early in the season. Better control in the zone.
“He has a live ball. He has some movement with his all his pitches. He retired 12 out of the last 13 hitters, which was impressive. He got into a groove in establishing the strike zone and using all of his pitches.”
After Hernandez’s shaky start -- fly ball to the wall in center, walk, single, walk -- Carlos Ruiz went out to chat with him.
He was fine the rest of the way.
“I think he said not to overthrow and keep the ball down,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t want to overthrow the ball. I felt like I threw every pitch today.”
Sandberg said Hamels is feeling a lot better and is on target to make his rescheduled next start Tuesday against the Blue Jays.
Hernandez walked three but only one after the first. He struck out three and was at his sharpest in the middle innings, setting down the Nationals in order in the fifth, sixth and seventh.
“He pitched great,” Adams said. “He kind of got off to a slow start as far as being out of the strike zone a little bit, but once he settled down he was great. He dominated, and we just came in and picked him up.”
Sandberg pulled Hernandez with one out in the eighth and Denard Span on second. Adams retired Jayson Werth on a grounder to first, Antonio Bastardo struck out Anthony Rendon looking and Jonathan Papelbon earned his ninth straight save with a scoreless ninth.
Papelbon has not allowed a run since his only blown save back on April 2 in Texas.
“I think he’s on a roll with confidence and being aggressive,” Sandberg said. “Also he’s using all his pitches. His command has been very good, hitting his spots inside and outside.”
With the series win over the Nationals, the Phillies moved to within 1 ½ games of the first-place Braves. They’ve been as far back as five games.
The Phillies are also back over .500 at 15-14 and 8-4 in their last 12 games.
“This division right here, there’s no one team running away,” said Ben Revere, who had a third-inning triple. “It’s all even. We’re 1 ½ games behind now. We kind of go on a streak, then we kind of slump. But just knowing that we are a good team, that we are struggling and we are still right there. So it is going to be really good if we start a winning streak and keep it up like that."
Rollins appeared to suffer some sort of discomfort after fielding Ian Desmond’s bouncer to short that turned into an infield single, but Rollins stayed in the game, and Sandberg said it’s nothing serious.
“He's fine,” he said. “He felt a little something, but he's fine.”