WASHINGTON -- This is what it looks like when it all goes right for the Phillies.
Well, at least most of it.
The Phils still aren't racking up big totals in the hits and runs column -- that 17-spot last week was pure Halley's Comet stuff -- but they got some timely hits, efficient pitching and excellent defense in beating the Washington Nationals, 4-2, and stopping a four-game losing streak on Saturday (see Instant Replay).
"Well, that was fun for a change," manager Pete Mackanin said after his team's first win since last weekend.
Jeremy Hellickson pitched seven innings of two-run ball and got the win when Cesar Hernandez smacked a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning. Hector Neris and Joaquin Benoit protected the lead with Benoit retiring three big Washington bats -- Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman -- to earn his first save of the season. After watching Jeanmar Gomez bob and weave and ultimately get knocked out of the closer role, Mackanin was ready for a peaceful ninth inning and Benoit provided it.
"He's a 14-year veteran," Mackanin said. "He's not scared."
In addition to the strong pitching, the Phils benefitted from several nice defensive plays, two by left fielder Howie Kendrick and one by shortstop Freddy Galvis. Hellickson gave up several long drives, but the Phillies' outfield played air-tight ball.
Hellickson's strong start marked just the second time in 11 games that a Phillies starting pitcher has gone seven innings. The starters averaged just five innings over the first 10 games.
"We finally got seven innings out of a starter," Mackanin said. "That makes it a lot easier."
Hellickson was upset as he left the mound after the seventh inning. He had given up a solo homer to Chris Heisey with one out in that inning and it tied the score at 2-2.
The Phillies' second baseman had a terrific day. He dropped down a bunt for a base hit to lead off the fourth inning and ignite a two-run rally against Washington's Tanner Roark, who dominated the Phils with 34 innings of three-run ball last season.
The eighth inning began with Hernandez's double-play mate, Freddy Galvis, taking a pitch off the foot from Washington reliever Joe Blanton. Two batters later, Hernandez took a 0-1 fastball that Blanton left over the middle of the plate and drove it out to right to break the tie and give the Phils a two-run lead that the bullpen locked down.
So with a ball that traveled maybe 40 feet and another that traveled 392 feet, Hernandez was the offensive star.
"I can't say enough about Cesar," Mackanin said. "He's been playing hard. He lays down a bunt for a hit then stepped up with the homer. It was huge. He's turned into a really good major league player."
Hernandez's evolution began June 21 of last season when he was benched for three days. At the time, he was hitting .248 with a .293 on-base percentage. The benching woke him up and after returning he hit .327 (13th best in the majors over that span) with a .421 on-base percentage (fifth-best) the rest of the season.
This winter, Hernandez, who turns 27 on May 23, added something valuable to his game. He got in the weight room and added 15 pounds of muscle, taking him to 180 pounds.
He likes the added strength.
"I can hit the ball harder," the switch-hitting second baseman said.
The Phillies have two good second-base prospects in the upper minors in Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, but Hernandez clearly is not about to give up his job without a fight. Through the first 11 games of the season, he's hitting .313 with three doubles, a triple, two homers and seven RBIs.
Hernandez has yet to attempt a stolen base. He had 17 steals last season but was caught 13 times.
"The one ingredient that he needs work on, and he's been working on it, is getting jumps to steal bases," Mackanin said. "He's got the potential to steal a lot of bases. He's been working on reading slide steps when to go when not to. The other night he was going to attempt to steal but the pitcher put a slide step on so he shut it down. That's a vast improvement. That's not easy to do, but once you do get the hang of it, it makes a difference."
Hernandez sure made a difference Saturday with a leadoff bunt to start a rally and a decisive home run late in the game.
"I was really happy because it got Hellickson the win," Hernandez said. "He threw seven good innings. It gave us a needed win."