Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Nationals 3

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Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Nationals 3

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON – Andres Blanco made the most of a rare start. He homered and doubled to lead the Phillies to a 4-3 win over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.

The win pushed the Phillies’ early-season record to 10-10. They are 2-2 against the Nationals, who entered the game with the best record in the majors.

Blanco had a two-run homer in the first. He scored the go-ahead run after doubling in the seventh.

Starting pitching report
Vince Velasquez gave up three runs in six innings. He struck out four. He exited with a one-run lead after throwing just 84 pitches. The Phillies seem to be making an effort to watch Velasquez’s pitch count after he threw 113 pitches in his 16-strikeout game against San Diego on April 14.

Velasquez is 3-1.

Washington’s Max Scherzer went six innings and allowed seven hits and three runs. One of the hits was a two-run homer by Blanco, the second batter of the game. Scherzer battled command issues and a high pitch count. He walked four, but was able to pitch out of trouble several times with the help of seven strikeouts.

Bullpen report
The Phillies’ bullpen pitched three scoreless innings.

David Hernandez pitched out of trouble to protect a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh. He struck out Ryan Zimmerman looking at a breaking ball for the third out with two men on base. Hernandez has 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings.

Hector Neris pitched a scoreless eighth. Jeanmar Gomez earned his fifth save and it was a gutsy one. He retired dangerous Bryce Harper, the 2015 NL MVP, on a grounder to third to end the game with the tying run on first base.

Washington lefty Oliver Perez took the loss.

At the plate
Blanco got the start at shortstop in place of resting Freddy Galvis. He delivered big. He smacked a two-run homer in the first inning and doubled and scored the go-ahead run on a double by Maikel Franco in the seventh. He finished the night with three hits.

Franco has nine RBIs in four games on this trip.

Cesar Hernandez had three singles.

Odubel Herrera was on base three times. He has reached base in 17 straight games.

The Nationals scored their first run on a successful safety squeeze bunt by Danny Espinosa in the second inning. Harper and Zimmerman both had RBI singles with two outs in the fifth.

In the field
Franco made a great diving play at third base to save a run in the third inning. However, he made a poor decision trying to turn a 5-3 double play instead of going around the horn and it probably cost the Phillies two runs in the fifth.

Health check
Charlie Morton could be out for an extended period of time with a strained left hamstring. Adam Morgan will take his spot in the rotation (see story).

Transaction
Outfielder Cedric Hunter cleared waivers and was taken off the 40-man roster. Hunter, who was the Phillies’ opening-day leftfielder, remains at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Up next
The series continues Wednesday night. Jeremy Hellickson (1-1, 5.21) opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 1.42).

Best of MLB: Solo homers power Cubs to win over Giants

Best of MLB: Solo homers power Cubs to win over Giants

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist hit solo homers, spot starter Eddie Butler pitched five effective innings and the Chicago Cubs beat the San Francisco Giants 5-1 on Thursday for their third straight win.

Mike Montgomery followed with four scoreless innings and allowed one hit in his first save.

Heyward went deep for the second time in three games and Zobrist added two singles as the Cubs took three of four games in a set with the Giants and finished a homestand at 7-2 (see full recap).

Cruz blast helps Mariners top Nationals
WASHINGTON -- Nelson Cruz greeted reliever Jacob Turner with a go-ahead, three-run homer in the sixth inning, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Washington Nationals 4-2 Thursday to stop a five-game losing streak.

Gio Gonzalez took a 2-0 lead into the sixth, when Jean Segura singled leading off and Guillermo Heredia took a called third strike. That prompted Seattle manager Scott Servais to complain from the dugout, which led to his ejection by plate umpire Adam Hamari.

Robinson Cano singled, and Washington manager Dusty Baker brought in Turner (2-3), despite Cruz having just one hit in 15 at-bats against Gonzalez. Cruz drove a belt-high slider over the fence in left-center for his 12th homer this season and a 3-2 lead. Cruz leads the AL with 40 RBIs.

Cano added an RBI single off Turner in the seventh. Seattle scored multiple runs for the first time since May 18 (see full recap).

Andriese, Rasmus help Rays blank Angels
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Matt Andriese allowed six hits over eight innings, Colby Rasmus drove in four runs and the Tampa Bay Rays salvaged a split of a four-game series with Los Angeles by beating the Angels 4-0 on Thursday.

Andriese (5-1) improved to 4-0 over his last five starts, holding the Angels to 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Los Angeles threatened in five innings against the right-hander.

Rasmus had a pair of key two-out hits with the bases loaded: a two-run single in the first and a fifth-inning double that made it 4-0.

Tommy Hunter got three outs to complete a six-hitter (see full recap).

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

500 plate appearances in, Tommy Joseph an above-average offensive 1B

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph is making the Phillies' situation at first base quite tricky.

Joseph on Thursday continued building on his red-hot month of May by going 2 for 5 with a game-tying homer in the seventh and a walk-off RBI single in the 11th inning of the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

He's hit .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

That'll hold off the eye-popping production of Rhys Hoskins for now (see Future Phillies Report).

Extending it further, Joseph has played 148 career games with 499 plate appearances in the majors. That's just a bit less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. He's provided above-average offensive production from first base.

Most Phillies fans know Joseph's story — big-time catching prospect acquired from the Giants in the 2012 Hunter Pence trade, series of concussions, position switch, hot start to 2016 at Triple A, promotion, production.

It was a long, winding road for Joseph, and when he was asked Thursday if he expected to be this solid 500 plate appearances into his major-league career, he brought up health.

"My goals were to be healthy, to be able to play in 162 games and that's all I really want to be able to do," Joseph said. "That's something I haven't been able to do in my career and it's something that I'm looking forward to. I'm looking forward to the challenge to go through the mental challenge and the physical challenge and I'd say that's my No. 1 goal, that's my only goal. Because if I'm able to stay healthy and stay on the field then I'm able to enjoy this great game and getting to share it with my teammates."

As for the May adjustments, Joseph said the standard things about communicating with hitting coach Matt Stairs, working in the cage and staying consistent with his approach. His timing wasn't there in April but it's certainly been there in May.

"There's no telling what clicks in a guy, it's just a matter of making a minor adjustment sometimes, possibly getting better pitches to hit," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's no telling what it is, but he just looks a lot more comfortable at the plate."

Bullpen bouncing back
It's been completely overshadowed by the Phillies' recent skid but the bullpen has pitched very well of late. The unit that was overworked and criticized in April has combined to allow just two earned runs in its last 22 2/3 innings. On Thursday, six Phillies relievers — Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez — pitched six scoreless innings.

Neshek made the play of the day, diving and landing on his head to snag a pop-up bunt attempt before turning and firing to first base for the double play.

"I said early on that I think it's one of our strengths," Mackanin said of the bullpen. "And after today you can see why I have a lot of confidence in them."

Neshek, who has pitched in the postseason for four different teams, said Thursday that he thinks this is one of the best bullpens he's ever been around. It's not lip service, either. The unit was terrible in April, there's no getting around that. But some of that really did have to do with the overuse. Setup men were entering in the sixth inning. Opportunities for holds and saves were few and far between. Roles were not defined.

Stuff-wise, repertoire-wise, there is a lot to like about the Phillies' bullpen. Neris, Benoit and Neshek all offer vastly different looks and have track records of success.

While Neshek didn't totally endorse Benoit's comments from a few weeks ago that everything would settle down once the relievers knew specifically which inning they'd pitch, he did say that he too feels most comfortable coming in during a hold opportunity.

"I think my numbers show that I'm best in those situations, coming into a hold opportunity when we're ahead," Neshek said. "We haven't had much of those lately."

The horrendous start to the season for the Phillies' relievers will skew their stats all season long, but it's nice to see that at least one aspect of this team is starting to get into a groove.