Lannan's gem leads Phillies past Nationals

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Lannan's gem leads Phillies past Nationals

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It took a while for John Lannan to give in Monday night, but he did eventually. Not to the Washington Nationals’ hitters. Lannan was tough on them all night. It took the lefty a while to give in to himself and admit that, yes, this was a pretty special win.

Lannan pitched eight shutout innings in leading the Phillies’ 3-2 victory over the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).

Afterward, the former Nationals’ pitcher played the just-another-game, just-another-team, just-another-win routine for a little while.

Finally, he relented.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll feel good about it when I look back on it, maybe later on tonight,” he said with a sheepish grin.

Lannan was raised in the Nationals’ system. He came to the majors with the team in 2007. He started two opening days for the club. Ultimately, he was exiled to the minors by Washington in 2012 and unceremoniously dumped -- not offered a contract -- by the club after the season. He joined the Phillies as a free agent last winter.

It has been a tough season for Lannan. He spent time on the disabled list and has struggled to find consistency with the Phillies. But it all came together in this game. He kept the ball down in the strike zone and induced 12 ground-ball outs while allowing just four hits.

The Phillies, who have been shut out five times at home this season, were on their way to their first home shutout of the season before Jonathan Papelbon was hit hard in the ninth inning. Papelbon gave up two runs and got a messy save, but the bottom line was the Phillies won for the third time in four games on this crucial homestand that will determine whether management trades players or hangs on for a possible second-half run.

“Keep playing,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “Stay with it. We won tonight. Now start thinking about tomorrow.”

The Phillies have won five of their last seven games, four of them against first-place clubs Pittsburgh and Atlanta. They are 44-46. They have six games remaining on the homestand that will take them to the All-Star break. They probably need to win four of them to dissuade management from waving the white flag.

Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee pitch the next two nights. The team needs Hamels to follow up his strong outing in Pittsburgh with another good one and Lee to be, well, Lee.

Lannan (2-3) set a good tone for the series Monday night.

He was able to focus on the catcher’s mitt -- not the significance of the opponent.

“It helped that I’d already faced them once,” he said of the Nationals.

Lannan retired the Nats in order in half of his eight innings. He used his sinker and changeup effectively. He struck out just four but succeeded at getting a lot of weak contact. He walked just two.

“I tried to stay down in the zone, tried to keep them off-balance with my two-seamer and changeup,” he said. “That’s what I have to do because I’m not a big strikeout guy. At this point, I’m just looking for some consistency. It doesn’t matter who I’m facing, I’m just trying to throw up some zeroes.”

The Phillies’ offense was not all that efficient. They were just 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base. On a lot of nights, that will burn a team. It might have burned the Phils if Jayson Werth’s drive to center against Papelbon with two men on in the ninth had traveled a few more feet, but Papelbon held on and ended his night with handshakes.

Domonic Brown, manning the cleanup hole with Ryan Howard on the disabled list, drove in his team-high 63rd run with a single off Dan Haren in the first inning. Ben Revere had a two-out single in the sixth and scored on Jimmy Rollins’ hit. Revere had three hits and his average is up to .300 on the season.

The only bit of dispiriting news on the night -- other than the word that Howard needs surgery (see story) -- was that Brown was snubbed from the All-Star Home Run Derby (see story). His 23 homers are second-most in the NL, but they weren’t enough to impress Mets third baseman/derby captain David Wright, who picked childhood pal Michael Cuddyer (15 homers) over Brown.

Brown took the snub in stride. He said he was not disappointed.

“I’m still going to the All-Star Game,” he said. “That’s the big thing. I’m not really worried about the derby. I’ll be out there supporting and taking a lot of pictures.”

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- A tempestuous three-game series between the Red Sox and Baltimore wound up with Matt Barnes being ejected for throwing a fastball behind the head of Orioles star Manny Machado in Boston's 6-2 victory Sunday.

Barnes' ejection was the latest facet of this tense rivalry between AL East rivals. His high, very inside pitch came two days after Machado took out Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-high slide.

Pedroia watched from the dugout for a second straight day Sunday with knee and ankle injuries. Machado apologized with a text message on Friday night, but that evidently wasn't the end of it.

When Machado batted in the sixth inning, Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches down and in near the knees. He came up again in the eighth and Barnes' pitch whizzed behind Machado and hit his bat. The ball hit Machado and rolled foul, and plate umpire Andy Fletcher tossed Barnes (see full recap).

Bour's 3-run homer lifts Marlins past Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Justin Bour hit a three-run homer to cap the six-run sixth inning and help the Miami Marlins to a 7-3 victory Sunday against the San Diego Padres.

The first six Marlins batters reached and scored in the sixth, helping Tom Koehler (1-1) to his first win of the season.

San Diego's Luis Perdomo came off the disabled list and shut down the Marlins through five before hitting the wall in the sixth. Martin Prado hit a leadoff single, Christian Yelich walked and Giancarlo Stanton hit an RBI single to chase Perdomo.

Craig Stammen (0-1) came on and allowed Marcell Ozuna's RBI double just past the glove of first baseman Wil Myers and J.T. Realmuto's RBI single to left before Bour hit a no-doubter to right field, his third.

Kevin Quackenbush relieved and got three straight outs (see full recap).

Astros use 2-run 10th to beat Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel both had RBI singles in the 10th inning, and the Houston Astros rallied from an early four-run deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 on Sunday.

Carlos Beltran opened the 10th by drawing a walk from Ryan Garton (0-1) and went to second on Jose Altuve's single. After reaching third on Carlos Correa's fly to center, Beltran scored to make it 5-4 on McCann's hit to right.

Gurriel's two-out single put Houston ahead 6-4.

Luke Gregerson (1-1) went a scoreless ninth before Ken Giles got three out for his fifth save.

The Astros tied it at 4 on pinch-hitter Evan Gattis' sacrifice fly off closer Alex Colome, who was bidding for a two-inning save, in the ninth.

Brad Miller had an RBI triple, Steven Souza Jr. hit a two-run homer, and Jesus Sucre added a run-scoring single as the Rays went up 4-0 in the first (see full recap).

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

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A constant theme during the Phillies' playoff run from 2007-11 was that even when the offense was sputtering, it never felt like they were out of a game. That group of players picked up so many late hits and mounted so many comebacks that even a five-run deficit heading into the final three innings felt like a winnable game.

The 2017 Phillies are a much different, much less experienced, much less powerful team, but their late-game offense has been a surprisingly fun development this April.

The Phillies used back-to-back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning Sunday to pick up a 5-2 win over the Braves and a series sweep (see Instant Replay). Cesar Hernandez hit a go-ahead, two-run shot off hard-throwing reliever Arodys Vizcaino. Aaron Altherr followed with a solo shot on the next pitch. The Braves switched pitchers, then Odubel Herrera hit a solo homer of his own.

Just like that, ballgame.

The Phillies lead the majors with six home runs in the eighth inning. That's more than the Cubs, Red Sox, Rockies, Angels, Mariners, Pirates, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Giants and Astros have combined.

They've scored 14 runs in the eighth inning and 27 in innings 7-9. Both figures rank third-best in the National League behind only the Diamondbacks and Nationals.

Unexpected late-game heroics and unexpected power from some unlikely sources.

"It's always a bonus to have a team like that," manager Pete Mackanin said. "These guys pull for each other. We have a good bench, we have some interchangeable players that can step in and do a good job. ... They're fighters and it's good to see."

Hernandez continues to open eyes with his developing power. He has four home runs through 18 games after hitting six all of last season. He has more extra-base hits (nine) than Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt and Robinson Cano, among many others.

And he's done it without sacrificing his eye at the plate and slap-hitting ability. Hernandez is hitting .338 through 80 at-bats.

Hernandez gained muscle over the winter and reported to spring training looking noticeably bigger, but Mackanin credits the power surge to a change in his swing plane.

"He had an uppercut swing," Mackanin said. "He worked underneath the ball, which made him a low-ball hitter. I think the fact that we convinced him to level out his swing and stay on top of the ball -- work above the ball and work your way down through the strike zone -- I think has not only given him more power but also (the ability) to hit more line drives and use the whole field."

Makes sense. Managers, hitting coaches and players talk all the time about how you don't hit a home run when you're trying to hit a home run, you hit one when you're thinking up the middle and catch the ball with the barrel.

Hernandez hasn't lofted more balls because he's trying to loft them, he's done it by getting stronger and developing a more consistent swing.

"He's an on-base guy and a leadoff hitter and now I'm starting to think of him as a cleanup hitter as well," Mackanin said jokingly. "It is nice. It's good to see. He's not trying to hit home runs. He's trying to hit line drives and when you work above the ball and level your swing out and you hit the bottom half of the ball, the ball is going to go up with a line-drive swing. Because of that, he's hitting more gaps and hitting for more power."

In a way, it's similar to what Herrera did last season, jumping from eight home runs as a rookie to 15 as a sophomore as he continued learning the strike zone, learning major-league pitchers and learning of his own capabilities.

"I love watching Cesar hit the ball," Herrera said. "He has a beautiful swing and he makes great contact on the ball. It's great to be behind him."

With Hernandez leading off and Herrera batting third, the top of the Phillies' lineup has gotten on base a ton. They've gotten a .384 on-base percentage from the 1-3 spots in the order. Just imagine how many additional runs the Phillies would have produced to this point if Maikel Franco or Tommy Joseph were hitting consistently.

"I like all three right there," Mackanin said. "I like Howie Kendrick, also. I'm anxious for him to get back (from the DL) and then we'll go from there. We've got some good things going. We've got a good bench. We've got Altherr, (Daniel) Nava, (Andres) Blanco. We've got (Andrew) Knapp who's doing a good job behind the plate. I think we're in pretty good shape that way."

It's not going to be an explosive, league-leading offense, but it's certainly a deeper offense than it was a year ago. An addition like Nava, for example, has proven to be underrated and pay early dividends. Remember, he was one of the last men chosen for the opening day roster. So far this April, he's succeeded in every role in which the Phillies have used him.

Despite not playing regularly, Nava has reached base in 16 of his first 31 plate appearances, something no first-year Phillie has done since Jeremy Giambi in 2002.

"Nava is really valuable to us," Mackanin said. "He's a part-time player that gives you good at-bats, quality at-bats. He works the count, obviously the first game of the season he showed us he's got power. Gap power and the occasional home run from both sides of the plate. 

"Watching a guy like that, you can't help but notice. If it was me and I was a free swinger, I'd go up to him and ask him, 'How do I tone it down a little bit?' He just doesn't get himself out."