Lee allows four homers in Phillies' loss to Nats

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Lee allows four homers in Phillies' loss to Nats

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Is it possible for a pitcher to throw too many strikes?

According to Cliff Lee and manager Charlie Manuel, the answer is no.

But in the Phillies’ 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, Lee’s pinpoint control could have been his downfall (see Instant Replay).

Lee threw a remarkably efficient 76 pitches in seven innings in the loss to the Nats and of those only 12 of them were called balls. That means nearly 85 percent of the time, the Nationals had a pretty good idea where Lee was going to put the ball.

As a result, the Nationals pounded a pair of back-to-back homers off Lee. The first set of homers came in the fifth when No. 7 hitter Anthony Rendon clubbed an 0-2 pitch over the fence in left. The eight-hole hitter, Wilson Ramos, followed by stroking another homer just two pitches later.

To open the sixth inning, Ryan Zimmerman drove an 0-2 pitch to deep left-center field followed by a first-pitch blast to left by Jayson Werth. Against Lee, the Nats got four runs on four homers over a span of nine pitches.

Did Lee throw too many strikes?

“Not really. Occasionally it can seem that way,” Lee said. “Over the course of a season if you’re throwing strikes, good things are going to happen. I feel like as a starting pitcher it’s my job to throw strikes and keep the defense on their toes. That’s what I did tonight. As far as throwing strikes, that might have been the best I’ve done in a while. And they weren’t just strikes, they were quality strikes.”

Lee was uncanny with his control on Wednesday night. In his seven innings he faced 29 hitters and threw 25 first-pitch strikes. He had three two-ball counts and zero three-ball counts. He got seven hitters to put the ball in play on the first pitch and six others to put the second pitch in play. Of those 13 hitters to put the first or second pitch in play, eight made outs.

Meanwhile, Lee had six strikeouts with four of them coming on three pitches. Another whiff came on the fourth pitch and only one hitter got as many as six pitches in a plate appearance.

That’s a lot of strikes.

But was it too many strikes?

“I don’t know. I’ve seen him when he’s like that and nobody hits him,” Manuel said.

“As far as throwing too many strikes, if you get them out ain’t nobody going to say nothing. Once they hit you, you say just don’t make them too good.”

Still, the Nationals did not get a hit with runners in scoring position off Lee and had two runners on base in an inning just once. In other words, unless the Nats went deep, they weren’t going to get a run off Lee.

That’s what they did.

“They hit four solo home runs. I feel like I was throwing strikes and working ahead in the count -- locating,” Lee said. “Actually, all four of the home runs I felt like were decent pitches. It was just one of those deals that when it’s hot this time of year the ball carries. I have to do a better job of inducing ground balls. They put some good swings on some decent pitches and hit them out of here.”

Added Manuel: “When you’re pitching that good it’s kind of hard to criticize him. He was that good.”

The Phillies’ hitters were not very good against Nats lefty Gio Gonzalez. The former Phillies farmhand allowed a run on six hits and two walks in seven innings. The only run came on a two-out homer from Darin Ruf in the seventh inning.

The Phillies had more than enough chances to score, though. They got the leadoff man on base in the third and fifth innings, and left men in scoring position in the second, third, fifth and seventh innings. However, the Phillies stranded seven runners -- five of them in scoring position -- and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

As a result, the Phillies fell to 11-36 this season when scoring three runs or less.

“We had some chances,” Manuel said. “But we just couldn’t get the big hit.”

The Phillies also had a chance to improve to .500, too. At 45-47, the Phillies have had 12 chances to improve their record to .500 and they are 3-9 in those games.

The Phillies and Nationals close out the four-game series on Thursday when Kyle Kendrick (7-6, 3.90) looks to bounce back from a rough outing against Nats righty Jordan Zimmermann (12-3, 2.57).
 
Last time out, Kendrick gave up six runs on 12 hits and a pair of walks in a 13-4 loss to the Braves. Kendrick is 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA in two starts against the Nats this season and 4-6 with a 4.63 ERA in 21 appearances during his career.
 
Zimmermann beat Kendrick and the Phillies at Nationals Park on May 24, allowing just two runs and six hits in seven innings.

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire's major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.

And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.

Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.

"They kind of told me: `You got to go out there. You got to go out there,'" he would later recall. "First curtain call. I hope it was a good one."

Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.

The 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire's 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 93 mph high fastball 389 feet about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats (see full recap).

Russell makes food run, Cubs beat Cards to near clinch
ST. LOUIS -- Say cheese!

Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs were all smiles after moving within a victory of another division title Monday night.

Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2. Chicago can wrap up the division with a win Tuesday against the Cardinals or a loss by Milwaukee against Cincinnati.

Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a man's tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.

"That was pretty entertaining," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said (see full recap).

Donaldson, Blue Jays stop Red Sox winning streak at 6
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox would like to get the AL East wrapped up quickly so they can start resting some banged-up players.

Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs, powering the Toronto Blue Jays past the first-place Red Sox 6-4 on Monday night.

Boston's six-game winning streak was snapped and its magic number to clinch a second straight division title remained at three. The Red Sox lead the second-place New York Yankees, who beat Kansas City earlier in the day, by four games with six remaining.

But the most important thing for the Red Sox was the loss of two key players to injuries. For how long? They don't know yet.

Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts both left the game early. Nunez aggravated a right knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, and Betts came out with pain in his left wrist (see full recap).

Rangers fall to Astros, wild-card hopes fading
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as the AL West champion Houston Astros beat Texas 11-2 on Monday night, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.

Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth, including a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11). Gonzalez later hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot in the sixth.

Collin McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros (see full recap).

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

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Before beginning a season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeouts Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re a left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year," (see story)

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five [reliable] guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”