Lee proves steady for Phils again in win over Nats

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Lee proves steady for Phils again in win over Nats

BOX SCORE

Every five days when Cliff Lee takes the mound, the Phillies know what they are going to get. That’s seven to eight innings, a scattering of hits and runs and a lot of strikes.

Along with that comes a quick game and a very little time to daydream. In Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), Lee got nine strikeouts and didn’t walk a single batter.

In fact, Lee had just one three-ball count all night while improving to 9-2 with a 2.53 ERA.

“He takes the game and he absolutely controls it,” manager Charlie Manuel said after the victory. “He runs it at his tempo. He sets the speed and everything about the game. He can speed it up and he can slow it down, and when he gets the ball he knows he has three pitches and he wants to throw them. I love the way he pitches, especially on nights like tonight.”

With Roy Halladay recovering from surgery and Cole Hamels struggling through a rough season, Lee also controls the vibe in the clubhouse.

Yet as the one sure thing on the 25-man roster, Lee may draw a little more attention about his future with the Phillies in the next month or so. With two more years left on his five-year, $120 million contract, Lee could be on the trading block if general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to “blow it up.”

Lee addressed his future with the Phillies after beating the Twins on three hits over seven innings in his last start. After beating the Nationals by scattering five hits through eight innings, the topic was broached again.

And once again, Lee did not change his tune.

He wants to win with the Phillies. But more than that, Lee wants to win. That’s it. If people want to believe that it means Lee wants to get traded to a contender, go ahead and believe that. Lee isn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

“I don’t really care how it’s interpreted to be honest with you. I want to win. I signed here to win and that’s never going to change no matter who asks me,” Lee said after his seventh straight win and his sixth start this season with at least eight innings pitched. “I think it's misconstrued in thinking I wanted to play somewhere else and that’s not the case. I want to win and I want to win here and that’s it.

“I’m going to continue to answer questions honestly and that’s how I’m going to do it.”

Lee also just keeps gobbling up innings and winning ballgames.

“Cliff pitched like Cliff. He’s been unbelievable,” said Kevin Frandsen, who went 1 for 4 with a clutch two-run single in a three-run sixth inning. “Cliff is a ballplayer. He’s what you want from a baseball player and he’s a starting pitcher.”

Perhaps Lee’s pitching can lift a team the way a big home run or a clutch hit can. As Lee tore through the Nats’ lineup, retiring 11 of the first 12 he faced and 13 of the final 15, the Phillies’ hitters seemed to take their cues from him. When Jayson Werth slugged a solo homer with two outs in the fourth inning, the Phillies quickly manufactured a run with Michael Young setting the table.

Young went 3 for 4 with three doubles, two runs and an RBI. He would have gone 4 for 4 if Nats starting pitcher Ross Detwiler hadn’t luckily grabbed a screaming liner headed back through the box.

In the fourth, Young doubled, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Jimmy Rollins and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Howard. In the sixth, Young drove home Ben Revere with another double after the leadoff man started the inning with a bunt single. Later, Young scored from third when Frandsen singled with two outs in the inning.

With Young swinging the bat well at the top of the lineup, the Phillies’ hitters have had plenty of chances to score runs. Since the calendar flipped to June, Young has been one of the team’s hottest hitters, going 22 for 58 (.379) with five doubles, six runs and a .390 on-base percentage.

This comes after a month of May in which Young batted .172, struck out 13 times and grounded into six double plays.

“I think he was trying too hard. He expects a lot out of himself and he wants to do good for us,” Manuel said. “He started to relax a little and his bat looks quicker to me.”

Meanwhile, Lee has been making the opposition’s bats look a lot slower this season. Sporting a 0.95 WHIP with just 17 walks and 98 strikeouts in 110 innings this season, Lee has been the one thing the Phillies can always count on all year.

But for how much longer?

“I’m confident we can win,” Lee said. “If we can get all the guys on the field I think we can beat anyone. And I’m confident that the organization is going to do everything they can to field the best team. Those are all the reasons why I came here and that’s what I expect and I think that’s what everyone here should expect.”

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts despite awful numbers vs. Max Scherzer

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts despite awful numbers vs. Max Scherzer

Despite having awful career numbers against Max Scherzer, Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup against him Tuesday night.

Howard, 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against the Nationals' ace, bats fourth. 

Howard seems to be coming back to Earth. He hit .357 with seven home runs, four doubles and 16 RBIs in his first 20 games out of the All-Star break, but has gone 2 for 16 with two singles and eight strikeouts since.

Jimmy Paredes gets another start in left field. Peter Bourjos is out of the lineup for a fourth straight game.

The rest of the lineup is standard. Odubel Herrera, who bats second, is 6 for 19 with five walks in his career against Scherzer (see game notes).

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Aaron Altherr, RF
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Updated: 5:20 p.m.

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, surprisingly in the lineup (see story), is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.

Best of MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

Best of MLB: Mets win in 10th on Yoenis Cespedes' walk-off HR

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes homered with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the New York Mets a 2-1 victory over the Miami Marlins in the first game of a pivotal series between National League playoff contenders Monday night.

Jose Reyes dashed home to score the tying run in the eighth on a dangerous collision at the plate, and the Mets pulled even with Miami for second place in the NL East. With its seventh victory in nine games, New York remained 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the league's second wild card.

It was an exhilarating win for the Mets, who appeared to be at a major disadvantage on the mound in the opener of a four-game set. New York was shut out for six innings by Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, but Mets starter Rafael Montero also put up zeros in his first major league start since April 2015 (see full recap).

Martinez's 13 K's, throwing error give Cards win
MILWAUKEE -- Stephen Piscotty scored on a throwing error in the ninth inning after Carlos Martinez struck out a career-high 13, leading the St. Louis Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5 on Monday night.

With two on and nobody out in the ninth, Yadier Molina dropped down a bunt. Reliever Tyler Thornburg (5-5) threw to third base for a force out, but Jonathan Villar's throw to first was wild, allowing Piscotty to score.

After Martinez held Milwaukee to one run over six innings, the Brewers scored four runs in the seventh to take a 5-3 lead. St. Louis tied it in the eighth on a two-run homer by Randal Grichuk off Corey Knebel.

Seung Hwan Oh pitched a perfect ninth for his 14th save. Miguel Socolovich (1-0) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to pick up his first win.

Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong each hit solo home runs for the Cardinals (see full recap).

Royals keep rolling, take down Yankees
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dillon Gee kept the Royals' momentum going with six sharp innings, Alcides Escobar hit a three-run homer and Kansas City beat the New York Yankees 8-5 on Monday night to open their three-game set.

Gee (6-7) allowed only four hits and a run in the latest impressive start by the Royals' staff, helping the reigning World Series champions win for the 18th time in 22 games.

Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales and Alex Gordon drove in runs off Michael Pineda (6-11) during a five-hit salvo in the first inning. Pineda then retired 15 straight before getting into a two-on, no-outs jam in the seventh that led to Escobar's homer off reliever Blake Parker.

Starlin Castro drove in two runs for the Yankees, the second in a four-run eighth inning that forced Kansas City manager Ned Yost to summon fill-in closer Kelvin Herrera (see full recap).