Phillies' bullpen can't hold Aaron Nola's lead in 3-2 loss to Nationals

Phillies' bullpen can't hold Aaron Nola's lead in 3-2 loss to Nationals

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON -- When Aaron Nola pitched against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park last week, his team scored 17 runs. An offensive output like that allows a club to sweep a lot of problems under the rug.

Nola returned to the mound against that same Nationals team on Friday and this time runs were scarce. With no margin for error, the Phillies suffered a 3-2 loss in 10 innings (see Instant Replay).

It was their fourth straight loss as they fell to 3-7.

The Nats won it when their lethal mid-order tandem of Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy struck for a single and an RBI double to open the bottom of the 10th inning.

Harper finished a first-to-home dash with a headfirst dive across home plate. Both of the Nats' hits in the decisive 10th came against the beleaguered Jeanmar Gomez, who last week lost the closer's job after a ninth-inning implosion against these same Nationals.

Gomez came into a tie game in the ninth and pitched a scoreless frame. He stayed on for the 10th and did not get an out.

"That's his job now, to give us multiple innings," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Murphy's game-winning double came on a 1-1 sinker. Murphy, hitting .444, stayed on the pitch and served it down the left-field line.

Gomez has pitched 5 1/3 innings this season and given up seven runs. His confidence appears to be badly wounded. Now the challenge is finding a role where he can rebuild it.

Nola had a nice start. His pitches had some pop and movement and his breaking ball was sharp. However, he was not economical with his pitches and exited after five innings with a 2-1 lead. He threw 90 pitches.

So it became a bullpen game.

Pat Neshek delivered a scoreless sixth.

Mackanin then went to Edubray Ramos for the seventh. He gave up a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey. Two batters later, with two outs, Anthony Rendon crushed a first-pitch fastball off the wall in right-center to push home the tying run. After walking, Heisey had moved up to second on a passed ball charged to Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp. With two outs, chances are Heisey would have scored the tying run even if he had stayed at first base.

Hector Neris pitched a scoreless eighth to keep the game tied, and, with the specter of extra innings looming, Mackanin was looking for length when he went to Gomez in the ninth.

"It's all about handling pitching," Mackanin said. "I thought about Neris for a second inning, but I don't want to get into that rut we were in last year where every close game we're using up our guys and you get into August and September and they run out of gas. Six of one, half-dozen of the other."

Mackanin said he did not want to use his only lefty, rookie Joely Rodriguez, against lefty hitters Harper and Murphy in the 10th "because they both hit lefties well."

In the end, Gomez took the loss, but Ramos' walk to Heisey was quite damaging because it set up the tying run.

A week ago, on the night the Phillies scored 17 runs against the Nats, a seventh-inning walk doesn't kill you. But it cuts deep when your team gets just six hits and scores just two runs in 10 innings.

Stephen Strasburg pitched seven innings of two-run ball for the Nats and the bullpen did the rest.

Michael Saunders had a couple of hits for the Phils. Tommy Joseph belted his first homer of the season and Cesar Hernandez drove home the Phils' second run with a two-out single in the fifth, following Rupp's leadoff double.

"Other than that, not enough offense," Mackanin lamented.

Other than the high pitch count, Nola's outing was heartening, especially considering that he missed the final two months of last season with an elbow injury that had the entire organization concerned.

The right-hander gave up six hits and a run. He walked none and struck out six.

"The story for me was Nola," Mackanin said. "He gave us five good innings -- a few too many pitches. I could have sent him back out for one more but I'm trying to be careful with him."

Said Nola: "My stuff felt good. I feel like I threw a lot of pitches. I definitely want to go deeper than five innings and save some of the bullpen arms. You know you have Strasburg on the mound and you know runs are going to be pretty limited. But other than that, my body felt good. We battled a good team."

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

usa-aaron-judge.jpg
USA Today Images

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

BOX SCORE

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.”