Phillies defeat Nationals on Brown's walk-off hit

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Phillies defeat Nationals on Brown's walk-off hit

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Based on how things went on the Phillies’ 3-7 road trip against Milwaukee, Minnesota and Colorado, any way a win comes is a good thing.

That’s even the case for Monday night’s 5-4 victory over the Washington Nationals in which the Phillies were poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, only to come through with a walk-off win (see Instant Replay).

Fortunately for the Phillies, they aren’t being judged for style points.

“It feels good to come out and get a win, especially after this long road trip,” Monday night’s hero, Dom Brown, said.

Even in victory -- finally sealed on Brown’s two-out, walk-off single in the ninth -- the same old issues reared its heads, masking a lot of the good developments with frustration.

Perhaps it all starts with closer Jonathan Papelbon’s first blown save of the season, his first since Sept. 2, 2012 and just his fifth in 56 opportunities since joining the Phillies. Papelbon cruised through the bottom third of the Nats’ lineup and was one strike away from closing out the game on three different pitches until late-game replacement Chad Tracy popped a game-tying homer on an 0-2 pitch.

How rough was that one? Considering that the opposition was just 4 for 44 with 27 strikeouts and zero extra-base hits on 0-2 counts against Papelbon in the last two seasons, it was pretty rough.

Given how things had been going for the Phillies lately, Papelbon’s first blown save was an ominous sign.

That is until Brown told Papelbon the team was going to bail him out.

“Man, it’s very big, especially when Pap’s going out there and he’s been great for us,” Brown said. “[Tracy] got a tough pitch to hit and he hit it out. I told [Papelbon] that we’re gonna fight for him and we’re gonna come out and win.”

Brown and the Phillies had plenty of chances to give Papelbon some breathing room. In fact, lately the Phillies have been pretty good at getting men on base. Monday night’s game was no different.

The trouble, as has been well documented this season, has been getting those men on base home.

That refrain was again evident on Monday.

The Phillies had the bases loaded with one out in the third inning, two on and no outs in the eighth, and two on and one out in the ninth. In going just 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position, the Phils left seven runners on base in those situations.

If it hadn’t been for an upper-deck homer from Ryan Howard to lead off the second and Delmon Young’s seeing-eye double with two outs in the third, runs would have been even tougher to come by.

Luckily for the Phillies, the Nationals had a tough time pushing runs across, too. Give the biggest credit to starting pitcher John Lannan and reliever Mike Stutes for that.

Lannan, in his first appearance for the Phillies in two months, was solid through five innings. He got eight outs on the ground, notched four strikeouts and in allowing a pair of runs on six hits, Lannan was in line for his first win as a Phillie and his first win since Sept. 26, 2012, when he beat the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park while pitching for the Nationals.

“I wish I would have went a little deeper into the ballgame, but you just look for progress,” Lannan said. “In the fifth inning, I felt pretty good.”

Lannan looked good in the fifth inning, too. In retiring the side in order on 15 pitches, Lannan got three straight groundouts against the Nats’ No. 2, 3 and 4 hitters. That was especially important because it allowed Stutes to face the bottom portion of the lineup for two innings.

After retiring six straight hitters, Stutes turned a two-run lead over to Mike Adams in the eighth with Papelbon getting loose for the ninth.

What could go wrong?

“The two innings that Stutes gave us were very big,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “He’s pretty good. He’s been throwing good.”

At 34-37, the Phillies are one game behind the Nationals and eight games behind the Braves in the NL East.

The Phillies and Nats continue their series on Tuesday night when Cliff Lee (8-2, 2.55) faces lefty Ross Detwiler (2-4, 3.02).

Lee has not faced the Nationals this season, but in eight career starts against them, the Phils’ lefty is 5-3 with a 2.51 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings.

Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

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Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

CHICAGO -- Paul DeJong hit a tiebreaking two-run double in St. Louis' nine-run eighth inning, and the Cardinals cooled off the Chicago Cubs with an 11-4 victory on Friday.

Chicago carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth, looking for its seventh consecutive win. But St. Louis sent 14 batters to the plate in its highest-scoring inning of the season, taking advantage of a combined six walks by three relievers while improving to 4-4 since the All-Star break.

Carl Edwards Jr. (3-2) was pulled after the first three batters reached. Hector Rondon then walked Jedd Gyorko, tying it at 3, and DeJong followed with a drive into the ivy in right-center for a ground-rule double. The Cardinals were off and running from there.

Matt Bowman (2-3) got the final out of the seventh for the win.

The Cubs played without third baseman Kris Bryant, who sprained his left little finger on a headfirst slide on Wednesday. X-rays were negative, but Bryant is experiencing soreness and there is some concern about gripping a bat (see full recap).

Andrus' hustle gives Rangers win in 10th inning
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Elvis Andrus homered early, and then snapped a 10th-inning tie with a two-out infield single that gave the struggling Texas Rangers a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

Andrus, who homered in the first inning, hit a sharp grounder off Brad Boxberger (2-1) that forced Evan Longoria to make a diving stop. Pinch runner Delino Shields scored when the third baseman to was unable to complete the throw to first base.

Alex Claudio (2-0) pitched two innings in relief of Yu Darvish to get the win. The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Steven Souza Jr. in the 10th, but avoided further damage by getting Adeiny Hechavarria to bunt into a double play and Mallex Smith to fly out.

Texas ended a five-game losing streak.

Rays starter Alex Cobb took a three-hitter and a 3-1 lead into the ninth, but couldn't finish off the Rangers, who erased their deficit with Joey Gallo's double and Shin-Soo Choo's 14th homer within a three-pitch span (see full recap).

Encarnacion powers Indians past former team
CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion homered and drove in four runs against his former team, and the Cleveland Indians broke open a close game with an eight-run seventh inning to rout the Toronto Blue Jays 13-3 on Friday night.

Encarnacion, who played the last six seasons with Toronto before signing a three-year, $60 million contract with Cleveland in January, hit a leadoff home run in the second, broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a two-run double and added an RBI single in the seventh.

Encarnacion was 3 for 4 with a walk and nearly added to his total later in the seventh, but center fielder Kevin Pillar tracked down his fly ball on the warning track with two runners on.

Abraham Almonte hit a three-run homer and rookie Bradley Zimmer added a two-run single in the seventh as the Indians won for just the second time in eight games (see full recap).

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

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Once upon a time, Cole Hamels was a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and changeup. The changeup was so good so consistently that it didn't matter that Hamels' curveball command was often shaky. Two very good pitches were enough.

It wasn't until Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay arrived that Hamels began incorporating a fourth pitch, the cutter, and along the way, his curveball command improved substantially. Suddenly, a two-pitch lefty had a legitimate four-pitch mix and it took him to another level.

Watching Aaron Nola dominate the Brewers in Friday night's 6-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay), Hamels' evolution came to mind. Nola allowed one run and struck out nine over seven innings, at one point whiffing eight of nine Brewers. And he did with a four-pitch mix that included 31 sinkers, 27 fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs.

It's no longer sinker-curveball only with Nola. He's now giving his opponents more to worry about in the form of additional velocity on the fastball and a changeup that is becoming a money pitch.

"Nola was outstanding. He's been working on that changeup all year and it's really one of his better pitches right now," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

With a four-seam fastball that has been maxing out at 95 mph lately, a curveball that buckles hitters from both sides of the plate, a sinker with wicked two-seam movement and a changeup that he's beginning to feel comfortable throwing to righties and lefties alike, Nola may be making his jump to the next level before our very eyes.

"No question about it," Mackanin said. "That changeup, he threw a ton of them tonight to righties and lefties. I talked to him when we took him out of the game and he was real excited about throwing the changeup not just to lefties but to right-handers as well. If he can do that with the rest of the arsenal that he has, I expect a real good performance from him every time out."

The win made Nola 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA, which essentially means he's given up three runs every eight innings. Any team will take that from a starting pitcher. 

Over his last six starts, Nola has been lights-out — 1.70 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, 50 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Perhaps most impressively, he's held his opponents to a .118 batting average with runners in scoring position, second in the National League over that span to only Clayton Kershaw.

"My changeup ... I'm feeling consistent with it right now," Nola said. "It's evolved. I really didn't have much of a feel for my changeup [when I first came up]. It's a thing I worked on in spring training a lot this year, threw it in counts when I usually wouldn't. That's what spring training is for and I think it helped."

The changeup is a feel pitch and its success is usually dictated by the pitcher's arm angle and speed. If he throws it the same way he throws a fastball, that's where the deception of the slower speed comes into play. Nola has worked hard on those aspects of the pitch and it's clearly paying off.

Nola induced 15 swinging strikes on the night, six of them on changeups and five on curveballs. His strikeout numbers stand out because he was not billed as this kind of pitcher when he was drafted or was coming up through the Phillies' system. In the minor leagues, Nola struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings. In the majors, he's struck out 277 in 275 innings (9.1 per nine).

"I'm real happy about the way he's come along, especially after the elbow issues," Mackanin said. "He has increased velocity. His pitches are crisper. He's better now than before. It's really a nice jump for him to make."

Indeed it is. Perhaps Nola's ceiling is higher than No. 2 starter.