Phillies-Nationals: 5 things you need to know

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Phillies-Nationals: 5 things you need to know

Phillies (1-2) vs. Nationals (1-2)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

After dropping the first series of the season to the Boston Red Sox, the Phillies remain home to take on another stacked team in the Washington Nationals.

The Nats entered the season with 6/1 odds (per Bovada) to win the World Series, the shortest in baseball. But Washington didn’t have such a hot series against the Mets, scoring just six runs total in three games.

Of course, the Phillies’ starting pitching isn’t in the same stratosphere as the Mets’, so this series is shaping up to be quite a challenge.

Here are five game notes to get you set for the series opener:

Murderer’s row
The Phillies begin an absolutely brutal 10-game stretch tonight. They’ll face Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer this weekend.

Then they go to New York to face the reigning Rookie of the Year in Jacob deGrom, then Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.

After that, the Phils head to Washington, where they’ll oppose Fister, Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg.

The number of aces and No. 2 starters in the NL East is yet another reason the Phillies should be rebuilding. This division is the toughest in baseball when it comes to starting pitching, and even if the Phillies had .500-like talent, it would be hard to avoid a losing season going up against horses like these.

J-Will on the hill
Jerome Williams was a pleasant surprise for the Phils last season, going 4-2 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in nine starts after signing in early August.

It was an unlikely career resurgence for a pitcher who had a 9.90 ERA with the Rangers and a 6.04 ERA with the Astros in 2014 before latching onto the back end of the Phils’ rotation.

Can he carry those strong final two months into 2015?

If the spring was any indication, that answer is probably no. Williams went 0-4 in Grapefruit League play with a 7.40 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. His opponents hit .368 with five home runs in 20 2/3 innings.

The Phillies know Williams doesn’t have upside and they know it will be challenging for him to piece together an ERA below 4.50, but if he can provide them six innings and four runs or fewer, that would represent an adequate season debut.

Defensive woes
Both of these infields struggled to field the ball on Thursday night.

Ryan Howard had issues scooping throws in the fifth inning against the Red Sox. One was on a poor throw from Freddy Galvis, the other from Cody Asche after Asche had made an impressive diving stop down the third-base line.

No runs were scored in that inning, but it was a perfect example of why groundballers won’t be as successful with this team as they could be elsewhere. A.J. Burnett didn’t pitch well overall last season, but he was a case in point.

As for the Nats, Ian Desmond committed his third error already this season against the Mets, which led to three unearned runs for Stephen Strasburg. Nationals pitchers could feel some frustration early this season with a middle infield of Desmond and Dan Uggla.

The book on Gio
Gonzalez is a stifling lefty who has always limited hits, but will struggle when his control is off.

Since joining the Nats in 2012, Gonzalez is 42-26 with a 3.25 ERA in 91 starts. He’s faced the Phillies 12 times over that span, going 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 22 walks in 73 2/3 innings.

The Phillies’ two veteran lefties, Howard and Chase Utley, have both struggled mightily against Gonzalez. Utley is 3 for 17 and Howard is 0 for 11 with six strikeouts.

You might see Darin Ruf get the start at first base for Howard, especially since a few Phillies outfielders have hit Gonzalez well. Ruf is 6 for 16 off Gonzalez with two homers.

Jeff Francoeur is 5 for 14 with two doubles and a homer against the southpaw. And two of the Phillies’ left-handed hitting outfielders have had success — Grady Sizemore is 7 for 14 with two doubles and a triple, and Ben Revere is 8 for 19.

Sold on the Nats?
I’m not. Washington will almost certainly win the NL East, it has too much talent not to. But beyond that, I don’t see this Nats offense as having enough to advance deep into October, especially with Rendon on the DL and Adam LaRoche on the south side of Chicago.

If Washington is to win it all this season, Bryce Harper will need to carry the Nats on his back. He is a .272 career hitter that gets treated like he’s a perennial MVP candidate. This Nats team doesn’t have a ton of power, so a .290/30-home run season from Harper will be necessary for Washington to beat teams like the Cardinals and Dodgers in the playoffs.

Today's lineup: Tommy Joseph returns to lineup for Game 1

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Today's lineup: Tommy Joseph returns to lineup for Game 1

The Phillies' return from the West Coast will also include the return of Tommy Joseph to the lineup in Game 1 of their doubleheader against the Marlins.

Joseph, mired in a 5 for 56 slump, will be in the lineup after sitting the last two games against the Giants. For some strange reason, the right-handed Joseph has struggled mightily against left-handed pitching. He's hitting just .185 against southpaws this season vs. .254 against righties. Joseph will play first and bat fifth.

What will excite Phillies fans tonight is the three and four hitters. Rookies Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins will bat in the three-hole and cleanup spot, respectively. Williams has struggled a little bit since his torrid start. He has just one extra-base hit in his last 42 at-bats. He'll start in center field while Odubel Herrera continues to nurse a hamstring injury.

Hoskins returns from his native California red hot. After getting just one hit in his first big league series against the Mets, Hoskins did some serious damage out west. The 24-year-old went 8 for 25 (.320) with five homers and eight RBIs during the seven-game swing. He'll get the nod yet again left.

Newcomer Hyun Soo Kim will fill out the outfield, playing right and batting sixth. Kim is just 5 for 33 since coming over from Baltimore in the Jeremy Hellickson trade.

Here is the rest of the lineup for Game 1:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Hyun Soo Kim, RF
7. Maikel Franco, 3B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Aaron Nola, P

And here's how the Marlins will line up against Nola:
1. Dee Gordon, 2B
2. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
3. Christian Yelich, CF
4. Marcell Ozuna, LF
5. J.T. Realmuto, C
6. Derek Dietrich, 3B
7. Tomas Telis, 1B
8. Miguel Rojas, SS
9. Dan Straily, P

Phillies place Vince Velasquez on 60-day DL; call up reliever Yacksel Rios

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Phillies place Vince Velasquez on 60-day DL; call up reliever Yacksel Rios

The Phillies have made a flurry of moves ahead of Tuesday's doubleheader vs. the Marlins.

Vince Velasquez (finger) is heading to the 60-day disabled list, effectively ending his season. He'll have surgery to repair a vascular issue with his right middle finger, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.

Velasquez left his last start after just one inning on August 10 while surrendering three runs.

In 15 starts, Velasquez compiled a 5.13 ERA, while continuing to struggle with his command. The 25-year-old struck out 68 batters while walking 34 and averaged just 4.8 innings per start. 

In a corresponding move, the Phillies have called up RHP Yacksel Rios from Triple A to replace Velasquez on the 40-man roster. The 24-year-old has a combined 1.92 ERA in 37 games while splitting time between Reading and Lehigh Valley. 

Nick Pivetta was officially recalled from the minors to start Game 2 of today's doubleheader, while Zach Eflin (shoulder) was placed on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to Saturday.