Phillies Outmaneuver Nationals

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Apr 26, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera (37) celebrates with teammates after hitting a two run home during the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 26, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera (37) celebrates with teammates after hitting a two run home during the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Philadelphia Phillies downed the Washington Nationals in a series opener at Nationals Park.

After watching the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, Bryce Harper, homer in three straight games back in Philadelphia, the Phillies manager Pete Mackanin decided that one of the hottest players in the game to open this season was not going to beat his team again, if he could help it.

Mackanin was able to help it most of the way, calling for Harper to be intentionally walked twice on a night when the Nats’ star right fielder received three free passes in all from Phillies pitching.

In the end, however, it would all come down to a situation in which the skipper had to allow the superstar to bat with the game on the line. And that time, Phils’ closer Jeanmar Gomez won the battle, preserving a 4-3 victory in the opener that got the club back to the .500 mark.

But before we got there, the game opened as a chance for Vincent Velasquez to re-establish himself among the early National League breakout phenoms of the season. While not overpowering, Velasquez did allow just five hits over six innings in which he struck out four and walked three.

The Phillies put him out in front early when Odubel Herrera led off the game with a four-pitch walk against Nationals’ starter Max Scherzer, and Andres Blanco followed with a line drive homer over the center field wall.

For Herrera it was his 18th walk of the season. He would later add a 19th, good enough for 2nd in the entire National League in that department as his development as a leadoff hitter continues to progress fabulously.

Scherzer allowed seven hits and walked four over six innings in continuing a frustrating season in which his ERA is at the 4.35 mark. “You go through funks and right now this is a funk,” Scherzer said per MLB.com’s Jamal Collier. “But at the end of the day, this is an easy thing to correct. This is just a minor tweak. You get through it.

The home side pulled one back in the bottom of the 2nd inning when Nats’ 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy led off with a double, moved to 3rd on a wild pitch by Velasquez, and scored on a nice sacrifice bunt to the right side by Danny Espinosa.

Related Story: Opposition Roadblock: Daniel Murphy

The Phillies went back to Scherzer in the top of the fourth as Ryan Howard led off with a walk and trundled around to 3rd base on a double by catcher Cameron Rupp. When the next batter, David Lough, rolled a grounder at Ryan Zimmerman, Howard broke for home and was thrown out at the plate.

It would prove to be a costly out, as Cesar Hernandez then followed with an RBI single to score Rupp and put the Phillies on top by a 3-1 score. The Nationals then got to Velasquez for three singles and a walk to score a pair of runs in the bottom of the 5th, evening the score up at 3-3.

The Phillies went back on top by scoring what would prove to be the game-winning run in the top of the 7th inning thanks to back-to-back doubles off the bats of Blanco and hot 3rd baseman Maikel Franco off Nats’ lefty reliever Oliver Perez.

The lead stayed secure thanks to three scoreless innings from the Phils’ bullpen. David Hernandez, Hector Neris, and Gomez each recorded a shutout frame, allowing two hits with a cumulative 5/2 K:BB ratio over those late innings.

In the bottom of the 9th, Gomez dispatched the first two batters uneventfully, and faced Anthony Rendon with Harper looming in the on-deck circle as the potential winning run. Rendon delivered a first-pitch base hit, of course, and Harper strode to the plate.

The Phillies new closer and the Nationals 23-year old wunderkind battled to a 2-2 count over seven pitches that included a number of balls fouled off by Harper. Finally, Gomez coaxed him into an easy grounder at Franco, who fired to first base to end the ball game. “The last out was a really good battle,” Gomez said per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki.

Mackanin once again hit his pitcher in the 8-hole to start the game. For now, his moves are working, and the club is looking much more competitive. With the victory the Phillies have again clawed their way back to the .500 mark, and are now 2-2 on the season against the 1st place Nationals.

Next: Series Preview: Phillies at Nationals

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