While there is plenty of season left for the Philadelphia Phillies, a loss with their ace on the mound in the deciding game of a series against a last-place team would be tough to take.
One night after rallying for a 3-2 victory in the series opener, the Phillies were unable to sustain that momentum, falling 4-2 on Wednesday.
Jayson Werth homered for Philadelphia (63-56), which has only nine hits and has struck out 24 times through the first two games of this series.
The loss dropped the Phillies into third place in the East, four games behind the first-place New York Mets.
“The last two nights we’ve had good pitching thrown against us, but at the same time, you know, the last two games we just haven’t hit the ball,” manager Charlie Manuel said.
Several of the Phillies’ best hitters are struggling.
Jimmy Rollins is 9-for-48 (.189) since Aug. 2, Ryan Howard is 4-for-24 (.167) with one homer and four RBIs since Aug. 8 and Pat Burrell is 6-for-32 (.188) since being moved into the third spot on Aug. 5.
Hamels (13-5, 3.64 ERA), who has won four of his last five decisions, could become the Phillies’ first 20-game winner since Steve Carlton in 1982 with a strong finish.
The left-hander gave up four first-inning runs Friday but allowed only two of the last 19 batters he faced to reach base - one on a walk and one on an error - in a 5-4 victory over Atlanta.
“I just had to step back and relax,” Hamels said. “I wasn’t able to finish guys off in that first inning. I just needed to forget about that and move on. I had to concentrate on getting ahead of hitters and finish them off.”
Hamels is 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA in six career starts against the Nationals, including 0-1 with a 4.38 ERA in two outings this year.
Pitcher Tim Redding had a two-run double, and Ryan Church added a solo homer Wednesday for the Nationals (55-65), who have been a vastly improved team in the second half. They are 19-13 since the All-Star break, including 12-3 at home, where they have won five consecutive series.
Philadelphia is the only NL East team with a better record than Washington since May 11.
The Nationals’ unheralded bullpen has played a huge role in the team’s improved play, posting a major league-best 2.48 ERA since July 1.
The bullpen came through in a big way Wednesday.
Redding left in the seventh with no outs and runners on first and second. After Saul Rivera gave up a run-scoring single to Chris Coste, Ray King struck out pinch-hitter Russell Branyan and Rollins. Luis Ayala threw one pitch and retired Tadahito Iguchi on an inning-ending fielder’s choice.
“Coming in with the bases loaded and nobody out and only one run scoring - that’s dynamite,” Redding said. “You can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Joel Hanrahan (2-0, 2.76) has been impressive in his first three major league starts, a trend he’ll try to continue Thursday for the Nationals. The rookie right-hander limited San Francisco to one run and seven hits over 5 1-3 innings in a 3-1 victory last Thursday.
Hanrahan’s longest major league outing came in his season debut when he went six innings against the Mets. He has allowed one run in each of his last two starts.
This will be his first appearance against the Phillies.