Andrew McCutchen’s walk-off homer for Phillies masks need for pitching

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Great win masks Phillies' dire need for starting pitching originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Dave Dombrowski is trying to land some pitching before Friday's trade deadline.

He better hurry.

The Phillies' need for quality pitching grew even more dire in Monday night's dramatic 6-5 win over the Washington Nationals in front of 23,265 at Citizens Bank Park.

With one starting pitcher (Zach Eflin) already on the injured list, another (Matt Moore) consistently inconsistent and another (Vince Velasquez) sporting an ERA over 10 in his last four starts, the Phillies may have lost another at a very inopportune time.

Spencer Howard, in the unique position of either being in the big-league rotation as August arrives or being used as a trade chip, left the start in the fourth inning because of a blister on his right middle finger.

Howard, who turns 25 on Wednesday, was basically what he was in six previous starts this season: Effective, even borderline dominant, in the first two innings, followed by a big drop off in effectiveness and velocity after that, and finally an early exit.

The right-hander stroked a base hit to lead off the bottom of the third inning, ran the bases extensively in the frame, then was torched for five hits and four runs in the top of the fourth.

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The Phillies made a game out of it when Rhys Hoskins clubbed a three-run homer in the sixth and they won it, in jaw-dropping fashion, on Andrew McCutchen's three-run homer with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

The Phillies are back over .500 at 50-49, 3½ games back in the NL East.

The Nationals are 5-16 in July. In other words, a dead team.

The two teams play three more games in the series, which ends Thursday, a day before the trade deadline.

The Phillies need to keep making hay. But they'll need better starting pitching to do it. The bullpen work Monday night was quite good. Five relievers kept the Phils in the game until McCutchen walked it off.

Howard has had endurance issues this season and they've been reflected in his early exits and drop in fastball velocity. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.4 mph and 94.6 in the first two innings. It dropped to 91.9 and 91.7 in the third and fourth innings.

Howard's turn in the rotation would come up again on Saturday, if he's healthy. Manager Joe Girardi said he expected Howard to be able to make the start. The blister had previously troubled Howard. Monday night's issue involved the calloused-over part of the blister breaking up and becoming "throbby," Howard said. Howard was treated and believes he'll be good to go Saturday.

Of course, there's always the chance that Howard could be gone by Saturday. There have been indications that the Phillies would be willing to use him in a trade, possibly for relief help. The Phils have targeted Chicago Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel, and had targeted his bullpen mate, Andrew Chafin, before he was dealt to Oakland on Monday night. The price is high on Kimbrel and there are several teams in addition to the Phillies pursuing him. The Phillies' payout could start with Howard.

But, then again, maybe the current pitching pinch means the Phillies will hang on to him.

"I think everyone could use more starters," Girardi said. 

The dust will settle on all of this Friday at 4 p.m.

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