Phillies vs. Nationals: A series of blunders ruins a good start from Zack Wheeler

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A series of Phillies' blunders ruins a good start from Wheeler originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

This wasn’t the way Travis Jankowski envisioned his first game in home Phillies whites going. 

Jankowski, who grew up rooting for the Phillies in Lancaster, ran off the field to the sound of boos after being picked off second base in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday night. The play short-circuited a potential game-tying rally and the Phillies ended up with a 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals in front of just 15,030 on the night Citizens Bank Park opened to full capacity.

"I had much higher hopes,” Jankowski, a 29-year-old former San Diego Padre, said of his Phillies home debut. “It’s all part of it. Hopefully we’ll move past it and I can bounce back and continue to bring what I can to the team and help us win.”

Jankowski had been playing at Triple A for the Phillies and was called up when Roman Quinn suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon rupture last week.

After doing little against Washington starter Max Scherzer, the Phillies got a leadoff double by Rhys Hoskins against reliever Daniel Hudson in the bottom of the ninth. Jankowski was called on to pinch-run for Hoskins as J.T. Realmuto came to the plate.

Jankowski misread a ball in the dirt, got caught between second and third and was chased down by catcher Alex Avila for the first out of the inning. Realmuto then struck out and Brad Miller flied out against Brad Hand to end the game.

“Probably just trying to do too much,” Jankowski said. “I saw a slider in the dirt. I was expecting a ricochet and it just hopped right in his glove. I couldn’t do much after that. I was kind of stuck in the middle there. Really no excuses. Just a bad read. That one’s on me.”

Manager Joe Girardi understood Jankowski’s mindset.

“The thought process is not bad – you’re trying to move up on balls in the dirt,” Girardi said. “But it’s the read. He didn’t read it away from (the catcher) and it has to be away from (the catcher) for you to advance.” 

Jankowski’s baserunning gaffe was one of several little things the Phillies did poorly to waste a strong start by Zack Wheeler and fall to 26-30 in the season.

To wit:

Hoskins might have been able to make third base on his ninth-inning double off the right-field wall had he run harder for the first 90 feet.

And the defense might have prevented the first run of the game in the top of the fourth if third baseman Alec Bohm had gotten to a ball quicker and been able to cut the lead runner at second. Instead, Bohm had to throw across the diamond for an out and Trea Turner, who had gotten to second on the fielder’s choice, was able to score from second on a bloop double to left by Josh Bell.  

Bell’s double fell in front of a diving Andrew McCutchen, who seemed to hesitate while closing on the ball. 

Wheeler is often the victim of poor run support and he was again in this one. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.48 runs per game, 56th out of 66 qualifying big-league starters. 

When you put just one run on the scoreboard, you better play crisp ball in every other phase of the game.

These Phillies often do not.

“When you don’t score a lot of runs, every little thing shows up in the box score,” Girardi said. “Every little mistake you make is going to show up.”

The Phillies hadn’t played in two days because of a rainout Wednesday and a scheduled off day Thursday night. They put 17 runs on the board in  Cincinnati on Tuesday night, but cooled off in a big way Friday night.

Washington starter Max Scherzer had a lot to do with that. He held the Phillies to five hits and a run over 7 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out nine.

The three-time Cy Young winner is 6-1 in nine starts at Citizens Bank Park and 12-4 in 22 career starts against the Phillies overall. 

Wheeler pitched very well for the Phillies. The right-hander allowed just two runs over 7 1/3 innings. He scattered five hits, one of which was a homer. 

The loss was Wheeler’s first as a Phillie in 14 starts at Citizens Bank Park. He entered the game 7-0 with a 2.14 ERA in 13 starts as a Phillie at home.

Wheeler has a 2.51 ERA in 12 starts this season, but his record is just 4-3. He’s been hurt by lack of run support and poor defense.

“I don't think about that when I'm out there,” he said of the poor run support. “Honestly. I mean, I hear it from you guys. I hear it from other people. But it's not in my mind at all out there. My goal is to go out there and put up zeroes. No matter if we score 20 or 0. I think that's the best way to go out there and deal with that."

After the Nationals took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth, the Phillies tied the game in the bottom of the inning on a single by Jean Segura, a stolen base and a hit by J.T. Realmuto. Washington took the lead for good on a two-out homer by Soto in the sixth. 

Soto hit a 1-0 fastball – “Right down the middle,” Wheeler said -- into the left-field seats and appeared to stare down Wheeler as he began and ended his home run trot.

“I didn't notice it,” Wheeler said unconvincingly. “I couldn't care less.” 

In the bottom of the inning, Scherzer, a pitcher with impeccable control, hit Realmuto with a pitch up high on the left arm.

Saturday afternoon’s game could be interesting. Spencer Howard opposes Nationals’ right-hander Joe Ross.

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