The last time the Washington Nationals played the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nats swept the series at Citizens Bank Park and Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper held a home run festival. Friday night’€™s opening game of the Nats’ last series against Philadelphia of the 2015 season was completely different, as the team could not string hits together or score runs, and the Phillies clobbered Nationals pitching. The result was an 8-2 loss. With the Mets defeating the Cincinnati Reds, that makes the Mets magic number to officially clinch the division at one game.
Phillies rookie pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, acquired in the Cole Hamels deal, stymied the offense all night. No one knows how a rookie pitcher will continue to develop, but Eickhoff looked like he had good stuff that might sustain a long career. He does not have an overpowering fastball, but he does have a wicked slow curve ball and a decent breaking pitch. The Nationals’ hitters saw the entire package of pitches from Eickhoff and for the most part could not handle them.
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Werth went 2-for-4 with a home run and had both RBI’s for the Nats last night and Harper went hitless for the fourth game in a row, the first such stretch for him this season. Harper is now in a mini slump. Hopefully, he can break out of it before it starts to seriously effect his batting average and a potential batting title.
Jordan Zimmermann may have pitched his last home game at Nationals Park, and the game did not go according to the Cinderella script. It was JZ bobble head night, which was celebrating his no hitter from last year. You always hope for a win for a pitcher getting a bobblehead night, but it was not to be.
Zimmermann received a standing ovation from the fans walking from the bullpen to the dugout before the game began, and received another upon taking the mound in the top of the first. The fans were showing appreciation for the pending free agent. He started the game looking like he might have another no hitter in the tank. By the end of the third inning, it was clear the Nats were in trouble.
The top of the third inning featured something not seen in the Major Leagues since 1999, an inside-the-park grand slam, courtesy of Phillies rookie outfielder Aaron Altherr. The top of the third inning was a microcosm of this season. All you need to know about how the Nats year has gone you could learn by watching that inning.
Zimmermann started the third inning by walking Brian Bogusevic and Cameron Rupp singled. Then, Eickhoff bunted the ball back toZimmermann, who fielded the ball cleanly, but Wilson Ramos signaled to him to throw to third. Bogusevic is very fast (which Ramos apparently forgot) and beat the throw to third. Instead of getting an out, the Phillies had the bases loaded with no one out.
Freddy Galvis popped out to shallow center and it was hit to shallow to score Bogusevic from third. Up came Altherr, who hit a ball to center field. Michael Taylor tried to make a play on the ball, but it was a low liner. Taylor went for the catch instead of playing the ball on a hop. He missed the ball and it rolled all the way to the wall. Werth had to run over from left field to pick it up and by the time the ball got to the infield Altherr was crossing home plate. A misplayed bunt, a misplayed ball hit to the outfield, a runner on due to a base on ballsâ€“it was there for Nats fans to suffer through again.
The Phillies were ahead 4-1 just like that and never relinquished the lead. They went on to score four more runs. Altherr and Darin Ruf also hit solo home runs off Zimmermann, who did not pitch past the fifth inning. He left he game down 6-1.
Altherr had what had to have been the best night of his young career. He went 4-for-5 with two home runs, a double and a single. If he had stopped at third base instead of scoring on the Taylor miscue in the third inning, he would have hit for the cycle, but hindsight is 20-20.