The Nationals failed to capitalize on quality pitching performances from both MacKensie Gore and the bullpen on Saturday as the Nationals fell to the Phillies 4-2. Gore was far from lights-out, but he went six innings for a quality start, saving Davey Martinez from having to once again dip into his bullpen early.
After Gore left the game having surrendered a manageable three runs, a fourth was tagged to Erasmo Ramírez, who was unable to record an out in the 8th inning after tossing a clean and efficient 7th. Chad Kuhl recorded six outs to finish the game, allowing only inherited runner Bryce Harper to score.
A pitching staff cannot consistently be expected to give up less than four runs in a game, and certainly not less than two. Unfortunately, the Nationals offense gave Gore and the bullpen very little support and was all but shut down by Philadelphia pitching. The Phillies opted to forgo a true starter in favor of a bullpen game, which began with opener Matt Strahm pitching two perfect innings.
Washington managed just two runs, both coming in the fourth inning and in ugly fashion. Keibert Ruiz drove in Joey Meneses, who had reached via a single and advanced to second on a single by Dom Smith for the first run. Disappointingly, the singles-hitting ended there as CJ Abrams grounded into a double play, quickly ending what might have been a rally.
However, in a rare case of heads-up baserunning by the Nationals, Keibert Ruiz got himself into a rundown after Phillie first baseman Drew Ellis took the out at first and removed the force at second. Keibert eluded the baseball for long enough for Dom Smith to reach home plate and tie the game. The inning was far from ideal, but it was exactly what fans have come to expect from the scrappy 2023 Nationals.
The Phillies regained the lead on a home run from J.T. Realmuto, which came in Gore's final inning of work. Gore appeared visibly frustrated as he watched the ball sail over the center field fence. Also frustrated in this game was Lane Thomas, who was rung up on two highly questionable strike three calls by umpire Ben May, both on pitches high and outside. After the first strikeout, Thomas had a few words for May as he returned to the dugout, but after the second he was much more animated. That pitch was called a ball in other at-bats, creating at least the appearance of retaliation towards Lane by Ben May after complaining about the first call. In any case, Lane Thomas went 0-4 and was unable to put the Nationals on top as he has been trusted to do in many recent games.
Alex Call also went hitless in Saturday's game, lowering his batting average to a grim .212 with a .621 OPS. One has to wonder how much longer the front office will put up with such poor offensive output, and how the upcoming return of Victor Robles will affect Call's playing time or roster spot.
The outcome forced a rubber match to end the series, which will come Sunday at 1pm. After giving higher leverage arms like Kyle Finnegan, Mason Thompson, Carl Edwards Jr., and Hunter Harvey a days' rest, the Nationals are in a decent position to win the series as Trevor Williams faces struggling lefty Ranger Suárez.