Thursday, August 23, 2018

Center fielder Bryce Harper had a large red and blue Nationals travel bag at his feet, filled with gloves and other baseball equipment.

Dressing quickly, shortstop Trea Turner tossed a towel into a hamper while getting ready to catch the team bus and then a train to New York.

The Nationals (64-64) finished a lackluster homestand Thursday afternoon, falling 2-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies as the club wasted another Cy Young-like pitching performance by ace Max Scherzer. The Phillies salvaged the finale of the three-game set after the lowly Marlins won two of three against Washington last weekend.

Washington has now been shut out in four of the last five losses by Scherzer, by scores of 2-0, 2-0, 1-0, and again 2-0 on Thursday before 29,475 on an unseasonably less-humid day in the nation’s capital.

Adding to the tension was the club’s decision on Tuesday to trade veteran hitters Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s also been a frustrating season for us as a whole,” Scherzer said of those trades.

Scherzer is now 16-6 after he gave up just two runs and two hits in seven innings with 10 strikeouts and a season-high four walks.

“He was good,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “Uncharacteristic (that) he walked four guys.”

The only runs came on a two-run homer to right by the Phillies’ Odubel Herrera on a cutter from Scherzer in the top of the seventh. It was Herrera’s 20th homer of the season, as Scherzer fell to 8-1 in his career against the Phillies while with Washington.

“I wanted to get that pitch up and in,” Scherzer said. “It was out over the plate. He put a great swing on it. I was kind of inconsistent all day. Three of the walks were after a 1-2 count. That is when I am (normally) at my best, in that position.”

“He is the ultimate competitor,” Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom said. “We just didn’t execute that pitch.”

Scherzer should sue for lack of support: His teammates have managed to score just four runs in his six losses this season. The Nationals have been blanked 12 times this season — four times with Scherzer on the mound.

Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola was the latest culprit to befuddle the Washington hitters as he threw eight shutout innings Thursday while allowing five hits with nine strikeouts.

“He was lights out,” said Harper, who was 0-for-4 and struck out twice. “He was a first-round pick out of LSU. He will be a No. 1 (starter) one day.”

Nola and Scherzer are two main Cy Young Award candidates in the National League this season along with the Mets’ Jacob deGrom — whom the Nationals won’t have to face this weekend. Scherzer and Nola now have matching 2.13 ERAs. The Nationals pitcher actually started the day at 2.11. Nola’s curveball, his most effective pitch, impressed the Nationals.

“That was pretty impressive,” Martinez said. “It’s a good one. He does a good job of keeping hitters off balance.”

“It is not one where it is especially hard to see,” Kieboom said. “It’s just a slower curveball.”

The Nationals now begin a series against the Mets on Friday night, well aware the last road trip was a disaster. The club went 2-5 against the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, losing back-to-back games in the last of ninth.

That went a long way in the decision of general manager Mike Rizzo and the front office to pull the plug on the veteran roster. They traded Murphy and Adams on Tuesday to — ironically — the Cubs and Cardinals, two of the teams ahead of them in the standings.

“Play good baseball; keep it going. We have been playing good baseball,” Scherzer said of making a playoff run. “You have to win every single day; just go 1-0 every single day.”

Martinez said injured reliever Ryan Madson will join the team in New York. Closer Sean Doolittle, also on the disabled list, threw Thursday but Martinez wouldn’t commit to him being ready on the upcoming road trip.

The third-place Nationals fell to 51/2 games back of the second-place Phillies (69-58) while first-place Atlanta began Thursday 71/2 games ahead of the Nationals.

“We have to go to New York and win some ballgames,” Harper said.

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