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Hard hits not enough for Nats

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Hard hits not enough for Nats

MIAMI -- If not for the giant scoreboard above the center field fence at Marlins Park, the Nationals might never have known they only scored three runs Monday night. As many balls as they hit hard as a team, as many strong individual offensive performances as they got, surely they must have put up a nice, crooked number on that scoreboard.

Nope. At the end of the night, the Nationals were on the wrong end of a 5-3 decision that left more than a few people inside their clubhouse baffled given the way they felt they swung the bat.

"Yeah, but I guess that's better," Ryan Zimmerman said. "We're putting ourselves in a position to score runs each game. A month ago, you couldn't really say that. As long as we keep giving ourselves opportunities like we hit the ball today, I think it's going to even out."

This was a game designed to support sabermetricians who stress the inability of pitchers or hitters from accounting for where the ball goes once it strikes bat. Nationals players couldn't have been much more pleased with the contact they made; and they couldn't have been less pleased with the end results.

They collected 11 hits in total, at least one in every inning save the fifth (which still featured a leadoff walk). Miami's pitchers seemed to be working out of the stretch the entire night, yet they consistently were bailed out by well-struck balls that happened to be hit directly at one of their fielders.

That included an incredible four double plays in the first six innings, two of which came on line drives smoked by Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper, another on a scorched grounder up the middle by Jesus Flores that still turned into a 6-4-3 twin-killing.

"We hit the ball on the button," manager Davey Johnson said. "I don't know how many, three double plays we hit into? Four? But we did swing the bats good. We just didn't get the big hit."

Despite all that, the Nationals held a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third, thanks to Flores' sacrifice fly that scored Danny Espinosa and Zimmerman's seventh homer in his last 18 games (a bomb that landed in the Clevelander night club beyond the left-field fence.

But starter Edwin Jackson gave both runs back, and then two more in rapid-fire succession. It began with a leadoff single to opposing pitcher Carlos Zambrano, continued with a single by Jose Reyes and then featured a two-run single by Carlos Lee on a slider at his shoelaces.

"It was down, but clearly not down enough," lamented Jackson, who was working on 11 days rest through the All-Star break. "He could still hit it good enough to get it in. I was trying to throw it down. I guess I should have bounced it."

The game now tied, Jackson fell into his most troublesome tendency: Letting an already shaky inning get worse.

This has happened to him several times this season. In fact, of the 46 total earned runs Jackson has allowed in 2012, 17 of them have come in only four of his 106 13 innings: a five-run first inning against the Astros on April 19, another five-run first on June 28 at the Rockies, a three-run run first on July 4 against the Giants and Monday night's four-run third in Miami.

Throw out those four ugly innings, and Jackson's season ERA is a sparkling 2.55 instead of its actual 3.89 figure.

"The game of baseball is damage control," he said. "Whether one inning is one run, two runs or three runs, it's just staying out of the big inning. It's a matter of making pitches when you have to."

Jackson couldn't make the pitch when he had to during Monday's third inning. After falling behind 1-0 to Hanley Ramirez, he grooved a fastball over the heart of the plate, and the Marlins third baseman tattooed the ball off the gaudy home run sculpture beyond the fence in left-center.

Little did Jackson or the Nationals realize at the time those four runs would be enough for the Marlins to win the game. Though they got one of them back in the sixth on Zimmerman's double and Michael Morse's RBI single, they watched as yet another rally was quashed by a heartbreaking double play.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Flores sent Zambrano's final pitch of the night on a beeline up the middle. If it squirted through, two runs would have scored and the Nationals would have taken the lead. Instead, Reyes made a lunging grab to his left and set in motion a 6-4-3 double play: the fourth the Nationals hit into over the course of six innings.

"I'm trying to look for a good pitch to hit and drive those runs in," Flores said. "Unfortunately, I hit it back to someone."

It was the story of the night for a Nationals club that was hoping to leave town with a series victory over a division rival but instead had to settle for a four-game split heading into a crucial homestand against the Mets and Braves.

"Yeah, but I like the way everybody's playing," Johnson said. "We're playing hard, we battled back. We gave ourselves every chance to win that ballgame. That's what good teams do."

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Scherzer dominant as Nationals edge Phillies 3-2

Scherzer dominant as Nationals edge Phillies 3-2

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- For most pitchers, flirting with a no-hitter might be one of the most memorable days of your career. For Max Scherzer, it was just another day at the office.

Scherzer didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning and he was dominant through eight as the Washington Nationals continued their mastery of the Philadelphia Phillies with a 3-2 victory Tuesday night.

Scherzer (15-7) allowed three hits and struck out 11 while walking one. He was perfect through the first four innings, striking out five consecutive batters - all swinging - between the second and third innings.

He has taken a no-hitter into the sixth in nine of his 61 all-time starts with the Nationals, and has allowed just five total hits in his last two outings.

"Hey man, I mean that's why he's Max," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "You know we had a good chance to win when Max pitches, and there's a good chance of him going deep in the game."

Ryan Howard, who got the start despite being 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer coming in, hit an opposite-field two-run home run in the seventh inning to break up the shutout and pull the Phillies within 3-2.

But Scherzer closed the door from there, striking out three more in the seventh and eighth en route to his 15th win of the season.

"I knew I was throwing the ball well, I knew I had all the pitches working, I knew I could go out there and keep different looks going multiple times throughout the lineup and really sequence guys right," Scherzer said. "When I'm able to throw all my pitches for strikes it really allows (catcher Wilson Ramos) to do his job back there and come up with the right sequence."

Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 37th save, getting a strikeout and inducing a big game-ending double play after issuing a leadoff walk.

Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera collected the only other hits for the Phillies, who have lost six of eight to fall 12 games below .500. They have dropped their last eight games to first-place Washington, which matches the team record for consecutive losses vs. the Nationals/Expos franchise.

"We need to improve our plate discipline," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just not getting hits. But Scherzer was dominant, you've got to give him credit. He's a tough cookie."

Scherzer, who pitched two no-hitters last season, didn't allow a runner to reach base until Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp walked with one out in the fifth. Galvis ripped a double to right-field to lead off the sixth to break up Scherzer's no-hit bid, but was picked off second base by Scherzer to end the scoring threat.

The Washington ace also had a sacrifice-bunt RBI in the fourth after Ryan Zimmerman walked and Danny Espinosa ripped a single.

The Nationals staked Scherzer to an early lead in the first inning. With two outs and nobody on, Daniel Murphy doubled before scoring on a double by Bryce Harper, his 19th RBI in the last 19 games. Ramos brought Harper home with an RBI single to put the Nats ahead 2-0.

"He can smell it," Baker said. "When he gets some runs, it's usually a shutdown inning. He doesn't give it right back. It usually takes a while for them to score off of Max."

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff (9-13), who walked just six batters in his last eight starts coming in, issued three walks and allowed five hits and three earned runs through six innings.

Scherzer's double-digit strikeout game was the 12th of the season, setting a Nationals record. He improved his career record to 7-1 against the Phillies, including a 6-0 mark since he joined the Nats in 2015.

HOWARD'S STILL GOT POP

Howard's homer was the 20th of the season and the 377th of his career, tying him with Jeff Kent and Norm Cash for 73rd on MLB's all-time list. His next home run will tie him with Matt Williams for 72nd place.

He has 10 career 20-homer seasons, the second most in Phillies history behind only Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt (14).

HOME-PLATE COLLISION

The fourth inning ended when Espinosa was thrown out at the plate on a dart from Phillies right fielder Aaron Altherr. On the play, Espinosa collided with Rupp at home, which seemed to anger some Phillies.

Afterwards, Mackanin admitted that "he didn't think he had to bowl him over," but Howard laughed that Rupp probably "liked it" and "that's baseball."

OWNING PHILLY

The Nationals, who opened their six-game road trip with a 4-0 victory over the Phillies on Monday, are 7-1 at Citizens Bank Park this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: Peter Bourjos missed his second straight game after getting hit in the left wrist by a pitch Sunday.

UP NEXT

The Phillies and Nationals wrap up their three-game series Wednesday night with Philadelphia LHP Adam Morgan (1-8, 6.50) opposing LHP Gio Gonzalez (9-9, 4.25).

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Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Scherzer starts as Nats look to keep rolling at Phillies

Nats (76-55) at Phillies (60-71) at Citizens Bank Park

After bouncing back with a 4-0 victory in the series opener, the Nats look to keep it going in Philly on Tuesday night with ace Max Scherzer on the mound.

Scherzer, who is 14-7 with a 2.92 ERA, tossed eight shutout innings against the Orioles his last time out. He last saw the Phillies on June 1 at CBP and gave up two runs in eight innings of work.

Ryan Zimmerman is back in there at first base after taking Monday off. The rest of the Nats lineup is the same.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: CBS-9, MASN2
Radio: 106.7 The Fan
Starting pitchers: Nats - Max Scherzer vs. Phillies - Jerad Eickhoff

NATS

CF Trea Turner
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
RF Bryce Harper
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Max Scherzer

PHILLIES

TBA
RHP Jerad Eickhoff

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE STATS AND SCORES

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NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

NL East: Cespedes' heroics keeping Mets alive in wild card race

Don't count out the New York Mets just yet. 

The Nationals may be up nine games in the National League East, but their rivals from the Big Apple have slowly crawled their way back into the wild card picture.

The biggest reason why? The return of a healthy Yoenis Cespedes, who missed most of August with a quad injury. In the nine games since he’s been back, the 30-year-old outfielder has slashed .389/.450/.861 with five home runs, including Monday night’s extra-inning walk-off shot against fellow-wild card hopeful Miami Marlins.

"He's that kind of player," manager Terry Collins said via NJ.com. "You expect big things each and every time he goes up. He's one of those guys people pay to see him play. They see him come up to bat, and they know he can do something dangerous each and every time up."

After it seemed like the Mets were down and out, the Cespedes’ bat has resuscitated their playoff push. New York is 7-2 with Cespedes in the lineup since August 19, and its offense has averaged nearly six runs a game during that span. So just like 2015 postseason run, it's on Cespedes to lead the way. 

“Every time I see Cespedes at home plate, I feel like he's going to hit a homer," third baseman Jose Reyes said. "That's the way I feel in the dugout. I'm sure the other guys feel the same way. They had the opportunity to see him get hot last year, and for me, seeing him this year, it's unbelievable what he can do on the baseball field. Basically he can do whatever he wants to.”

New York's mini-surge has happened at the right time, with the club just 2 1/2 games out of a wild card spot and nearly a month left in the season. 

“We're going into September," Reyes said. "That's the way we want to play right now. That's a huge win against a Miami team that was in front of us....now we're in a better position."