By Chris Murray
For the CM Report
With the Phillies coming off an incredible 9-1 road trip, beating up on the Washington Nationals should be a walk in the park, right?
But for some unexplainable reason, the Washington Nationals have this bizarre way of always playing the Phillies tough.
The opening game of this three-game weekend series against a Nationals squad that is a half-game out of last place was one of those nights where nothing really went right for the Phillies in a 4-2 loss in front of 45, 762 fans at a sold out Citizen’s Bank Park.
Starting pitcher Cole Hamels, who has pitched well in his last two outings, didn’t have good command of his pitches and couldn’t find any kind of rhythm. Hamels lasted just five innings, allowing three runs on six hits with four walks, three of which came in the first two innings. He threw 89 pitches. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel attributed Hamels troubles to stiffness.
“He had a hard time getting loose,” Manuel said. “He didn’t have his command, his shoulder stiff. If you noticed he had a hard time getting his fast ball. He was having a hard time finding his fast ball. It topped out at 90.”
Hamels said he felt fine and attributed his struggles tonight to late season fatigue or another way of putting it maybe he hit a wall.
“I wasn’t able to get loosened up and that’s part of the year where you’re fatigued a little bit and you’re going to have to battle through it and move on to the next game,” Hamels said. “It’s tough when you want to goout there and have success. I just wasn’t able to locate my pitches. When you’re not able to loosen up and get things going, they found some holes. It was just kind of the breaks.”
Meanwhile, the Phillies offense could not solve the riddle of Hernandez’s curve ball and other off-speed pitches befuddled Phillies batters all night and had them hitting harmless fly balls and grounders. In six and two-thirds innings of work, Hernandez allowed just one run, which was unearned, on just four hits with three strikeouts.
“He changes speeds, he know how to pitch, he’s been around,” Manuel said. “He moves the ball in and out. He knows our hitters. He don’t shy away from contact. (Hernandez) is not up there to really strike you out, he’s up there to get you out and also to let you get yourself out. When pitches against us, that’s what happens. At the same time, we hit some balls hard, but they were right at them. We didn’t muster enough offense to get to him.”
Phillies rightfielder Hunter Pence was severely handcuffed by the Hernandez, strikinout twice on off-speed pitches Hernandez helped his own cause at the plate by going 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI singles.
The Nationals jumped on a shaky Hamels in the top of the second inning on a pair of Hernandez and Rick Ankiel.
The Phillies bounced back in their half of the second with an RBI single by Wilson Valdez that scored Ryan Howard, who reached on an error by second baseman Danny Espinosa. They wouldn’t score another run until the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Pence that drove home Shane Victorino.
The Nationals certainly had their chances to really break the game open. In the fifth inning, Nationals loaded the bases with no outs on a singles by Ankiel and Espinosa while third baseman Ryan Zimmerman reached on a walk.
Hamels retired Johnny Gomes on a flyout to short right field and got Jayson Werth to ground out to Howard at first, but Ankiel scored from third to up the Nationals margin 3-1. Hamels struck out Wilson Ramos to end threat.
“I was trying to locate,” Hamels said. “I felt like I made a lot of good pitches to the guys that got hits. When they’re able to get hits in the right place, you can’t do much about it, you just have to keep battling.”