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May 07, 2017

Aaron Altherr's pinch-hit homer helps Phillies salvage one game against Nationals

Out of the lineup for a second straight day with a sore wrist, Aaron Altherr stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter at Citizens Bank Park in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday afternoon. There Phillies trailed the Washington Nationals 5-2 and were facing the prospect of a sixth consecutive loss.

And on a day when a former Phils outfielder, Jayson Werth, had been the other big story with four hits and a couple of home runs (surprise, surprise), Altherr continued his impressive start to the season by driving the first pitch he saw from Matt Albers through the wind into the left-center field bleachers. 

As Pete Mackanin said after the game, "it was a well-timed hit." Um, yeah.

"I was looking fastball and he just hung a slider over the middle," Altherr said. "I guess I was able to recognize it early and put a good swing on it."

The Phillies had suddenly tied the game at five, and they would go on to manufacture the winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning after Hector Neris worked a couple of scoreless frames against the Nats' powerful lineup.

Freddy Galvis gave the Phillies a 6-5 win with a sacrifice fly off Blake Treinen. The Phils stopped the bleeding and improved to 13-17 on the season.

Mackanin said after the game that Altherr could have been in the lineup today, but he opted to sit his red-hot outfielder in hopes of using Monday's scheduled off day as an opportunity for more rest. But by the fifth inning, Altherr was getting some swings in the batting cages at CBP, planning for a pinch-hit opportunity.

"I probably had about over 150 swings, just soft toss, staying loose and staying ready," Altherr said.

On the season, Altherr is slashing an impressive .338/.427/.631. There are questions about what his emergence will mean for veteran outfielder Howie Kendrick, but the 26-year-old, who also patiently worked a walk in the tenth inning, is forcing Mackanin to give him everyday at-bats.

"The fact that he laid off some semi-tough pitches to lay off, that says a lot about how far he's come," Mackanin said. "I'm looking forward to watching him play a little more."

Despite hearing some boos, Werth hit a couple of homers and a double off starter Jeremy Hellickson, who only last 4.2 innings.

"He just has a good idea of what he's going to do up there," Hellickson said. "He gets a pitch to hit, he doesn't miss it."

A few weeks ago, it felt like the Nationals stole a game from the Phillies in D.C. when Bryce Harper hit a long walk-off homer off Joaquin Benoit. On Sunday, it was Aaron Altherr returning the favor.

"Being on this run I'm on, it's definitely helped my confidence out a lot," he said.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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