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May 14, 2017

Bad bounces, bullpen does Phillies in as Nats take nightcap of doubleheader

WASHINGTON – Aaron Altherr kept his bat on his right shoulder and looked at the home plate umpire incredulously.

No sir, I fouled that ball off my foot, he probably said. Believe me, I know when I foul ball off my foot, it doesn’t feel particularly great.

Instead, home plate umpire Andy Fletcher sent the hottest hitter in the National League back to the dugout dismissively. The ball left Altherr’s bat and ended up in the glove of Washington third baseman Anthony Rendon, who threw across the diamond to first to record what Fletcher decided would be the last out of a weird top of the seventh inning in the nightcap of a doubleheader in Washington.

Earlier in the inning, Fletcher’s umpire crew decided that Cesar Hernandez was out when he ran into his own bunt attempt (as a base runner with a live ball) in fair territory. The Phillies contested he was still in the batter’s box. The umpires converged, watched some video … but the play wasn’t reviewable.

"It’s unfortunate that I can’t review those calls," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "That’s the way it is."

It was a rather bizarre 1-2-3 inning, a half inning that came immediately after the Nationals had claimed a one-run lead. But the 2017 Phillies have a pretty good resolve.

An inning later, in the eighth, Freddy Galvis ripped a one-out, two-run triple to the gap in left-center, erasing a deficit and giving the Phillies the lead with one swing. The Phillies have some resolve, surely, but their bullpen, well, it’s left a lot to be desired six weeks into the season.

A game that saw four lead changes from the fourth inning pretty much came to a tough end for the Phils in the eighth, when Michael A. Taylor ripped a two-run home run off the left-field foul pole, erasing the deficit and giving his team the lead just as Galvis had in the top half of the inning, and, in turn, leading the Nationals to a 6-5 win.

The Phillies were five outs away from winning back-to-back games for the first time since April 26-27 when Taylor connected off Pat Neshek for his second home run of the year. The two runs that scored were the first Neshek had allowed in 15 games this season.

"Neshek has been great for us," Mackanin said. "He made one bad pitch and it cost us."

"It was a backup slider," Neshek said. "Terrible pitch. He was looking for it. I was hoping it would go foul. But he was looking to do that and you tip your cap." 

The home run was the 24th allowed by Phillies' relievers this season, the most in the National League and tied with Seattle for the most in baseball.

"It’s way too much," Mackanin said. "And I know there are other teams that are having issues too. (Washington) has been suffering with their bullpen. A lot of other teams have had issues with their bullpen and pitching in general. We’ve had our share."

It would probably help the Phils' pen if they weren't required to cover nearly half of the team's games. For the fourth time in seven starts this season, Vince Velasquez failed to pitch more than five innings. He needed 100 pitches to get through five on Sunday night, which put the ball in the hands of the 'pen for the game's final four innings.

"(Edubray) Ramos pitched a real good inning today," Mackanin said. "Neshek’s been good. (Joaquin) Benoit had a good inning (earlier) and (Hector) Neris got a save. Once we get going and we get that (starter) length, we can go to that formula, we’re going to be fine."

After playing 12 of their first 25 games of the season against Washington, the Phillies won’t see the Nats again until September. Given the teams' respective records and rosters, the Phils fared quite well in those dozen games against the Nationals, taking 5 out of the 12 games, with 10 of those 12 games being decided by two runs or fewer.

But it’s unlikely the Phillies were looking for any moral victories following Sunday night’s defeat. They were probably wondering what could have been in the seventh inning, when two flukey plays (read: foul balls) were left in the eyes of the umpiring crew.

Then again, the Phillies could have also brought in another run in the eighth. After Galvis tripled with one out to give his team the lead, he was left stranded there when Andrew Knapp followed with a strikeout and pinch hitter Ty Kelly flew out to left field to end the inning.

"We're in every game against them, I know (five have ended in walk-offs) and we have won a few that way, but we've played them really close," Neshek said. "And that's kind of how our schedule has been this first month. Tough schedule."

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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