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May 13, 2017

Harper walks it off as reeling Phillies suffer 11th loss in last 13 games

WASHINGTON – You couldn’t have liked the matchup. The Washington Nationals offense, which was leading baseball in every conceivable category and has at least a few MVP candidates in the middle of their order, against the Phillies bullpen, which entered the night with a .904 opponents’ OPS and eight blown saves, the second-most in all of baseball.

For three-plus innings, the beleaguered Phils’ pen held serve. Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez, Pat Neshek and even Joaquin Benoit were up to the challenge.

But then Edubray Ramos left a 95-MPH fastball belt high to arguably the most dangerous hitter in baseball in the bottom of the ninth inning. And Bryce Harper didn’t miss it, clearing the center field fence for his 11th home run of the year, a two-run walk-off shot to give the Washington Nationals a 6-4 win over the Phillies.

"The plan was to locate the fastball down and away," Ramos said. "That's what I tried. But it didn't happen."

"Just missed his spot, both times," manager Pete Mackanin said of the game-ending at-bat against Harper, who inked a one-year, $21.625 million contract for the 2018 season earlier on Saturday.

The walk-off home run was the fifth of Harper's career, and his second against the Phillies this season.

"He’s out there to win the game and he’s got that kind of a bat," Mackanin said. "That’s what it takes to win a lot of these games. He was looking for a good heater out over the plate that he could hit. ... It was pretty much down the middle, above the knees. ... Those kinds of hitters, they don’t miss fastballs, fastball mistakes. That’s what he was looking for and he got it."

The loss was the 11 in the last 13 games for the Phillies (and also their 8th in their last 9 games). The Phils (13-20) are a season-worst seven games under .500.

They’ll play two more against the Nationals in a split doubleheader on Sunday at Nationals Park. It'll be interesting to see how they're struggling bullpen holds up over the course of 18 innings (at least) in one day.

Whether it's Ramos vs. Harper on Saturday, Benoit against the middle of the Mariners lineup earlier this week, or Hector Neris at Dodger Stadium two weeks ago, Mackanin has seen many a badly-located pitch turned into unrecoverable damage in 2017.

"We’ve got to get better at that," Mackanin said. "They have to understand that. Most of them have to improve on that part of their game, make quality pitches with their secondary stuff."

Starters’ Blues

Nick Pivetta, like Jerad Eickhoff before him earlier this week, was handed a four-run lead and manage to squander it away.

A half inning after (the red-hot hitting) Tommy Joseph’s two-out, run-scoring double upped the Phillies lead to 4-0, Pivetta had a nightmarish fifth. He served up a two-run home run to Area Turner, walked then Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper before Ryan Zimmerman ripped a game-tying double.

"One bad, I'd have to say, to Zim," Pivetta said, summarizing his outing. "That wasn't exactly where I wanted to go. Also, the two-out walks didn't help at all. ...  I'm not too focused on the walks. I'm focused on the Zimmerman (at-bat). It was just a bad, bad located pitch. ... It was just that one choice pitch where it was up. He was going that way. That's just the way the baseball game goes. "

Pivetta was pulled immediately after the double, giving the Phillies just 4 2/3 innings. Phillies starters have thrown 181 2/3 innings in 33 games, an average of 5.5 innings per start. Only the Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins, and Minnesota Twins had received fewer innings per start from their rotation entering play on Saturday.

The start was likely the last for Pivetta in the big leagues for some time. Aaron Nola is on tap to make his final minor league rehab start on Monday night in Rochester, N.Y., for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Pivetta went 0-2 with a 6.14 ERA and 1.91 ERA in three starts, allowing 10 earned runs on 23 hits in 14 2/3 innings. His numbers at Triple-A were slightly better: 3-0, 0.95 ERA, 0.737 WHIP, two earned runs on 12 hits in 19 innings over three games.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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