By Keith Groller/The Morning Call (TNS)
Where have you gone, Vincent Velasquez?
That’s what the Phillies fans who settled into Citizens Bank Park on Friday night for the start of a three-game series with the Nationals might have been wondering.
One day after Velasquez shut down San Diego with a three-hit, 16-strikeout masterpiece in a 3-0 win, the Nats had twice as many hits in the top of the first inning alone.
Washington scored five times in the first and never looked back in a 9-1 rout that snapped the Phillies’ three-game win streak and their stretch of outstanding starting pitching.
“What a difference one day makes,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.
A staff that had allowed just five runs and 19 hits overall in the four-game series against the punchless Padres was raked for 16 hits by the Nats, who are off to their best start in D.C. history ( 8-1) under first-year manager Dusty Baker. They seem ready to fight for the NL East title instead of fighting among themselves.
Bryce Harper had three hits, including a two-run home run in the sixth, and every member of Washington’s starting lineup - even pitcher Joe Ross - had at least one hit.
The Phillies’ starting pitchers entered the night with a MLB-best 2.14 ERA (15 earned runs in 63 innings).
Friday’s starter, Jeremy Hellickson, had contributed to those impressive numbers with a 1.54 ERA through his first 11 2/3 innings and two starts. He was tied for second in the National League in WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) at 0.60.
But the guy with the impressive WHIP got whipped.
“I thought my stuff was good; I just didn’t command like I needed to,” said Hellickson, who saw his ERA jump from 1.54 to 4.30 in three innings of work. “That’s an aggressive lineup and I didn’t make quality pitches at 0-0 or even with two strikes.”
Michael Taylor lined Hellickson’s second pitch of the game over the left-field fence. Former Phillie Jayson Werth, still a boo magnet in his sixth season since leaving Philly, cleared the bases with a three-run double and scored on Danny Espinosa’s single before Hellickson could finally get out of the inning.
Thursday’s entire game took two hours and 27 minutes. Friday’s top of the first seemed to take just as long.
“It boils down to our starting pitcher wasn’t at his best,” Mackanin said. “You make good pitches, you can get the Nationals out. He just made a lot of mistakes out over the plate.”
The Phillies were hoping to get above .500 for the first time since April 11 of last year when they beat Washington to get to 3-2.
They had won five of six after starting 0-4, and won back-to-back series - something that didn’t happen until after the All-Star break in 2015 when they won nine of 10 shortly after Mackanin replaced Ryne Sandberg.
They were looking to make a statement against a divisional rival they’ll see 19 times this season.
Instead, it was the Nats making the statement; namely, that they’re not to be confused with the Padres.
Ross, a 22-year-old right-hander in his second big-league season, delivered the kind of start the Phillies had grown accustomed to seeing from their starters.
The brother of Padres’ hurler Tyson Ross allowed just two hits over 7 2/3 innings before an eighth-inning hit by Freddy Galvis prompted Baker to make a change. Ross enabled the Nats to supplant the Phillies with the best ERA among starters in the bigs (1.91 at night’s end).
Reliever Yusmeiro Petit served up the one Phillies offensive highlight of the night, a ninth-inning home run by Ryan Howard.
It was the 361st blast of Howard’s career, tying him with Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio for 81st place on the all-time home run list.
“I was just informed about that and it’s great company to be associated with,” said Howard, who is a kinder, gentler interview now that he’s the team’s elder statesman. “It’s kind of surreal. You don’t think about things like that. It’s hard to think of your name in the same breath as some of these guys, but it’s cool. It’s a very humbling situation.”
Howard, who also homered and knocked in two of the Phillies three runs on Thursday, said he was determined to come into this season being positive.
“I am trying to have more fun and see if I can have that resonate among the rest of the guys in the clubhouse,” he said. “You just try to come in and have a positive attitude every day and put in the work and the results will come.
“I addressed what happened last year in spring training. 2015 is in the past and I’m just focused on this year. I’m just trying to have fun and go out and win some ballgames.”
Howard hit the ball hard three times Friday night and already has four home runs and seven RBIs, both team highs. His batting average is just .217, but that’s standard fare for a team that is hitting just .207 overall and has scored only 30 runs in its first 11 games.
That’s why when the Nats scored five times in the first inning, this one was pretty much over.
“One day to the next it’s a roller coaster ride,” Mackanin said. “A 5-0 deficit is 5-0; it doesn’t matter what kind of lineup you have. Obviously, we’re not hitting the ball that well right now. But any time you get beat up like that early and have to climb out of that kind of hole, it’s tough.”
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