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Phillies’ NL East road trip goes from bad to worse with ugly start to Nationals series

Ugly start in DC dooms last-place Phillies: ‘This is a really humbling game’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

WASHINGTON — Even on a night when they made their biggest comeback of the season, the Phillies were unable to snap their latest lengthy losing streak and dropped a fifth straight game, 8-7, to the Nationals.

They were down six runs before the second inning was over, a shock to the system for everyone in the dugout on a night when ace Zack Wheeler was on the mound. Wheeler was coming off eight scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts in Atlanta against the most powerful offense in the league but could not find his command against the team with the fewest homers and lowest slugging percentage in the NL.

He was hurt big-time by his outfield defense. The Phillies let three catchable balls drop in for hits in the first two innings and two of them were one-out doubles that changed the trajectory of Wheeler’s night and the game overall.

Kyle Schwarber took a poor route and was unable to catch a line drive by Jeimer Candelario in the first inning.

Brandon Marsh broke in rather than back on a liner right at him, which sailed over his head for a CJ Abrams double in the second.

A soft blooper also fell a foot or so in front of Nick Castellanos in the first inning.

Those three plays cost Wheeler runs and as many as a few dozen pitches. He labored through the first two innings on 61 pitches and his night might have ended after five outs had he not retired Corey Dickerson to end a high-stress second. That said, it wasn’t all bad luck. Wheeler allowed his share of solid contact, as well.

“That cost us, cost Wheeler some pitches, but I was happy that they came back and kept fighting,” manager Rob Thomson said. “It looked like Schwarbs kind of took a banana route on that, and Marsh — line drives right at you in center field are tough because it’s kind of right at you and hard to judge. He came in a couple of steps and then tried to track it back and didn’t get there.”

This was not what the Phillies needed with a bullpen game coming Saturday. Wheeler pitched just 3⅔ innings. Left-hander Matt Strahm will start the middle game and Thomson said he can go two-plus innings.

“I probably pushed Wheels a little bit longer than I wanted to,” Thomson said. “He was at 61 pitches after two innings. That’s a heavy workload. But because of the bullpen day, he said he was fine, he wanted to give us as much as he possibly could and he did that. That was big of him. “

The Phillies’ offense finally showed up after scoring three runs in a three-game sweep at Citi Field, coming back from down six runs to tie the game at 7-7 in the eighth inning. It was the largest deficit they’ve come back from to tie a game this season but they couldn’t get over the hump.

Castellanos had a whale of a night, his best as a Phillie, by far. He went 4-for-5 with a solo homer to right-center, a two-run homer to left-center, a two-run single and a ninth-inning double that put the tying run in scoring position with one out.

Trea Turner and JT Realmuto both popped out to end the game. Realmuto went 0-for-5 with four groundouts to the left side and that game-ending pop fly. He continues to expand the strike zone. He is 3-for-43 in his last 14 games, hitting .070 without an RBI.

The Phillies are 25-32, as far under .500 as they’ve been since Thomson’s first night as manager last season. They are tied with the Nationals for last in the NL East. They’re 11-22 on the road, better than only the Athletics and Rockies.

This is their third five-game losing streak since May 1.

“This game is a really humbling game,” Castellanos said. “It forever owes you nothing. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked the previous year or what you had in the past. You have to come and earn your meal every single night. I think it’s just a reminder.”

Thomson shook up the lineup Friday night. Schwarber led off, Bryson Stott hit second and Bryce Harper hit third, three consecutive lefties. The Nationals have no left-handers in the bullpen which made the idea appealing. The 1-2 of Stott and Turner also hasn’t worked out. When Schwarber led the game off with a single and Stott followed with a walk, it was only the second time in the Phillies’ last 41 games that their first two hitters reached base in the first inning.

The Nationals’ lack of a lefty reliever nearly tilted the game when the top of the Phillies’ order was due up, trailing by one in the top of the eighth. Schwarber hit a potential double-play ball back up the middle but Luis Garcia’s throw to first base was wide, allowing Brandon Marsh to score the tying run. The Phils had their shots. They just couldn’t come up with one more big hit.

“There were definitely a lot of positives as a group, showing some fight when it would have been really, really easy to lay down and allow the way the game started to be the way it finished,” Castellanos said. “Obviously, we didn’t come through and we walk away with a loss, which is not ideal, it’s frustrating.”

Connor Brogdon took the L by walking nine-hole hitter Alex Call with two outs in the eighth, throwing a wild pitch and giving up the game-winning single to Lane Thomas.

“We need to be more consistent, that’s it,” Harper said. “It’s not good to go through streaks like this when you’re trying to be a winning ball club. Just need to be better.”

The Phils are guaranteed a losing road trip and look to salvage a piece of it by winning two in a row this weekend. Lefty Mackenzie Gore, the Nationals’ best starting pitcher, is on the mound Saturday.