WASHINGTON - The Phillies arrived at Nationals Park on Tuesday afternoon just as the home team was announcing it had traded away two potent left-handed bats.
Daniel Murphy was dealt to the Chicago Cubs and Matt Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals.
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This did not disappoint the Phillies. Both Murphy and Adams have racked up a slew of big hits against the Phils over the years.
Now there is a new Phillies tormenter. With roster openings to fill, the Washington Nationals recalled left-handed hitting Andrew Stevenson from Triple A before Tuesday night's game and he did what Murphy or Adams could have done. He clubbed a game-tying, pinch-hit, two-run home run in the sixth inning. It was one of a series of punches the Nationals used in hanging a damaging 10-4 loss on the Phillies, who have dropped two games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East (see first take).
Management might have waved the white flag on the season by trading Murphy and Adams, but the Nats still have the potential to mess up some other teams' seasons. And the Phillies, with five of their next eight games coming against the Nats, are in the line of fire.
"The Nationals have been a dangerous team since opening day and they will be a dangerous team until the last game of the season," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "That lineup is really good from top to bottom and they showed that tonight."
The Phillies rallied for four runs in the top of the sixth inning to take a 4-1 lead. It did not last long as the Nats scored five times in the bottom of the inning to take the lead. Four of the runs came against the usually reliable Victor Arano, three on back-to-back homers by Stevenson and Wilmer Difo.
"I thought we were in really good position," Kapler said. "We had a big inning and then we had our best relievers lined up to win the game for us. It doesn't always work out according to plan."
Arano had gotten two huge outs to escape a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning before returning to the mound with a three-run lead in the bottom of the sixth.
"We couldn't have felt more confident with him on the mound," Kapler said. "He just made some mistakes with his fastball, got beat with his fastball.
"He was impressive coming in after they loaded the bases in the fifth. He just had a rough time getting through that next inning."
Roman Quinn had an eventful game for the Phillies. He started in right field and misplayed a ball that led to Washington's first run in the second inning. Then he ignited the Phils' four-run rally in the sixth with his first big-league homer.
Later, with the Phils down by three runs in the eighth, Quinn came to the plate with the bases loaded. He struck out on four pitches against rookie Wander Suero.
Quinn had two hits, including the homer, in his previous two at-bats.
"We felt confident there because Roman was swinging the bat well," Kapler said. "Sometimes the opposing pitcher makes good pitches and we swing and miss and that's what happened there."
It was a bittersweet night for Quinn.
"The home run was a good feeling," Quinn said. "But I'm still a little upset about bases loaded going down swinging right there, key situation in the game. I had a chance to make something happen right there, but I didn't come through."
There's been a lot of that lately for the Phillies. The team is 5-9 in its last 14 games and has lost three in a row. The Phils face Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer on Wednesday and Thursday. Not easy assignments.
"I think very similarly to what we have said all year, we are going to go through some tough stretches," Kapler said. "This is a bit of a prolonged stretch and we need to pay very close attention to it and we need to be responsive to the little things that we see that we can improve and we will. But certainly we understand that really good teams go through tough stretches and this has been one that has been difficult."
Vince Velasquez survived a one-hour, 42-minute rain delay in the third inning and gave the Phils four innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth.
"We've had some tough losses and some good wins," he said. "We can only keep our heads up high and keep moving forward. There's a lot of baseball left. I don't think there's any reason to hit the panic button right now. I trust in our team. I think we'll just keep moving forward. Like I said, I don't think there's anything to be worried about."