Phillies' Bullpen Can't Hold Aaron Nola's Lead in 3-2 Loss to Nationals

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WASHINGTON -- When Aaron Nola pitched against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park last week, his team scored 17 runs. An offensive output like that allows a club to sweep a lot of problems under the rug.

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Nola returned to the mound against that same Nationals team on Friday and this time runs were scarce. With no margin for error, the Phillies suffered a 3-2 loss in 10 innings (see Instant Replay).

It was their fourth straight loss as they fell to 3-7.

The Nats won it when their lethal mid-order tandem of Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy struck for a single and an RBI double to open the bottom of the 10th inning.

Harper finished a first-to-home dash with a headfirst dive across home plate. Both of the Nats' hits in the decisive 10th came against the beleaguered Jeanmar Gomez, who last week lost the closer's job after a ninth-inning implosion against these same Nationals.

Gomez came into a tie game in the ninth and pitched a scoreless frame. He stayed on for the 10th and did not get an out.

"That's his job now, to give us multiple innings," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Murphy's game-winning double came on a 1-1 sinker. Murphy, hitting .444, stayed on the pitch and served it down the left-field line.

Gomez has pitched 5 1/3 innings this season and given up seven runs. His confidence appears to be badly wounded. Now the challenge is finding a role where he can rebuild it.

Nola had a nice start. His pitches had some pop and movement and his breaking ball was sharp. However, he was not economical with his pitches and exited after five innings with a 2-1 lead. He threw 90 pitches.

So it became a bullpen game.

Pat Neshek delivered a scoreless sixth.

Mackanin then went to Edubray Ramos for the seventh. He gave up a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey. Two batters later, with two outs, Anthony Rendon crushed a first-pitch fastball off the wall in right-center to push home the tying run. After walking, Heisey had moved up to second on a passed ball charged to Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp. With two outs, chances are Heisey would have scored the tying run even if he had stayed at first base.

Hector Neris pitched a scoreless eighth to keep the game tied, and, with the specter of extra innings looming, Mackanin was looking for length when he went to Gomez in the ninth.

"It's all about handling pitching," Mackanin said. "I thought about Neris for a second inning, but I don't want to get into that rut we were in last year where every close game we're using up our guys and you get into August and September and they run out of gas. Six of one, half-dozen of the other."

Mackanin said he did not want to use his only lefty, rookie Joely Rodriguez, against lefty hitters Harper and Murphy in the 10th "because they both hit lefties well."

In the end, Gomez took the loss, but Ramos' walk to Heisey was quite damaging because it set up the tying run.

A week ago, on the night the Phillies scored 17 runs against the Nats, a seventh-inning walk doesn't kill you. But it cuts deep when your team gets just six hits and scores just two runs in 10 innings.

Stephen Strasburg pitched seven innings of two-run ball for the Nats and the bullpen did the rest.

Michael Saunders had a couple of hits for the Phils. Tommy Joseph belted his first homer of the season and Cesar Hernandez drove home the Phils' second run with a two-out single in the fifth, following Rupp's leadoff double.

"Other than that, not enough offense," Mackanin lamented.

Other than the high pitch count, Nola's outing was heartening, especially considering that he missed the final two months of last season with an elbow injury that had the entire organization concerned.

The right-hander gave up six hits and a run. He walked none and struck out six.

"The story for me was Nola," Mackanin said. "He gave us five good innings -- a few too many pitches. I could have sent him back out for one more but I'm trying to be careful with him."

Said Nola: "My stuff felt good. I feel like I threw a lot of pitches. I definitely want to go deeper than five innings and save some of the bullpen arms. You know you have Strasburg on the mound and you know runs are going to be pretty limited. But other than that, my body felt good. We battled a good team."

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