GAME IN A NUTSHELL: After losing the first two games of his series in large part due to lights-out pitching performances by A.J. Burnett and Cole Hamels, the Nationals knew they needed a win tonight to avoid a sweep at the hands of the last-place Phillies. They had to feel good about their chances, with Doug Fister on the mound for them and Kyle Kendrick on the mound for Philadelphia. That didn't prove to be as favorable a matchup as they hoped.
The Nationals hit Kendrick once again, scoring at least four runs off the right-hander for the fifth straight head-to-head start. But Fister couldn't hold two separate leads he was given, giving up two runs in the bottom of the first and three more in the bottom of the sixth, departing in stunned fashion.
Needing a late rally, the Nationals instead dug themselves into a deeper hole. Ross Detwiler gave up three more runs in relief, and the lineup went down quietly the rest of the night. Thus the Nats followed up a 9-1 homestand with a 3-game sweep here, and now face a daunting week on the West Coast against the contending Mariners and Dodgers.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: It looked like Denard Span was going to be the star of the game for the Nationals. That didn't prove to be the case, but it wasn't from lack of effort on his part. Though he committed a first-inning error that allowed one run to score, he more than made up for it at the plate. Span singled and scored in his first at-bat. He hustled his way to a double and scored in his second at-bat. And then he launched a ball into the second deck in his third at-bat for only his second homer of the season.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: Something simply hasn't been the same for Fister the last two times he has taken the mound. After a stretch of six starts in which he surrendered a total of nine earned runs, the right-hander has now given up nine runs (eight earned) in his last two outings. A common trend: Home runs. He gave up a pair to the Giants on Friday in D.C., and he gave up a pair to the Phillies tonight, each on pitches up in the zone. Particularly troubling about tonight's start was the fact the Nationals twice gave Fister a 2-run lead, and twice he gave the lead right back. That's very out of character for him. The question now: Have these last two starts been a blip on the radar, or is there actual cause for concern?
KEY STAT: In the game's first three innings, plate umpire Dan Iassogna called eight pitches out of the zone strikes and five pitches in the zone balls, according to BrooksBaseball.net's umpire tracking system.
UP NEXT: The Nationals have a long flight out to Seattle ahead of them tonight, but will get Thursday to rest up before opening a big weekend series against the Mariners. Friday's 10:10 p.m. opener features a doozy of a pitching matchup: Felix Hernandez vs. Jordan Zimemrmann. Start brewing coffee now so you can stay up late to watch that one.
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