May 4, 2014, 5:53 PM EDT
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: When the Phillies had to scratch Cole Hamels from today’s start due to flu-like symptoms, the Nationals figured they were catching a break. Not exactly. Replacement starter Roberto Hernandez was downright dominant, carrying a shutout into the eighth inning.
Gio Gonzalez was equally dominant, but the Nationals left-hander gave up one quick run in the bottom of the first on Jimmy Rollins’ triple and Chase Utley’s RBI single. Gonzalez cruised after that, failing to give anything else up and keeping his teammates in the game. All they needed was a crack at the Phillies’ beleaguered bullpen, which they finally got in the top of the eighth.
It didn’t happen this time, though. The Nationals stranded the tying run on third base and wound up dropping a tough game and the series. For the second straight day, they squandered an opportunity to leapfrog the Braves (now on a 6-game losing streak) for first place in the NL East.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: Despite the injuries that have ravaged their Opening Day lineup, the Nationals have managed to be productive overall at the plate. But they continue to struggle at driving in runs in key situations. They were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position today, leaving them with a paltry .219 batting average in those spots for the season, 22nd out of 30 MLB teams. In all other situations, the Nats are hitting .270, ranking third in the majors. Whether you believe in the notion of clutch hitting or not, the fact remains this team hasn’t been nearly as productive when runners are in scoring position as they’ve been when they’re not.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Aside from his one hiccup in the first inning — something every member of the Nationals’ rotation has dealt with this season — Gonzalez was near-perfect. He allowed only one hit after the bottom of the first: Ben Revere’s third-inning triple. Otherwise, the left-hander did a brilliant job mixing up mid-90s fastballs with his trademark curveball and the occasional devastating changeup. Gonzalez struck out seven, kept his pitch count reasonable (100 through seven innings) and did everything within his power to give the Nationals a chance to win this game.
KEY STAT: Roberto Hernandez last threw seven scoreless innings in a big-league game on April 7, 2011, when he still was claiming to be Fausto Carmona.
UP NEXT: The Nationals return to D.C. for a very brief homestand, with three games against the Dodgers. They’ll face some potentially dominant pitching over the next three days: Zack Greinke on Monday, Clayton Kershaw on Tuesday, Dan Haren on Wednesday. Jordan Zimmermann gets the ball for the Nats for the series opener at 7:05 p.m.
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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