Aug 25, 2014, 9:55 PM EST
GAME IN A NUTSHELL: The Nationals arrived in Philadelphia sky-high after a 9-1 homestand that left them the hottest team in the majors. Now they faced the opener of a tough, 3-city, 9-game road trip, hoping to carry over some of the positive momentum from D.C. That proved more difficult than anticipated tonight, thanks to a lights-out performance from the Phillies’ A.J. Burnett.
The veteran right-hander dominated over seven innings, striking out 12 while allowing only one run (Anthony Rendon’s solo shot in the sixth). The Nationals simply couldn’t get anything going at the plate, forcing Tanner Roark and the rest of the pitching staff to be perfect.
They weren’t. Roark gave up two runs in six innings to keep things close, but Jerry Blevins served up a homer to Carlos Ruiz in the bottom of the seventh, giving the Phillies a 2-run lead. After a week full of dramatic rallies at home, the Nationals couldn’t quite pull one off against the Philadelphia bullpen. Wilson Ramos launched a solo homer off Jonathan Papelbon with two outs in the ninth, and pinch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a sharp single to right. But Nate Schierholtz roped a sharp grounder right to shortstop Jimmy Rollins to end the game and start this road trip off on a down note.
HITTING LOWLIGHT: The Nationals have seen Burnett look good before — he carried a shutout into his last start against them in this ballpark a month ago — but the right-hander took things to a whole new level tonight. He struck out 10 of the first 18 batters he faced, allowing only one single, one walk and one hit batter along the way. The Nationals never put more than one man on base in any of their seven innings against Burnett, making for a wholly frustrating night at the plate.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: This was by no means a poor start for Roark, but he did have to battle some. The Phillies really made him work early, forcing 32 pitches to only five batters in the first inning. Their first run off him came via three straight hits, though the Nationals didn’t exactly play crisp defense behind him. Jayson Werth misplayed a ball off the wall in right, and Danny Espinosa couldn’t get to a hard grounder to his right that could’ve turned into a 4-6-3, inning-ending double play but instead brought a run home. The other run off Roark, though, was entirely on the pitcher. He hung a 2-0 offspeed pitch right over the heart of the plate to Cody Asche, who tattooed it to left. In the end, Roark gave up two runs in six innings. Solid, but not enough to earn him the win tonight.
KEY STAT: Danny Espinosa has struck out 65 percent of the time when he has two strikes on him this season. For comparison’s sake: Jayson Werth has stuck out 33 percent of the time.
UP NEXT: Game 2 of the series features a matchup of lefties. Gio Gonzalez (6-9, 3.83) hopes to pick up where he left off last time out against the Diamondbacks, while Cole Hamels (7-6, 2.53) tries to keep his strong season going at 7:05 p.m.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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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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