Nationals host Phillies in battle to escape NL East cellar

MLB

The Philadelphia Phillies, who hope to see improved relief pitching after recent trades, will visit the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game series.

Philadelphia’s bullpen ERA has a majors-worst 8.00, leading to the acquisition of Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman from the Boston Red Sox on Friday.

Hembree made his Phillies debut on Sunday, pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings in what turned out to be a thrilling 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves. Workman got the save despite allowing a ninth-inning run, but he blew a save chance and took a loss for Philadelphia on Saturday.

Hembree said, “My mentality is to attack hitters. I was comfortable because I was in (high-leverage) spots with the Red Sox.”

Phillies manager Joe Girardi, while hoping for more improvement from his bullpen, will start veteran Jake Arrieta (1-3, 4.95 ERA) on Tuesday.

Arrieta is just 1-3 with a 4.61 ERA in 16 career starts against the Nationals. At Nationals Park, however, he has been much better, sporting a 2.57 ERA and a 1-2 record in six starts.

The Phillies’ offense is led by right fielder Bryce Harper, who is second in the majors with in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.119). Harper had a setback on Sunday, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

However, he is unlikely to stop hacking. In 2016, he swung at the first pitch 29 percent of the time. Last year, that number increased to 43 percent of the time. This year, it’s 49.5 percent, according to PitcherList.com.

The Nationals — Harper’s original team — know all about the Phillies slugger and will surely have a plan to try to negate him.

That plan, at least initially, will fall to right-hander Erick Fedde (1-1, 2.55 ERA). He is 2-1 with a 4.22 ERA in five career appearances against the Phillies, including four starts.

However, Fedde hasn’t pitched since Aug. 14. His next scheduled start was postponed by rain, and the Nationals skipped him in the rotation.

For his career, Fedde has a 3.16 ERA in six starts with a normal four days of rest. But his ERA is 5.32 in 13 starts with six or more days of rest.

Both the Nationals and Phillies have been disappointments this season, tied for last place in the NL East, four games behind the Braves.

The Nationals are just 6-11 at home after losing 11-8 to the Miami Marlins on Monday night. The Phillies, who were off on Monday, are just 2-6 on the road.

Washington, however, has some hot hitters. Left fielder Juan Soto, who went 4-for-5 on Monday for the third four-hit game of his young career, is batting .400.

In addition, rookie second baseman Luis Garcia is hitting .333 in nine games. Leadoff batter Trea Turner leads the team with 21 runs and is batting .314 with a .388 on-base percentage. And right fielder Adam Eaton, off to a slow start with a .239 batting average, has six RBIs in his past two games.

The Nationals have scored 17 runs in their past two games.

“It’s very good that our bats are starting to have some life,” Eaton said.

Still, the Nationals — who are the reigning World Series champions — have alternated wins and losses through their past 11 games, which has been a frustrating stretch for the team.

–Field Level Media

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