Phillies bullpen can't back Eickhoff's 6 scoreless
By Bill Ladson and Todd Zolecki
WASHINGTON -- Call Bryce Harper "the Natural," at least for Saturday night anyway. His three-run homer in the eighth inning proved to be the difference as the Nationals blanked the Phillies, 3-0, at Nationals Park.
With the victory and the Mets' extra-innings loss to the Braves, the Nationals' magic number dwindled to 12 to win the National League East.
The Nationals put runners on first and second with one out in the eighth to set the plate for the reigning NL Most Valuable Player. Harper got ahead in the count and smashed the 3-1 offering from Phillies left-hander Patrick Schuster into the second deck at Nationals Park.
"I got pretty good wood on it. I felt good. I knew it was out of the yard," Harper said. "I showed a lot of emotions there. I was pretty fired up to get that W. Down the stretch you want to win as many games as you can and get this into the postseason, hopefully. We have to lock this thing up."
The homer snapped a 10-game homerless drought for Harper, during which he was hitting .211/.279/.289.
"Boy, that was a dramatic home run. That show you how strong he is mentally. After you strike out three times and you hit a home run," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "He had a rough night going up to then."
The Phillies did get a strong start from right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, who hurled six shutout innings and struck out five Nationals.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Scherzer throws goose eggs: In the first first three innings, right-hander Max Scherzer threw 68 pitches. In the following two, he threw just 13. By the time, he left the game, Scherzer threw 117 pitches over 6 2/3 impressive innings that saw him strike out eight Phillies.
Eickhoff completes Phils' trifecta: Eickhoff matched Scherzer, allowing five hits and two walks and striking out five in six scoreless innings. He followed strong performances Thursday from Alec Asher (six scoreless innings) and Friday from Jake Thompson (two runs in 5 1/3 innings) against the Nationals. Philadelphia acquired Eickhoff, Thompson and Asher in the July 2015 Cole Hamels trade with Texas.
"Asher said yesterday it's kind of crazy to see all these Rangers up here," Eickhoff said. "It's a cool thing. We all kind of reflect and just look at each other and see how fortunate and lucky we are to have this opportunity to contribute at the big league level." More >
Melancon reaches milestone: Nationals closer Mark Melancon earned his 40th save of the season, 10th with the Nationals, by pitching a scoreless ninth against the Phillies. This is the the second consecutive season Melancon has reached the 40-save mark. He had 51 saves for the Pirates in 2015. More >
Lots of zeros: The Phillies had runners on first and second with one out in the first and runners on first and second with two outs in the third, but could not score. It is the fifth time in the past 18 games the Phillies have been shut out. They were shut out five times in their first 124 games.
"No new news," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "We just lack offense."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With the home run, Harper brought home his 23 go-ahead RBI of the season and his 13th game winner.
"It is tough. I'm very patient, but it doesn't mean I like what's happening. I don't have to be happy about it." -- Mackanin, on the Phillies' offensive struggles
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the fourth inning, Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera threw Clint Robinson out at the plate, but Baker challenged the call, claiming that Robinson's left hand touched home plate before catcher Cameron Rupp tagged him out. But the call was confirmed, and the Nationals lost their challenge.
WHAT'S NEXT Phillies: Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan (2-9, 5.90 ERA) pitches Sunday afternoon in the finale of a four-game series at Nationals Park at 1:35 p.m. ET. Morgan has allowed three earned runs in 12 2/3 innings in his last two starts, including two runs in 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball Aug. 31 against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.
Nationals:Gio Gonzalez gets the nod for Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET. He had been pitching well before a rough start against the Braves on Tuesday that saw him allow six runs in three-plus innings. The lefty has a 1.40 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this season.