Nationals’ Cole, relievers shut down Phillies
PHILADELPHIA — With a week remaining in the baseball season, the Washington Nationals are showing they are ready for the postseason even without some key pieces in the lineup.
Behind a Michael Taylor home run and a strong all-around pitching effort led by A.J. Cole, the Nationals took care of the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1 on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Washington (95-61) has won six of its past eight games. Philadelphia (62-95) dropped its fourth in five games.
Cole (3-5) outdueled Aaron Nola (12-11) for the win.
Taylor’s second-inning home run, his 17th of the year, came on a 3-1 pitch from Nola, who left a fastball over the middle of the plate. It scored Jayson Werth, who was on first with a single, for a 2-0 lead.
Werth gave the Nationals an insurance run with a run-scoring fielder’s choice in the eighth inning to extend the advantage to 3-1.
That was more than enough for Cole, who was making his eighth start of 2017.
The right-hander, who collected his first career hit with a single in the second inning, was removed after 5 2/3 innings and 102 pitches. He struck out five and walked two. His only blemish was an Odubel Herrera home run in the fourth inning, one of six hits that Cole allowed.
“He stayed out of the middle of the plate,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “The one ball hit out was down the middle. He’s been executing his pitches well.”
Cole isn’t likely to be a major piece in the playoffs, but the 25-year-old has shown flashes that he could be in the mix for a permanent starting job in 2018.
“If you pitch well, that will take care of itself,” Baker said. “All you can do is worry about the present.”
Herrera broke an 0-for-17 slump with his home run.
“It was a big hit at the time,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “We just couldn’t get anything going.”
The Phillies were held hitless by four Washington relievers over the final 3 1/3 innings. Philadelphia moved a runner into scoring position just twice against Cole and wound up stranding eight runners.
Sean Doolittle posted his 24th save of the season, his 21st for Washington, with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. He struck out Ty Kelly looking to end the game.
Nola allowed just the two runs on Taylor’s homer in six innings. He struck out nine and walked two while allowing five hits. It was likely Nola’s last start of 2017 since the Phillies recently deployed a six-man rotation and the team has five games left.
“He pitched well enough to win,” Mackanin said. “Obviously, he gave that home run to Taylor, made a mistake on that pitch. But other than that, he gave us a chance to win.”
The Nationals, with six games left, are three wins from tying the franchise’s single-season record. The Phillies, meanwhile, are looking to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1961.
Washington might soon get a little help in its chase toward 100 wins. Bryce Harper, who hasn’t played since Aug. 12 due to a left leg injury, was supposed to be activated Monday, but flu symptoms kept him sidelined at least another day.
Harper, once an MVP candidate who owns a .326 batting average with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs, may return Tuesday.
“You hate to waste these days, but you also hate to push him out there when he’s not ready,” Baker said.
NOTES: Washington’s 95 wins are tied for third most in the history of the franchise. It is the first time in Nationals/Expos history the club has had consecutive 95-win seasons. ... Phillies RHP Aaron Nola has 184 strikeouts in 27 starts. It is the most strikeouts a Philadelphia pitcher has ever notched in fewer than 30 starts. ... Philadelphia has lost 23 of its past 30 games against Washington. ... Two normal Washington starters, 2B Daniel Murphy and 3B Anthony Rendon, were given the day off. ... The Nationals send LHP Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68 ERA) to the mound Tuesday to face Phillies RHP Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14).