WASHINGTON (AP) — Three home runs. Solid work from the bullpen. Strong defense, highlighted by two runners being thrown out at the plate.
At long last, the Washington Nationals are finally starting to look like a baseball team capable of making some noise in the NL East.
Anthony Rendon and Victor Robles homered in a four-run sixth inning, and the Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-4 Thursday night to complete a sweep of their rain-shortened series.
Rendon led off the sixth with a tiebreaking drive against Nick Pivetta (4-2), and Robles made it 7-3 with a three-run shot off Edubray Ramos.
Kurt Suzuki also went deep for the Nationals, who earned their first three-game sweep of the season. This victory followed a doubleheader win over their division rivals on Wednesday and postponements Monday and Tuesday.
“Throughout the weather, throughout all the hoops that we went through, the boys came to play,” manager Dave Martinez said.
After sinking to 19-31 on May 23, Washington has used a 17-7 surge to get within two games of .500 (36-38) for the first time since April 28.
“This is gratifying to see,” Martinez said. “They made some really good plays on defense today. We’re playing good baseball all the way around — getting big hits when we need them, our bullpen’s stepped up, starting pitching has been good.”
Javy Guerra (1-0) worked the sixth to earn his ninth win in 222 career games. Sean Doolittle got three outs for his 16th save.
Jean Segura and Jay Bruce hit solo homers for the Phillies, who have lost four straight and eight of 10. Playing at NL West-leading Atlanta and Washington in succession, Philadelphia went 1-5 and was outscored 44-21.
“We performed poorly on this road trip,” manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged. “No excuses.”
Philadelphia right fielder Bryce Harper was booed loudly in the stadium he called home during the first seven years of his career. Playing his second series in Washington after signing a $330 million, 13-year contract with the Phillies in March, Harper batted leadoff for the first time this season and went 1 for 5 with three strikeouts.
He did not keep it low key. After making a catch to end the third inning, Harper faked throwing the ball to fans behind him and stuffed it in his glove, ultimately giving it to a Phillies fan near the dugout.
In the fourth, Harper delivered an RBI single and pointed both thumbs downward after reaching first base. Minutes later, he was thrown out by right fielder Adam Eaton while trying to score from second on a two-out single.
Pivetta gave up six runs in 5 1/3 innings. In nine career appearances against Washington, the right-hander is 1-6 with a 10.80 ERA.
The good news for Philadelphia is that six of the next 10 games are against Miami, which has the worst record in the NL.
“I know we’re going to show up tomorrow and do some really good things,” Pivetta said. “It’s not about these times now. It’s about what happens later and how we’re going to respond.”
SEGURA SINGLED OUT
Segura received a lecture from Kapler for not hustling to first base during Wednesday’s game, but the manager stopped short of benching the two-time All-Star on Thursday.
“I don’t think taking one of our eight best players, and our shortstop, out of the lineup is what’s best for the Philadelphia Phillies,” Kapler said.
Kapler addressed the situation by watching video of the misdeed with Segura on Wednesday. “He was accountable and strong in saying, ‘That can’t happen,'” Kapler said.
HARPER LEADING OFF
After watching the Phillies lose five of six and score two runs or less in four of those defeats, Kapler decided it was time for a lineup change. So he moved Harper to leadoff and bumped Rhys Hoskins up to second from the cleanup spot.
“The thought process is, we feel like we’re a more successful club when we see pitches in the first inning,” Kapler said.
He insisted it had nothing to do with Harper’s 4-for-24 struggle over the previous eight games, noting, “This was designed to spark the Philadelphia Phillies.”
Harper hit leadoff for the Nationals in 12 games last season. He had a .217 batting average but homered four times.
Phillies: RHP Pat Neshek was placed on the 10-day injured list with a strained left hamstring, an injury that occurred while he was pitching on Wednesday. LHP Ranger Suarez was recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. … LHP Adam Morgan (forearm strain) is expected to come off the IL on Friday. He’s 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA in 24 appearances.
Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis right foot) could go on a rehabilitation assignment as soon as this weekend, Martinez said. Zimmerman was placed on the 10-day injured list April 28. He’s missed 47 games this season after playing just 85 last year.
Phillies: Aaron Nola (6-1, 4.89 ERA) helps Philadelphia open a three-game series at home Friday night against Miami. “How we bounce back on this next homestand is going to be huge for us,” Kapler said.
Nationals: After back-to-back rainouts altered the rotation, Stephen Strasburg (7-4, 3.75) faces visiting Atlanta on Friday night. He’s 30-17 with a 3.00 ERA in 68 career starts with five days’ rest.
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