Consider Andrew McCutchen’s walk-off homer another statement from the clubhouse to the front office ahead of Friday’s trade deadline as the Phillies turned what looked to be dispirited loss into an energizing 6-5 win over the Nationals.
The Phillies were down to the final three outs and down two runs when Jean Segura started the ninth with a double off Nationals closer Brad Hand. Bryce Harper walked, then McCutchen sent 23,265 fans at Citizens Bank Park home happy.
McCutchen’s three-run homer clawed the Phillies back over .500. They enter Tuesday 31/2 games behind the Mets for first place in the National League East. The front office has holes to fill and first place remains in reach. They’ll be buying before Friday.
Howard’s night started promising — he faced the minimum batters through three innings — and it appeared that he was perhaps building something after throwing three scoreless innings a week earlier. And then the fourth inning arrived.
The right-hander’s average fastball velocity dipped to 91.7 mph after he touched 97.2 mph in the second inning. Josh Bell and Josh Harrison hit back-to-back RBI triples, Gerardo Parra singled in a run to right field, and manager Joe Girardi and an athletic trainer left the dugout. Howard had a blister on his right middle finger. His night was finished.
Howard’s velocity dip was similar to his first five starts this season when he became tired after a few innings. His fastball averaged 94.4 mph in the first, 94.7 mph in the second, and 92.6 in the third, before dropping to 91.7 in the fourth.
He entered Monday with a 2.16 ERA as a starter in the first three innings with batters hitting just .143 against him. But after the third inning, he has a 18.00 ERA with batters hitting .333. Howard has been excellent early before quickly burning out.
The Phillies planned for Howard to still be pitching in triple-A but those plans changed last week when Zach Eflin landed on the injured list with a knee injury and Bailey Falter was placed on the COVID-19 list. The rotation was thin and the Phillies needed a starter.
Eflin will not be able to start on Saturday, Girardi said before the game, so the Phillies will hope that Howard’s blister will heal in five days. If not, Chase Anderson could slide back into the rotation or the Phillies could acquire a starting pitcher before Friday’s 4:00pm ET trade deadline. The team is already in the market for starting pitching, but Monday made their need more dire.
Despite losing Howard in the fourth inning, Girardi avoided using a long reliever as he seemed to manage to win. Brandon Kintzler, Connor Brogdon, Jose Alvarado, and Hector Neris combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings before Archie Bradley allowed a run in the ninth.
Bradley misplayed a grounder hit back to the mound and Didi Gregorius was unable to handle a high chopper. If both of those plays are made, the Phillies would have escaped the ninth without a run.
Girardi will likely not be able to use the same strategy if Matt Moore is unable to pitch deep on Tuesday night.
Girardi’s bullpen usage proved important when Rhys Hoskins hit a three-run homer in the sixth. Thanks to the bullpen, the Phils were still in it as Hoskins’ homer cut Washington’s lead to one.
The Phillies went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position after going a combined 6-for-56 in their previous six games before McCutchen homered.