Phillies edge Nationals behind Leiter's arm, young bats

Phillies Nationals Baseball
Mark Leiter Jr. struck out eight Nationals in six innings on Saturday.

WASHINGTON — The Phillies have played 142 games, and more than a third of them — 53, to be exact — have been decided by one run. No team has played or lost more one-run games than the Phillies. The first two games of this weekend series at Nationals Park ended as one-run losses by the Phillies.

On Saturday, they won a one-run game, 5-4. What does it all mean?

“You need that little extra,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “More often than not, it boils down to the pitching you have. It’s always about the pitching. I’m happy with the increased offense. But it’s collaborative. You have to have better everything. We have to get better in all areas.”

Luck, too, plays a part. The 2016 Phillies went 28-23 in one-run games. Were they a better team than the 2017 version, which has a 19-34 record in one-run games? Maybe, but it is safer to conclude they were luckier — with better bullpen performances in tight games and timelier hits.

The Phillies, finally, received enough pitching Saturday. Rookie Mark Leiter Jr. struck out eight in his six innings. He survived two home runs and a series of cuts inflicted by bunches of singles.

Edubray Ramos struck out two in a scoreless seventh inning. Luis Garcia struck out the side — an imposing three in Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon. He threw a baseball 100 mph. It was his best inning in a good season.

“It’s always good to pitch in close games,” Garcia said.

“That was awesome,” Leiter said. “Don’t forget — that was paint at 100.”

Hector Neris saved it. He has converted his last 14 save chances; his last blown save was June 21.

“Hector was Hector,” Mackanin said. “He got through it.”

The young lineup, powered Saturday by Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco homers, could bask in a win. Hoskins walked three times, including once with the bases loaded.

“I can honestly say that I feel like we’re competitive,” Mackanin said. “We’ve been competitive. Certainly, if you ask the Nationals if we’re competitive, I’m sure they’d say that we are.

“We’ve had our moments where we’ve gotten blown out, but not as often as you may think with our record. It’s either an extra hit here or there, or one less mistake, a better pitching performance late in the game.”

Extra bases

Odubel Herrera’s hitting streak ended at 21 games. It was the longest in Major League Baseball this season. … Aaron Altherr entered as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning, marking his first action since Aug. 4 because of a bothersome right hamstring. He could appear in the Phillies lineup Sunday. … J.P. Crawford sat Saturday, his first day not in the lineup since he debuted last Tuesday. He struck out as a pinch-hitter. Crawford could play second base for the first time Sunday. He had three hits in his first 17 at-bats. … Triple-A Lehigh Valley lost, 6-1, to Scranton in Game 3 of the International League semifinals. Henderson Alvarez allowed six runs in 6 2/3 innings. Game 4 is Sunday; Scranton leads the best-of-five series, 2-1. … Ben Lively will pitch Sunday’s matinee against Washington righthander Stephen Strasburg, who has a 26-inning scoreless streak.

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