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Nationals 4-3 over Phillies to avoid sweep in Citizens Bank Park

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The Washington Nationals blew another lead late and went to extra innings, but scored two in the tenth and held on for a sweep-avoiding 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

5. Scherzer = Stopper?: In his 2015 debut last Monday, and his first start for the Washington Nationals after signing a 7-year/$210M free agent deal this winter, Max Scherzer took the loss in the season opener, giving up four hits and three runs, all unearned, in 7 ⅔ IP against the New York Mets. Scherzer walked two, struck out eight, and impressed second-year skipper Matt Williams with his first outing in a Nats uniform.

Scherzer held the Mets hitless through five-plus innings, but things fell apart in the sixth when a walk and an error put two runners on in front of Lucas Duda, who drove two runs in with the first hit of the game for New York, which put the Mets up, 2-1 in what ended up a 3-1 win.

"He used his breaking ball for strikes. Turned up the fastball when he needed to and had them off-balance for the most part." - Matt Williams on Max Scherzer vs the Mets last Monday

"I thought he pitched really well," Williams said after the season-opening loss. "First hit he gave up was the difference in the game. Miscue behind him, that was the difference today. He was really good, as advertised."

Scherzer threw a total of 97 pitches overall in the outing, no more than 13 in any one inning, with some quick seven, eight and nine-pitch frames along the way. Williams was asked about the veteran righty's efficiency and what went right for the Nationals' Opening Day starter.

"First pitch strikes are key and then he can go to work," Williams said. "But today there [were] a lot of first pitch strikes and he used his breaking ball for strikes. Turned up the fastball when he needed to and had them off-balance for the most part. They came through with a big hit when they needed it and that's the difference."

Scherzer threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 31 Mets' hitters he faced on Monday.

This afternoon in Citizens Bank Park, in his first career start in the Philadelphia Phillies' home, Scherzer was asked to play a stopper's role, as the Nats tried to avoid a sweep on the road after dropping the first two games of the three-game set.

Scherzer walked Ben Revere in the first at bat of the Phillies' first, but the next three batters went down in order in an 18-pitch opening frame.

Phillies' center fielder Odubel Herrera singled to center with one down in the second, taking a full-count change back up the middle, then stole second and took third when the throw got by Dan Uggla and into center. Cesar Hernandez K'd looking at a 2-2 curve in the next at bat, however, and Cameron Rupp sent a fly to center to end a 15-pitch inning. 33 total for Scherzer after two.

Max Scherzer

(Photo © Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports)

Freddy Galvis singled on a line drive to right with two down in the Phillies' third, and Cody Asche lined a 1-2 fastball to right to send the runner around to third. Ryan Howard stepped in with two on and two out and went down swinging at an 0-2 change in the dirt. 23-pitch frame. Some boos for Howard. 56 total for Scherzer, 6 Ks.

The Phillies went down in order in a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth that left Scherzer at 69 pitches.

Sean O'Sullivan took the second walk of the game from Scherzer with one down in the Phillies' fifth, and Ben Revere lined a single to right in the next AB. Freddy Galvis popped out to foul territory off third for out no.2, but Cody Asche's two-out line drive to right brought the one-out walk in to cut the Nats' lead in half. 2-1. Ryan Howard K'd swinging to end a 23-pitch frame, 92 total for Scherzer after five.

Cesar Hernandez singled with two out in the Phillies' sixth, taking Scherzer's 99th pitch of the game to left field in CBP, but Phillies' catcher Cameron Rupp came up with a runner on first and two down and K'd looking at a 95 mph 0-2 heater on the outside edge of the plate. 10-pitch frame, 102 total.

Max Scherzer's Line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks, 102 P, 71 S, 2/3 GO/FO.

4. O'Whollivan?: You're forgiven if you're not too familiar with Phillies' right-hander Sean O'Sullivan. The 27-year-old, LA Angels' '05 3rd Round pick entered today's series finale in Citizens Bank Park with a 231 ⅓ major league innings pitched on his resume over five seasons with the Angels, Royals, Padres and Phillies, who he joined in 2013 on a free agent deal.

O'Sullivan earned the fifth spot in Philadelphia's rotation this Spring, and with the work he did while making two starts for the Phillies last season.

When asked, Phils' skipper Ryne Sandberg said O'Sullivan's command was what eventually earned him the nod.

"'His ability to throw strikes,'" Sandberg said, as quoted by NJ.com reproter Matt Lombardo last week. "'His ability to throw strikes last year in some spot starts. [He's] a guy that has some experience in doing that."

In his first start of the season this afternoon, O'Sullivan, armed with a low-90s sinker and fastball and a slider, change and curve that sit in the 70s, retired the first two batters he faced, but a first-pitch sinker to Bryce Harper ended up in the stands in left field. Solo homer for Harper, 1-0 Nats early.

Harper's second at bat of the game came in the top of the third. Max Scherzer and Yunel Escobar were at second base and first, respectively, but both runners were stranded when Harper sent to a fly to the track in center for out no.3 of a 15-pitch frame by O'Sullivan, who was up to 42 pitches total after three.

Ryan Zimmerman singled to center to start the fourth, took second on a wild pitch and third on a single to right by Clint Robinson. Wilson Ramos stepped up with runners on the corners and no one out and hit a sac fly to right to make it 2-0 Nationals. 21-pitch frame for O'Sullivan, 63 total after four.

• Sean O'Sullivan's Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks, 91 P, 58 S, 7/4 GO/FO.

3. Urgency and Pressing?: It's just five games. The Nationals have lost four of them, but still, it's only five games. After last night's loss, Matt Williams was asked about a sense of urgency early, and whether or not the team was pressing to try to make things happen when they weren't going Washington's way so far this season.

"Our starting pitching has been good. We struggled a little bit offensively with guys in scoring position, but we'll get better at that." -Matt Williams after last night's loss to the Phillies

As the second-year skipper and former major leaguer explained, the sense of urgency is always there.

"The urgency is there every day," Williams said. "Regardless of whether it's game one or 162. If we look at it so far, our pitching has been good. Our starting pitching has been good. We struggled a little bit offensively with guys in scoring position, but we'll get better at that. It's important for us to catch the baseball.

So, game six is upon us quickly, and we'll be ready for that one."

Through five games, the Nationals' starters' 1.99 ERA was the NL's lowest, as was the Nats' hitters' combined .167 AVG (5 for 30) with runners in scoring position so far this season.

This afternoon in Citizens Bank Park, the defending NL East Champions took an early lead when Bryce Harper homered on the first pitch he saw from Phillies' righty Sean O'Sullivan.

Wilson Ramos cashed in an RBI opp in the fourth, with a sac fly to score Ryan Zimmerman from third and make it 2-0 Nats in what ended up a...

2. Turning Point(s): Once again, it was an early home run for the Nationals that put them ahead with Bryce Harper taking a first-pitch fastball deep to left and over the Budweiser sign on the wall in Citizens Bank Park. A sac fly by Wilson Ramos put the Nationals up by two, 2-0, but it was a solid (though not-so-efficient) outing by Max Scherzer that made the difference, especially his ability to shut down aging Philly slugger Ryan Howard, who went 0 for 3 with 3 Ks and 5 LOB. Howard heard boos from the crowd in CBP which grew louder with each K.

As for Scherzer's efficiency? Through five innings, a 13-pitch fourth was his most efficient frame. In the 7+ innings in the season-opener last Monday, Scherzer didn't throw more than 13 pitches in any one inning. He ended his outing with a quick, 10-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth though, throwing a 95 mph 1-2 heater by Cameron Rupp to end his outing.

All that was wasted, however, when Darin Ruf homered to start the seventh, taking Xavier Cedeno deep for a solo blast that tied things up at 2-2.

1. The Wrap-Up: Luis Avilan took over for the Phillies in the top of the seventh inning in Citizens Bank, working around a two-out walk to Michael Taylor when the Nats' rookie was caught trying to steal second.

Xavier Cedeno took over for the Nationals in the seventh and promptly surrendered a solo home run by Darin Ruf that tied things up at 2-2.

Ken Giles stranded two runners in a scoreless top of the eighth, striking Wilson Ramos out to end the inning.

Craig Stammen came out for the bottom of the eighth inning and retired the Phillies in order.

Jake Diekman walked Tyler Moore with two down in the ninth, but Michael Taylor K'd swinging to end the top of the frame. Aaron Barrett retired the Phillies in order to send it to extras.

Yunel Escobar doubled to start the top of the tenth and took third on a groundout to first by Bryce Harper. The Phils went to Justin de Fratus with Ryan Zimmerman due up, and he bounced one that Cameron Rupp couldn't handle. The wild pitch allowed Escobar to score for a 3-2 Nats' lead. Clint Robinson then doubled and scored on an RBI single by Wilson Ramos, 4-2.

Drew Storen came on in the bottom of the inning for the save opportunity and threw six straight balls to start the inning, walking the leadoff man and falling behind 0-2 before finding the zone with a fastball to Cody Asche.

Asche went to a full count, and walked. Grady Sizemore K'd swinging, failing to check his swing on a 1-2 slider in the dirt. ONE!!! Chase Utley sent a fly to right for out no.2, moving the lead runner to third. Odubel Herrera stepped in with two on and two out and sent a swinging bunt to third that made it a 4-3 game. Cesar Hernandez sent a chopper toward first that Ryan Zimmerman dove for and snagged and a toss to Storen ended it.

Nationals now 2-4