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Nationals show signs of life late but drop third straight in opener with Phillies...

Another ninth inning rally got the Nationals within one, but they fell short in a 4-3 loss in the series opener with the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Going into the first of four with the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, both GM Mike Rizzo and Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked openly about just how big a series it was for the NL East’s third-place club.

Coming off back-to-back shutout losses in Tampa Bay which left the Nationals 3.5-games out in the division, behind the Phillies and first-place Atlanta Braves, Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s The Sports Junkies that he was looking at the four games in Philadelphia as another opportunity to start to turn things around.

“We’re really looking forward to this series against Philly because I think it’s an important series,” Rizzo explained, “and they’re as important as they get at the end of June.

“I think it’s something that, we’re going to swing the bats, we’re going to score some runs, and we’re going to show the energy that people perceive that’s not there right now.”

He was clear though, that any lack of energy was perceived and not based on how things really were in the dugout or on the field.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

“When you’re not scoring runs it looks like you’re not playing hard and it looks like you’re not into it just because there’s no traffic on the bases and it’s pitchers dominating,” Rizzo said.

“I think — as often happens — when you start swinging the bats and scoring runs, it almost automatically looks like your energy-level is going up because you’re doing things on the bases and in front of the fans that they like to see.

“I’ve given Davey Martinez a lot of credit for how he’s handled this month of June, and as we haven’t played as we’re accustomed to playing.”

Martinez’s squad was 8-14 in June going into the opener, with seven shutout losses on the month, and the first-year skipper said before the game he wanted to see some degree of urgency.

“We’ve got some pretty big games coming up,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, “some teams that are doing really well.

“What I’d really like for them to see is to kind of play with a sense of urgency. This is a time right now where we can make up some ground and do some good things for ourselves.”

The Nationals struck first on Thursday night, with Pedro Severino driving Trea Turner in from second base with an RBI double to left field off Phillies’ right-hander Aaron Nola in the top of the second inning, but Nats’ righty Tanner Roark gave up a run in the bottom of the second, and another in the third, as the home team jumped out to a lead they never relinquished.

Nola retired eleven in a row after Severino’s hit, and stranded Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon after they singled in succession to start the sixth, and the Phillies added to their lead on a two-run home run by Rhys Hoskins off Ryan Madson in the home seventh.

Two runners reached in the top of the eighth as well, but Daniel Murphy flew out to short right to end that threat, and the Nationals rallied to score two in the ninth, but in the end, they fell short and dropped their third straight overall, having scored just three runs total over the last three games.

“We’ve done this many times where we — in the late innings the bats wake up,” Martinez said after the 4-3 loss. “We’ve got to start working better at bats early in the game.”

They do seem to get focused late, as they did in coming back to beat the Phillies Sunday night, and when they loaded the bases in the ninth in Tampa, and scored three late in the opener in Citizens Bank. But early in the game?

“I watch the at bats and we’re chasing a lot of pitches, and not looking for the pitch that we can drive, they can hit,” Martinez said.

“We get a lot of two-strike at bats, and it’s tough to hit with two strikes. We preach it all the time, but get a ball you can handle and try to do your best to hit it but get a ball in the strike zone.”

Though the results weren’t there on Thursday night, Martinez said he did like the effort from his team.

“They were really good. I saw some intensity. And like I said, they came out ready to go, it’s just the first few innings the at bats are just — take your walks.

Juan Soto takes his walks, just take your walks. If they don’t want to throw strikes, take your walks.”

Asked if there was a message he needed to send to his team, Martinez said he talks to them every day about what they need to do.

“I’ve talked to them, individually, all of them. They get it. They understand, and we’re going to snap out of this. We really are. It’s just a matter of time, but I want them to keep pushing. I want them to keep going and play with energy.”