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Outfield defense costs Washington Nationals in 3-2 loss to Phillies

Misplays by Juan Soto, Adam Eaton put tying, winning runs in scoring position.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals
Poor baseball fundamentals and poor outfield play cost the Washington Nationals a late lead in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals may have an outstanding defensive center fielder in Victor Robles and a budding superstar in left fielder Juan Soto, but poor outfield play and poor baseball fundamentals were high among the reasons for the Nats’ 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night.

Robles’s leaping catch and 288-foot, on-target throw for a double play Tuesday night was still the buzz on the team’s broadcasts Wednesday as the teams played the second game of their three-game set at Nationals Park. But it was a pair of misplays in the outfield that swung the game in the Phillies’ favor in a two-run seventh inning against starter Patrick Corbin and reliever Will Harris.

The lead vanished in the seventh when the Nats’ potential Gold Glove outfield played more like Little Leaguers.

Leading off the inning, Didi Gregorius lined Patrick Corbin’s 96th pitch of the night to left field, where Juan Soto sprinted in on the ball and went for a diving catch. But he missed, and the ball rolled to the warning track, and by the time he’d retrieved it, Gregorius was headed for third.

“He thought he could catch the ball, but in that situation, you just want to keep the ball in front of you,” said Manager Davey Martinez after the game. “That was something that, like I said, he’s young, he’s learning, but you just concede the base hit, you keep him at first base and hope for the double play.”

The triple chased Corbin after he’d allowed one run in six innings. He was replaced by Will Harris, whose first two pitches after a four-day layoff were not good ones. Alec Bohm grounded the first one through Eric Thames at first for an RBI single to tie it.

Then the game turned when veteran right fielder Adam Eaton ignored one of the cardinal rules of baseball and failed to yield to his center fielder, Robles, who was just a day removed from a career-defining play.

Andrew McCutchen belted Harris’s second pitch of the inning, a 78-mph curveball, to the gap in right-center, where right fielder Eaton and center fielder Robles converged. But they both called for the ball simultaneously, and Eaton did not yield as the two outfielders collided, and an easily playable fly ball fell between them for a single, and the speedy Quinn moved into second.

“When the ball was hit I know Victor was playing him to pull,” Eaton explained after the loss.

“Right off the bat I thought it was going to be my ball, ‘cause like I said, he’s so far, but he has such unbelievable range, I felt the need to call it there at the tail end, and as I called it, and he was speeding in, he called it right at the same time, and of course, when you yell you don’t hear anything, so it was just poor timing. I don’t know if we could really have done anything differently.”

“Once the center fielder calls the ball you’ve got to respect that,” said Martinez. “They both called it simultaneously and late, and so they both — one didn’t peel away from the other one.”

After Rhys Hoskins flew out on a ball Eaton had all to himself, Harris surrendered his third hit of the inning to Bryce Harper, giving the Phillies the lead.

The Nats had chances to tie the game but went 1-2-3 in the seventh and eighth against Tommy Hunter.

Howie Kendrick led off the ninth with a double off Phillies’ closer Brandon Workman, sliding into second safely on a tag play that was upheld under review. But Yan Gomes grounded to third, keeping Kendrick from advancing. Luis Garcia’s single moved Kendrick to third, but the Nats missed two chances to get him home when Thames and Robles each struck out.