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Washington Nationals 2-1 over Philadelphia Phillies: Juan Soto solo HR in 6th lifts Nats...

Juan Soto’s sixth inning home run was the difference in the Nationals’ 2-1 win over the Phillies in Citizens Bank...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It was an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel in Citizens Bank Park tonight, with Max Scherzer and Zack Wheeler battling in the series opener in Philadelphia, PA.

It was tied at 1-1 after four, with each starter giving up a run in the fourth, but Juan Soto hit a solo home run to left off Wheeler in the top of the sixth, and Washington’s Nationals held on for a 2-1 win in the first of three in the Phillies’ park.

Scherzer vs Phillies: Max Scherzer allowed two runs or fewer in all six of his starts in May, (and he has in 9 of 11 starts overall this season), putting up a 1.83 ERA and a .157/.215/.276 line against in 39 13 IP in the second month of the 2021 campaign, over which he walked eight and struck out 57. He was (3-0) in the first four starts last month, but took the loss in each of his last two outings before tonight, though he only gave up four runs in 13 innings pitched in those appearances.

“We’re very confident when he takes the mound we got a good chance to win, so he’s been pitching unbelievable,” Davey Martinez said of the Nationals’ ace’s outings this season.

Taking on the Phillies for the first time in 2021, Scherzer tossed three scoreless on a super-efficient 27 pitches, then came out for the fourth with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of an RBI hit by Josh Bell, and promptly surrendered a single by Jean Segura, who stoled second in the at bat that followed, and scored on a one-out RBI single by center by J.T. Realmuto, 1-1.

It was 2-1 in the sixth, courtesy of a Juan Soto shot to left field, when Scherzer returned to the mound in Citizens Bank and worked around a 2-out hit-by-pitch with help from catcher Alex Avila, who threw out J.T. Realmuto on a stolen base attempt (after the HBP) for out No. 3 of an 18-pitch, shutdown inning which left the Nationals’ starter at 80 pitches overall on the night.

Scherzer stranded Andrew McCutchen at second after a one-out double in the Phillies’ half of the seventh, and came back out for the eighth at 95 pitches and retired two batters on a total of 13 pitches before he was done for the night...

Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 Ks, 108 P, 70 S, 4/6 GO/FO.

Wheeler vs the Nationals: Through 11 starts and 75 IP this season, in the second year of his 5-year/$118M contract with the Phillies, Zack Wheeler had put up a 2.52 ERA, a 2.48 FIP, 16 walks, 92 Ks, and a .201/.253/.302 line against. He faced the Nationals once before tonight, back on May 12th in the nation’s capital, when the 31-year-old righty gave up two runs on eight hits in six innings of work, walking one and striking out seven in a 5-2 win for Philly in which he received no decision.

Back in Citizens Bank Park tonight, Wheeler retired the first nine batters he faced, on just 37 pitches, but he issued a leadoff walk to Trea Turner in the fourth, and Turner moved up on a groundout by Josh Harrison before scoring on a two-out blooper to left by Josh Bell that fell in for the Nationals’ first hit and drove in the club’s first run, 1-0 after three and a half.

It was still 1-1 in the sixth when Juan Soto got hold of a 98 MPH 1-0 heater from Wheeler and hit it out to left for a two-out, opposite field blast that put the Nationals back on top, 2-1. No. 7 for Soto in 2021.

Wheeler stranded two runners in an 11-pitch seventh which pushed him up to 92 pitches on the night, and he came back out for the eighth and gave up a leadoff single by Trea Turner, then popped up Josh Harrison before the Phillies went to the bullpen...

Zack Wheeler’s Line: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks, 1 HR, 101 P, 68 S, 10/3 GO/FO.

Soto’s Rolling: Juan Soto went 5 for 11 in the Nationals’ four-game series with the Braves in Atlanta, GA, hitting two homers, striking out twice, and walking twice, as the NL East rivals split the four games in Truist Park. As the Nats mentioned in their pregame notes for the 1st of three with the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, Soto started the series having reached base in, “23 of his last 26 games (26 H, 23 BB) dating to May 7,” and he made it 24 of 27 with with his sixth inning home run off Zack Wheeler, which gave Soto three homers over his last four games, after he hit four in his first 40 games this season.

Bullpen Action: Phillies’ lefty José Alvarado took over for Zack Wheeler with a runner on and one out in the top of the eighth inning and popped Juan Soto up, and picked Trea Turner off to close out the frame and keep it a 2-1 game in the Nationals’ favor.

Daniel Hudson took over for Max Scherzer with two out in the Phillies’ eighth and struck Jean Segura out to end the inning. Still 2-1 Nationals.

Connor Brogdon got the top of the ninth for the Phillies, and worked around a leadoff single by Josh Bell for a scoreless frame.

Hudson came back in the ninth inning for the Nationals and gave up a leadoff double to right field by Rhys Hoskins, who just missed a home run on a ball that bounced off of the scoreboard, just out of Juan Soto’s reach.

Travis Jankowski took over as a pinch runner at second with J.T. Realmuto at the plate, and got picked off on a 2-2 pitch in the dirt for out No. 1. With the count 3-2, Realmuto K’d for out No. 2.

Davey Martinez went to Brad Hand looking for out No. 3, and the lefty got left-handed pinch hitter Brad Miller and got a fly to shallow center to end it. Ballgame.

Final Score: 2-1 Nationals

Nationals now 24-30