Johnson put more trust in Rodriguez on Saturday than he had in more than a month and a half, the last time he entered a game with the Nationals tied or ahead. Rodriguez, who can be plagued by shaky command, has been eased back this season from elbow surgery in August. Against the Phillies, he rewarded Johnson’s confidence with a scoreless seventh.
In the eighth, the Nats put the first two runners on when Kurt Suzuki reached on a drag bunt and Tyler Moore walked. But Lombardozzi couldn’t put down a sacrifice bunt and instead lined a ball to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins for an out. Pinch-hitter Chad Tracy lined out to left on the first pitch he saw from just-entered Jeremy Horst. Denard Span ended the threat with a lineout of his own. As has been their theme this season, the Nationals have done little with the offensive chances they created.
“It’s baby steps,” Ian Desmond said. “We haven’t been swinging the bats really at all, so to put up 11 hits is good. The next thing we tackle is hitting with runners in scoring position.
The Nationals created a promising situation in the third inning against Phillies starter Jonathan Pettibone. Span singled with one out. Harper then lined a slider for another single into right field. After a Ryan Zimmerman flyout, LaRoche took advantage of the shift used against him. Second baseman Freddy Galvis was playing closer to first base, and LaRoche rolled a ball up the middle where the second baseman would normally play. Span scored and the Nationals trimmed the deficit to 2-1.
Desmond then loaded the bases with a walk. On the first pitch he saw, Suzuki tried to hold up on an 87 mph slider from Pettibone and couldn’t. His check swing softly rolled the ball toward first baseman Howard for an out. Suzuki tossed his bat as he ran.
An inning later, the Nationals took advantage of Phillies miscues. Lombardozzi singled and took second on a throwing error by Rollins. Lombardozzi took third on a wild pitch by Pettibone to Span. Then Span narrowly missed a towering two-run home run into the right field second deck, a ball he crushed but that went right of the foul pole by a few feet. On the next pitch, Span lined a single to right to tie the game at 2.
The Phillies took the lead in the fifth with a two-out rally started by Pettibone’s double. Rollins followed with a liner down the right field line. The ball landed fair by inches and Rollins raced to second as the pitcher trotted home.
Again, the Nationals rallied. LaRoche, who is coming out of his season-opening slump, crushed the first pitch he saw in the fifth inning into the visitors’ bullpen. This month, the first baseman has helped carry the team’s offensive output, hitting .325 with five homers.
The tie lasted untill the eighth, when Storen’s struggles took center stage.
“To me, it’s the same stuff is there,” Suzuki said. “Everything is there. He is throwing the ball good. He’s got some good action on his off-speed pitches. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way. It builds a little bit and people start taking about it. And it’s a tough thing.”