PHILADELPHIA — Having run to the warning track, bending his neck to the gray-blue sky, Victor Robles leaped and flung himself at the center field wall at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night. His 6-foot frame folded in half over the top of it. For a moment, only his dangling legs and backside were visible. And because Robles was after a leadoff homer, and because Kyle Schwarber had crushed it into the bushes, and because it was the first step of an 11-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, there is perhaps no image more fitting of the Washington Nationals’ season to date.
Their center fielder looked like a child stuck in a giant toy chest — or someone who got tired and decided to rest on a padded fence, if just for a second or two.
Of course, Schwarber once mashed towering, leadoff homers for the Nationals. A year ago, it was his hamstring strain that felt like the beginning of the end, eventually leading the club to trade him and seven others at the deadline. Schwarber went to the Boston Red Sox, then signed with the Phillies in March. He has 25 homers on the season, including four against the Nationals (29-54), including a pair against Paolo Espino here Tuesday.
“He’s definitely a dangerous hitter. … You don’t really want to leave anything in the middle for him to hit,” Espino said. “But today, I hit my spots and he was still was able to hit them out.”
The first homer dropped out of Robles’s desperate reach in center. The second was a 431-foot rocket to the second deck in right in the third inning. Once it mercifully landed, Espino had faced 10 batters, retired eight and been on the wrong end of two giant swings. But Espino fully cracked in the fourth, the Phillies (43-38) tagging him with back-to-back doubles, a sacrifice fly and back-to-back singles.
Meanwhile, the Nationals, without Juan Soto because of a calf injury — and without Nelson Cruz because he was scratched right before first pitch with a stomach-related illness — were blanked by rookie Cristopher Sánchez for five innings. Jeurys Familia, Andrew Bellatti and Mark Appel did the same out of the bullpen. The Nationals finished with three hits, all singles, as they suffered their sixth straight loss. They may have offered a preview of how a thinned batting order could function after another deadline sell-off.
The Phillies, though? They just kept going, scoring two in the fourth, two in the fifth, five off righty Reed Garrett in the sixth and actually none against shortstop Alcides Escobar — yes, shortstop Alcides Escobar — in the eighth.
“These are the guys we are going to face all the time, and we got to come ready to play and play a lot better,” Manager Dave Martinez said of the Nationals falling to 6-29 against fellow National League East teams. “We lost some close games in the last two days, but today was kind of a lopsided game. When your pitcher only goes 3⅔ innings, things can go awry. So let’s just forget about this one.”
In a singular positive development, Schwarber didn’t homer again. No, in his third at-bat, after Espino exited with two down and the bases juiced in the fourth, Andres Machado struck out Schwarber swinging. Then in the sixth, Martinez chose to intentionally walk Schwarber to load the bases, having seen the same movie too many times.
Still, the mere threat of Schwarber’s power, the very idea that there might be a third homer in his bat, gripped the whole park. It made the opposing manager grant him 90 feet in the heart of a middle-inning jam. And above all else, maybe, it was fun — something the Nationals had a lot more of before this rebuild began last summer.
They sure could use a guy like that.
Who will start Thursday? The Nationals either aren’t sure or aren’t sharing publicly. There is a hole in the rotation after Jackson Tetreault went on the injured list Monday with a stress fracture in his right scapula. Asked Tuesday afternoon for the plan, Martinez told reporters that the club was still deliberating. One option is Josh Rogers, who was scheduled to make a rehab start Wednesday for Class AA Harrisburg. Martinez didn’t commit to Rogers pitching there, even if Martinez did say that remains his preference.
Rogers, 27, is recovering from a left shoulder impingement and logged 3⅔ innings for Class AAA Rochester on Thursday. He yielded seven runs on four hits, three homers and two walks. On the season, he has made three starts and 13 relief appearances for Washington. Another potential spot starter is Joan Adon, who filled the same need during a doubleheader June 17 and has been resting his arm with Rochester the past two weeks.
What’s the latest with Sean Doolittle and Will Harris? Both relievers threw in the bullpen at Citizens Bank Park. Doolittle, 35 and recovering from a sprained left elbow, played catch from the mound. Harris, 37 and rehabbing from right pectoral surgery, threw a 25-pitch bullpen session, mixing his cutter and curve.
The next step for Doolittle is to throw a bullpen session Thursday. Harris could soon head to face hitters at the Nationals’ facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“I’d say the last couple weeks I’ve felt pretty good,” said Harris, who’s in the final season of a three-year, $24 million contract and has pitched 23⅔ innings since signing it. “I’m anxious in the next hopefully week to 10 days I’ll actually face some hitters. That’s what I’m really anxious to start doing. Bullpens ... you can only get so much out of them.”