WASHINGTON (AP) — Before his team faced Bryce Harper on Tuesday night, Philadelphia Phillies manager Pete Mackanin spoke about “a theory” he'd developed for how to pitch to the reigning NL MVP.
After his Phillies held on for a 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals when closer Jeanmar Gomez got Harper to ground out for the final out with a runner on first base, Mackanin quipped: “I'm going to walk him every time we face him this series. No, I'm kidding. That's a joke.”
Philadelphia did walk Harper three times, including twice intentionally with a man on second, but the young slugger delivered a run-scoring single off Vincent Velasquez (3-1) in the fifth.
And Mackanin's thinking in the ninth, after Anthony Rendon singled off Gomez, bringing up Harper with the pitcher's spot up next because of an earlier double-switch?
“I wasn't going to walk him and put the tying run at second base,” the skipper said.
Harper, who bats third for Washington, entered the day leading the league in homers (nine) and RBIs (23) and in Washington's previous game, he hit a tying homer in the ninth inning as a pinch hitter.
So he was hoping for something similar Tuesday.
“I'm always living for that moment,” Harper said, arms crossed over his chest. “Really excited when Rendon got on base right there, knowing possibly I could tie the game or hit a ball out of the park and win a game.”
He fouled off several sinkers, before Gomez finally got him to bounce the ball to third on a changeup.
“Pretty upset that I didn't get to really put the barrel on the ball. I had some pitches that I could have drove and just didn't make it happen,” Harper said. “I think you can't hit a homer every time but I definitely had two or three pitches I could have drove out of the yard and just fouled them straight back.”
Gomez said he entered that key at-bat with two thoughts in mind: “You know he's a really good hitter” and “Don't make a mistake.”
Worked out just fine, and Gomez earned his fifth save.
As for the strategy Philadelphia used earlier of walking him, Harper said: “I have really big faith in (cleanup hitter Ryan Zimmerman) and guys behind me. I don't mind getting on base. So if that's a walk or intentional walk or a hit or whatever, I just want to get on base best I can, most I can, for the guys behind me.”
Much of the Phillies' offense came courtesy of Andres Blanco. His three hits included a two-run homer and he scored the go-ahead run on Maikel Franco's seventh-inning double.
After Blanco doubled off reliever Oliver Perez (1-1) with one out in the seventh, Franco sent a shot off the wall that center fielder Michael A. Taylor jumped for but failed to glove. Franco stumbled and fell rounding the bag at first but still made it to second, while Blanco scored.
Franco was visited by a trainer and flexed his right leg but stayed in and said afterward he was OK.
Both starting pitchers, Velasquez and Washington's Max Scherzer, allowed three runs in six innings.
Scherzer's evening began about as poorly as can be: He walked leadoff batter Odubel Herrera on four pitches, then gave up Blanco's first homer of the season, a two-run shot to right-center off a 94 mph fastball that made it 2-0.
Scherzer walked four batters and blamed problems he's having commanding his fastball.
“You go through funks,” Scherzer said. “Right now, this is a funk.”
Blanco acknowledged calling timeout during at-bats because he was bothered by Scherzer holding the ball between pitches. “He didn't like it at all,” Blanco said. For his part, Scherzer said: “He can call time all he wants.”
Phillies: Team is not yet certain of the severity of RHP Charlie Morton's strained left hamstring. He was hurt in his start Saturday in Milwaukee and went on the DL on Sunday.
Nationals: RHP Matt Belisle exited the game after straining his right calf while facing one batter in the eighth inning.
Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 1.42 ERA) faces RHP Jeremy Hellickson (1-1, 5.21 ERA) in Wednesday's second game of the three-game series