PHILADELPHIA — Heading into the final game before the All-Star break, the Phillies hoped to shake off Saturday night's extra-inning loss and win their sixth game in seven attempts.
To achieve that, Philadelphia would need starter Kyle Kendrick to figure out how to get through the first inning unscathed. He entered with a 4.46 ERA overall, but a 10.50 ERA in 18 first innings.
That number only got worse as the Phillies fell to the Nationals 10-3 and effectively ended any momentum the club had after winning five straight last week.
Kendrick gave up singles to the first two hitters of the game before facing Jayson Werth.
Werth fouled the first pitch of the at-bat straight back prior to depositing the second into the left-field seats.
And just like that, it was 3-0 before the Phillies even recorded an out.
However, as quickly as Kendrick found himself in trouble, that's how fast he was out of the inning, getting a groundout, a fly out and a strike out.
The three runs pushed Kendrick's first-inning ERA to 11.37. In all other innings, he has a 3.63 ERA.
Nobody has answers for why Kendrick can't make it through the first. Not even his manager, Ryne Sandberg.
"It's hard to pinpoint," said Sandberg. "It's been addressed and talked about. He's experimented with things. He gets away from his fastball and gets into the secondary pitches."
That was the case Sunday as one of the first-inning hits came on an 0-2 change-up and another on a breaking ball.
After the Werth home run in the first, Kendrick settled in nicely, retiring the next 14 Washington hitters. The next hit he allowed was a two-out single to opposing pitcher Tanner Roark in the fifth.
Kendrick's didn't receive much support from his offense.
Through five innings the Phillies had just two hits — a leadoff single in the third by Ben Revere and a fifth-inning leadoff double by Cody Asche.
Grady Sizemore, who has hits in each of his first three games as a Phillie, began the sixth with a single and Jimmy Rollins followed with one as well. Groundouts by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard moved the runners over and scored Sizemore, helping the Phillies get on the board and avoid a ninth shutout at home.
Howard received an RBI on the play but performed poorly the entire series, going 0-for-12 with five strikeouts.
Sandberg had a reason for Howard's struggles.
"He's working on feeling comfortable and a comfortable stance," Sandberg said. "He's trying to find a comfort zone with his approach and stance. That is causing some inconsistency and its tough for him to get into a groove."
The Phillies were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position making them 5-for-31 (.161) overall in the series.
Their only success Sunday in that situation came in the ninth when Asche hit his second double of the day, scoring Cesar Hernandez to make it 10-2.
It was no surprise that Werth, a former Phillie, was the one to do the initial damage. After struggling in June and watching his batting average drop 24 points, Werth has found his game. He was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and four RBIs Sunday, and in 40 July at-bats has hit .375 with 14 runs, six home runs, 19 RBIs and eight walks.
The Nationals added on in the sixth, first with a sacrifice fly by Ryan Zimmerman, which chased Kendrick after throwing 88 pitches. He exited with two outs in the inning, a man on first and a hitter he struck out twice already — Bryce Harper — due up.
Mario Hollands relieved Kendrick, although not successfully. Hollands gave up three hits, which knocked in three runs. One of those runs was charged to Kendrick.
Washington padded its lead even further with a Zimmerman solo shot in the eighth and a double and two singles to knock in two runs in the ninth, all off of Justin De Fratus.
The Phillies are 42-53 and at .442, have the worst winning percentage entering the break since 1997 (.425). They're 10 games back in the National League East.
Despite the position in the standings, Utley hasn't lost hope just yet.
"I don't think that's what you set out for during spring training," stated Utley. "But at this point all we can try to do is continue to try to get better and that's the name of the game. I think we can play better than we have. We've shown some glimpses of it here and there."
Notes: The Phillies have not committed an error in 59 innings. … Philadelphia is 2-29 in its last 31 games when scoring three or less runs and 15-1 over the last 16 games it has scored four or more runs.
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