- - Sunday, July 1, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – Jeremy Hellickson walked slowly from the mound toward the third-base dugout, his night finished at a place he knows so well.

The Nationals starting pitcher, in his first appearance since June 3, was pulled in the fifth inning Saturday night and was charged with the loss in a 3-2 setback to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park before a sellout crowd of 42,746 fans.

It was his first outing against the Phillies in Philadelphia for Hellickson (2-1), who was 12-10 in 32 starts with the Phillies in 2016 and then made 20 starts for the club last season.

More troubling is that the Nationals have lost seven of their last eight games on the road and are just 13-15 against National League East foes. The two-time division champs had two runners on base and no outs in the top of the eighth, but Mark Reynolds grounded out to end the inning. Daniel Murphy hit a double with two outs in the ninth, but Adam Eaton made the last out to end the game on a flyball to right.

The game also signaled the end of the first half of the 162-game regular-season slate for Washington.

The Nationals are 42-39 and on pace for only 84 wins after they were on pace for 96 wins after the first third of the season at 32-22. Since then, the club has gone 10-17 and will be happy the calendar flips to July after a rough June.

Washington, which won 17-7 on Friday with seven homers, entered the contest four games back of the first-place Atlanta Braves and are now two games in the rear of the second-place Phillies (44-37) in the National League East.

The Phillies broke a tie in the fourth with three doubles in a row. Jorge Alfaro, the No. 8 hitter, and pinch-hitter Aaron Altherr drove in runs off Hellickson to give the hosts a 3-1 lead.

Anthony Rendon of Washington crushed a solo homer in the sixth to trim the margin to 3-2. It was the 11th homer of the year for Rendon and his fifth in 15 games.

The Nationals had taken a 1-0 lead in the second as catcher Spencer Kieboom, in a rare start, slammed a double to left-center to drive in Wilmer Difo.

Odubel Herrera of the Phillies continued his hot streak by smashing a solo homer in the last of the third to tie the game.

Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez was hit around the upper right arm (his throwing arm) on a line drive off the bat of Adam Eaton in the second. The pitcher retrieved the ball and threw to first with his left hand in time to retire Eaton with a runner on third to end the inning.

Velasquez left with a right forearm contusion after throwing two innings and giving up one run on three hits.

Two of Hellickson’s last three starts have come in the home park of the two teams he played for last year. He started at Baltimore on May 29. He gave up seven hits and three runs in 4 and 1/3 innings Saturday after he came off the disabled list following a hamstring injury almost a month ago.

NOTES: Nationals shortstop and Florida native Trea Turner turned 25 Saturday … The game time temperature was 91 degrees at 6:07 p.m. …The series ends Sunday at 1:35 p.m. with Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez (6-5, 3.68) facing Phillies right-hander Jake Arrieta (5-6, 3.54) … Washington rookie left fielder Juan Soto (0-for-4) entered the game leading all National League hitters in batting average at .336 among those that had at least 135 plate appearances.


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