Nats know they must clean up defense after Harper saves the day

Bryce Harper’s dramatic walk-off three-run homer erased what could have turned into a nightmare couple of innings for the Nationals in Sunday’s series finale against Philadelphia.

Down 3-1, the Phillies rallied for a 4-3 lead heading to the last of the ninth. Thanks to Harper, the Nationals went on to win 6-4.

But Jayson Werth committed a fielding error in the eighth, which aided the Phillies as they scored two runs on three hits.

“That situation up two, you don’t want to let the ball get by you,” Werth said, sitting at his locker with a “UZR Champion” t-shirt on -- an obvious tongue-in-cheek reference to Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), a sabermetric statistic used to measure fielding. It compares the event that actually happened (hit/out/error) to data on similarly hit balls in the past to determine how much better or worse the fielder did than the “average” player*.

“It was the top spin coming down. I thought I had it off the bat and then it was more of a dive play. I didn’t want to dive. So I tried to play it in front of me. It kind of took an odd hop and got by me. That’s a tough one, that one, that hurts. In that situation, you really want to just keep the ball in front of you.”

Manager Dusty Baker agreed the ball hit by Daniel Nava turned into an in-between play for Werth to make in left field.

jayson-werth-bummed-white.png“That ball was like, ‘Should I come get it? Or no, I don’t want it to get past me,’ ” Baker said. “And then you get too close and it gets past you anyway. Everybody who’s played the outfield has done that.”

In the ninth, Aaron Altherr scored from third on a close play at home. Catcher Matt Wieters took the throw from Daniel Murphy but was unable to hold onto the ball and Altherr was safe with the go-ahead tally.

Wieters explained what he tried to do and what he saw from his vantage point on the ball hit to second by Freddy Galvis.

“I kind of got in-between,” Wieters said. “I should’ve waited back a little bit more and had more time. But I thought it was going to be close, so I wanted to go get it, make the tag. And when you rush, you take your eye off the ball a little bit, and I just dropped it.”

Baker said he had a discussion with home plate umpire Greg Gibson after the inning.

“Wieters’s ball, Murph threw him kind of a changeup and he went out to get it,” Baker explained. “And I asked the home plate umpire if he would’ve been safe or out, and he told me he probably would’ve been safe anyway.”

The run put the Phillies up, but the inning wasn’t over.

After a Blake Treinen strikeout of Michael Saunders for the second out, he had trouble finishing the inning. César Hernández singled and stole second. Treinen then walked Daniel Nava. Shawn Kelley replaced him. With the bases loaded, he got Maikel Franco to ground out to shortstop for a fielder’s choice to end the threat. It was a 4-3 deficit, but it easily could have been 7-3.

“One’s way easier than two or three or four,” Wieters said. “Kelley came in and threw two good sliders and was able to get the out there and set it all up for Bryce.”

The Nationals are certainly thrilled to be 7-5 as they embark on their first true long road trip of the season - a 10-games-in-10-days odyssey that takes them from Atlanta to New York and then out to Denver. But Werth knows they have some work to do on defense to play the way they want to in order to repeat at the top of the National League East. The Nationals have now committed 10 errors in their first 12 games. That mark is tied with St. Louis for third worst in the NL.

“We just haven’t been playing the best baseball as a group again today,” Werth said. “Made a bad error. Bryce was there to bail us out. We need to clean it up, play a little bit better on the defensive side of the ball for sure, but big win and good win for us to send us on the road trip.”

* Ultimate Zone Rating - Wikipedia

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