Ross strong, but Nats blow another late lead in loss (updated)

Erick Fedde was allowed to push his limits during a season-high 108-pitch outing on Sunday, emptying the tank and showing the Nationals what he can muster while on his last legs.

Joe Ross, in a similar position as Fedde in this rotation, was able to do the same this afternoon, even in the Nats' eventual 7-5 loss to complete a sweep at the hands of the Phillies in front of 22,575 fans at home.

Ross' case is a little different than Fedde's, since he didn't pitch last year and is still accumulating innings since his Tommy John surgery, but the idea of letting him go as far as reasonably possible remains the same. Ross has been really good at times, and at others really bad this season. The former version of the right-hander showed up today to pitch into the seventh inning.

Ross was efficient throughout the afternoon, which allowed him to depart the game at just 84 pitches. He did fall behind early, however, no thanks to home plate umpire Chad Whitson, who didn't grant Ross the same strike zone that he did to Phillies starter Aaron Nola. That led to a second-inning leadoff walk of Rhys Hoskins, who would come around to score for an early lead.

The only bad pitch Ross served up today was a hanging slider to Bryce Harper, who hit it to straightaway center field for his 18th homer of the season and a 2-0 lead.

There was a scary moment in the bottom of the sixth with Ross at the plate. With Tres Barrera on first (after a bad drop in shallow right field by Phillies second baseman Ronald Torreyes), Ross squared up to bunt against reliever Enyel De Los Santos. But an inside pitch nailed Ross in the left hand. Not the place you want to see a pitcher get hit, throwing hand or not.

Ross-Delivers-vs-PHI-White-Sidebar.jpgRoss stayed in the game and took the mound in the seventh in an effort to finish his outing strong. But the Phillies were able to score another run off him with a double by Alec Bohm and an RBI single by Odúbel Herrera to force manager Davey Martinez to go to his bullpen.

"Whether it's the last month or the first month, I think, especially the starters, when you get in that late-game jam, whether it's the fifth, sixth, seventh, you want to get out of it yourself," Ross said in a postgame Zoom session with reporters. "Whether you're going to win or lose, you kinda want that to be on your shoulders. You feel like it's your game. I feel like that's how I approach each start."

Ryne Harper got into even more trouble trying to close out the inning, loading the bases for J.T. Realmuto. But the right-handed reliever was able to get the opposing catcher to fly out to end the threat.

That kept Ross' final line at a respectable 6 1/3 innings, five hits, three runs, two walks, seven strikeouts on 84 pitches.

The same could not be said for Kyle Finnegan, who entered the ninth looking to protect a 5-3 lead and secure his third save of the season. A leadoff double by Herrera and a throwing error by Carter Kieboom after a nice backhand snag put two runners on with no outs for the Phillies. Finnegan was then able to record two outs to put the Nats on the cusp of victory. But two two-run doubles by Realmuto and Hoskins surrounding an intentional walk to Bryce Harper turned a two-run lead for the Nats into a two-run deficit on four unearned runs.

"We had a chance there," Finnegan said. "One pitch away, one strike away. I've actually had success on that exact type of pitch to J.T. there, fastball running up and in on him. He made a great swing, he made a great play for his team. Drove in those two runs, tied the game up. Just a tough one. One pitch away and wasn't able to get it done tonight."

Offensively, the Nationals were jump-started early again by a few of their young players and then had a veteran deliver their final blow.

Kieboom, who started the day by going 2-for-2, drove in the Nats' first run with an RBI single to left in the fourth. Kieboom finished the day 2-for-4 with a double, walk and RBI. He now has 11 hits in his last 27 at-bats and is hitting .306 with a .909 OPS on the season.

"Just getting ready to hit," Kieboom said of his success at the plate. "I've been trying to get ready to hit now for the last year and a half. I think I'm finally ready to hit. It was tough for a little while. I would say the last fly ball that I hit against, I don't know, we were playing the Cubs, it went into left-center. I felt something different and from there I've just taken that same feel to every single at-bat now. I think that's been the biggest difference."

Then later in the fourth inning, Luis García walked to load the bases, and then Nola hit Barrera to tie the game at 2-2, setting up the go-ahead blow in the next frame.

After Alcides Escobar singled and Juan Soto walked to lead off the inning, Josh Bell hit his 19th home run of the season for a 5-2 lead. Bell, who has been credited with helping some of the younger hitters, let his actions do the talking in today's lesson by crushing a Nola knuckle curveball 413 feet to center.

The Nats did put themselves in position to bail Finnegan out of the loss in the ninth. Soto hit a one-out double and then scored on Didi Gregorius' throwing error on Bell's infield single. That put the tying run on second and the go-ahead run at the plate.

But Hernandez flied out and Kieboom grounded out to the pitcher to end the game. This is the fifth time in the last 12 days the Nationals have lost a game they led in the ninth. Four of those came against the Phillies.

After the game, Martinez revealed that Soto felt something in his knee as he scored that last run in the ninth.

"Yeah, it was a weird play," Martinez said. "He said he felt something in his knee. He's getting checked out as we speak. I'll know more tomorrow."

No longer playing for playoff positioning, the name of the game for the Nationals the rest of the way is to let the kids play. Figure out what they're made of and how far they can take each individual performance. Take the good and the bad. Even find some good when there's more bad.

For Ross, the results were good.

Unfortunately for the Nationals' end result, Finnegan's were not.

"I'm seeing some positives," Martinez said. "We gotta work on a bunch of different things, but I'm seeing a lot of positives. We just gotta continue to play."

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