<
>

Rafael Soriano's job in jeopardy after blown save leads to Nats loss

WASHINGTON -- Rafael Soriano stood with hands on hips as the ball landed beyond the right-field fence. Game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth. Another blown save. Booed off the field. An ERA of 6.98 since the All-Star break. A closer whose job, according to the manager, is now firmly in jeopardy.

The Washington Nationals melted down in all sorts of ways Friday night. They blew a five-run lead after the seventh inning, committing three errors along the way in a 9-8, 11-inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

But the biggest concern for a team that appeared to be sailing smoothly toward an NL East title is a closer situation that's suddenly in flux. Soriano has pitched poorly in recent weeks, but the final straw might have been the three-run lead he couldn't hold because of home runs by Carlos Ruiz and Ben Revere.

"We need to address it," manager Matt Williams said. "It's not an easy decision, none of them are, but we want to be able to close those games out. Sori understands that; he's been around the block."

Williams said he would discuss the matter with Soriano on Saturday, but the manager went on to strongly indicate the right-hander could be given a break from closer duties to sort things out. Williams mentioned Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Matt Thornton as possible alternatives.

"Sori's been struggling a little bit," Williams said, "so we'll have to look to land him a little softer maybe for a few days and see where we're at."

Soriano has 31 saves this season, but he has allowed at least one run in seven of his past 12 appearances. He said he plans to study video and talk with pitching coach Steve McCatty on Saturday.

"I've got to figure it out, what's going on right now," Soriano said. "And do it better."

Told that Williams might turn to another closer, Soriano said: "What situation he can make, I agree with him because one of the reasons that I like him so far is we've got good communication."

The Phillies began their rally with two unearned runs in the eighth, spurred by Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon's booted grounder. The three runs off Soriano in the ninth included the second career homer by Revere, a solo shot that tied the game at 7. Before that inning, Revere had 947 career plate appearances on the road without a homer -- the most among active players.

Then came an unearned pair of runs in the 11th off Craig Stammen (4-5), an inning that started with a two-base error on Bryce Harper when the left fielder ran smack into center fielder Denard Span on a routine fly ball by Domonic Brown.

"He called it, and we bump into each other," Harper said. "Center field has priority, of course, and I've got to get out of there."

Brown later scored on a fielder's choice grounder to first by Maikel Franco, who was playing in his second major league game and in the third inning had produced his first major league hit.

First baseman Tyler Moore tried to get Brown at home, but the throw was off target. Franco went to second, and Moore was charged with the Nationals' third error of the game.

Jake Diekman (4-4) pitched one inning for the win. Jonathan Papelbon pitched the 11th for his 34th save, but only after allowing a run off consecutive one-out hits by Rendon, Jayson Werth and Moore.

The Phillies have won eight of 11 games, a stretch that includes a three-game sweep of the Nationals last week in Philadelphia.

STELLAR STRASBURG: Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg allowed one run and four hits over six innings with five strikeouts and no walks. He has a career-high 189 innings for the season, surpassing his 183 from last year. He received a mound visit in the sixth from McCatty, who was concerned that Strasburg was getting a finger blister in the heat, but the right-hander remained in the game through the end of the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: LHP Mario Hollands (flexor strain, left elbow) was placed on the 60-day disabled list, but the reliever won't undergo surgery.

"He's on six weeks' rest, at least, from baseball," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "It's basically a rest program. So that's good news."

Hollands' spot on the roster was taken by RHP Sean O'Sullivan, whose contract was selected from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Nationals: First baseman Adam LaRoche started despite a nagging lower back strain, a sore elbow, and the remnants of a stomach bug that had him woozy and barely able to swing a bat against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, when he had five RBIs after entering the game in the ninth inning of a 14-inning win.

He hardly seemed fazed. He hit a two-run homer in the first off Phillies starter Jerome Williams and had a sacrifice fly to give him eight RBIs in two games.

UP NEXT

Philadelphia's A.J. Burnett (7-15, 4.40 ERA) faces Washington's Tanner Roark (12-9, 2.91) on Saturday in the second game of the three-game series.