Phils fight past Nationals with rally in 8th

Posted: September 04, 2013

The Phillies won, so Cole Hamels smiled. He felt awful earlier when he warmed up in the bullpen on Labor Day for a game witnessed by the smallest paid crowd at Citizens Bank Park in more than five years. The $144 million lefthander was limited to 87 pitches because the team's decision-makers were concerned about overuse.

Hamels walked to the center of the Phillies clubhouse minutes after a trivial 3-2 victory over Washington. An eighth-inning comeback started by Cesar Hernandez, the team's 15th different outfielder in 2013, and capped by Carlos Ruiz energized the room. Hamels stared into the cameras.

"I injured my back a couple days ago barhopping in Chicago," he said, while almost keeping a straight face.

A 162-game season requires humor, and at least Hamels has maintained his sanity.

"We were just waiting to see what we were going to get from him tonight," interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. "What it was was pretty good."

Or, as Jimmy Rollins said about Hamels, "He needs to feel that way all the time then."

Hamels got a no-decision once again because his body was not right. Sandberg said there is no physical issue with Hamels. The pitcher would not specifically address what did not feel well.

The bullpen, forced into action an inning early, surrendered a lead when Justin De Fratus and Cesar Jimenez stumbled. The offense atoned in the next half inning. Hernandez drew a two-out walk. Rollins smashed one into the gap to knock in the tying run. Chase Utley walked. A Ruiz grounder found a hole to drive in the go-ahead run.

The Phillies accounted for just two hits until the decisive eighth. Their one run against Stephen Strasburg was unearned and scored on a broken-bat looper by Ruiz.

It was difficult to imagine anything more until the old gang rallied. Sandberg's lineup was astonishingly weak at the corner positions. Kevin Frandsen started at first base with Pete Orr at third. John Mayberry Jr. and Roger Bernadina manned left and right field.

Three young players - Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, and Darin Ruf - were out of the starting lineup. Brown's right Achilles tendon continued to bother him. Asche was scheduled for a day off after returning Sunday from a right hamstring injury. Ruf's swing slowed, so Sandberg thought it best to rest him.

That provided a chance for Hernandez in center. The Phillies have used a staggering 22 different outfielders since the start of 2012. That is the most in the majors. Their 15 outfielders in 2013 tied a franchise record established in 1989.

Hernandez never played center before a brief minor-league test this summer. The Phillies like his bat (he hit .314 in the minors) and are trying to make the second baseman into a utility player with hopes of forging a bench role in 2014.

"This here is another challenge for him," Sandberg said, "but it's a good chance to see where he's at."

The Phillies would be thrilled to find a useful bench player in the 23-year-old Venezuelan. More pressing, of course, is discovering a competent starting outfield unit. They have lacked one ever since jettisoning Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence more than a year ago.

Strasburg completed six innings with one unearned run. He struck out 10 - and every Phillies hitter except for Frandsen at least once. Monday's crowd was this stadium's smallest since April 3, 2008. That season ended much happier for the Phillies. Still, as Hamels proved, laughter is possible.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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