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Defensive miscues mar Fedde's best outing

Two slides at home difference in well-pitched ballgame
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals endured a similar stretch earlier in the season, when they were playing far below their talent level and found themselves under .500 after the season's first month. They turned things around shortly after, but this recent skid has left them searching for answers once again.

The Nats have now dropped the first two games of the series against the Phillies after Saturday's 5-3 loss in front of a sold-out crowd at Nationals Park. This was Washington's ninth loss in the past 12 games as the team has slid into third place in the National League East.

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WASHINGTON -- The Nationals endured a similar stretch earlier in the season, when they were playing far below their talent level and found themselves under .500 after the season's first month. They turned things around shortly after, but this recent skid has left them searching for answers once again.

The Nats have now dropped the first two games of the series against the Phillies after Saturday's 5-3 loss in front of a sold-out crowd at Nationals Park. This was Washington's ninth loss in the past 12 games as the team has slid into third place in the National League East.

View Full Game Coverage

"I always say, I repeat myself every day, but it's about the little things," manager Dave Martinez said. "Today was about the little things. Not knocking balls down. The plays at home. Things like that."

Video: PHI@WSH: Murphy tags out Franco trying to take second

The Phillies scored a pair of runs at the plate after Maikel Franco tested Adam Eaton's arm in right field on two separate occasions, including in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly to score the go-ahead run. Eaton's throw to the plate appeared to beat Franco, but catcher Spencer Kieboom was too far up the first-base line to recover in time to make the tag.

"That's on me," Kieboom said. "The throw came in and I thought maybe it was going to be a little bit of a short hop -- Adam made a great throw -- and I came up a little bit and retreated. At the same time, I just had too much space."

It spoiled a strong effort from right-hander Erick Fedde, in perhaps the best outing of his young career. Fedde made his third start this season since being promoted to replace the injured Stephen Strasburg. Fedde -- the Nats' top pitching prospect and No.4 overall as rated by MLB Pipeline -- had command of all five of his pitches and pitched into the seventh inning for the first time in the Majors. Even though he gave up eight hits and walked a pair, he was charged for just three runs.

Fedde was given an early advantage after a two-run single from Daniel Murphy in the first inning, in what was one of Murphy's best games since returning from the disabled list, but then Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola settled in. He did not surrender a run the rest of the game, giving up two runs in six innings with five strikeouts.

Video: PHI@WSH: Murphy singles up the middle, plates a pair

Nola and Fedde, both first-round picks in the 2014 MLB Draft, matched each other in a tie game until the seventh inning, when Martinez decided to send Fedde back out despite the fact he had already thrown 97 pitches with Ryan Madson ready to come into the game. Fedde promptly gave up a leadoff double to Franco to start the seventh and his night was complete.

"I thought the matchups were great," Martinez said of trying to extend Fedde for one more inning. "All of a sudden, if he gets through that inning, now you got Madson, [Kelvin Herrera] and [Sean Doolittle]. It was tied. If we were ahead, different story."

SOUND SMART
Fedde is still searching for his first Major League victory, but he pitched well enough to win Saturday. The three earned runs allowed by Fedde matched his career low, something he has accomplished in three of his four starts this season, and his six innings matched a career best.

"I felt like my stuff was pretty good today," Fedde said. "I had a lot of ground balls today. That's usually when I know my stuff's good."

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Franco's go-ahead slide in the seventh wasn't without controversy. Kieboom's tag hit Franco on the hip as the play was initially ruled safe. The Nationals challenged the play, and after a review, the call on the field stood, giving the Phillies the lead.

Video: PHI@WSH: Franco scores on sac fly despite challenge

HE SAID IT
"I thought Fedde did a tremendous job. I couldn't be more proud of him. He did, he mixed all five pitches -- sliders, curveballs, changeups, cutters in, fastballs. He did a good job. I thought he attacked hitters and at the beginning, we were kind of [nibbling], but after that he really attacked." -- Kieboom

"I got all the confidence in the world that we're going to start hitting. [Bryce Harper's] swinging the bat a lot better. Murph's starting to swing the bat better. [Juan Soto's] been Soto. So, these guys are all, they're all going to start swinging. Rendon, what an at-bat he put on to hit a home run. We'll start scoring some runs." -- Martinez, on the Nats' offense

"It shows that he has a lot of trust in me that I can go out there and get the job done. And I hope to prove him right in the future." -- Fedde, on the confidence boost from starting the seventh inning

UP NEXT
The Nationals turn to rookie right-hander Jefry Rodriguez to make his second career start for Sunday night's series finale against the Phillies. But also keep an eye on Harper, who is 2-for-4 with a pair of home runs in his career against Philadelphia right-hander Nick Pivetta and has shown some improvements at the plate lately. First pitch is at 8:05 ET.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals