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Crawford HRs, may play more for fading Phils

Nola struggles as Philadelphia falls 7 1/2 games behind Braves
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- J.P. Crawford did not figure to be a storyline for the Phillies over the final few weeks of the season because he had not been a factor since he broke his left hand in June and was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in August.

Philadelphia figured to play Asdrubal Cabrera and Scott Kingery at shortstop the rest of the season as it pursued its first National League East title since 2011. But following Wednesday night's 5-1 loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies, who have lost five straight games, are 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves with 17 games to play. Even if Atlanta stumbles to a 7-9 finish, Philadelphia would need to play 15-2 the rest of the way to tie. The Phillies are also 6 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot with the Dodgers and D-backs between them.

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PHILADELPHIA -- J.P. Crawford did not figure to be a storyline for the Phillies over the final few weeks of the season because he had not been a factor since he broke his left hand in June and was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in August.

Philadelphia figured to play Asdrubal Cabrera and Scott Kingery at shortstop the rest of the season as it pursued its first National League East title since 2011. But following Wednesday night's 5-1 loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies, who have lost five straight games, are 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves with 17 games to play. Even if Atlanta stumbles to a 7-9 finish, Philadelphia would need to play 15-2 the rest of the way to tie. The Phillies are also 6 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot with the Dodgers and D-backs between them.

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It means Crawford, who homered and had a career-high three hits on Wednesday in his first start at shortstop since June 18, could see more action than anticipated the rest of the way.

But even if Crawford fares well, will it change where he stands in the organization? Philadelphia has seen improvement from Kingery at shortstop and thinks he can play there. The Phillies will also make a strong push to sign free-agent Manny Machado in the offseason. Does Crawford fit at third base? Perhaps, or maybe the club will look to upgrade there.

"I have no idea about any of that stuff," Crawford said. "My job is just to go out there and play every day and be ready when my time comes."

Video: WSH@PHI: Crawford, Nola discuss performances in loss

The Phillies unofficially anointed Crawford as their everyday shortstop entering this season when they traded Freddy Galvis to the Padres. Crawford struggled early, although after a 1-for-23 start in his first seven games, he has hit .273 with six doubles, a triple, three home runs, nine RBIs and an .885 OPS in his last 31.

Still, Kingery assumed the everyday role at shortstop following Crawford's hand injury. The Phillies then acquired Cabrera in July, making Crawford, the organization's former No. 1 prospect, no longer a fit on the 25-man roster, even as a utility player.

So Philadelphia optioned him. He rejoined the club last week in Miami because Maikel Franco had been sidelined with a sore right wrist.

"It's been a bunch of ups and downs, but I get to play baseball every day," Crawford said. "It's my dream, so I'm not complaining."

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Phillies manager Gabe Kapler spoke glowingly of Crawford's future.

"The confidence level in J.P.'s talent is through the roof," Kapler said. "We know what sort of pedigree he has. We know what sort of on-base history he has. We know how good of a defender he's been. We're also thinking about this as a 10-year stretch for J.P. Crawford. It's a long-term vision for him. So we don't have to make it all up in one day. We want to put our best product on the field to win a baseball game. We want to balance that with J.P. Crawford and all of our young players' development."

Video: WSH@PHI: Kapler on Crawford's day in loss to the Nats

NOLA STRUGGLES
Phillies ace Aaron Nola's National League Cy Young Award chances took a hit Wednesday. He allowed four runs on six hits (two home runs) and a walk while striking out five over five innings to fall to 16-5 with a 2.42 ERA.

Nola is 1-2 with a 5.60 ERA in his last three starts. After allowing eight home runs in his first 176 innings of the season, he has given up seven homers in his last 17 2/3.

"I feel fine right now, honestly," said Nola, who has thrown a career-high 193 2/3 innings.

SOUND SMART
Nola is the first Phillies pitcher to have 200 strikeouts in a season since Cliff Lee (222) and Cole Hamels (202) in 2013. He is just the 13th pitcher in franchise history to accomplish the feat. He joins Brett Myers (2005), Grover Cleveland Alexander (1911), Gus Weyhing (1892), Kid Gleason (1890) and Charlie Ferguson (1886) as the only Phillies pitchers 25 years old or younger to do it.

Video: WSH@PHI: Nola K's Rendon to end the frame

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Nationals slugger Bryce Harper crushed a two-run homer into the Phillies' bullpen in the first inning off Nola to make it 2-0. The ball left his bat at 111 mph and traveled a projected 421 feet, according to Statcast™. Harper is a free agent following the season and the Phillies are expected to pursue him. He has hit well in Philadelphia. He entered the game hitting .269 with 13 home runs, 30 RBIs and a .922 OPS in his career at Citizens Bank Park.

"Nola's really good out there," Harper said. "We're trying to get some extra runs on him so [Max] Scherzer can win the Cy Young. That's huge for us, as well. I thought he settled in after that first inning and threw the ball well. Was actually kind of happy when he got pulled than if he had been out there longer because he's so good."

Video: WSH@PHI: Harper rips a 111-mph homer off Aaron Nola

HE SAID IT
"I have built up a ton of trust in Nola. I trust him. And I trust what he will tell me. I will continually check in with him, and the reading and reacting will occur every couple of days. First and foremost, we are going to fight until the very end. We are not going to stop looking for value at the margins. We're not going to stop looking for any advantages that we can get. We're going to continue to try to win every single baseball game. That's going to be our focus going forward." -- Kapler, on if he would consider shutting down Nola the final weekend of the season if the Phillies are eliminated from postseason contention

UP NEXT
The Phillies return to action on Friday, when they start a three-game series against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Right-hander Zach Eflin (9-7, 4.42 ERA) will face Marlins left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (6-10, 4.72) in the series opener. Eflin is 1-3 with a 7.71 ERA over his last five starts. He has faced the Marlins twice this season and allowed a combined four runs over 14 innings in those outings.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Philadelphia Phillies, J.P. Crawford