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Nationals drop Hellickson's return, June finale

MLB.com @JamalCollier

PHILADELPHIA -- Following their 17-run, seven-homer outburst from the previous night, Nationals manager Dave Martinez decided to deploy the same lineup Saturday night against the Phillies, hoping for some momentum to carry over. But it did not on another quiet night from the Nationals' offense, even though Philadelphia lost its starting pitcher after the second inning.

The Nats managed to score just one run in seven innings against the Phillies bullpen, as they fell, 3-2, in front of a sold-out crowd of 42,746 fans at Citizens Bank Park.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Following their 17-run, seven-homer outburst from the previous night, Nationals manager Dave Martinez decided to deploy the same lineup Saturday night against the Phillies, hoping for some momentum to carry over. But it did not on another quiet night from the Nationals' offense, even though Philadelphia lost its starting pitcher after the second inning.

The Nats managed to score just one run in seven innings against the Phillies bullpen, as they fell, 3-2, in front of a sold-out crowd of 42,746 fans at Citizens Bank Park.

View Full Game Coverage

"You want to get the starter out of there and get to the bullpen and tie those guys up, but we know they have good arms," shortstop Trea Turner said. "So, sure, you maybe expect to score a few more, but at the same time, you have lefties facing lefties and righties facing righties for the most part. It doesn't necessarily get easier."

Things have not been easy for the Nationals during a difficult month of June. They finished the month with a record of 9-16, enduring one of their worst stretches in recent years. Washington has dropped to third place in the National League East and trail the division-leading Braves by five games after beginning the month only a game back.

The Nats have reached the halfway point in their schedule after Saturday marked their 81st game of the year. They are 42-39, underperforming the high aspirations they carried to begin the season.

"I wouldn't say bad, just because we had to deal with a lot from an injury standpoint, a lot of moving parts." Turner said, in his assessment of the team at the halfway point. "But I definitely think we can play a lot better in the second half, and moving forward.

"I think winning games like tonight would be huge. One-run ballgames, I feel like we've been on the wrong side of that for a little while now. The margin isn't very big and I think we had opportunities to score in the last two innings and that's the difference."

The Nats scored first on an RBI double from Spencer Kieboom in the second inning and Anthony Rendon launched a moonshot into the second deck in left field in the sixth, but that was all Washington could push across the plate.

Video: WSH@PHI: Kieboom drives in Difo with an RBI double

Phillies starter Vince Velasquez -- who left after the second inning -- made an incredible play after being drilled on the forearm by a line drive from Adam Eaton, dropping his glove and using his left arm to fire a strike to first base to retire Eaton.

"I've actually seen him play catch left-handed plenty of times, so it didn't really surprise me he made that play," said right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, Velasquez's former teammate. "He's an athlete. That's one of the best plays I've seen. It still sucks to see anybody go down like that, whether he's a friend or somebody you don't know."

Video: Must C Clips: Velasquez hit with liner, throws lefty

In his first start in more than four weeks, Hellickson's release point and command were a bit off as he gave up three runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. But his effort, combined with that of the Nats' bullpen, gave them a chance to win -- a chance they once again did not capitalize on.

"I thought we were going to score more than two runs after yesterday's performance," Martinez said. "We had our chances there later in the game. But when you get into a bullpen like that, you expect to score more runs."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Nationals threatened in the top of the eighth inning after a leadoff single from Turner and a walk to Bryce Harper put runners on first and second with nobody out. That drove left-hander Adam Morgan from the game in favor of right-hander Yacksel Rios, who threw 41 pitches the night before. But Rios retired Rendon, Juan Soto and Mark Reynolds in order to end the threat.

Video: WSH@PHI: Rios retires Reynolds, strands 2 in the 8th

It appeared to be a prime pinch-hitting spot for Daniel Murphy in place of Reynolds, with no left-hander available in the Phillies' bullpen. However, Martinez revealed after the game that Murphy -- who is still recovering from offseason knee surgery -- was only available in an "emergency situation" and he did not want him to play the field.

"Just giving him a little break," Martinez said. "We talked some things through, and it just didn't feel like he was getting under his legs a little bit. Today was better, though. We'll see how he feels tomorrow."

Murphy pinch-hit in the top of the ninth and slugged a double, before being removed for a pinch-runner.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Rendon has been the one Nats hitter most locked in at the plate lately and he launched a moonshot solo home run into the second deck in left field in the sixth inning against Tommy Hunter. Rendon has hit safely in 12 of his last 13 games dating back to June 17, batting .396 during that stretch and improving his overall slash line to .292/.356/.530 on the season.

Video: WSH@PHI: Rendon crushes a solo homer to second deck

UP NEXT
One player who will be happy to see the calendar change is Gio Gonzalez, who posted an 8.44 ERA in five starts in June. Gonzalez will try to get back on the right track during Sunday's series finale against the Phillies at 1:35 p.m. ET at Citizens Bank Park. Jake Arrieta will be the opposing pitcher, also looking to bounce back from a rough June.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Jeremy Hellickson