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Pivetta runs into trouble against Harper, Nats

Right-hander going through tough stretch; Santana, Franco hit back-to-back HRs
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

WASHINGTON -- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler made a point Tuesday to highlight Nick Pivetta's bullpen session at Marlins Park.

Pivetta threw the ball so well, Kapler said, that teammates and coaches cheered and high-fived in the bullpen. Somebody asked Kapler how Pivetta could carry that session into Friday's start against the Nationals, particularly following a rough start last weekend against the Braves. Kapler said that Pivetta had done that previously, and "the expectation and the belief in our clubhouse is that Pivetta has turned the corner."

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WASHINGTON -- Phillies manager Gabe Kapler made a point Tuesday to highlight Nick Pivetta's bullpen session at Marlins Park.

Pivetta threw the ball so well, Kapler said, that teammates and coaches cheered and high-fived in the bullpen. Somebody asked Kapler how Pivetta could carry that session into Friday's start against the Nationals, particularly following a rough start last weekend against the Braves. Kapler said that Pivetta had done that previously, and "the expectation and the belief in our clubhouse is that Pivetta has turned the corner."

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But Pivetta turned the wrong way in Friday's 7-3 loss to the Nationals at Nationals Park. He suffered the shortest start of his career, allowing five hits, six runs, three walks, two home runs and striking out one in one-plus inning.

Video: PHI@WSH: Pivetta strikes out Gonzalez in the 1st

Bryce Harper crushed both home runs.

"I just look at this as a bad day at work," Pivetta said. "That's what happened. It wasn't a good day. It wasn't my best."

Pivetta's recent performances are a disappointment as the Phillies need more than Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta to compete in the competitive National League East. After Pivetta went 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his first five starts, striking out 28 and walking four in 28 innings, he is 0-2 with a 15.00 ERA in his last two, striking out seven and walking six in six innings.

Video: PHI@WSH: Santana snags liner, doubles off Kendrick

"I'm going to be fine," Pivetta said. "I've been through it before. It's part of it. I'll work hard and get back at it. I'll start in five days and it'll be fun."

Pivetta faced just 11 batters Friday. He said he did not have his best stuff. The average exit velocity on balls in play was a career-high 95.1 mph. The average exit velocity on all balls in play in baseball this season is 88.4 mph.

"The stuff tonight was crisp," Kapler said. "I think he just kind of ran into a buzzsaw."

Harper hit an opposite-field, leadoff homer in the first on a 2-1 sinker down and in. Pivetta walked the next two batters he faced, although home-plate umpire Rob Drake called a handful of pitches on the corners balls that could have been strikes. Still, Pivetta allowed two more runs in the inning to make it 3-0.

Pivetta walked Wilmer Difo to start the second before Harper smashed a first-pitch changeup for a two-run homer. Harper crushed the ball a projected 473 feet to straightaway center field. It was Harper's longest homer tracked by Statcast™.

Video: PHI@WSH: Harper crushes long 2-run shot for 2nd homer

Pivetta never turned to watch it.

"There was a point where we said we're down 5-0, and even though his stuff was crisp, we want 110 pitches from him the next time out, and one of the ways to get there is by limiting his workload this time out," Kapler said. "This was designed to protect Nick. I'm sure he didn't see that in the moment, and I'll have a conversation with him about that. But that decision was all about protecting him and getting him ready for his next start."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana hit a two-run home run to center field in the sixth inning. It was his third homer of the season and his first since April 7, snapping a streak of 102 consecutive plate appearances without a homer.

"Nice to see Carlos really get into a ball," Kapler said. "I think that was really important for his psyche and confidence, and we're really happy that he's gonna be able to build on that tomorrow."

Video: PHI@WSH: Santana clubs a 2-run homer to center field

SOUND SMART
Odubel Herrera singled to center field in the eighth inning to extend his on-base streak to 33 games. It is tied for the longest streak in club history since Darin Ruf's 33-game streak in 2012-13.

Video: PHI@WSH: Herrera extends on base streak to 33 games

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Franco hit a solo home run to left field in the sixth inning, giving the Phillies back-to-back home runs for the first time since July 28, 2017. It was Franco's fifth homer of the season. But Franco almost hit a homer in the fourth, except Nationals left fielder Matt Adams made a leaping catch at the wall.

Video: PHI@WSH: Adams robs Franco with leaping catch at wall

"Maikel's swing looked tremendous tonight," Kapler said.

Video: PHI@WSH: Franco goes back-to-back with Santana

HE SAID IT
"He's a good hitter. At the end of the day it was a good sinker down, I wasn't trying to get to a 3-1 count, so I just threw a sinker down and he went opposite-field home run. And the second one was a first-pitch changeup 86 mph and he took me 473. He's a good hitter. He's on fire right now. I had some success against him earlier, but he got me tonight." -- Pivetta, on Harper

UP NEXT
The Phillies really need right-hander Vince Velasquez (1-4, 5.70 ERA) to get things turned around Saturday afternoon against the Nationals at Nationals Park. After posting a respectable 3.80 ERA through his first four starts, Velasquez has a 10.38 ERA (10 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings) in his last two. He has not pitched five innings in either of those starts. Tanner Roark (2-2, 3.55 ERA) starts for the Nationals. First pitch is slated for 4:05 p.m. ET.

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

Philadelphia Phillies, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Nick Pivetta, Carlos Santana