Rendon backs Gio at plate as Nats beat Phils

Rendon backs Gio at plate as Nats beat Phils

WASHINGTON -- While the Nationals are without right-hander Stephen Strasburg -- whose status for the rest of the season is uncertain after he strained the flexor mass in his right arm -- the back of their rotation has been pushed to elevate its game. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez becomes the team's likely No. 3 starter after a season when he has shown flashes of brilliance, followed by spurts of inconsistency.

Gonzalez turned in one of his best starts of the season Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, limiting the Phillies to one run on four hits in seven innings, as the Nationals completed their dominance over Philadelphia in 2016 with a 3-2 victory. Washington set a franchise record with 14 victories against the Phillies in 19 games in 2016, surpassing the 1973 Expos, who won 13 games against Philly. The Nationals' magic number to clinch the National League East dropped to 11.

"He seemed like a guy on a mission," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "We talked the other day and I told him that he's very important in this equation, especially with 'Stras' out. He responded."

The Phillies received a solid start from left-hander Adam Morgan, who pitched into the seventh inning but left after issuing a leadoff walk to Bryce Harper. Phillies' starters allowed four runs in 23 1/3 innings in the series.

"They can't say we're a pushover," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "Our starters really battled and pitched well this whole four-game series. That's really a good sign with these young pitchers. The usual answer on the hitting. But I'm really happy with the starters."

The next batter, Anthony Rendon, roped a run-scoring double off the wall in left field to give the Nats the lead. Later in the inning, Rendon scored the decisive run on a passed ball.. Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth to seal Washington's victory for his 41st save of the season.

Rendon scores on a passed ball

Gonzalez steps up: When Gonzalez has struggled this season, it's when he falls behind in the count and begins walking batters. But Sunday afternoon was one of his most efficient outings of the year, needing just 92 pitches to complete seven innings and issuing just one walk. While Nationals are currently missing two starters, they could use a veteran like Gonzalez to help provide stability.

"I think it's been the same," Gonzalez said. "You've still got to do your part, your individual part as starting pitchers. Give your team a chance to go out there and keep them in the game as long as possible." More >

Gonzalez K's five over seven

Morgan makes his case: Morgan is trying to give the Phillies' front office something more to think about this offseason. He allowed three hits, two runs and two walks and struck out two in six-plus innings against the Nationals. He has a 2.41 ERA in his last three starts and a 3.64 ERA in his last five after posting a 6.62 ERA in his first 15 appearances (13 starts) this season.

"I hope to keep it rolling," Morgan said. "Having the two-seam [fastball] and the changeup, being able to throw inside to righties, knowing when to throw inside to righties, really has been huge. I don't really believe in finesse, crafty lefty, anything like that. I'm me. I'm still going to use my fastball and attack guys but not try to pitch around them or pitch to their weaknesses. I'm going to pitch to my strengths."

Morgan's strong start

Joseph, Galvis keep showing power: Did anybody expect Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis to hit a combined 35 homers this season? Joseph hit a solo homer to center field in the seventh to tie the game at 1, his 18th, while Galvis hit his 17th homer to right-center field in the eighth to cut the Nationals' lead to 3-2.

"These are the same games we were winning at the beginning of the season," Galvis said. "The pitching is doing a really good job. We have to step up and make something happen, try to get some runs for these guys." More >

Galvis' solo home run

Finding his groove: Rendon began the year hitting primarily in the No.2 spot in the Nationals order, and struggled at the plate. Since the All-Star break, he has settled into the middle of the order and been among the team's hottest and most productive hitters. He hit his 37th double of the season Sunday, the most among National League third baseman, and two off his career-high set in 2014. Rendon has hit safely in 34 of his last 44 games, batting .321 with 20 doubles, six homers, 35 RBIs and 26 runs scored during that span.

"I know he's driven in a bunch of runs since the All-Star break and hit some home runs," Baker said. "And he's played outstanding defense. But he's in the part of that order, the fifth guy is your foundation man in the middle of that order. ... He's a very, very important cog in our lineup."

Joseph's solo homer to center field in the seventh inning tied the game at 1. It was his 18th homer of the season, tying him with Pat Burrell for the third-most homers in the past 43 seasons by a Phillies' rookie (1974-2016). Ryan Howard (22 in 2005) and Scott Rolen (21 in 1997) are first and second. Willie Montanez (30 in 1971) holds the all-time home run record.

The Nationals used their challenge in the seventh inning on whether Danny Espinosa was hit by a pitch with two outs in the inning. The call on the field that he was not hit was upheld. Espinosa then grounded out.

Phillies: Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (10-9, 3.90 ERA) faces the Pirates in a series opener Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. Hellickson hopes to get back on track after struggling recently. He is 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA in his last three starts, although he pitched six innings in two of them. Prior to that, Hellickson had a 2.45 ERA in his previous 10 starts.

Nationals: The Nationals will host the Mets for the start of a crucial three-game series at Nationals Park beginning Monday night at 7:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Mat Latos will make his first start for Washington this season. He has appeared twice out of the bullpen and allowed three runs in 2 1/3 innings. Earlier this season, he was cut by the White Sox with a 4.62 ERA in 11 starts.

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

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for since 2009. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter< /a> and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.