Nats, with a shuffled and battered staff, drop opener of doubleheader

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The Washington Nationals are at a point — in the week, in the season — when how much a pitcher pitches seems to matter more than his actual effectiveness. A stretch of 14 games in 13 days, including Friday’s doubleheader at Nationals Park against the Philadelphia Phillies, will do that to a last-place team. On the field and in the near-daily wave of transactions, it feels a lot like self-defense.

So there was Joan Adon, pounding his glove, just once, after Didi Gregorious swung through his 97th and final pitch of a five-inning start. He swiftly jogged to the dugout, leaving a three-run deficit behind. The Nationals had only two hits against Phillies lefty Ranger Suárez. But a few hours earlier, Manager Dave Martinez hoped for five frames from Adon, who began the year with a 6.95 ERA in 12 starts, was sent down to Class AAA Rochester on June 8, then was recalled as the extra man for this twin bill.

Adon answered Martinez’s call. Four runs on seven hits raised his ERA a smidge to 6.97. And the Nationals (23-44) dropped their sixth straight, 5-3, after the Phillies scored twice in the first, twice in the third and once in the sixth against Washington’s bullpen. Paolo Espino will face Phillies starter Bailey Falter in the nightcap.

Immaculate innings are rare. Don’t tell the Astros.

“Obviously it was very important,” Adon said in Spanish, speaking through a team interpreter, of completing five innings Friday. Martinez confirmed afterward that his next outing will be with Rochester. “The longer we as starters can stay in the game, we can give our bullpen a little rest, which they needed.”

During the afternoon defeat, Josh Bell beat Suárez with a two-run homer in the sixth, his second of the series. Victor Robles collected a pair of singles and a walk. Adon even retired the final seven batters he faced, flashing improvements with his change-up, a third pitch the 23-year-old must develop. The key, though, was still that he didn’t force a quick hook after throwing 33 pitches in the first. He was also burned in the third when Juan Soto coasted to a catchable flyball that dropped for Nick Castellano’s second double.

Bryce Harper advanced from first to third on the misplay. Two batters later, Odúbel Herrera knocked him in with an RBI groundout for Philadelphia (34-31). A batter after that, Alec Bohm brought in Castellanos with a double to right.

To cover the 18 innings, the Nationals optioned reliever Andrés Machado — who threw 31 pitches in Thursday’s 10-1 loss — and promoted right-handed starter Cory Abbott. They kept lefty Evan Lee in the bullpen instead of tapping him to start Friday. They’ve been shuffling their staff all month.

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But Lee, 24, only lasted eight batters until he was checked out by Paul Lessard, the club’s head athletic trainer, and exited with shoulder soreness in the middle of an at-bat. Lee had just thrown fastballs to the backstop. He threw 31 total pitches and only 11 strikes, walking four. Once he left the game, Carl Edwards Jr. rushed to warm up and enter, throwing a handful of extra pitches on the mound.

“I think he’s going to be fine,” Martinez said of Lee. “We got him some X-rays; [they were] negative. We’re going to try to get him an MRI. He says he doesn’t really feel anything, but we want to make sure there is nothing in there. I just want to be real cautious with him. When he misses the strike zone like that, I thought there was something wrong with him.”

Edwards and Lee teamed to load the bases with no outs on 12 consecutive balls in the seventh. The streak reached 13 before Edwards landed a change-up in the zone. The crowd cheered, then cheered some more when he stranded the bases loaded with three consecutive strikeouts, all looking. Earlier, the first run off Lee scored when Riley Adams tried to throw behind Kyle Schwarber at first in the sixth and the ball whizzed past Bell. The home fans, most of whom huddled beneath an overhang to dull the sweltering heat (91 at first pitch), almost sighed in unison.

Kyle Finnegan and Francisco Perez then handled the final two innings, with Perez needing 20 pitches — 10 strikes, 10 balls — to work the ninth. The Nationals threatened in the bottom half before Brad Hand, once their struggling closer, wiggled free for a save.

Friday marked the beginning of a two-day celebration for Ryan Zimmerman’s number retirement. His No. 11 and three silhouettes — Zimmerman swinging, raising a fist while rounding first on a homer, and saluting the crowd during his final game here — replaced where Max Scherzer’s eyes once loomed behind right field. A black tarp covered where his number will be revealed Saturday afternoon. And between games of the doubleheader, a panel of former players, from Jayson Werth to Ian Desmond, was set to answer questions about Zimmerman on the field.

Yes, their presence is a respite for fans who have endured a dismal season. But each player will feel like a reminder of a better, simpler time, when the goal of winning games was on par with getting by without injuries.

“We haven’t run out of guys yet,” Martinez said Friday morning of his ever-evolving pitching staff. The telling word there was yet.

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