WASHINGTON — After dominating eight innings Saturday and giving the Phillies a one-run lead, Aaron Nola walked off the mound and into the dugout.
He must have tried to persuade interim manager Rob Thomson to send him out for the ninth time.
“No,” Nola said. “Tomper said it was.”
It really wasn’t a debate. Not with Nola, who has thrown 105 pitches, four off his season high. However, the debate will revolve around which helper replaced him. Thomson chose left Brad Hand over Seranthony Domínguez, and Hand promptly failed against the Washington Nationals.
In the end, the Phillies won. Of course they did. Rhys Hoskins, who had most of the day off, came off the bench and delivered an RBI single before Domínguez threw a scoreless end of the 10th inning for a 2-1 win in front of a sold-out crowd at Ryan Zimmerman’s jersey – Decide on a day off.
To update the daily tally, the Phillies have won 15 of their last 17 games and are 14-2 under Thomson, the best 16-game throw to start a managerial career since Alex Cora was 14-2 at the Boston Red Sox 2018 began. They’ve also won 12 straight games against the Nationals and 11 straight in Washington.
But much of the post-game talk revolved around Thomson’s decision to go with Hand, especially given that Domínguez has allowed one run overall in his last 17 games.
Thomson explained that he prefers hands to the heart of the Nationals, particularly Juan Soto, who hits with the left hand, who came up first in the ninth inning.
“This whole bag [of the lineup] was his,” Thomson said. “We thought he threw the ball pretty well. He just hung up a breaking ball.
Hand went Soto to open the inning, then tough Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell retired. Thomson could have reached out to Domínguez at this point. Instead, he held on to Lane Thomas who gave a two-out pinch hit single that evened the game 1-1.
After the Phillies regained the lead, they were unable to continue. Thomson approached Domínguez at this point and it took him 10 pitches to record three outs.
Thomson said the Phillies would split save opportunities between Hand and Domínguez after taking struggling Corey Knebel out of the ninth-inning roll earlier in the week.
Would he give Domínguez the job?
“We’ll see,” Thomson said. “We didn’t talk about it. We’re still in this mode [matching up based on] the bags [of the lineup]. It was nice to gag and see [Jeurys] Familia do what they did [Friday night]. As they progress, we have to think of more people in this high-leverage situation.”
After Hoskins got a breather and Bryce Harper was out with a blister under his left index finger, the offense stuttered save for a solo homer by Yairo Muñoz in the seventh inning.
But Nola was so good that it seemed like a 1-0 lead would hold. He allowed four hits – all singles – and only one runner in goal position. He racked up eight strikeouts and was a strike-throwing machine, economical and efficient.
Asked before the game which Phillies players deserve to be in next month’s All-Star Game, Thomson endorsed Nola, who has a 2.64 ERA in his last 11 starts.
“Changeup felt pretty good today, better than usual,” Nola said. “I’ve had some early outs, fast innings that helped me go deep and some good plays. Walks didn’t help either. It was a key to go deep today.”
The Phillies turned in some defensive jewels behind Nola.
Second baseman Bryson Stott saved a run with a sliding stop on César Hernández’s grounder in the hole in the sixth inning. Center fielder Odúbel Herrera landed a jump catch on Maikel Franco’s sinking line drive to finish in seventh place; Matt Vierling reversed to reel in Luis Garcia’s flyball on the right warning lane in eighth field.
Muñoz was going 650 days between homers in the majors when he hit a solo shot Thursday night. He now has two home runs in three days.
Muñoz started at third base because Alec Bohm jumped in first and broke a scoreless stalemate by beating the Nationals’ Erasmo Ramirez deep in the seventh inning.
“It feels really good,” Muñoz said through a team translator. “I think we’re the kind of team that if someone doesn’t get the job done, they have someone else to pick them up.”
Soto dragged a 0-for-14 dash — 0-for-12 through the first three games against the Phillies — into the day before hitting a replay-checked infield single in the first inning.
But the rule is always the same: if you’re going up against the Nationals, don’t let Soto beat you.
Though Nola crossed, the Phillies ordered a deliberate walk from Soto with open first base and two outs in the sixth inning as Nola fell 2-0 down the count. It snatched Nola’s streak of 133 consecutive batters over 35 2/3 innings without a walk. He immediately knocked out Cruz to finish the inning.
It was an uncharacteristically poor first half for Soto, who hit .218 with .800 OPS. He was also called out by manager Dave Martinez on Friday for not running hard in a groundout.