WASHINGTON -- Chase Utley stood alone on the grass at 2:09 p.m. Thursday. He flicked his bat and glove to the ground at Nationals Park. He put his hands on his knees, and stretched for about 15 minutes until his Phillies teammates joined him for a pregame workout.
Utley soon provided hope, just four minutes after Nationals lefthander Doug Fister threw his first pitch. He brought home Ben Revere with a single up the middle. It was the first Phillies lead since Sunday, and it lasted until the next half inning.
Utley, who will start at second base for the National League in the All-Star Game next month, is adept at concealing his frustration with the sinking ship that employs his services. But another loss, 4-2 to Washington, dropped the Phillies to 24-34. The abyss deepens by the day.
The losing streak is six. Washington, once the divisional stepchild, has beaten the Phillies in 11 of their last 15 meetings. The Nationals outscored them, 84-43, during that span.
Kyle Kendrick was napalm, again. He allowed his 12th first-inning run in his 12th start. He nibbled at Washington hitters, permitted a runner in each of the first six innings, and cracked in the fifth. The righthander threw a sinker right at Carlos Ruiz's glove. Adam LaRoche smashed it for a two-run blast.
The script is the same for each failure. The lineup offers scant support for a flawed pitching staff. It is difficult to imagine the Phillies ever launching an extended winning streak with a rotation that relies upon Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, and David Buchanan in three of every five games.
The constant first-inning problems angered Kendrick two weeks ago. No solution has emerged. He has permitted a first-inning run in six of his last seven starts. Opponents have hit .381 with a .998 OPS against Kendrick in the first inning.
This time, Anthony Rendon singled and reached second with two outs. Kendrick pitched around LaRoche -- a fruitless Phillies tactic for the entire series -- only for Ryan Zimmerman to poke a run-scoring single to left. It deflated an offense that possessed a rare lead.
Kendrick's five walks Thursday were one shy of a career high. He pitched into trouble the entire afternoon.
There is no imminent rotation help. Cliff Lee, hampered by a strained left elbow, did not throw a baseball for the 17th straight day. He will need at least three weeks from the date he picks up a ball to rebuild strength. The team's priority, at this point, is to procure enough starts for Lee ahead of the July 31 trade deadline to showcase his health.
The lineup is muddled. John Mayberry Jr., who homered for the second straight day, could gain playing time in left field if manager Ryne Sandberg wavers in his loyalty toward Domonic Brown. Mayberry, though, is hardly a long-term solution given his history.
Washington starters struck out 20 and walked one in 22 innings this series. Fister retired 17 of 19 between Utley's run-scoring single in the first and Mayberry's seventh-inning homer.
The task is no easier in Cincinnati, where the Phillies were to land late Thursday night. Johnny Cueto, he of the 1.68 ERA, awaits Friday. Alfredo Simon, a former Phillies international signee, will pitch Saturday. In the Sunday finale it will be Homer Bailey, a $100 million arm who has struggled.
These Phillies, however, are an elixir for all that ails an opponent.
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