Nationals look for consecutive wins against Phillies

The Washington Nationals‘ bats finally came alive Friday night. They hope that offense shows up again Saturday as the Nationals attempt to win two straight games for the first time in more than three weeks.

After a 17-7 rout on Friday night, the Nationals can pull even with the Philadelphia Phillies for second place in the National League East with a win Saturday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Washington hit seven home runs against the Phillies on Friday, including two by rookie Juan Soto and the 20th of the season from Bryce Harper. The team scored 17 runs on 18 hits in the win after combining for three runs on 12 hits in its previous three games.

The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Nationals, who are 9-15 in June and have not won consecutive games since June 5-6. Still, they are 42-38 on the season and one game behind the Phillies in the division.

Right-hander Vince Velasquez (5-8, 4.69 ERA) will try to keep the Phillies in second place on Saturday.

With one exception, Velasquez has been reliable for the Phillies over the last two months. The hard-throwing righty has allowed fewer than three earned runs in seven of his last 10 starts. He allowed 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 8 but has a 2.73 ERA in his other nine starts dating back to May 5.

Velasquez, who averages 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings, had seven strikeouts in six innings against the Yankees on Monday. He gave up two runs on three hits and four walks in the outing and took the loss as the Phillies’ offense struggled in the 4-2 defeat.

“I had a couple walks here and there, and I had to pitch around some guys,” Velasquez told reporters after the game. “It’s a tough lineup to face.”

Saturday’s start will be Velasquez’s sixth in his career against Washington. He is 2-2 with a 5.33 ERA and 1.333 WHIP in his first five starts. This season, Velasquez held the Nationals to one run on one hit and four walks over five innings in a May 5 start in which he got the win.

Jeremy Hellickson is expected to be activated off the disabled list and make the Saturday start for the Nationals. Hellickson (2-0, 2.28) strained his right hamstring in a June 3 start and has not pitched since.

He made a rehab start for Class A Potomac last Sunday and gave up 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings. But he said he felt healthy after the outing.

“Physically, I felt fine,” Hellickson told the Washington Post last week. “I mean, obviously not how I wanted it to go, but I felt fine. Felt my stuff was pretty good. Just command was a little shaky, but (my) hammy was 100 percent.”

Hellickson was solid before the injury. He posted a 1.30 ERA and .548 opponent OPS in five starts during May, and the Nationals won each of those outings.

Hellickson pitched for the Phillies in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. In his only career start against Philadelphia, Hellickson did not allow an earned run in eight innings while with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2015 season.