Nationals still showing fight as they host Phillies

WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals to a man insisted Tuesday night their season is not over despite the trades of Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams.

They walked the walk in the opener against the Phillies and look to keep it going Wednesday night.

Andrew Stevenson and Wilmer Difo hit back-to-back home runs in a five-run sixth inning and Washington (63-63) rallied past the Phillies 10-4 in a game that was delayed 1:42 by rain in the third inning.

Stevenson, who was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse earlier in the day, drove to Washington and, thanks to the delay, was there to tie the game with his first career homer, a two-run pinch-hit shot to center. Difo, Murphy’s replacement at second base, followed with a go-ahead shot.

Ryan Zimmerman also homered and Matt Wieters drove in three runs.

“That was a long day, but it ended well,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said following a game that ended after midnight.

“That shows the character of these guys, it really does. They haven’t given up all year. I said before, these guys could have folded a long time ago and they’re not. … I’m proud to see the way they came out, we fell behind, and they kept battling.”

The Phillies (68-57) had taken a 4-1 lead in their half of the sixth, but their bullpen couldn’t hold it as the Nationals pounded out 14 hits.

“I would say that the Nationals have been dangerous since opening day and they will be a dangerous team until the last game of the season,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.

Right-hander Zach Eflin (9-4, 3.70 ERA) opposes Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg (6-7, 3.90) in the middle game on Wednesday.

Eflin was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley following his Aug. 10 start and recalled as the 26th man to pitch the second game of a doubleheader Aug. 16 against the Mets. He allowed four runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings to earn the win and was optioned back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, losing major league service time and salary.

“We trust that our players are strong-minded,” Kapler told mlb.com, “and we trust that they can put things like what happened with the option behind them and focus on the step right in front of them.”

Eflin is 1-0 against the Nationals for his career. He beat them on June 22 when he allowed two runs in five innings.

Strasburg (cervical nerve impingement) made his last start on July 20, when he returned from a six-week disabled list stint due to shoulder inflammation. He went back on the DL five days later. He’s thrown several bullpens and a simulated game in recent weeks but did not make a rehab start.

“Credit to Stras that he got himself ready to pitch for us and have that opportunity to go up against a team we’re trying to catch,” Martinez said. “He’s been working diligently and he feels good.”

This will be his first start against the Phillies this season. He’s 10-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 21 career starts against them, his lowest ERA versus an NL East foe.

The Nationals need Strasburg to hit the ground running if they want to climb back into the NL East race.

“We’ve still got a great lineup and a great staff — getting Stephen Strasburg back here awfully soon — and a couple of our bullpen pieces back as well,” Bryce Harper said Tuesday. “Just gotta battle. Keep going and keep playing ball.”