WASHINGTON -- It might appear that the Philadelphia Phillies are playing out the string as the last-place club in the National League East.
But that is not the case for manager Pete Mackanin, whose team will end a four-game series against the first-place Washington Nationals on Sunday in Washington. The Phillies are 63-79 after a 3-0 loss on Saturday night as Bryce Harper hit a three-run homer in the eighth.
"I am very patient. I don't have to be happy about" the losses, Mackanin said.
Mackanin has not hesitated to talk this weekend about his young pitchers and what September means when the club reports to spring training in February in Clearwater, Fla.
Left-hander Adam Morgan will start Sunday for the Phillies. And while he is 2-9 with a 5.90 ERA, Morgan will take his place as one of several young pitchers who has faced the Nationals this weekend.
Morgan is 0-2, 5.12 in three starts in his career against the Nationals, including a 2-1 loss at home on Aug. 31 when he gave up three hits and two runs in six innings with no walks and five strikeouts.
Alec Asher started Thursday and went six innings and allowed no runs on two hits.
Does he think about 2017?
"I just control what I can control. That is go out and compete to the best of my ability," Asher said. "I am going to pitch to my strength.
"I am going back to being me," he said of last year. "It is something to build on. I was a little bit of self-evaluation. It doesn't matter how hard you throw. If it is straight, they are going to hit it. (The change) has made a world of difference so far."
Jake Thompson pitched into the sixth inning and gave up two runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings on Friday.
Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff started Saturday night and gave up no runs and five hits in six innings.
"That was a great pitching performance by him," Mackanin said. "He mixed his pitches pretty well. He fought, he works hard. He was really good. I kind of expected him to be this kind of pitcher. He doesn't get rattled. He looks like he's out there to beat you."
Thompson, Asher and Eickhoff were all acquired in a trade with the Texas Rangers in July 2015 for veteran lefty Cole Hamels.
Morgan had lost nine games in a row before he beat the Miami Marlins in his last start as he did not walk anyone while giving up a run and five hits.
"It feels good. I wouldn't say I lost confidence," Morgan told reporters after that win. "You can't lose confidence, you can't lose that belief in yourself."
While the Phillies have a young staff, Washington has mostly a veteran one and Gio Gonzalez will start Sunday for the Nationals. He is 10-9 with a 4.40 ERA and he has won at least 10 games in every year since 2010.
Freddy Galvis of the Phillies has faced Gonzalez 33 times and is hitting .273 against him.
Maikel Franco, a right-handed hitter, is batting .077 in 13 at-bats against Gonzalez and Cesar Hernandez is hitting .211 in 19 at-bats.
The Phillies will certainly start right-handed hitting Tommy Joseph against Gonzalez. Joseph is 0-for-2 against the lefty and Ryan Howard, a left-handed swinger for the Phillies, is 0-for-11 against Gonzalez in the past five years.
Fans and media always ask will it be good Gio or bad Gio who takes the mound.
On Tuesday at home against the Atlanta Braves, it was bad Gio, as he allowed six runs and did not get past the fourth inning. He does have a 1.40 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this year.
The Nationals need Gonzalez to step up after Stephen Strasburg left his start after 42 pitches on Wednesday and has a flexor mass strain.
And right-hander Joe Ross has been on the disabled list since July with right shoulder inflammation, although he did throw 60 pitches in a simulated game Saturday at Nationals Park.
"I guess that extra confidence just knowing, not having to worry like how's it going to feel when I get out there. (I had) a little bit of nerves going out there today," Ross told reporters. "I guess it was easier in a controlled environment, live BP.
"Feeling good, so hopefully I get to the next start or whatever opportunity I get to go throw. Nothing's really on my mind but going out there and try and get outs."