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Young Phillies pitchers brace for Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Don't tell the Philadelphia Phillies and their young pitchers that these September games do not mean anything.

The Phillies (53-87) are 33 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals (86-54) after a 4-3 loss Thursday in the first contest of a four-game set.

But the games are important for the development of the young Philadelphia pitchers. That includes right-hander Jake Thompson (1-1, 4.50 ERA), who is slated to start Friday against Washington ace Max Scherzer (13-5, 2.19).

Scherzer is an impressive 8-1 against the Phillies, with eight wins in a row. His only loss to the Phillies came in 2008, when he pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 13 starts against the Phillies, he has a 2.34 ERA.

Thompson, 23, is 0-0 with a 6.00 ERA in two games out of the bullpen against Washington this year.

In his career, he is 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA in four games (two starts), against the Nationals. In those games he has gone 15 1/3 innings and allowed 14 hits and five walks, with 11 strikeouts.

Thompson struck out seven and allowed one run and three hits in six innings on Sunday against the Miami Marlins.

"His last start was a real good one," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Thursday. "That is the type of thing we are looking for. That is what we are looking at the rest of the year."

The Phillies are having a rough season, even after it began with tempered expectations.

"We are not playing for the division," Mackanin said. "We keep watching (young pitchers) and see what kind of decisions we will make at the end of the year."

Scherzer was hit in the calf with a batted ball in his last start, in Milwaukee on Saturday, and lasted five innings.

"It was just one of those things that it was tightening up, tightened there in the second (inning) and was basically at the same level of tightness all the way through," Scherzer told reporters.

The Washington ace will provide a big challenge for the Phillies and their young pitchers.

Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph, a former catcher, knows these games are big for Thompson and the rotation. Thompson has made just four starts this year at the big-league level while going 5-14 with a 5.25 ERA in 22 starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

"They are getting the opportunity to learn," Joseph, who hit a home run Thursday, said of the young Phillies pitchers. "Pitching to the Nationals is going to be one of their toughest tests. That is what sets those good big-league players apart -- the way they prepare every day."

Joseph is 0-for-9 in his career against Scherzer while teammate Odubel Herrera, who has a 20-game hitting streak, is 10-for-31 (.323). Third baseman Maikel Franco, who could be back in the starting lineup Thursday, is 1-for-18 against Scherzer.

"We will have the opportunity to win ballgames and obviously show the organization that we belong here, why we deserve this opportunity," Joseph said. "We also have the opportunity to spoil some playoff implications. You always have a reason to play here at the big-league level."

Washington, with a magic number of four to win the division, won Thursday as shortstop Trea Turner had a two-run single with the bases loaded in the sixth inning for a 4-3 lead.

Then center fielder Michael A. Taylor robbed Andres Blanco of a homer in the seventh.

"Michael Taylor saved the game on that home run that he took away," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "That was a tremendous play. We're used to seeing Michael do things like that in center field because he's becoming one of the best in the business."

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