Phillies hope to delay Nationals' division clincher

WASHINGTON -- Right-handed pitcher Ben Lively of the Philadelphia Phillies is slated to start on Sunday against the first-place Washington Nationals, who lead the National League in runs (745) and are second in team average at .270.

But it could be hard for Lively, 25, not to be distracted as Hurricane Irma cuts a path through his native Florida. Lively was born in Pensacola and went to University of Central Florida outside of Orlando.

"It is not easy," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said of playing a major league game when family issues exist.

Mackanin, a former big leaguer drafted by the Washington Senators in 1969, knows that well.

He was the manager at Triple-A Ottawa of the International League in the mid-1990s when his wife had a serious medical issue.

"It was 50-50 (for survival). My only therapy was going to the park," said Mackanin, then a manager in the Baltimore Orioles farm system.

Lively (3-5, 3.92 ERA), in his first major league season, will be opposed by Stephen Strasburg (12-4, 2.78) of the Nationals. The magic number for Washington to clinch the division is two.

"They are going to clinch eventually. Hopefully it won't be tomorrow," Mackanin said after his team won 5-4 on Saturday.

Strasburg is 9-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 20 career starts against the Phillies. This year he is 1-0 with a 2.29 ERA in three starts against the team with the worst record in the majors.

Strasburg has not allowed a run in his last 26 innings.

"He has a pretty good thing going right now," manager Dusty Baker said Saturday.

Lively graduated from Gulf Breeze High in 2010 and was drafted out of Central Florida by the Cincinnati Reds in 2013 in the fourth round.

He was able to pitch in his hometown of Pensacola in 2014 while at the Double-A level in the Reds system.

The 6-foot-4 pitcher was traded to the Phillies on New Year's Eve in 2014 for veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd.

Lively has made 11 starts this year and has allowed 68 hits in 66 2/3 innings with 38 strikeouts and 21 walks.

In his previous start, at Miami, he went six innings and gave up six hits and no runs with no walks and eight strikeouts on Tuesday.

Lively allowed just one run in seven innings in a 7-1 win in New York against the Mets on Tuesday.

He has allowed three runs or more in just two of his 11 starts and will face Washington for the first time.

Lively may face a watered-down lineup, as Baker said Saturday he expects to use younger players on Sunday.

So far it has been a big series for Michael A. Taylor, the center fielder for the Nationals.

He had one hit, one run and one steal on Thursday and then had four hits and a career-high five RBI on Friday, including an inside-the-park grand slam in the third inning. He hit another homer and had three RBI on Saturday.

It was just the second inside-the-park grand slam in the history of the Montreal/Washington franchise, with the first coming in 1976 by Bombo Rivera when Mackanin was on the same team.

"This is what we want him to do," Baker said of Taylor. "We're not really surprised because the ability's there. It's different if the ability's not really there, you should be surprised, but the ability's always been there. It's just a matter of him playing aggressively, swinging at strikes in the strike zone, which he's doing more and more of, and I don't know he's realizing how quick he really is in all departments. And to slow the game down -- let the quickness and ability take charge."
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