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WSH@PHI: Morse's solo shot puts the Nats on the board

PHILADELPHIA -- Jim Riggleman vows his Nationals, whose three-hole hitter, Ryan Zimmerman, underwent surgery Tuesday, and whose cleanup man, Adam LaRoche, came into Tuesday night's game hitting .189, ultimately will start to hit to pick up Washington's so-far pristine starting pitching.

Later maybe, when Zimmerman returns in six weeks or when Jayson Werth, who returned to Philadelphia to hear some boos and acknowledge a surprising amount of cheers, settles into his new Washington digs and the burden of living up to hs $126 million contract.

In the meantime, the first stop on the Nats' three-city, nine-game trip likely is not the place to come to instantly heal sick bats as Washington found out Tuesday night in their 4-1 loss at Citizens Bank Park.

"It's a good park to hit in, but when the pitching is as good as what [the Phillies] have to put out there, it's going to be a challenge," said Riggleman. "And it's supposed to be a challenge."

He meant for all teams, not just the Nationals. But the Nats, squeezing their bats into sawdust with the 13th-fewest runs scored in the National League, need some pixie dust these days over the bat rack. Michael Morse's solo homer in the seventh was all Washington got off Cole Hamels, who bested Livan Hernandez with a complete-game five-hitter.

"Putting some hits together just wasn't happening," said Riggleman. "That home run was kind of like what we [would] have to do.

"Hamels was the story, he was really good again, hitting his spots with his fastball. It's a good fastball, but he had a good changeup, as he always does."

The Phillies are 9-0 in Hamels' last nine starts against Washington, in which he has a 2.73 ERA. With Joe Blanton sidelined, perhaps the Nats will get a break on Wednesday night facing rookie Vance Worley, or maybe they will just break some bats.

But with Roy Halladay pitching Thursday, Wednesday night and Jason Marquis represent Washington's best chance to get out of town with at least one win before the trip continues in Florida and Atlanta.

The Nats, who outpitched the pitching-rich World Series champion Giants in winning three of four over the weekend, fell back below the .500 mark, but not without a fight by Livan Hernandez, who wriggled out of trouble repeatedly until the Phillies put it away on RBI hits by Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez (his off Doug Slaten) in the seventh.

In extending the streak of Nationals' starters who have gone at least five innings to a remarkable 29-for-29, Hernandez seriously erred only in the third, when Hamels hit a Phillies pitcher's first triple since 2006 over the head of Werth in right field and scored on a single by Jimmy Rollins to create a 1-0 lead.

"Fastball [supposed to be] outside, [but] over the middle," said Hernandez, who in the fourth got Brian Schneider to hit into a double play off a comebacker to escape one jam, then did it again with Rollins in the sixth.

"It took a lot of him, but he's such a pro," said Riggleman, who thinks he has some professional hitters, including the notoriously slow starting LaRoche, who eventually will get going, but not via the impatience they sometimes showed against Hamels.

"I was fortunate enough that guys were swinging early and I was able to get a couple key double plays and lineouts. I think that helped me stay alive," said the Phillies starter.

"Everything was working. I was just able to keep the ball down in the zone. It's the game of placing it where they're not anticipating it."

The Nats wait with great anticipation for their next big inning. If this starting pitching holds up, they don't need a lot of runs to be competitive. But with at least six weeks to go until Zimmerman's return, and with LaRoche and Werth struggling, Washington seems a long way from a breakout.

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