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PHI@PIT: Hamels strikes out eight over seven strong

They're essentially playing for each other, and it seems to be working.

As the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, the Phillies -- with pieces for sale if they choose to open their doors for business -- are starting to put the wheels in motion.

After taking two of three from the first-place Braves, they took the first of a four-game series with the Nationals on Monday night and head into Tuesday's game having won five of their last seven. They're 44-46 and within 7 1/2 games of Atlanta.

"During the course of a year, usually you will get a couple streaks when you can win some games," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "When I say that, I'm talking about anywhere from six, eight to even 10 games, things like that. I think ours, of course, is yet to come."

The Phillies had a team meeting before Sunday's game and have won two straight.

"I think they got the message," Manuel said. "I think they understand the importance of these games. They know the importance of the games all the way up to the Trade Deadline."

The Nationals have won five of eight since All-Star Bryce Harper returned from the disabled list on July 1. They're 4-0 when Harper drives in at least one run since his return. He's 7-for-28 with one homer and three steals in his last eight games.

Testing out the strategy of skipping Triple-A and promoting players straight from Double-A, the Nationals will give 24-year-old Taylor Jordan his third Major League start. Jordan had a 0.83 ERA in 54 innings with Double-A Harrisburg, striking out 43 while walking nine. Through 64 combined innings between Double-A and the Majors this season, Jordan has yet to allow a home run.

He went 5 2/3 innings while allowing two earned runs against the Brewers his last time out.

The Phillies turn to Cole Hamels, who has shown much improvement since the beginning of June. Hamels looked like a different pitcher the first two months of the season, when he allowed 10 home runs over 74 innings and posted a 4.86 ERA. Since the start of June, he's allowed just three homers in 39 innings and posted a 3.46 ERA.

"Just being able to get back to what I know and establishing the strike zone early," Hamels said after holding the Pirates to one earned run over seven innings on Independence Day. "Throwing all my pitches, I think ultimately staying down in the zone. I think that's where I've gotten hurt in the past.

"I would get guys right where I want them, and then I'm not able to finish them off and leave the balls up in the zone, and the base hits were adding up and obviously the runs were scoring, so just being able to get guys out early and moving the ball around, keeping them off balance."

Phillies: Howard out 6-8 weeks
• Ryan Howard won't return until late August or September. The Phils announced he'd be having surgery to repair the torn medial meniscus in his left knee and will miss six to eight weeks.

"We have to take care of it," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He's going to have to have a procedure. It's just a matter of who does it and when."

Howard hit .266 with 11 homers in 317 plate appearances.

Taking over at first base is another slugger who has displayed similar power, albeit in the Minors. Darin Ruf hit 38 homers in 489 at-bats with Double-A Reading last season and had seven homers with Triple-A Lehigh Valley before getting promoted. Ruf is expected to get the bulk of the playing time in Howard's absence.

Nationals: Right-handed bat added
•The Nats didn't think they needed too much help offensively, and Scott Hairston was the missing puzzle piece.

Washington acquired Hairston from the Cubs on Monday.

A right-handed hitter with power, Hairston was the guy the Nats had their eye on. He's especially useful against left-handed pitching, having hit .267 with an .818 OPS against them over his career.

"That's the move we were waiting to make," said Washington general manager Mike Rizzo. "We felt good about the left-handed side of our bench, and just wanted a little bit more pop on the right side, a guy who can handle some left-handed pitching."

Worth noting
• Ryan Zimmerman is starting to heat up. In eight July games, the Nationals' third baseman is hitting .367 with one homer, nine RBIs and two stolen bases.

• Over the last 11 games, Phillies center fielder Ben Revere has raised his batting average from .272 to .300. He's 21-for-47 in that span.

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