WASHINGTON — After dominating for eight innings Saturday, with the Phillies clutching a one-run lead, Aaron Nola walked away from the mound and into the dugout.
Surely he tried to talk interim manager Rob Thomson into sending him back out for the ninth.
“Nah,” Nola said. “Tomper said that was it.”
It really wasn’t a debate. Not with Nola having thrown 105 pitches, four off his season high. The debate, though, will be about which reliever replaced him. Thomson chose lefty Brad Hand rather than Seranthony Domínguez, and Hand promptly blew the save against the Washington Nationals.
The Phillies wound up winning. Of course they did. Rhys Hoskins, who got most of the day off, came off the bench and delivered an RBI single before Domínguez tossed a scoreless bottom of the 10th inning to close out a 2-1 victory before a sellout crowd on Ryan Zimmerman’s jersey retirement day.
To update the daily tally: The Phillies have won 15 of their last 17 games and are 14-2 under Thomson, the best 16-game roll to start a managerial career since Alex Cora began 14-2 with the 2018 Boston Red Sox. They have also won 12 consecutive games over the Nationals and 11 in a row in Washington.
But much of the postgame conversation centered on Thomson’s decision to go with Hand, especially because Domínguez has allowed a grand total of one run in his last 17 appearances.
Thomson explained that he preferred Hand against the heart of the Nationals’ order, especially lefty-hitting Juan Soto, who came up first in the ninth inning.
“That whole pocket [of the lineup] was his,” Thomson said. “We thought he was throwing the ball pretty good. He just hung a breaking ball.”
Hand walked Soto to open the inning, then retired tough Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell. Thomson could’ve turned to Domínguez at that point. Instead, he stuck with Hand, who gave up a two-out pinch-hit single to Lane Thomas that tied the game, 1-1.
After the Phillies reclaimed the lead, they were unable to add on. Thomson turned to Domínguez at that point, and he needed 10 pitches to record three outs.
Thomson said the Phillies would split save opportunities between Hand and Domínguez after taking struggling Corey Knebel out of the ninth-inning role earlier in the week.
Would he consider giving the job to Domínguez?
“We’ll see,” Thomson said. “We haven’t talked about it. We’re still in that mode of [matching up based on] the pockets [of the lineup]. It was good to see Knebel and [Jeurys] Familia do what they did [Friday night]. If they keep coming, we’ve got more guys to think about in that high-leverage situation.”
With Hoskins getting a breather and Bryce Harper out because of a blister below his left index finger, the sputtered offense save for a seventh-inning solo homer by Yairo Muñoz.
But Nola was so good that it appeared a 1-0 lead would hold up. He allowed four hits — all singles — and only one runner into scoring position. He racked up eight strikeouts and was a strike-throwing machine, economical and efficient.
Asked before the game which Phillies players deserve to be in the All-Star Game next month, Thomson advocated for Nola, who has a 2.64 ERA in his last 11 starts.
“Changeup felt pretty good today, better than usual,” Nola said. “I got some early outs, quick innings, which helped me go deep, and some good plays behind me. No walks helped, too. It was a key to go deep today.”
The Phillies turned in a few defensive gems behind Nola.
Second baseman Bryson Stott saved a run with a sliding stop on César Hernández’s grounder in the hole in the sixth inning; center fielder Odúbel Herrera made a diving catch on Maikel Franco’s sinking line drive to end the seventh; Matt Vierling backtracked to reel in Luis Garcia’s fly ball to the right-field warning track in the eighth.
Muñoz went 650 days between home runs in the majors when he hit a solo shot Thursday night. He now has two homers in three days.
Starting at third base because Alec Bohm filled in at first, Muñoz broke a scoreless stalemate by taking Nationals reliever Erasmo Ramirez deep in the seventh inning.
“It feels really good,” Muñoz said through a team translator. “I think we’re the kind of team that, if someone doesn’t get the job done, there’s someone else to pick them up.”
Soto lugged an 0-for-14 schneid — 0-for-12 through the first three games against the Phillies — into the day before reaching on a replay-reviewed infield single in the first inning.
But the same rule always applies: When facing the Nationals, don’t let Soto beat you.
So, although Nola was cruising, the Phillies ordered an intentional walk of Soto with first base open and two out in the sixth inning once Nola fell behind 2-0 in the count. It snapped Nola’s streak of 133 consecutive batters over 35 2/3 innings without a walk. He promptly struck out Cruz to end the inning.
It has been an uncharacteristically poor first half for Soto, batting .218 with an .800 OPS. He also got called out by manager Dave Martinez on Friday for not running hard on a groundout.