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PHI@WSH: Howard fields tough hop, dives for out

WASHINGTON -- A good talk can only do so much.

Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg held a brief team meeting before Tuesday night's 7-0 loss to the Nationals at Nationals Park. He stressed the urgency of the moment after a 4-7 homestand and a 9-17 stretch since May 4, which was the worst mark in the National League. But a call for focus, execution and other such baseball buzzwords could not help the Phillies hit Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.

Nobody expected a few words would.

"Meetings don't get teams going," Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd said before the game. "Players have to go out there and play. We've got to be ready. We've got Zimmermann on the mound. He's a bulldog. He goes out there and tries to win. They've got Ryan Zimmerman back in the lineup, which is going to give them a boost. We've got to figure out how to beat another good team."

The Phillies endured their seventh shutout loss in their last 27 games and their eighth in 56 games this season.

They fell to 24-32, a season-low eight games under .500.

"We look at this as just a game," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "We faced a good pitcher. We have another good pitcher [Stephen Strasburg] we're going up against [Wednesday]. We've got to battle and see if we can't get something going against Strasburg, another good pitcher."

The Phillies got nothing going against Zimmermann, who went 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA in four starts against them last season. Domonic Brown singled with two outs in the second inning and Reid Brignac doubled with two outs in the fifth inning. They would be the Phillies' only hits through seven innings before John Mayberry Jr., Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley each singled with two outs in the eighth to load the bases.

Byrd grounded into a forceout to end the inning.

"A lack of focus? No," Byrd said. "[Not] being prepared? No. Executing? I think that shows. We haven't. There's three key ingredients I've said over and over again -- pitching and defense and timely hitting. If you don't get those, you don't win. You have two you can lose. You have one you're definitely going to lose. You have none you're going to get blown out. We have to figure out how to put all three together."

Phillies right-hander David Buchanan easily had the worst start of his brief big league career. He entered the night 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two starts, but left the ballpark 1-2 with a 6.11 ERA. He allowed 10 hits, seven runs, two walks, two home runs and struck out six in six innings.

The Nationals took a 3-0 lead in the third inning and cruised from there. Danny Espinosa, who entered Tuesday hitting .202, reached on an infield single and advanced to second on Zimmermann's sacrifice bunt. Denard Span singled and Anthony Rendon walked to load the bases.

Jayson Werth stepped into the batter's box and ripped a 3-0 fastball to left-center field for a ground-rule double. Espinosa and Span scored to make it 2-0.

"You are still trying to compete, get the ground ball and get the double play," Buchanan said. "At 3-0, you don't want to walk him. I tried to throw a fastball. I figured he would be swinging so I gave him a good pitch trying to get the ground ball and it didn't happen."

Rendon scored on a groundout to hand the Nationals a three-run lead.

"That's what happens," Buchanan said. "You get into hitters' counts, leave the ball up and they started hitting it. So I tried to continue to battle. Unfortunately, the ball stayed up in the zone and we got hit around."

The Nationals scored another run in the fifth and three more in the sixth with help from a solo home run from Ian Desmond and a two-run homer from Rendon.

Buchanan has only been here a short time, so the rookie is hardly a spokesman for the team. But he said he sees a team going about its business the right way, even if the results aren't there.

"Every day, we show up here ready to go and put in our work," he said. "Obviously, the ball is not falling our way, but we have a lot of heart and I don't see any panic. Everyone is battling."

It won't get any easier. The Phillies have big battles in front of them Wednesday against Strasburg and Thursday against Doug Fister.

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