WASHINGTON (AP) Coming off a 99-loss season that made the Philadelphia Phillies the worst club in the majors, manager Pete Mackanin set his sights on a very particular aim in 2016: winning at least as many games as they lose.
So far, so good.
Philadelphia's Jeremy Hellickson allowed two hits over seven innings, his teammates eventually took advantage of Washington's sloppiness to push across some runs, and the Phillies beat Bryce Harper and the Nationals 3-0 on Wednesday night.
After handing Washington its first shutout of the season, Philadelphia will try to complete a three-game sweep of the NL East-leading Nationals on Thursday.
''People have asked me what my goal is for this year, knowing the type of team we have, and my goal is to try to play .500,'' Mackanin said, ''and ... we'll go from there, depending on what transpires.''
Unbothered by the temperature in the low 50s or intermittent drizzles, Hellickson (2-1) struck out eight and lowered his ERA from 5.21 to 3.81. He gave up NL batting leader Daniel Murphy's ground-rule double in the second inning and Danny Espinosa's 500th career hit on a bunt single in the fifth - and that was it.
''He constantly changes speeds,'' Espinosa said about Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year for Tampa Bay. ''That changeup's got a string on it. That thing stops.''
All in all, Hellickson was much better than his previous appearance against the Nationals, 12 days earlier in Philadelphia, when he gave up five earned runs in three innings during a 9-1 loss.
''He just really bounced right back,'' Mackanin said.
Washington manager Dusty Baker's take?
''We got him last time,'' Baker said, ''and he got us this time.''
Hellickson struck out reigning NL MVP Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Murphy in the fourth inning Wednesday, then made it four consecutive Ks by getting Jayson Werth to begin the fifth.
Harper went 0 for 2 and walked twice, raising his total to five free passes in the series.
Jeanmar Gomez pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save, and the Nationals finished the game with a grand total of two hits.
''One thing: This bunch is going to hit. And you can count on that,'' Baker said about his lineup. ''These guys, they think they can hit. And they love to hit. And they will hit.''
His starter, Gio Gonzalez (1-1), took a shutout into the sixth, when a single, walk and wild pitch led to Darin Ruf's sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead. The Phillies made it 2-0 an inning later with an unearned run when third baseman Anthony Rendon's throw home was way too high, earning an error and allowing Cesar Hernandez to score.
Baker's assessment of the Phillies: ''They're pretty tough right now.''
''Pete has been preaching to us since Day 1 that he believes in us. We all believe in each other,'' the pitcher said. ''We felt like we were going to compete from Game 1, so I don't think this really surprises any of us.''
Hernandez's bat broke when he fouled off a pitch in the seventh, and a splintered piece of the lumber wound up dangling from the netting that protects the seats behind home plate - staying there through game's end.
Carlos Ruiz hit his third homer - one more than the catcher hit in all of 2015 - off reliever Sammy Solis, who was called up from the minors before the game. ''If we keep him strong and healthy, he's going to be productive for us,'' Mackanin said about Ruiz.
Phillies: RHP Charlie Morton will miss the rest of the season because of a torn left hamstring and is scheduled for surgery next Monday.
Nationals: RHP Matt Belisle went on the 15-day DL a day after straining his right calf. Solis was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse. ... CF Ben Revere (right oblique) will head out for a rehab assignment and could be back with the Nationals as soon as next week's series at the Cubs.
On Thursday, Nationals RHP Tanner Roark (2-2, 2.63 ERA) pitches for the first time since recording a career-high 15 strikeouts against Minnesota. RHP Aaron Nola (1-2, 4.50) starts for the Phillies.
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