(Sports Network) - The Philadelphia Phillies have won each of Cole Hamels' last seven starts. Tonight's showdown with rookie Bryce Harper and the upstart Washington Nationals could be the biggest one yet.
Hamels was suspended five games for intentionally hitting Harper in the back on May 6 and had no qualms admitting to pegging the young star.
"I was trying to hit him. I'm not going to deny it," said Hamels, who will try to keep his pitches under control and help his club avoid a three-game sweep.
The left-hander has been Philadelphia's best pitcher so far this season as evidenced by his 6-1 record in eight starts and 2.48 earned run average. Hamels last took center stage in Friday's 6-4 win over Boston, as he gave up three runs and six hits in seven innings. He struck out nine batters and allowed one walk for the fifth time this season.
Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP, beat the Nationals in their own backyard a few weeks ago, and drawing the ire of Washington fans after hitting Harper in the back had no bearing on the result. Hamels is 11-4 with a 2.62 ERA in 21 career starts against the Nationals.
The Phillies need Hamels' best stuff since Roy Halladay's wasn't good enough to prevent a four-game losing streak. Halladay dropped to 4-4 on the season and was reached for five runs and nine hits, including two homers, in six innings. A four-run third inning by the Nationals was too much to overcome. He gave up a two-run triple to Harper and a home run to Ian Desmond for a 4-1 Washington lead.
"The one to Harper, the curveball, was a bad pitch that cost me," Halladay said of his pitch selection. "They were swinging early (in the count). You can take advantage of that if you make good pitches."
Halladay suffered his first career loss against Washington. He had been 6-0 in seven career starts.
Erik Kratz homered and was the third catcher used in the game by the Phillies. He pinch-hit for Brian Schneider, who took over after Carlos Ruiz was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. Hector Luna drove in a run for the Phillies, whose four-game slide comes on the heels of a six-game win streak. After hosting the Nationals tonight, the Phillies will embark on a seven-game trek against St. Louis and New York. Philadelphia is last in the NL East -- 5 1/2 games behind the division-leading Nationals.
Washington is aiming for its fourth straight win tonight and improved to 2-0 on a nine-game road trip with Tuesday's win. Harper had two hits and two RBI, Rick Ankiel homered and starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann finished 2-for-3 with a run scored at the plate. Harper has gone 4-for-9 in the first two games of this series.
Zimmermann also earned the win with six innings of one-run ball, while Tyler Clippard nailed down his first save in the ninth after Tom Gorzelanny tossed two innings of relief.
"I was just going after them and attacking," Zimmermann said. "I kept the fastball down and the slider was exceptionally good tonight."
Nationals slugging third baseman Ryan Zimmerman did not play because of a sore right shoulder, the same injury that landed him on the disabled list earlier this season. He is expected to play in Wednesday's series finale and finished 0-for-4 in Monday's series opener. Zimmerman is batting .248 with two homers and 12 RBI this season.
"I took BP, I did everything I usually do today to play a game. Davey [Johnson] just wouldn't let me play. He is the boss, I guess," Zimmerman told the club's website on Tuesday.
Edwin Jackson looks to pitch the Nats to a three-game sweep this evening when he toes the rubber for the ninth time. Jackson is 1-1 with a 3.31 ERA in eight starts and has recorded five straight no-decisions. He threw eight innings of one-run ball in a 2-1 loss to Baltimore last Friday and struck out eight.
Jackson lost his only regular-season start against the Phillies and the right- hander is 0-0 with a 3.04 ERA in four road assignments this season. He beat the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS last year as a member of St. Louis.
The Nationals, who will also visit Atlanta and Miami on the road trip, have won 13 of their last 16 meetings with the Phillies and haven't swept their division foes on the road since last Sept. 20-22 in a four-game series.
Philadelphia lost two of three in D.C. from May 4-6.
05/23 10:52:06 ET