What we're watching: Nats go for ninth straight win

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– Junichi Tazawa will make his first major league start in front of a home crowd at Fenway as the Red Sox play the Tigers tonight. Fortunately, Boston was able to halt its six-game losing streak last night, taking some of the pressure off the 23-year-old import. The Tigers will also be starting a rookie in Rick Porcello, who lost to the Red Sox after giving up three runs in 4 1/3 innings on June 2. He’s 10-7 with a 4.30 ERA.
– Also making their first career starts tonight are Seattle’s Doug Fister and Colorado’s Jhoulys Chacin. Fister stands 6-foot-8, but command is his forte, as he walked just 11 batters in 106 1/3 innings for Triple-A Tacoma this season. He’ll be relying heavily on Seattle’s league-best outfield defense when he faces the White Sox. Chacin, a far superior prospect, is going to make a spot start against the Pirates with Aaron Cook out. He’s allowed one run and struck out nine in five innings since joining Colorado’s bullpen last month.
Game of the Night
Washington vs. Atlanta – The Nationals go for a ninth straight victory with ace John Lannan on the mound tonight. Lannan, who has gone 8-8 for a 40-72 team, ranks 15th in the NL in ERA despite recording just 64 strikeouts in 148 2/3 innings. He’s going 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts against the Braves this season. Trying to cool off the Nats will be young Tommy Hanson, who outpitched Lannan in his July 4 start only to see the Braves bullpen blow a two-run lead. He’s 6-2 with a 3.22 ERA.

Joey Votto thinks he can win the Home Run Derby, but hasn’t been invited yet

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Despite having hit at least 20 home runs in eight of his 11 seasons in the majors, Reds first baseman Joey Votto has never participated in a Home Run Derby. Currently, he’s tied for the National League lead in home runs with 20, and he hasn’t been invited to this year’s festivities at Marlins Park.

In the event he is invited, Votto said he thinks he can win it, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto likened himself to Ichiro Suzuki, a player known more for his contact abilities and mastery of the strike zone than power. “Just think of me as the Canadian Ichiro — Japan has theirs and Canada has theirs,” Votto said. “I could pull homers into the seats at will.”

Along with the 20 homers, Votto is currently hitting .306/.419/.601 with 53 RBI, and 52 runs scored in 313 plate appearances.

Teammate Scott Schebler also has 20 home runs at the moment and Adam Duvall, who made it to the semifinals of the Derby last year, has 16. Neither of them have been approached about participating in the Derby, either. Per Rosecrans, in the event each was invited, Duvall said he would consider participating if he wasn’t an All-Star and Schebler would participate regardless. Votto said he would only participate if he made the All-Star team.

There was apparently some miscommunication between Pete Mackanin and Pat Neshek

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The Phillies won their first game since last Thursday, beating the Cardinals 5-1 on Thursday afternoon. Starter Aaron Nola pitched into the eighth inning, but left with one out. Pat Neshek took the mound with a runner on first base and induced an inning-ending double play on a 3-1 count to Tommy Pham.

Given that Neshek only threw five pitches and the Phillies were staked to a four-run lead, it wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable if the sidewinding right-hander came back out to finish the ninth inning as well. But Luis Garcia had that honor, tossing a scoreless final frame to nail down the win in a non-save situation.

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin said he asked Neshek to go back out for the ninth, but Neshek didn’t want to, per Stephen Gross of the Morning Call. Neshek told the media that Mackanin never asked him. There was also a miscommunication on Wednesday. The combination of Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, and Edubray Ramos combined to allow four runs in 2 1/3 innings, helping the Phillies lose 7-6. Neshek never appeared. According to Mackanin, Neshek told him that he wasn’t available to pitch. Neshek said he was told he’d have the day off.

The disconnect between Mackanin and Neshek could speak to a larger divide between the manager and his failing team. The Phillies have underwhelmed across the board due to players like Odubel Herrera (whose head was down and did not see Juan Samuel’s stop sign last night in what became a base running blunder), Maikel Franco, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola (today’s start notwithstanding), and Hector Neris not living up to expectations. The Phillies signed Mackanin to a contract extension last month, but the team has completely fallen apart since then and the latest communications issues certainly don’t reflect well on him. Neither does last night’s travesty of a game.

As for Neshek, he said that going to the Phillies was “the best thing that happened to me in a few years” but also realized, given the state of the team, that it remains very likely he winds up in a new uniform by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. After Thursday’s performance, Neshek is carrying a 0.63 ERA with a 25/4 K/BB ratio in 28 2/3 innings. He very well could be the Phillies’ lone representative at the All-Star Game in Miami next month. That is, if he’s still wearing their uniform. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Nationals have shown interest in Neshek.