By Sam Bush

The Phillies face a steep hill tonight in Washington.

Ryan Howard is 1 for 16 with 10 strikeouts against Nats hurler Max Scherzer,Freddy Galvis is 3 for 17 and Phillies top hitter Maikel Franco is 1 for 9.

Scherzer, a career .185 hitter, has even hit safely in his last three games against the Phils with a two-run double earlier this month.

The batter the Phillies will obviously be more concerned about is Bryce Harper (above), who went 7 for 11 with three homers and six RBIs to help the Nationals (14-4) take two of three April 16-18 in Philly. While Harper has homered in his last six road games against the Phillies, he has failed to go deep in the last five home matchups.

Harper, who entered the week leading the majors with nine homers, is expected back in the lineup after not starting Sunday. He delivered a tying pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning in Washington’s 6-5, 16-inning victory over Minnesota that was the longest regular-season game in Nationals history at 5 hours, 56 minutes.

”We’ve seen thousands of games. They always say, go to the ballpark and you may see something you haven’t seen before,” manager Dusty Baker said. ”Well this, I certainly haven’t seen anything like this. This was crazy.”

Daniel Murphy had two hits for the fourth time in five games and leads the majors with a .397 average and a .483 mark at home.

Washington can match its longest home win streak since moving into Nationals Park with a ninth straight victory there. The only longer one since the franchise moved from Montreal was a 12-game run at RFK Stadium in 2005.

The Nationals will face Vince Velasquez (2-1, 0.93) for the first time. Velasquez posted 25 strikeouts in 15 scoreless innings in his first two outings before yielding five runs – two earned – in 5 2/3 innings with four strikeouts in last Tuesday’s 11-1 loss to theNew York Mets.

“He just wasn’t sharp,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We expect a lot out of him. It wasn’t his best outing.”

The right-hander has faced one Nationals hitter in Stephen Drew, who is 0 for 3.

The Phillies took two of three in Milwaukee over the weekend to start a six-game trip. Franco was 7 for 13 with three homers and eight RBIs.

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