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ATL@PHI: Kendrick, Ruiz combine to turn double play

At this point, the obvious goal for the Phillies and Nationals is to close the gap on the first-place Braves in the National League East.

For now, however, the two clubs are in a tense fight for second as they wrap up a four-game set at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday, with Washington trailing Atlanta by five games and the Phillies 7 1/2 back.

Philadelphia has won six of nine games this month, and manager Charlie Manuel believes his team has come together recently more so than at any other point this season.

"Especially the guys that have been around -- they know what baseball is all about," Manuel said. "I think sometimes people don't really understand what it's all about. But there's nothing like being a team."

The Phillies will face one of their toughest tests of the month in Washington's Jordan Zimmermann. The right-hander leads the National League with 12 victories and has posted a 2.57 ERA on the season.

All year long, Zimmermann's efficiency has been one of the most vital parts of his repertoire. But on Saturday against the Padres, he struggled a bit in that department, needing 101 pitches to get through 5 1/3 innings in a no-decision.

"I was just deep into counts all game, and they were battling and made me work out there," said Zimmermann, who has struggled a bit against the Phillies, going 2-4 with a 4.62 ERA.

Opposite Zimmermann will be Kyle Kendrick, the first right-hander to get the ball for the Phillies in this four-game set. Kendrick is coming off a pair of very poor starts. In his last outing, he surrendered a career-high 12 hits against the Braves, and he gave up 10 hits and four runs to the Dodgers in the start before that.

Kendrick did sustain a mild concussion when he was hit on the helmet by a pitch against the Dodgers, but it didn't cause him to miss a start and he said he's OK. Kendrick is 4-6 with a 4.63 ERA lifetime against the Nationals.

Nationals: Searching for arms
• The struggling Nationals could use some rotation depth, but manager Davey Johnson doesn't think it would be in the club's best interests to sacrifice Minor League pitching talent.

"One of the areas that we have very little depth in is starting pitching," Johnson said. "But after this year, going into next year, some of our young starters will be knocking on the door. So as far as making a move -- picking up somebody at least for the short term -- I don't think that's in our plans."

Phillies: Hip soreness for Papelbon
• Manuel said Jonathan Papelbon has been dealing with occasional soreness in his hip, but the closer downplayed the ailment.

"It's when you throw five out of seven days," Papelbon said. "It comes with the territory. It's the life of a closer."

The right-hander has blown saves in four of his last 10 opportunities, but wouldn't attribute the struggles to any soreness or injury.

Worth noting
• Kendrick has faced Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman more than any other opposing hitter. Zimmerman is 11-for-37 with seven doubles and a home run for a .568 slugging percentage.

• Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard underwent successful surgery on his left knee Wednesday. His estimated recovery time is six to eight weeks.

• The Phillies are 28-24 in games against teams with winning records, but they've gone just 17-23 against clubs at or below the .500 mark.

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