For the last few weeks, a Roll-A-Bout (basically a scooter designed for those with mobility on one foot) idly sat at Ryan Howard's locker. A fan sent it to him when he went on the disabled list with a sprained left ankle.

The Phillies decorated the scooter and kept it around as a joke. Earlier this season, there was a time when the perpetual injuries were no laughing matter; they threatened to derail everything. But with quality starting pitching, the Phillies overcame injuries to nearly every regular.

Howard returned Saturday to standing ovations, just as pitching failed the Phillies in an 8-1 loss to the Nationals. Kyle Kendrick, maddeningly inconsistent as the fifth starter, was knocked around.

Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' rookie flamethrower who has captured all of baseball's attention, was dominating for 4 1/3 innings until he threw a 1-1 changeup to Domonic Brown. Strasburg grimaced and shook his right pitching arm in pain. He was removed from the game with a strained flexor tendon in his right arm.

"He's got tremendous stuff," Charlie Manuel said.

But the Phillies couldn't score against four Washington relievers. In three games, the Phils have scored four runs. It'll take more than one run to win games when Roy Halladay isn't on the mound.

"We got out of the gate bad," Manuel said. "We couldn't get nothing going."

It didn't matter Saturday that for the first time since June 28, both Howard and Chase Utley played alongside one another. Howard, in his first game back, was 1 for 3 with an RBI. He was robbed of a double in the ninth when Roger Bernadina made a leaping catch at the wall in left.

"The ankle felt good," Howard said. "Unfortunately we came up short tonight."

"He swung pretty good," Manuel said. "He played OK. I talked to him after the game and told him to come in tomorrow and tell me how he feels. We'll see."

Manuel also suggested Utley could have the day off Sunday after playing in his first five days back from the disabled list.

The offense fell behind quickly. About the only thing complimentary that could be said for Kendrick was he saved the bullpen from a long night. He allowed 10 base runners in the first three innings but the Phillies never had action in the bullpen.

Rarely has a long man been required this season. By default, Rule 5 pick David Herndon is that guy for the Phillies right now. But he threw 37 pitches two days earlier and also took a liner off his throwing arm. So this was Kendrick's mess - at least for a while.

He outlasted Strasburg and actually pitched into the sixth inning. It wasn't much consolation.

In the third, Kendrick stepped into the batter's box to hit and he was booed by the sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

Kendrick allowed three runs in the first. He walked Adam Kennedy with the bases loaded and allowed a hard-hit single to center by Ivan Rodriguez to plate another two runs.

"It was such a blur," Kendrick said. "I can't remember."

The first four Nationals had hits against Kendrick in the third. Even Strasburg recorded his first career RBI by beating out a potential double play ball. Most of the outs Kendrick recorded were either loud or deep.

In 12 of Kendrick's 24 starts, he has allowed three runs or fewer. In nine starts, he has allowed five runs or more. He is the definition of a fifth starter.

On many nights, the Phillies have been able to back Kendrick with ample run support. But when Strasburg left, a reunited Phillies lineup did not take advantage.

Said Manuel: "I thought we would get some chances to score."

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at 215-854-2928 or mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.