CINCINNATI -- Well, at least they didn't get swept.
A year ago, the Phillies opened their season in this very same Great American Ball Park against these very same Cincinnati Reds and were swept in a three-game series. The Phillies' bullpen imploded in a couple of those games.
This year, the Phillies won their season opener on the strength of seven extra-base hits, a good start from Jeremy Hellickson and some tidy bullpen work from Joaquin Benoit, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris.
The Phils had a great chance to win the second game of the series on Wednesday, but came up losers when Jerad Eickhoff pitched well only to receive zero run support.
And that brings us to Thursday's series finale.
The Phils jumped out to an early three-run lead on the strength of a pair of homers by Daniel Nava. There's nothing wrong with two out of three, right? Only one problem. It didn't happen. Starter Clay Buchholz could not protect that early lead and reliever Adam Morgan could not keep the game close (see Instant Replay).
The result: A dispiriting 7-4 loss to the Reds, a team that tied for the worst record in the National League last year and one that might make a run at that distinction again this season, and a 1-2 record heading home to take on the Washington Nationals, a team built to make a run at the World Series this season. If that's not enough, the Phils will face last year's NL Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, on Friday. He is 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 career starts against the Phillies and 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA in five starts at Citizens Bank Park.
Happy home opener, gang!
"I'm glad to be going back home to Philly to see if we can stir it up over there," manager Pete Mackanin said after Thursday's loss. "I think about last year, starting the season 0-4 and getting swept here. At least we managed to salvage one here. We could have won three. We're going to go home and start all over."
Scherzer led the majors with 284 strikeouts last season. Phillies hitters struck out 25 times in losing the final two games of the series to Cincinnati.
"We're striking out too much," Mackanin said. "And I don't think we're striking out because of that third strike. I think we're getting pitches to hit early in the count and we're fouling them off for whatever reason. We just don't seem to be making good contact on the pitches we should be hitting. So, you know, it's early in the season. We just have to go home and do a little better."
Buchholz joined the Phillies in a December salary-dump trade with the Red Sox. The Phils were happy to take on the veteran right-hander's $13 million salary with the hope that he'd pitch well for a few months and they'd be able to get value for him at the trade deadline.
Buchholz's first start with the Phils didn't help his value. Featuring a fastball that averaged just 90 mph, he allowed nine base runners in five innings. He gave up a run in the second and three in the fourth as an early 4-1 lead evaporated. In that fourth inning, he allowed four straight batters to reach base on three singles and a walk.
"They hit a couple of good pitches," Buchholz said. "I missed with a couple of pitches that got hit as well. That's part of it. You have to minimize the damage when it comes to that and not give up three runs."
Mackanin removed Buchholz after five innings and 77 pitches with the score tied at 4-4.
"I didn't want him to go out there for another inning because it looked like they were sitting on pitches," the manager said.
Morgan made his season debut in the sixth and surrendered a tie-breaking homer to pinch-hitter Michael Lorenzen, who the night before came out of the Reds' bullpen and got three big outs for his team. Lorenzen was a pitcher/outfielder at Cal State Fullerton and offers the Reds a dangerous pinch-hitter on days he's not available to throw.
Lorenzen's two-out homer in the sixth came on a 3-1 fastball.
"We knew he was a good hitter," Mackanin said. "[Morgan] got behind and had to throw a strike. We knew the guy could hit."
Said Morgan: "It never sits well when you give up a home run. I kind of did it to myself by falling behind."
An inning after Lorenzen broke the tie, Adam Duvall put the game out of reach with a two-run homer against Morgan.
The Phils drove Cincinnati starter Rookie Davis from the game after three innings and had a chance to make hay when they got the first two men on base in both the fifth and sixth innings. Both times the threats ended quickly with a pair of double plays and a base-running mistake short-circuiting things.
"The fifth and sixth innings, we should have scored," Mackanin said with a sigh.
He mentioned Nava's two home runs, a solo shot in the first and a two-run blow in the third.
"What a performance he had," Mackanin said. "It's a shame we couldn't have won that game."