Phillies

Daniel Nava's power trumped by Clay Buchholz's struggles in Phillies' loss to Reds

Daniel Nava's power trumped by Clay Buchholz's struggles in Phillies' loss to Reds

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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.

The math doesn't look good.

"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."

Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

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Coming out of spring training, the consensus opinion on the Phillies was that they’d pick up on the improvement they showed in the second half of last year’s 66-96 season and maybe push .500.

The thinking was that would be a nice step in the right direction for a team that had pushed its rebuild into field-goal range.

Then the season got going and the Phillies started winning, and contending, and by the first week of July they were in first place in the NL East.

They entered August in first place and that was meaningful because, in a sport where the long haul matters, four months is a significant chunk of time.

Becoming a contender a year before most envisioned changed the way these Phillies are viewed. Had they been plugging along hoping to finish the season at .500 and fuel a little optimism for the future, then Tuesday night’s loss to the Boston Red Sox might have been seen as a good thing, an oh-look-at-how-we-hung-with-the-big-boys moral victory (see first take).

But as a contender and a team with legitimate postseason hopes, the 2-1 loss stung and it stung even worse when the out-of-town scoreboard flashed the final score from Atlanta, where the Braves beat the Marlins, 10-6.

In two days, the Phillies have lost two games in the standings to the Braves and now trail them by two games in the NL East.

The Phillies are 2-5 in their last seven games and they have scored just 16 runs over that span. They have another one on tap against Boston on Wednesday night.

The Red Sox are the majors’ best team, on pace to win 115 games, and the Phillies have played them tough in three games over the last two weeks. Boston has won a pair of 2-1 games and the Phils have won a 3-1 contest. But the Phils are past the point where playing a good team tough makes them feel good. 

They need some hits.

They need some wins.

“We know that we can go toe to toe with this team,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We showed that we could at Fenway Park. We did it tonight. We came out on the losing end because they played a better baseball game. But we're very confident that tomorrow we're going to be playing the better baseball game. We're looking forward to that.”

The Phillies’ offense ranks second to last in the majors with a .234 batting average and below average in many other important offensive categories. It ran into a good pitcher on top of his game Tuesday night and the results were not good. Boston’s Rick Porcello, a Cy Young winner in 2016, dazzled with seven innings of one-run ball. He walked none and had six 1-2-3 innings. Porcello gave up just two hits – that’s all the Phillies had – and struck out 10. The Phils struck out 13 times as a team – they’ve reached double digits in Ks 60 times this season – and walked just once.

That’ll lose you some ballgames.

“Porcello deserves a lot of credit,” Kapler said. “He was really awesome. Great job by him.”

The Phillies got a strong game from their starter, as well. Nick Pivetta delivered six innings of one-run ball, walked one and struck out six. He exited early for a pinch-hitter as Kapler tried to nudge the offense only to see Roman Quinn go down on a first-pitch fly ball in the bottom of the sixth.

All the scoring came via the long ball. Sandy Leon took Pivetta deep in the third and Rhys Hoskins got Porcello leading off the fifth. Hoskins, who was dropped from second to cleanup, was 1 for 28 before hitting his 23rd homer. The Phillies need his bat to come alive.

With no margin for error, the Phillies’ bullpen – neither bullpen, for that matter – could afford a mistake. Tommy Hunter made one with one out in the eighth and pinch-hitter Brock Holt clubbed it off the facing of the upper deck in right to break a 1-1 tie and propel the Sox to their 86th win.

Holt ambushed the first pitch.

“Yeah, it was a cutter,” Hunter said. “He got it. He hit it. I'll probably throw 16 of them again tomorrow. He got it. Tip your cap.”

The cutter is Hunter’s best pitch and Holt was looking for it.

“Yeah, coming off the bench, he's going to swing at the first pitch,” Hunter said. “I left it a little too far on the plate. I probably should have buried it in off the plate.”

The atmosphere in all three of the Phillies-Red Sox games over the last two weeks has been intense, almost playoff-like.

“It’s two pretty good teams going toe to toe,” Hunter said. “That’s the way you like it though. Throw blows and see who comes out on top.”

Vince Velasquez will try to help the Phillies come out on top Wednesday night.

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Late homer spoils Nick Pivetta's strong outing against MLB-best Red Sox

Late homer spoils Nick Pivetta's strong outing against MLB-best Red Sox

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The Phillies continue to play the Boston Red Sox tough. But that didn’t produce a win Tuesday night.

The Red Sox, who have the majors’ best record at 86-35, beat the Phillies, 2-1, at Citizens Bank Park. The Sox have beaten the Phillies two out of three games the last two weeks.

Boston’s wins have both been by scores of 2-1.

The Phils won one of the games by a 3-1 score.

The Phillies entered the game in second place in the NL East, a game behind Atlanta. It was the first time since July 4 that the Phils did not enter a game in first place.

The Phillies had just two hits in the game and they struck out 13 times. They have scored just 16 runs in the last seven games. They are 2-5 over that span.

It was a 1-1 game until pinch-hitter Brock Holt came off the bench and launched a first-pitch homer against Tommy Hunter with one out in the top of the eighth inning.

Boston starter Rick Porcello pitched brilliantly with seven innings of one-run ball, no walks and 10 strikeouts.

Porcello was staked to a 1-0 lead on a home run by Sandy Leon in the top of the third inning. Porcello did not allow a hit through the first four innings. Rhys Hoskins broke through with the Phillies’ first hit when he launched his 23rd homer to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. The blast tied the game at 1-1.

After batting second most of the season, Hoskins hit cleanup as manager Gabe Kapler shuffled his lineup in the wake of the Phillies scoring just 15 runs while going 2-4 on their recent trip to Arizona and San Diego. Kapler dropped Carlos Santana from fourth to fifth and used Nick Williams in the No. 2 hole.

Hoskins struggled mightily on the trip with just one hit in 21 at-bats. That was part of a bigger 1-for-27 funk.

Phillies starter Nick Pivetta scattered three hits and a walk over six innings of one-run ball. He struck out six. The only run he allowed came on Leon’s solo home run in the third. The Red Sox continued to threaten in that inning as Porcello doubled with one out and Mookie Betts walked. Pivetta then battled Andrew Benintendi to a full-count showdown and got an important double play on a breaking ball. The double play was one of two the Phils turned behind Pivetta.

Pivetta threw just 84 pitches and was in control. However, he was lifted for pinch-hitter Roman Quinn to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning. Before the game, Kapler indicated that he would be aggressive with his bench and bullpen in pivotal situations in the game. That’s why the Phils added a ninth reliever before the game (see story).

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