Aaron Nola and bullpen hit hard as Phillies put themselves in tough spot with 24 games left

Aaron Nola and bullpen hit hard as Phillies put themselves in tough spot with 24 games left

CINCINNATI — We’ve heard it often as the Phillies try to stay in this National League wild-card race:

You must win the games Aaron Nola pitches.

But to win those games, two things must happen:

One, the Phillies have to get Nola some runs.

And, two, Nola has to pitch well.

The first part of the formula has been missing lately. On Wednesday night, the first part of the formula was present, but the second was not.

Nola was off his game and the Phillies suffered a damaging 8-5 loss to the Cincinnati Reds (see takeaways).

“Oh, yeah,” said Nola, not sugarcoating anything. “Really off. Curveball was probably one of the worst it has been this year.

“I really didn’t have much. I got a lot of guys to two strikes, but I just didn’t put them away.”

The Phillies have lost three straight Nola starts. That's a killer. In two of them, he pitched well but could not overcome one bad inning because he received little run support.

In this one, the offense, on the strength of three homers — two-run shots by Logan Morrison and J.T. Realmuto in the fifth and a solo blow by Jay Bruce in the seventh — got Nola off the hook after he was tagged for five early runs. The homers by Morrison and Bruce were both pinch-hit shots. Bruce’s tied the game. But moments later, Jose Alvarez allowed a tie-breaking pinch-hit homer to Jose Iglesias in the bottom of the seventh inning and the Reds salted it away with a two-run homer by reliever Michael Lorenzen against Blake Parker in the bottom of the eighth.

The Phillies' bullpen had been outstanding — 9 2/3 innings, one run — in the first two games of the series, both wins. It could not duplicate that success in this one.

Amazingly, Lorenzen got a blown save (he allowed Bruce’s homer), the win and clubbed a homer all in the same game. His work was just one entertaining element in the game. Phillies rookie centerfielder Adam Haseley made a sensational, wall-climbing catch to take away a homer from old friend Freddy Galvis moments before Lorenzen’s homer in the eighth.

The soft-spoken Haseley was so nonchalant after making the eye-popping catch that his teammates in the dugout did not know he’d made the catch until he ran away from the wall and took the ball out of his glove.

“He’s a showman,” Brad Miller said.

Haseley denied any theatrics.

“Honestly,” he said, “I think I was in shock.”

The loss was costly. It dropped the Phillies to 72-66, three games behind the idle Chicago Cubs for the second spot in the NL wild-card chase. The Phillies need to start stringing together wins in a hurry if they’re going to catch the Cubs — and, oh, by the way, the Arizona Diamondbacks are suddenly on the Phillies’ tail (see standings).

The Cubs and Phillies both have 24 games remaining. The Cubs are 75-63. If they play .500 ball the rest of the way, the Phils would need to go 15-9 just to tie.

It’s not going to be easy.

Especially if they continue to lose the games that Nola starts.

“I think what's most frustrating is we had an opportunity to pick up Aaron today,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He's picked us up so many times along the way. He's been there for us. He's been a rock and a foundation. He's carried us in many ways. It would have been really nice on a day he didn't have his best command for us to somehow squeeze this game out. We have to find a way to win that game. Some of our bats did everything they could. Logan Morrison comes off the bench, a big pinch-hit home run. Jay Bruce does the same. It really feels like we're going to be able to weather the storm. Certainly it’s disappointing to not be able to pull it off in the end. I'm kind of glad there's a day game [Thursday] so we can get back here as quickly as possible and try to win the series.”

Jason Vargas will start for the Phillies. All-Star right-hander Sonny Gray goes for the Reds.

And you know what they say:

You must win the games Jason Vargas pitches.

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No jitters for Bryce Harper, just an RBI, a stolen base and a little 'glam'

No jitters for Bryce Harper, just an RBI, a stolen base and a little 'glam'

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Everybody's stomach is a little different.

So while Jake Arrieta had a few butterflies before his first start of the spring Tuesday, Bryce Harper's pulse barely quickened.

"Kind of the opposite," Harper said, comparing the feel of his spring debut to Arrieta's. "Spring training is kind of spring training. I don't want to get too high or anything like that. I just want to get out there, stay healthy and compete. When I get to opening day, there's your jitters."

Harper played five innings in right field. He came to the plate three times. He drove home a run with a sacrifice fly in his first at-bat and later walked and struck out. He also stole a base.

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, Harper was still a free agent, mulling offers from the Phillies, Giants and Dodgers. He chose the Phillies on the final day of February and camp exploded with excitement. Back in Philadelphia, the team sold 180,000 tickets within 48 hours of Harper's agreement with the team.

This year, things are a lot different for Harper. He has become a dad. And his hair is a lot longer.

"I'm going to keep it going," he said. "Yeah, keep it flowing. Why not? We'll see what happens."

Harper, of course, isn't the only one in camp with a new look. His pal, the Phanatic, unveiled his on Sunday.

"Hey, man, everybody needs a glam-up sometimes, you know?" Harper said. "Why not? I've got long hair right now. I'm always changing."

The general atmosphere around camp is also different than it was a year ago. Though there's a real sense of faith that the Phillies will improve under new manager Joe Girardi, there's none of the euphoric buzz that accompanied Harper's signing. The attendance for Tuesday's game against Toronto in Clearwater was just 4,004. It was a split-squad game for both teams.

Harper is OK with a calmer spring.

"It's definitely different coming into camp," he said. "It's good knowing I'll be here the next 12 years, a lot more calm, not as crazy, not as many cameras. I'll enjoy that and just get ready for the season."

Harper's spring goal:

"Just be healthy," he said. "Take good routes in the outfield, throw the ball well out there, have good at-bats."

Haseley in protocol

Centerfielder Adam Haseley left the game in Clearwater after hitting his face hard on the ground while attempting a diving catch. Haseley suffered a cut on his forehead, caused by his sunglasses. He was seen walking and talking in the clubhouse after the game but was unavailable for comment to reporters because he had been placed in concussion protocol. His condition will be updated on Wednesday.

The games

Arrieta gave up a single, a walk and a three-run homer in the first inning, but he enjoyed a quick second inning. He admitted to some nerves in the first inning but settled in after that. At this point of camp, all that matters with a starting pitcher is health and Arrieta feels good after having his elbow surgically cleaned out late last season.

The Phillies lost the Clearwater game, 13-6, despite a grand slam from minor-leaguer Jhailyn Ortiz. The Phillies signed Ortiz for $4 million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in July 2015. He hit just .200 at Single A Clearwater last season but had 19 homers and 65 RBIs in 430 at-bats.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto gunned down a runner trying to steal second base from his knees.

In Bradenton, the Phils beat the Pirates, 6-2. Lefties Ranger Suarez and Damon Jones both pitched two scoreless innings. 

The victories left the Phillies at 3-1-1 in exhibition play.

Zach Eflin starts Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Can Roman Quinn change complexion of Phillies' lineup?


Phillies Talk podcast: Can Roman Quinn change complexion of Phillies' lineup?

Joe Girardi is already impressed by Roman Quinn, who could significantly alter the Phillies' lineup if he can win the CF job. Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman discussed on Tuesday's Phillies Talk podcast.

• How Roman Quinn could change the complexion of the lineup.

• Can Andrew McCutchen be an effective leadoff man if the knee forces him to go station to station?

• How much a fast runner can mess with a pitcher's head.

• Phillies pitchers making clear (without saying it) what they thought of Chris Young and Gabe Kapler.

• Whose side are you on with the Phanatic lawsuit?

• Expectations for Scott Kingery in Year 3.

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