The Phillies have made a commitment to pitching Aaron Nola every fifth day for the rest of the season as long as they are in playoff contention.
It would be nice if the offense would commit to getting Nola some runs.
It would also be nice if the bullpen doesn’t give up 10 runs after he exits.
That was pretty much the long and short of the Phillies’ damaging 11-5 loss to the New York Mets on Friday night.
Not enough run support for Nola early in the game.
Ten runs allowed by the bullpen in the final two innings.
The defeat left the Phillies 3 ½ games off the pace for the second NL wild-card spot. They entered play on Tuesday just one game back.
Check the GPS. The Phils are headed in the wrong direction and there are just 29 games remaining.
“Anything can happen,” Nola said. “I’ll keep saying that. We just have to keep battling and competing game by game and take care of business tomorrow.”
Nola’s ability to remain upbeat after this one was admirable. He pitched seven strong innings Sunday in Miami and lost, 3-2, under the weight of one bad inning and little run support.
In this one, he pitched shutout ball for six innings, then got in trouble in the seventh, but kept the damage to one run thanks to some help from reliever Jose Alvarez.
Three Phillies relievers, second-half pickups Mike Morin and Jared Hughes, and rookie Edgar Garcia combined to give up three homers and 10 runs in the final two innings.
Morin, picked up in July after being designated for assignment by Minnesota, had pitched pretty well this month, but it got away from him in this one. He came into a 1-1 game in the eighth, faced five batters and retired just one while being charged with four runs. Hughes, waived by Cincinnati earlier this month, then came in with two runners on base and gave up a three-run homer to Todd Frazier. Hughes has faced 27 batters with the Phillies and been tagged for four homers. He clearly has not had the positive impact that the front office projected when it picked him up.
Frazier hit a second three-run homer in the ninth. The Phillies scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth, but they were just window dressing.
This was a bad loss. The Mets had lost six straight coming in and the Phillies can’t afford to lose games whenever Nola takes the mound — and especially when he pitches as well as he did in this one.
“Aaron Nola is a stud,” Morin said. “He’s a star. So where we’re at in the season, anytime he takes the ball you want to win that game, of course. So anytime you give it up, you don’t want to give it up. Tonight it kind of hurt a little worse for sure.”
Two nights after scoring a dozen runs against the Pirates, the Phillies were held to a run over six innings by Zack Wheeler.
“Every game is so valuable right now, especially the games when Nola is on the mound,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We have to find a way to win these games. We have to find a way to support him with runs early. I think that could be really useful. Wheeler did a pretty good job of keeping us off-balance and executing with his heater. We weren't able to catch up to it.
“It's very disappointing. When Nola pitches for us, we expect to win that day. To not have that win under our belt to start off the series is tough. We'll come back tomorrow and fight again.”
Nola described the loss as “frustrating.”
“Especially nights like tonight where I felt like I had most of my stuff, all my pitches,” he said. “It is frustrating.”
He pointed the finger at himself for issuing a leadoff walk with a one-run lead in the seventh. Nola faced five batters in that inning and four of them reached base. He said he was not fatigued in that inning, that he just did not execute pitches.
He doesn’t have the luxury of doing that when his team is not scoring behind him.
What Kapler said is worth repeating:
“We have to find a way to support (Nola) with runs early. I think that could be really useful.”
Nola’s next start lines up to be Wednesday in Cincinnati. The Phillies can’t afford another loss with him on the mound. They can’t afford another one in the four games in between, either.
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