PHILS INSIDER

Pressure mounts on rookie Spencer Howard to follow Nola's lead Saturday

PHILS INSIDER

You really didn't think the Phillies were going to sweep a doubleheader from the Miami Marlins by entrusting one of the games to the worst bullpen in the majors, did you?

OK. Now that we understand each other ...

The Phils played to a split of their doubleheader with the Marlins on Friday night.

Aaron Nola and the offense both came through big as the Phils won the opener, 11-0.

Nola picked up the first complete game and shutout of his career.

The Phils lost the second game, 5-3. They used five relievers to get through the game and three of them gave up runs. 

Blake Parker began the parade of relievers with two scoreless innings and the Phils took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning. Heath Hembree gave up a home run and the lead in the bottom of the inning — he's allowed six homers in eight games since joining the Phillies in a trade from Boston — and Ranger Suarez and David Hale were lit up for three runs in the fourth inning as the Marlins pulled away. The Phillies' bullpen has allowed 28 earned runs over the last eight games.

The Phils had 11 hits in the nightcap but only three for extra bases. All were doubles. Bryce Harper had a ninth-inning double and came around to score. The hit snapped an 0-for-18 skid for the struggling but still super-important Harper. The start of something? The Phils sure hope so.

The Phils have now played four doubleheaders this season. They've been swept twice and split twice. They have three more doubleheaders remaining over the final two-plus weeks of the season, including one more against the Marlins on Sunday in this important seven-game series.

 

Three games into the series, the Phillies are 1-2. They are 22-20 and 2½ games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East. The Marlins are 21-20, just a half-game behind the Phillies. With 18 games left in this tight race, every game is crucial. Spencer Howard gets the ball Saturday night. He is 1-2 with a 5.66 ERA in his first five big-league starts. The Phils need a win to stay ahead of the Marlins in the standings. Does that put pressure on the rookie right-hander?

"There's pressure on us all," manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't think he'd be human if he didn't feel something. My guess is he feels it most days he goes out there because he wants to do well and he really cares.

"We need him to pitch a good game, give us five or six good innings and give us a chance to win."

Nola more than gave the Phillies a chance to win Game 1. He was brilliant, giving up just three hits and striking out 10 while going all seven (doubleheader) innings. He was backed by 13 hits, including homers from Rhys Hoskins and Andrew McCutchen.

Nola struck out eight of the first 11 Marlins hitters. He is 58-38 in 136 big-league starts.

Nola isn't the type of guy who gets excited about much so earning his first complete game and shutout in a seven-inning game barely moved his needle.

"I don't feel like it counts," he said. "Nine innings is a complete game."

He kept a game ball but has no plans to bring it home for the trophy case.

"I might throw with it tomorrow," he said.

Nola's clutch effort came at a good time for the Phillies. Not only were they going to dive deep into the bullpen in Game 2, they were coming off a demoralizing loss the night before in which they blew a late three-run lead. Also, it was revealed earlier in the day that they could be without Zack Wheeler for some time. Wheeler tore the fingernail on his right middle finger.

"I hope that he'll be back soon," Nola said. "That's a bad finger that he has right there but hopefully he can come back soon. You know what Zack is capable of doing. We all do. The guy's a competitor, he's really good, and we need him for sure. Him being down, and I don't know how long, we're going to have to piece games together and keep on competing no matter who's on the mound. I know all of our starters are going to take it on themselves to go as deep as possible."