Gabe Kapler defends hitting coach John Mallee after Phillies' 14th loss in 20 games

Gabe Kapler defends hitting coach John Mallee after Phillies' 14th loss in 20 games

The Phillies got the crowd they wanted, thanks to Chase Utley, and the pitching performance they wanted, thanks to Aaron Nola.

But they didn’t get the offense they needed to pull out a win Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils’ 2-1 loss to the Miami Marlins was their fifth straight defeat, their seventh in the last eight games and 14th in the last 20.


In a span of three weeks, the Phils have gone from 10 games over .500 and 3½ games up in the NL East to three games over .500 and 4½ games back in the NL East. They are still in second place in the division but for how much longer? Third-place Washington is just two games out of second.

All phases of the game have abandoned the Phillies lately, but starting pitching was not one of them Friday night. In front of a sellout crowd that showed up to salute Utley and his retirement, Nola delivered eight innings of 10-strikeout ball and allowed just two runs, one of which was unearned. However, the right-hander received little run support as the Phils’ bats were stymied by Sandy Alcantara and the Marlins’ bullpen.

The Phillies went just 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position and neither of the hits scored a run. They left 11 men on base against a Marlins club that has the worst record in the NL.

Over the last five games, the Phils are 5 for 40 with runners in scoring position.

Over the last 11 games, the Phillies are 2-9. They’re hitting .233 over that span and have scored 40 runs.

This team was supposed to hit, but through 75 games the Phils rank 11th in the NL in batting average (.242), 10th in on-base percentage (.321), 11th in slugging (.414), ninth in OPS (.735) and 12th in homers (89).

“I think our guys can swing the bats better,” manager Gabe Kapler said after Friday night’s loss. “I think we all know that. Going up to the plate with the right approach, the right mindset, we’re just not getting it done right now. We’ve got to do a better job. It’s that simple.”

Kapler was asked if he had confidence in hitting coach John Mallee.

“I think we have the right personnel in place,” he said. “I think we have the right coaches in place. Our processes and our practices need some refinement. There’s no coaching staff in baseball that works harder than our staff does and we are going to work to find solutions.”

Because of the lack of offensive support, Nola had little room for error. Eighty-two of the 107 pitches he threw were strikes. He made just a couple of mistakes — a 2-0 fastball over the heart of the plate that Bryan Holaday hit for a homer in the second inning and a first-pitch curveball that plunked Brian Anderson in the sixth. Anderson went to third on a base hit and scored on an infield tapper that third baseman Scott Kingery could not make a play on.

Could Kingery have gotten Anderson at the plate if he had fielded it cleanly? The official scorer thought so. He charged Kingery with an error and the batter reached base on a fielder’s choice.

“I think there’s a chance,” Kingery said of cutting the run. “That was a thought. On a broken-bat chopper, you’re not getting a double play right there so the main thought in my head was to charge it and go for the out at home.”

Kapler said it would have taken a “heroic effort” by Kingery to make the play.

“I think Kingery is athletic enough to make it,” Kapler said. “I’m not sure he would have been out at the plate. It may have been a situation where he could have recorded an out at first base. But if he does make that play, it’s highlight-reel material. The expected outcome is not a recorded out at the plate in that situation.”

In the end, a tapper to third base was not the reason the Phillies lost. Going 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position and scoring just one run was.

“It’s certainly disappointing for [Nola] to have a start of that caliber and us not be able to support him by putting runs on the board and putting a ‘W’ in his pocket,” Kapler said. “We just have to do better. We have to improve.”

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Who makes next start for Phillies: Spencer Howard or Vince Velasquez? Joe Girardi weighs in

Who makes next start for Phillies: Spencer Howard or Vince Velasquez? Joe Girardi weighs in

Phillies fans have been clamoring for Spencer Howard for a little while now. They've heard about the velocity, the swing-and-miss slider, the knee-buckling curveball, the diving changeup, the beyond-his-years command. The organization has been just as excited.

With a couple of doubleheaders this week, you could smell Howard's debut. It became apparent that the Phils would need a sixth starter and who better than Howard, the top pitching prospect in the organization who was already on the doorstep of the majors and who probably would have been here on opening day if not for service time considerations.

This was a big day for the Phillies. Two games against your division rival, the NL East favorite. Sweep the doubleheader and you win the series against the Braves. Split and you have a chance to win it Monday night.

Instead, the Phillies were outscored 13-2 in a pair of losses. They hit .146 on the day, went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and the bullpen allowed eight runs on 13 hits in 5⅓ innings.

Still, there was excitement in the air because of Howard's long-awaited debut, which came Sunday afternoon in Game 2. After a couple of scoreless innings, the Braves welcomed Howard to the majors. Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. took him deep, and Howard allowed four runs over 4⅔ innings. The Phillies lost the game 8-0, a few hours after falling to the Braves 5-2.

There are far greater sins than being beaten by two of baseball's best. Given the circumstances — Howard hadn't pitched against another actual team in months and his own throwing schedule was changed this week to accommodate the Sunday start — it wasn't that bad. (The Phillies' offense was much worse.)

"Spencer, for his first start, I thought he did pretty good," manager Joe Girardi said. "He was able to throw strikes. The first two guys get on (in the first inning) and he's able to not give up a run. He didn't fall apart, which sometimes it's tough to slow a young person's mind down when it's their first start or first year. I thought he handled it pretty well."

Howard did not feel sharp. He added that he'd rather get hit on a day like today than on a day when he does feel sharp because that, after all, could be symbolic of a larger issue than being rusty and making a few mistakes against a strong lineup like the Braves.

"I wouldn't say I felt sharp," the 24-year-old rookie said. "Just a little out of sync with mechanics. Left a lot of balls over the plate and mistakes get hit in the big leagues. Overall, it was a decent day, awesome to compete again."

It was obviously strange for Howard to debut with no fans or family members in the stands. Not how a little kid dreams about making his first start in The Show. Howard dreamt of pitching a shutout in his first start in front of mom and dad. 

But it's 2020, so c'est la vie.

"The cardboard cutouts actually made a difference, surprisingly," Howard said. "Coming back in the summer camp when it was just the blue bleachers and then seeing the cardboard with the fan noises, it was OK actually. I wish all my friends could be here but I know they're all watching and that's all that matters."

The question now becomes: Who makes the next start five days from now? Will it be Vince Velasquez, who allowed one run in four innings in Game 1 Sunday, or Howard?

"Right now, my plans are for Vinny to make that start," Girardi said. "I have not talked to anyone. We're going on a five-man rotation, Spencer came up and threw the second part of a doubleheader. I'll sit down and talk to our coaches and (GM Matt Klentak and assistant GM Ned Rice) and we'll make a decision.

"We didn't come into today and say we were going to make a change in the rotation. We didn't come out and say that. We said we're going to evaluate every day what's best for our team."

It is possible the Phillies, with such a bad bullpen, could make Howard a multi-inning reliever. They wouldn't use him as a closer but as a pitcher capable of picking up six, maybe even nine outs as a reliever when the situation calls for it. Long-term, Howard will be a starter. But given the struggles and lack of plus stuff in the Phillies' bullpen, Howard could make a big impact as a multi-inning reliever in a short season if the Phillies go that route.

It seems unlikely, if only because the Phillies still have five more doubleheaders and will need a sixth starter again. But it's on the table. Most everything is on the table until the Phillies find out a formula for a bullpen that has an 8.10 ERA with 44 hits allowed in 30 innings.

"It's something that we've talked about," Girardi said. "It's something we will continue to talk about. What we do and how we have the best makeup of a pitching staff."

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Phillies go hitless with runners in scoring position and lose both games of doubleheader to Braves

Phillies go hitless with runners in scoring position and lose both games of doubleheader to Braves

Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr. and the Braves spoiled the MLB debut of Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard on what was also a dismal day for the Phils' bats.

Freeman and Acuña each homered to the opposite field off of Howard, going 5 for 6 with those two jacks and a triple as the Braves won both games of Sunday's doubleheader by scores of 5-2 and 8-0.

The Phillies had just seven hits in 14 innings. They went 7 for 48 in the doubleheader, a .146 batting average.

Their best scoring chance in Game 2 came in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases with two outs for Bryce Harper, who flied out to shallow center.

The Phillies are 4-6. The Braves are 11-6.

More specifics here on Howard's outing.

No knocks when it counts

The Phillies went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position in the two games Sunday. They have hit .194 with RISP this season.

Braves' best players woke up

To win this series, the Phillies needed Freeman and Acuña to stay cold for just a few more days. They entered Sunday hitting a combined .207. Freeman went 6 for 8 in the doubleheader with a double, triple and homer. Acuña went 5 for 8 with three homers. Combined, that's 11 for 16 with four homers, a double, triple and eight RBI. Good grief.

At least Hoskins built a little confidence

Rhys Hoskins, who entered the second game Sunday hitting .111 (3 for 27), went 2 for 2 with a double and an HBP. He's hitting .172, though with a .429 on-base percentage. Every little thing counts right now for Hoskins, who threw his arms up in the air to thank the Baseball Gods after he finally picked up that first hit Sunday. 

Up next

Aaron Nola (0-1, 3.97) starts the series finale Monday night at 6:05 against Braves lefty Sean Newcomb (0-1, 6.57).

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