PHOENIX — The dejection was palpable in the Phillies clubhouse after Tuesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In one corner, starting pitcher Jake Arrieta seemed a little miffed that he was not afforded the opportunity to pitch the bottom of the sixth inning, which turned out to be the turning point in the game after rookie Ranger Suarez had trouble throwing strikes on his way to giving up two runs and the lead.
Across the room, Rhys Hoskins was ticked off at himself for striking out with the bases loaded for the second out in the top of the sixth inning. Bryce Harper followed with a strikeout and the Phillies were on their way to a 2-for-17 performance with runners in scoring position and 12 men left on base (see observations).
“I need to be better,” said Hoskins, who batted second in manager Gabe Kapler’s lineup for the second straight game.
But what about the team’s overall performance with runners in scoring position?
“I’m telling you, I need to be better,” Hoskins said. “We’ve got some pretty good hitters in our lineup. I don’t know if pitchers bear down more because of the hitters that we have. I don’t know. But I think it starts with me, especially if I’m going to hit toward the top of the lineup.
“Plain and simple, I need to be better. I think if I’m better, we win that game. I’m missing pitches that I should be putting in play in those situations. It’s frustrating.”
The loss was the Phils’ third in the last five games and it left them at 59-54. They hold a half-game lead over St. Louis for the second wild-card spot in the NL.
Hitting with runners in scoring position has been a huge issue for the Phils lately. They were just 5 for 26 with runners in scoring position while losing two of three to the lowly Chicago White Sox over the weekend.
“I think guys are putting a little extra pressure on themselves, trying to get the big hit,” Kapler said. “Sometimes when you’re not able to break the game open a couple times in a row, several games in a row at times, you start to add a little extra pressure to your shoulders and this is a game where it’s important to really not try harder in those situations. It’s important to breath, relax and just take your A swing.
“We can do a better job than we’ve been doing with runners in scoring position. One of the ways we can do that is to kind of cut down on our hacks and utilize a B swing to put the ball in play, have barrel accuracy over trying to drive the ball. I’m not saying that anyone is not taking the right approach, but what I am saying is there’s always ability to cut down a little bit and look to drive the ball into the outfield.”
Kapler praised Arrieta for a “gritty performance” and said, “He gave us a good chance to win that game.” Arrieta is pitching with a bone spur in his elbow and experiences a drop in effectiveness around the fifth inning. He was able to pitch out of trouble in the fifth and get out of that inning with a one-run lead. The Diamondbacks then blew the game open with six runs against the Phillies' bullpen the next three innings. Three of the runs came on homers. Blake Parker, signed last week after being let go by Minnesota, was tagged for three runs in the seventh. The Phillies' front office might eventually regret not being more aggressive in improving the bullpen at the trade deadline.
Given his health condition, the fact that he’s averaged just 4 2/3 innings over his last six starts and the score of the game, it was completely understandable that Kapler pinch-hit for Arrieta (Roman Quinn singled) at 80 pitches with the Phils up a run in the top of the sixth.
Arrieta would have preferred to stay in the game and pitch the bottom of the sixth. In fact, he said the outcome might have been different if he did.
“I still feel like I would like to have gone one more,” he said. “I told them I’d like to stay in and they decided to pinch-hit for me. Q had a hit. He did his job. After that point, it got away from us the sixth through the eighth.
“There’s going to be times when it’s smart to take me out and times when it’s smart to let me go even though it's not comfortable. I would have liked one more.
"But it’s all right. They earned the win tonight. They just beat us. Just one of those nights when they grinded it out a little better than we did.”
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