Phillies

Jake Arrieta struggles, offense sputters as first-place Braves give Phillies a painful reality check

Jake Arrieta struggles, offense sputters as first-place Braves give Phillies a painful reality check

Jake Arrieta was good for four innings on Friday night. But four innings isn’t going to cut it for a team desperately trying to stay in a playoff race despite holes in its starting rotation and bullpen.

The Phillies came home Friday night on the heels of four wins in five games against of pair of last-place clubs, Pittsburgh and Detroit. The road trip gave the Phils a little momentum and a little optimism entering their three-game series against the Altanta Braves. By the middle innings, the momentum and the optimism were gone. The NL East-leading Braves handed the Phillies a 9-2 loss to increase their lead over Phils to 6 ½ games.

“I think the Braves just got more big hits than us and made more pitches than us,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It's that simple. Really not more than that.”

Kapler found himself in the crosshairs of the second-guessers when he went to rookie lefty Cole Irvin with the Phils trailing 5-1 in the top of the sixth. Irvin, a starter pressed into bullpen duty, was torched for four runs as the Braves pulled away. Irvin hit the first batter of the frame, Nick Markakis, on the wrist. (Markakis is headed back to Atlanta for tests and both he and manager Brian Snitker said, “It doesn’t look good.”) Later in the inning, Irvin walked in a pair of runs and some in the crowd booed loudly while others performed an Eagles chant.

Why didn’t Kapler use a more tested reliever to keep the game close in that situation?

Where was lefty Ranger Suarez, who has been such an eye-opener lately?

Kapler said Suarez, who threw 29 pitches Sunday and 17 on Wednesday, “needed another day.”

He went on to add that he liked Irvin in that spot. Irvin had pitched two scoreless innings the previous Friday in Pittsburgh.

“Ranger needed one more day,” Kapler said. “He’s fine. He’s just getting used to bullpen usage. He just needed one more day.

“But, even so, we have a ton of confidence in Cole. He's coming off a great outing. He was the guy who was there to give us length, get us through a couple of innings. It was the right part of the lineup to get a couple of innings out of him. It just didn't work out in our favor.”

Even if Irvin had kept the game close, it would have been difficult to imagine the Phillies having enough offense to overcome a four-run deficit. Despite their good road trip, they have averaged just 2.75 runs in the last four games. They had 12 hits Friday night and just two for extra-bases. One of those, a homer by Jean Segura, came in the seventh when the Phils were down 9-1. In one of the game’s most pivotal moments, with the Phils down by four runs in the bottom of the fifth, J.T. Realmuto grounded out weakly to second base with the bases loaded to end the inning. A big hit there might have been a game-changer.

“We had ground-ball singles,” Kapler said. “We weren't able to effectively solve (Braves starter Mike) Soroka. He was good. We put the ball on the ground. We found some holes. We just weren't able to get the big hit. That was the difference in the game. We weren't able to come up big in the moments where we had a chance to get one big ball in the gap or the seats. We couldn't come up with that one.”

Arrieta was tagged for four runs in the fifth as the Braves took control. He walked two in the inning and gave up a homer, a double and a single. Arrieta is pitching with a bone spur in his elbow and his stuff drops off in the middle innings. When it did, the Braves feasted.

“I was pretty much in control until the fifth and then I was physically just limited and not able to do what I was doing the first four innings,” Arrieta said. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s just what I’m dealing with.

“The movement, the action, the velocity in the first four innings was about as good as it’s been all year. And then it flips. It’s frustrating because that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the majority of the season. It’s not a good feeling.”

Is Arrieta re-thinking his desire to pitch through the ailment?

“I don’t want to stop,” he said. “The way the first four innings went, movement was great, command was really nice. It’s just frustrating that it compounded so quick. There’s nothing that I can really do about it.”

The Phils will send another question-mark pitcher to the mound on Saturday night. Zach Eflin complained of his body feeling heavy after lasting just four innings in his last start.

The trade deadline is Wednesday. This team needs to add pitching. But it also needs the pitching it has to step up.

“We just have to win games,” Arrieta said. “It’s easy to look outside of the clubhouse for solutions. I think we have more than enough talent to make it happen with the guys we have.”

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Phillies still need a miracle, but 2 wins over Braves, with Aaron Nola up next, is a good place to start

Phillies still need a miracle, but 2 wins over Braves, with Aaron Nola up next, is a good place to start

ATLANTA — The Phillies departed on this 11-game road trip needing to win just about all of them to have a shot at making the postseason. There are still two more cities to visit and miles upon miles to go on this trip, but …

Do you believe in miracles?

“I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do in this clubhouse,” Zach Eflin said after backboning a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

The Phils have opened the road trip with two straight wins against the soon-to-be NL East champs and they will look for a sweep behind Aaron Nola on Thursday. A sweep is almost a must if the Phillies want to stay in the NL wild-card chase. There are 12 games remaining and they are three back.

The Phillies have used the long ball in beating the Braves on back-to-back nights. They have hit four homers in the two games and three of them have been two-run shots. Bryce Harper keyed the offense Wednesday night with a two-run bomb in the fourth inning. Cesar Hernandez also homered and the Phils scored their third run on a bases-loaded walk.

The Phils had just four hits in the game and they struck out 12 times. They also committed three errors in the field. All of this made it imperative that they get a good performance from their pitchers and they did.

Eflin was brilliant for seven innings and the bullpen tandem of Jose Alvarez and Hector Neris got the final six outs in speedy fashion.

After the game, manager Gabe Kapler gushed about Eflin.

“That was the toughest, from a mental standpoint, start from a pitcher that we've gotten all season long,” he said. “Quite simply, we didn't make plays behind him early on. He continued to get ground ball after ground ball. Calls were not going his way. And that was true when he was at that plate, as well. He just kind of had a resiliency about him throughout this game. He wasn't going to get beat mentally. He just continued to induce ground balls and got weak contact throughout the game. That was why we won that game.

“I think that there were a lot of people who were inspired — myself and the coaching staff and many of the players in the dugout — by the start that Zach just made. “

Eflin had struggled mightily in three previous starts against the Braves this season, including one last week. In just 9 1/3 innings, he was tagged for 17 hits and 20 runs (eight were unearned). He walked nine and struck out nine.

The 25-year-old righty rebounded impressively in this one. Relying heavily on his favorite pitch, a sinking, two-seam fastball, he held the Braves to five hits and one unearned run. He walked two and struck out four. He threw 99 pitches and 57 were sinkers. He got 12 outs on the ground, including a big double play against Brian McCann to end the sixth inning.

“The part that makes it especially mentally tough is the fact that he just faced the Braves,” Kapler said. “It's an incredibly tough lineup to go through several times, but even more so that he's coming off a start against them. 

“We've talked about this time of year being when we're going to fight and scratch and claw. That was fight. That was tough from Zach Eflin.”

Over his last five starts, Eflin has allowed just five earned runs in 28 2/3 innings for a 1.57 ERA.  

After some mid-season struggles, he has found himself again. It has all coincided with his re-dedication to throwing his favorite pitch, the sinker.

“At the end of the day, I’m going out and attacking guys and if it’s my sinker that day that’s working I’m going to use my sinker, if it’s my change-up I’m going to use my change-up,” he said. “We figure out what we have going early in the bullpen before the game. Today was the sinker. It’s been working these last couple outings so if it’s there next outing you’ll probably see it again.”

The Phillies still have stops in Cleveland (three games) and Washington (five) on this trip.

They face the longest of odds in making the postseason, but they’re not dead.

“We come in every single day mentally and physically ready to play and win,” Eflin said. “We have the guys in the clubhouse to do it and get there and make a postseason run, so to be able to do that and play good baseball at the same time is really good for us. We’re looking forward to riding this momentum the next couple of days and into the next series that we have coming and really doing everything we can to make it.”

On paper, you have to like the Phillies' chances with their ace, Nola, on the mound in Thursday’s series finale. However, the Phils are 0-5 in his last five starts.

Can he turn things around and keep the Phillies’ momentum going?

“I think it's really important that we focus on just one game,” Kapler said. “More specifically, just one pitch. The first pitch of the game for Aaron Nola, the first pitch of the game for our leadoff batter tomorrow is what we're focused on.”



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Zach Eflin excellent, Bryce Harper homers and Phillies beat Braves again

Zach Eflin excellent, Bryce Harper homers and Phillies beat Braves again

BOX SCORE 

ATLANTA — A couple of home runs and some excellent pitching.

That was the Phillies’ recipe in a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

The Phils remain alive in the NL wild-card race. They entered the night four games out and had a chance to pick up ground depending on outcomes elsewhere.

There are 12 games remaining.

Zach Eflin gave the Phils an outstanding start Wednesday night and he was supported by home runs from Bryce Harper and Cesar Hernandez. Harper’s 32nd homer was a long, two-run shot against Julio Teheran in the fourth inning.

The Phillies only had four hits in the game and they struck out 12 times. It helps when half of your hits go over the wall and are preceded by a batter getting hit by a pitch as J.T. Realmuto was before Harper’s homer. The Phils scored their fourth run on a bases-loaded walk to Jean Segura in the sixth.

The Phils have beaten the Braves two straight nights in this three-game series. They have hit four home runs, including three two-run shots, in the two games.

Atlanta’s magic number for winning the NL East is two.

The Phillies are 78-72. They need to win four of their final 12 games to have their first winning season since 2011.

Quite the rebound

Eflin had struggled mightily in three previous starts against the Braves this season, including one last week. In just 9 1/3 innings, he was tagged for 17 hits and 20 runs (eight were unearned). He walked nine and struck out nine.

Eflin really turned the tables in this one. Relying heavily on his favorite pitch, a sinking, two-seam fastball, he held the Braves to five hits and one unearned run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out four.

Eflin threw 99 pitches and 57 were sinkers. He got 12 outs on the ground. He also pitched over three errors behind him.

Big out

Eflin got into a little jam in the bottom of the sixth when he allowed a one-out infield hit followed by a walk. Dangerous but slow-footed Brian McCann came to the plate with the Braves down, 4-1. The best way to attack McCann in that situation was with a heavy dose of sinkers, something that would produce a ground ball and a potential double play. Eflin threw McCann a first-pitch sinker and got his double play ball for one of his biggest outs of the night.

Bullpen shines

Lefty Jose Alvarez retired three big bats — Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson and Nick Markakis — in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out both Freeman and Donaldson and got Markakis on a ground ball. The Phils have done a good job on Freeman in the first two games of the series. They’ve pitched around him some and gone after him some. He is 0 for 5 with four walks.

Hector Neris got the save with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Go figure

Heading into the final meeting of the season with Atlanta on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have 10-8 record against the Braves.

While the Phils have enjoyed a winning record against the soon-to-be NL East champions, they have struggled against the last-place Miami Marlins. The Phils are 7-9 against the Marlins. The Phils finish the season later this month with three games against Miami.

Up next

Good pitching matchup in Thursday afternoon’s series finale: Aaron Nola (12-5, 3.62) against right-hander Mike Soroka (12-4, 2.57). First pitch is 12:10 p.m.

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