Since the start of the 2018 season, the Phillies have been the second-worst road team in the National League.
Things did not improve in the team's first road game of the 2021 season Friday night. The Phillies and starting pitcher Zack Wheeler absorbed an 8-1 beating at the hands of the Atlanta Braves.
The loss dropped the Phillies to 5-2 on the season. Atlanta is 3-4. The Phillies had swept the Braves in the season-opening series last week in Philadelphia. Phillies pitching held the Braves to just three runs in that three-game series and Wheeler pitched seven shutout innings with no walks and 10 strikeouts in the second game. Things went a lot differently in the right-hander's second start of the new season.
The Phillies are 76-115 on the road since the start of 2018. Among NL teams, only Miami has a worse record on the road over that span.
Wheels come off
Wheeler was not nearly as sharp in this outing as he was in his first one against the Braves. He did not make it out of the fifth inning and threw 94 pitches. He gave up seven hits, including a homer, three runs and four walks. He struck out four.
Wheeler pitched with runners on base most of his outing. He got a huge defensive assist from catcher J.T. Realmuto in avoiding damage in the first inning and pitched out of trouble in the third and fourth innings.
Wheeler couldn't dodge trouble in the fifth. He allowed a leadoff single to opposing pitcher Charlie Morton and a booming, 456-foot homer to Ronald Acuña Jr. on a 1-1 slider that stayed over the heart of the plate.
Before the inning was over, Wheeler gave up a double to Ozzie Albies and an RBI single to Travis d'Arnaud as the Braves went up 3-1.
Acuña had four hits on the night: the homer, two doubles and a single. He's hitting .393.
Acuña also made a tremendous leaping catch on the warning track in right field to end the sixth inning, saving at least a run and probably two at a time when the Phillies trailed 3-1.
Defense goes bad
The Phils played strong defense during the season-opening homestand, but it got away from them in the sixth inning of this one when third baseman Alec Bohm made a pair of no-out errors behind Brandon Kintzler.
The Braves quickly capitalized on the opportunity when Ehire Adrianza, pinch-hitting for Morton in the No. 9 spot of the order, launched a three-run homer to essentially put the game away.
Freddie Freeman padded the Braves' lead with a two-run homer in the eighth.
Not much offense
Morton held the Phillies to four singles and a run over six innings. He walked one and struck out seven.
While the Braves were clouting three home runs and three doubles, the Phillies finished the night with six hits, all singles.
Phillies hitters struck out 10 times.
Phillies manager Joe Girardi has a reputation of being a master bullpen tactician, but he didn't look like one in the bottom of the fifth inning when he popped out of the dugout and headed to the mound for a chat with Wheeler after the right-hander had allowed three runs then fallen behind Dansby Swanson, 2-0, with two outs in the frame.
Girardi spoke with Wheeler then turned to head back to the dugout. On his way, Girardi was intercepted by home plate umpire Carlos Torres and told that he had to remove Wheeler from the game because it was the dugout's second trip to the mound that inning. Pitching coach Caleb Cotham had visited the mound earlier in the inning.
Girardi knows the rule and knows it well, but even the best slip up now and then.
"I screwed up," he said, accepting blame.
The Phillies, of course, have a history of managerial bullpen gaffes in Atlanta. In the third game of the 2018 season, reliever Hoby Milner was summoned into a game by rookie manager Gabe Kapler without throwing a legitimate warmup pitch. A delay ensued and umpire Jerry Layne publicly chastised the Phillies after the game. Kapler owned up to a miscommunication with the bullpen.
Girardi's mistake was not that serious because Wheeler was at 94 pitches and he wasn't going to come back for the sixth inning. But if Kapler had made that mistake under similar circumstances, oh, boy, he would have been roasted.
Kintzler had the difficult task of taking over the matchup against Swanson. Down 2-0 in the count, the right-hander battled back and got a strikeout to end the inning.
The two teams meet again Saturday night. Zach Eflin (0-0, 1.29) pitches against Ian Anderson (0-0, 1.80).