Phillies

Phillies’ disappointing road trip makes you wonder what Monday will bring

Phillies’ disappointing road trip makes you wonder what Monday will bring

SAN FRANCISCO – This Phillies season continues to spiral downward with a new low point seemingly occurring every other day.

If they’re not getting one-hit, they’re losing with late bullpen implosions and poor outings from the starting pitchers.

The Phillies lost again Sunday night, 9-6, when the San Francisco Giants rallied for three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.

The brutal loss wrapped up a 2-5 road trip for the Phillies, who have gone 27-34 since the start of June to fall from first place in the NL East to fourth.

Things have gone so badly for the Phillies lately that you have to wonder if the front office will use the opportunity of an off day on Monday to shake some things up with possibly a coaching change or a personnel move.

Just something maybe to keep an eye on. The situation seems ripe. The Phils are two games out of the NL wild-card chase, trailing two teams. There are 44 games left and as bad as things have been, manager Gabe Kapler is still full of fight.

“It was a tough trip, a disappointing trip,” Kapler said moments after Sunday’s night’s nationally televised defeat. “We didn’t execute enough on offense or on the mound and now we go back home. We know we’re in the hunt and we have to continue to fight. What we have control over is how we respond to getting knocked down and this road trip was definitely that. We will get up and we will get up strong.”

The Phillies might be getting up without Jake Arrieta. He blew a 5-2 lead in the third inning and was out of the game after that. It was his shortest start in the six that he’s made since disclosing he was pitching with a bone spur in his elbow. He gave up seven hits and five runs in his three painful innings of work.

“Yeah, it hurts every day,” Arrieta said afterward. “Today, I lacked the ability to throw any off-speed stuff with effectiveness and they made me pay for it.

“The offense put up enough runs to win the game. I just wasn’t able to get through my share of the outing and preserve the lead.”

After his previous starts, Arrieta had always been adamant that he wants to keep pitching with the bone spur. He plans corrective surgery in the offseason.

But after this one, he hedged when asked if he would keep pitching.

“I don’t necessarily want to make a decision right now,” he said. “We’ll have the off day Monday and maybe have a conversation on Tuesday.”

The Phils lost two of three in Arizona and three of four in San Francisco. The Giants won in a one-hitter on Thursday and a three-hitter on Saturday.

“They took care of business against us, really,” Arrieta said.

The Phillies had 10 hits in Sunday night’s game and they scored six runs, usually a good sign as they were 52-15 when scoring more than four runs. But the Phils stranded 15 runners on base and left the bases loaded twice, including in the seventh when Rhys Hoskins (2 for 24, 0 RBIs on the trip) popped out with two outs.

“Rhys has been our most consistent hitter all year, hovering around a .900 OPS,” Kapler said. “He has been very clutch the last couple of years. He’s not having a lot of luck right now and it’s frustrating for him. But I want him up there in every big situation.”

The Phils tied the game at 6-6 in the top of the eighth. Lefty Jose Alvarez allowed a leadoff hit in the bottom of the inning then got two outs. Kapler went to righty Nick Pivetta for righty-hitting Kevin Pillar. The Phils chose not to walk Pillar for struggling Brandon Crawford because Pivetta-Pillar was the matchup they wanted. Pivetta threw a wild pitch then gave up a tie-breaking triple to right-center on a 3-1 pitch. After an intentional walk to Crawford (and a stolen base), Pivetta gave up a two-run single to the opposing relief pitcher, Will Smith. It was the first at-bat of Smith’s seven-year career and it was a symbolic haymaker to the Phillies’ chin.

“Pillar has chased quite a bit recently,” Kapler said. “He’s chased up out of the zone and below the zone. We had that matchup tailor-made. It was the matchup we looked for. We talked about it before the inning. We were going to set up Pivetta for fastballs up and out, hammers down. We weren’t able to execute.”

That was a common refrain on the trip.

What will Monday’s off day bring?

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Phillies bullpen's ugly ninth inning takes some shine off a good win

Phillies bullpen's ugly ninth inning takes some shine off a good win

Aaron Nola had his gem. He did not need CG – as in complete game -- next to his name. He and the Phillies had their win.

Joe Girardi absolutely, positively did the right thing in getting Nola out of Monday’s night game after eight innings and 89 pitches. He had a 12-run lead, for cryin' out loud. Why risk a one-hopper off the kneecap? Why not save a few bullets for his next outing against the hated Mets? Why risk sending him out for the ninth and having it turn into a 20-pitch inning? Why not get someone in that wretched bullpen a little work so that maybe they’ll be a little sharper down the line?

The Phillies pounded out 14 hits and bashed five homers in beating the Atlanta Braves, 13-8. In the big picture, it was a good win for the lads in red pinstripes. That’s two straight four-game splits against top teams (the Yankees were the other) for the Phillies in the last week. Eleven games into the 60-game sprint, the Phillies are 5-6 and Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto are killing the ball. They both homered Monday night. They have combined for eight homers and 20 RBIs so far.

Despite all the good vibes provided by Nola and the bats, Monday night’s game left a sour aftertaste in the mouth because relievers Nick Pivetta and Trevor Kelley were tagged for seven runs (on seven hits, including two homers) in the top of the ninth.

This bedraggled bullpen can’t even close out a 13-1 game smoothly. Pivetta was charged with six of the seven runs and got just one out. Kelley gave up a two-run homer.

If you’re keeping track of the ugly numbers at home, the Phils’ bullpen has allowed 34 earned runs in 31 innings for a 9.87 ERA.

After the game, Harper was asked if the bullpen’s struggles put extra pressure on the offense.

“That’s a tough question,” he said. “I mean, I think as a team we have to be able to rely on our guys. We’re at the big-league level for a reason. Just like people rely on me each night not to go out there and punch out with the bases loaded, we have to be able to rely on the guys that are coming out of the bullpen and trust in those guys and give them the opportunity to do well -- to struggle, but to also do well.”

As Nola was putting the final brush strokes on his 10-K masterpiece in the eighth inning, Girardi telephoned the bullpen and spoke directly with Pivetta. It’s unusual to see a manager speak directly with a reliever, but Girardi wanted Pivetta to know why he was being used in a 12-run blowout.

“I thought it was important that he pitch tonight,” Girardi said. “So, it was, ‘You're going to throw one inning.' It was nothing really enlightening. But I just wanted to explain to him why I was bringing him in this game. Because he hasn't pitched for five days and I thought he needed to pitch. But I needed to save him for length as well, and with Nola going so well, there was only one inning to throw.”

Pitching in a blowout can adversely affect a pitcher’s concentration. There’s no clubhouse access for reporters because of COVID protocols so it wasn't possible to speak with Pivetta after the game. Girardi had to speak for the pitcher’s mindset. 

“That’s frustrating for him because I believe he has the ability to get big outs for us,” Girardi said. "He was just up in the zone and that might be because of rust."

Pivetta had hoped to be in the starting rotation this season. He was beaten out by Vince Velasquez in summer camp. He has pitched 5 2/3 innings out of the bullpen and allowed 10 hits and 10 earned runs for a 15.88 ERA.

In a closer game, Nola would have been allowed to pitch the ninth. He had gas left in his tank.

Girardi gave his reasoning for going to the ‘pen after eight.

“I think we've seen the track record of pitchers since we've come back (from the COVID shutdown) -- how many people have gotten hurt,” he said. “It's the most up-downs that he's had. Eight innings. His high has been six. We weren't worried about the pitch count. Aaron did not want to come out. But sometimes I feel that it's my job to protect players from themselves, right? And I feel bad pulling him. I told him. I understand if he's upset with me. I'm OK with that. But the prize is not in the month of August. And we need him to be healthy. We don't need him to get fatigued. He'll come back on normal rest again. 

“I'm frustrated for the guys that gave up the runs because we want them to contribute and we want them to get going. It does not dampen that we won the game, that Aaron pitched great, and we swung the bats extremely well.”

The win was much needed for Nola. He had gone nine starts, dating back almost a year, without a win. He struck out 12 and walked none against the Yankees his last time out but came away empty because the bats were quiet and the bullpen got bruised.

“Obviously, I wanted to (finish the game), he said. “I understand where they’re coming from, for sure. Putting that aside, a 13-1 ballgame, it was a good game by us. The hitters came out hot. I felt pretty good overall. That’s all that matters. My stuff was working tonight. All three of my pitches, I was throwing for strikes. I was getting early outs and getting ahead of guys. I’ll take that into my next start. 

“I feel it would be a different conversation if it was a close game. I could see myself going out (for the ninth) if it was a close game. But we got a W that’s all that matters. I don’t really want to put all the emphasis on that. We split with the Braves. We’re going to take that into tomorrow. Every win we get is a plus.”

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Aaron Nola strikes out 10, bats bash five homers as Phillies top Braves

Aaron Nola strikes out 10, bats bash five homers as Phillies top Braves

After a weak showing in which they produced just seven hits and two runs in losing a doubleheader to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon, the Phillies’ bats awakened with a vengeance in a 13-8 trouncing of those same Braves on Monday night.

The Phillies had 14 hits, five of which were homers. 

Aaron Nola was the beneficiary of the run support, not that he needed all of them. The right-hander was magnificent for the second straight outing as he won for the first time since August 20 of last season. Nola was 0-5 in nine starts since then and the team had lost all of those games.

The Phils ended up splitting the four-game series with the Braves. Before that, the Phils split a four-game series with the New York Yankees. The Phils are 5-6. Atlanta is 11-7. 

Nola’s night 

It’s hard to believe Nola went that long between wins. Not all of it was his fault. He struck out 12 and walked none over six innings in his last start against the Yankees but the offense was lacking and the bullpen was hit hard in that game. 

Nola picked right up where he left off against the Yankees in this game. He threw an economical 89 pitches over eight innings. He allowed just two hits, one of which was a homer. He walked one and struck out 10. Over his last two starts, he has walked one and struck out 22.

Nola exited with a 13-1 lead. Relievers Nick Pivetta and Trevor Kelley did their best to let the Braves back in the game by allowing seven runs in the ninth. Pivetta was charged with six of the runs. He got one out. This bullpen ...

MORE: Ugly ninth inning from 'pen takes shine off an otherwise good win

Nola vs. Atlanta 

Nola is 11-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 19 career starts against the Braves. It’s not easy to dominate a club when they see you that much. You have to be good. Your stuff has to be sharp. And you can’t be predictable. Nola threw 34 fastballs, 32 changeup and 23 curveballs.

Power plant

Bryce Harper (No. 3), J.T. Realmuto (No. 5), Didi Gregorius (No. 3), Roman Quinn (No. 1) and Jean Segura (No. 1) all hit home runs.

The Phillies actually hit for the cycle in home runs. Segura and Quinn hit solo shots, Realmuto hit a two-run shot, Harper a three-run shot and Gregorius a grand slam.

The Phils have scored 55 runs this season and 33 (60 percent) have come via home runs. 

Quick start 

Manager Joe Girardi gave Andrew McCutchen the night off and used Phil Gosselin as his DH/leadoff man.

Gosselin had another good night with a pair of singles, a walk and two runs scored. He is 8 for 17 on the season.

Gosselin helped the Phils get off to a quick start. He and Rhys Hoskins singled against Sean Newcomb in the first inning and Harper followed with a three-run homer.

Gregorius smacked his grand slam in the second as the Phils built a 10-1 lead. It was one of three homers the Phils hit in the second inning.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this was the first time the Phillies had ever scored 10 runs and hit four homers in the first two innings of a game.

Scary moment

Harper took a pitch off the back of the right hand during his at-bat in the second inning. Though the pitch was a changeup from Newcomb, it hit Harper squarely and he was in some pain. Harper was wearing a pad on the back of his right hand and that may have saved him from injury. He stayed in the game. 

Up next

The Phils open a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night. Zack Wheeler, who has been brilliant in his first two starts with the Phillies, will pitch against right-hander Alex Cobb (1-1, 2.51). Wheeler is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA.

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