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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Is Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard on the way? It sure feels like it

Is Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard on the way? It sure feels like it

It has long been a given that Spencer Howard would make his major league debut this season.

Maybe it will happen during the Phillies' coming homestand.

Big rain from Tropical Storm Isaias forced the postponement of Tuesday night's meeting between the Phillies and Yankees in the Bronx. Makeup dates are scarce in this shortened, 60-game season so the two teams will play the game as a part of a doubleheader in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Manager Joe Girardi said that Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler would be the starting pitchers in those two games. The first game starts at 4:05 p.m.

After Wednesday, the Phils will play 11 straight days, all at home, against the Yankees, Braves, Orioles and Mets.

Because of the doubleheader and the stack-up of games, the Phillies will need an extra starting pitcher in the coming days, perhaps Sunday against Atlanta. The Phils could reach into their bullpen and plug someone like Cole Irvin or Nick Pivetta into that start. Or they could reach down to their reserve camp in Lehigh Valley and bring up Howard. The 24-year-old right-hander is their top prospect and has impressed everyone from Bryce Harper to pitching coach Bryan Price.

"If this kid is the guy we think he is — and we do — then he's going to have a really nice future in Philadelphia," Price said in July. "I would really hope and expect to see him pitching here at some point in (2020) because he really needs the work and I think he's ready to compete at this level."

Maybe that future begins in the coming days. Girardi was noncommittal when asked about Howard's timetable on Monday, but you can bet he will discuss Howard with Price and front office officials during Tuesday's weather shut down.

Howard commands a four-pitch arsenal. His fastball approaches triple digits and his changeup and breaking ball are both top-notch. He has the potential to one day work at the top of a rotation.

Price has been reluctant to speak in those terms, at least as it relates to Howard's ceiling. He'd prefer to let Howard control the trajectory of his own career. But there's no doubt that the pitching coach is high on the young man.

"I stay away from (commenting on a pitcher's ceiling) and I'll tell you why," Price said. "Because when you start talking about assigning expectations, especially if you rank like No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — we don't know what these guys are until they come up here and perform.

"We know that (Howard) would be a top-end prospect in any organization because he has power, he throws strikes, he's athletic, he has a really, really good changeup and breaking ball. The key component there is stuff with strikes, stuff with command. So the sky is the limit.

"In the same respect, you have to get to the big leagues and perform at this level before you define where you are: starter or reliever, No. 1 or No. 5, or somewhere in between. I'll reserve judgment on that and let him pitch his way wherever he gets to."

If Howard pitches well once he does arrive, he will put heat on the back end of the rotation, particularly Vince Velasquez. An effective Howard could push Velasquez to the bullpen. The Phils could benefit from Velasquez's power arm in the bullpen. The question remains: Would Velasquez embrace the role enough to succeed? That's an issue for another day. As it stands now, Velasquez would get a start on Thursday or Friday.

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After 4 games, Phillies' bullpen is the problem you expected it to be

After 4 games, Phillies' bullpen is the problem you expected it to be

Four games into the shortened, 60-game season, the Phillies' bullpen is exactly what you thought it would be.

A problem.

The Phils are 1-3 and all three defeats can be traced back to pitching. Aaron Nola threw a couple of poor curveballs in the season opener against Miami and paid dearly for them. Vince Velasquez and the bullpen got beaten up by the Marlins two days later.

And on Monday night — after not playing a game for eight full days — the Phillies lost, 6-3, to the New York Yankees.

A lack of clutch hitting has definitely hurt the Phillies in their two most recent losses. They were 4 for 19 with runners in scoring position in those two games and left 21 men on base.

But both of those games — the Game 3 loss to the Marlins and the loss to the Yankees — were manageable until the bullpen got in the way.

After Velasquez coughed up a 4-0 lead and was bounced by the Marlins after three innings, the bullpen was tagged for seven runs in six innings in that 11-6 loss nine days ago.

And on Monday night, the Phils were down just 3-1 to the Yankees in the sixth inning when offseason waiver claim Deolis Guerra came in because manager Joe Girardi decided that starter Jake Arrieta, in his first start in almost a year, had "given us everything he had." Arrieta was at 78 pitches. He thought he could have kept going but he understood Girardi's caution.

Guerra's job was to keep the game close. He didn't. He walked the first batter he faced, hit the second batter he faced and allowed a three-run homer to the fourth batter (Gio Urshela) he faced.

The Phillies scored a couple of late runs, but it didn't matter. They couldn't play over Guerra's sloppiness.

With switch-hitter Aaron Hicks and right-handed power bat Giancarlo Stanton due up in the bottom of the sixth, Girardi went to the right-hander Guerra over lefty Adam Morgan. Guerra had inspired a bit of confidence in Girardi with a scoreless ninth inning and two strikeouts in the Phillies' 7-1 win over Miami more than a week earlier.

"Deolis threw the ball really well last weekend and was not able to repeat it," Girardi said after the game. "I feel like he has the ability to help us. He just didn't have it tonight."

Morgan came on and quieted things down after Guerra left and veterans Tommy Hunter and Jose Alvarez both pitched a scoreless inning. Those three veterans, along with Hector Neris, are expected to be mainstays in the bullpen. The other seven spots are iffy. The Phils have been hit hard by injury and other medical issues (David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez) and were not willing to push the luxury tax to bring in relief help over the winter. So, this is what you've got: A bullpen that after four games is just what you thought it would be — a problem.

Girardi has been around long enough to know what's what. But four games into this most unusual season when his team had to idle for eight days because the Miami Marlins couldn't follow health and safety protocols, he will be patient before reaching down to Lehigh Valley for a remake. At least as patient as he can be in a sprint season that has just 56 games remaining.

"I think it's really hard to judge our bullpen right now just because we haven't played in a week, eight days," Girardi said. "Some of these guys haven't worked in eight or nine days. We try to get them as much work as we can, but it's still not game conditions.

"I think you have to give each guy three to four appearances to be fair to them with consistent work. You ask all relievers, they want consistent work. They don't want to sit for a week and then expect to go out there and have pinpoint control and have a good feel for their breaking ball and whatever other pitches they have. I think they need some consistent work before we really make a judgment.

"If we were to make changes, you're calling up kids who have no experience as well in a sense. These were the guys we thought threw the ball the best during the camps and they've got to get it done."

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