Phillies

Phillies stuck in the mud, figuratively and literally

Phillies stuck in the mud, figuratively and literally

There have been times in recent days when it has looked like the Phillies’ season was stuck in the mud. So the unexpected, and probably avoidable, events of Monday night served as an apt metaphor for what has happened to the team lately.

The Phillies' scheduled game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park was postponed because of poor field conditions. The grounds crew worked feverishly for several hours – even using blowtorches in an effort to dry the soggy infield dirt – before the decision to postpone was made about 7:15 p.m.

The two teams will play a traditional doubleheader Tuesday at 3:05 p.m. Monday’s scheduled starter Jake Arrieta will get the ball in one of the games and Nick Pivetta in the other. The Phillies, who entered Monday trailing Atlanta by 4½ games in the NL East, are coming off a 2-4 road trip to Miami and New York and they are 6-14 since August 18.

The decision to postpone was made by the umpires in conjunction with Major League Baseball. Players on both sides agreed with the decision. Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton said the infield dirt was like “pudding” or “cake batter.” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who was on the field with the umpires and Phillies officials before the decision was made, also agreed with it.

“The conversations on the field were very good,” Rizzo said. “It was all about player safety and the integrity of the field. The field was soft. We didn't want anybody getting hurt on the Phillies or the Nationals. It was deemed too big a risk to put the players in.”

Max Scherzer and Rhys Hoskins, the union reps on both sides, were on the field before the decision was made.

“The dirt, it was spongy, it would literally give out,” Scherzer said. “And that was just us acting like we were going to run. The moment you put any weight on the ball of your foot, the dirt would just give out. There were parts of the infield they said could get better and when we tested those areas we both looked at each other and thought, ‘This is going to get torn up when guys are going 100 percent,' and you can't have any one spot out there because that's how you get injured. We've seen that in the past.”

Late in the 2016 season, Wilson Ramos, then with the Nationals, suffered a serious knee injury on a wet field. He played in just 64 games the next season. Ramos is now with the Phillies.

“Ramos, two years ago, blew out his ACL,” Scherzer said. “There isn't a player in here that can hold themselves accountable if something like that happened."

Hoskins agreed. The risk was too great.

“We didn't feel safe as players,” he said. “I think a big thing was we didn't want people compensating for what the surface was and potentially having an injury that way.”

It is not unusual to have a rainout. It is unusual to have a “mud out.” According to baseball researcher Dave Smith of Retrosheet, this was the first game postponed because of wet grounds since a game at Milwaukee on Sept. 21, 1987.

So what happened?

According to Howard Smith, the Phillies vice president of business affairs, the field was not covered during Friday night’s heavy rainstorm and no drying occurred during a wet weekend.

“The field wasn’t tarped on Friday night because we were supposed to get only a small amount of rain,” Smith said. “If you tarp the field 24 hours a day, the field will turn brown and it will die. It’s an on-and-off situation. We didn’t tarp it Friday night. In retrospect, had I known it was going to be this much rain, we would’ve tarped it. We had it covered the rest of the weekend, but the damage was done and we’re just playing catch up. The rain this morning didn’t help us because we weren’t able to deal with it.”

The Phillies had spent the previous week on the road. Players began arriving at Citizens Bank Park early Monday afternoon. They weren’t there long when word started circulating the game could be in jeopardy. A couple of players were incredulous that the field was in such poor shape.

Two hours after the game was postponed, more than 20 members of the grounds crew continued to work on drying out the infield dirt. They used rakes, drying agent and blowtorches. At some point, the field was to be covered, but here’s the hitch: Tuesday’s forecast is not good. The Phillies have 20 games to play, 20 games to catch the Braves, and the calendar is shrinking.

More on the Phillies

Zach Eflin is important so the Phillies are going to need more than this down the stretch

Zach Eflin is important so the Phillies are going to need more than this down the stretch

If the Phillies are going to live to play a little October baseball this season, they’re going to have to jump on the No. 41 train — that’s Charlie Manuel’s uniform number — and hit their way there.

Despite the need to out-hit other clubs, the Phillies are still going to have nights when they need their pitching to lead the way. This was one of those nights. After four big nights and as many wins, the offense was sluggish Saturday night. The Phillies needed their pitching to carry them and it didn’t happen. The result was a 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres and the end of a four-game winning streak. The Phillies, who are a game out of the second NL wild-card spot, have not won five in a row all season.

Zach Eflin, back in the rotation after a three-week demotion to the bullpen, showed a change in pitching style and opened the game with three shutout innings. He even had a base hit in the second inning to help the Phils build a 3-0 lead.

But Eflin could not hold that lead in the fourth inning and he lost it in a rather disturbing way: He gave up three two-out runs after twice being one strike away from getting out of the inning.

“Horrible,” Eflin said. “I did a bad job of putting guys away in two-strike situations.”

With two outs in the fourth and a man on first base, Eflin was ahead of the opposing pitcher, Dinelson Lamet, 0-2. He ended up allowing a full-count hit to extend the inning. Manuel Margot then had an RBI single on an 0-2 pitch before Josh Naylor tied the game with a two-run double on a 1-2 pitch.

“They were big,” manager Gabe Kapler said of those killer two-strike hits. “We want to be able to put people away whenever we can. It’s difficult. We want to execute pitches in those situations and give ourselves a chance to stay in the ballgame.”

Eflin did not make it out of the fourth inning. Nick Pivetta gave up two runs in the fifth and took the loss.

The Phillies’ bats produced just six hits after getting 35 the previous three nights.

Eflin has always been a guy who likes to throw his sinker and get early contact. For much of this season, however, he’s thrown a high percentage of four-seam fastballs. Team officials stress that pitch, executed up in the zone, to get swing and misses and counteract hitters who look to launch the ball and Eflin has had some success with that style of pitching this season.

But July was a tough month for Eflin. He had trouble getting through the middle innings, was hit hard and eventually demoted to the bullpen. He threw no more than 12 percent sinkers in any of his final four starts before being sent to the bullpen in late July. He moved back to the rotation after Jake Arrieta’s injury and threw 37 percent sinkers Saturday night.

Though he did not pitch deep into the game, Eflin wants to continue to feature his sinker in upcoming starts.

“We’ll have a discussion about it, but I see no reason why I shouldn’t throw more sinkers,” Eflin said. “Especially if I’m trying to go deep into games.

“I don’t care about swing and misses. I care about outs and going as deep as I can in games and putting the team in the best possible chance to win the game. I think swing and misses are a plus when you can do it. I’m not saying they’re not important, but I think it’s definitely more important to get guys out with fewer pitches as opposed to just going for the swing and miss every single pitch. It also takes a toll on your body so for me it’s more important to stay in the game as long as I can, get weak contact and when a guy is on first base get a double play. And there’s always going to be an opportunity for swing and miss.”

With Arrieta out, Eflin knows he’s important. He has a lot of talent. He was the Phillies’ best pitcher over the first two months of the season. He pitched two complete games in a span of three starts from April 28 to May 11. It’s in there and the Phillies need it to come out more than ever now. Maybe featuring his bread-and-butter sinker will help. Time will tell.

“It’s my job to come in and fill a role and put up zeroes and put the team in the best position to win, so I’m really looking forward to building my pitch count up and feeling like a starter again,” Eflin said.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Phillies don't get enough from Zach Eflin, offense as winning streak ends in loss to Padres

Phillies don't get enough from Zach Eflin, offense as winning streak ends in loss to Padres

The Phillies’ winning streak was stopped at four games in a 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night. The Phillies have not won five straight games all season.

Right-hander Zach Eflin returned to the rotation and could not hold a 3-0 lead. He twice was one strike away from getting out of the fourth inning, but allowed a pair of hits after being up 0-2 in the count and that led to three San Diego runs, and the Padres pulled ahead with a couple of runs against ineffective Nick Pivetta in the fifth.

The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the second on doubles by Jean Segura and Scott Kingery and a single by Eflin. Smokin’ hot J.T. Realmuto homered in the third. But the Phils did not score after that as San Diego right-hander Dinelson Lamet delivered six innings of three-run ball.

The loss dropped the Phillies to a game out of the second wild-card spot in the National League. The Phils are 64-59.

Eflin’s night

Eflin was the Phillies’ most consistent starter over the first two months of the season and their least consistent in July. That led to his being moved to the bullpen for three weeks.

Jake Arrieta’s season-ending elbow injury forced the Phillies to put Eflin back in the rotation and he did not fare all that well in his first start since July 27.

Eflin pitched scoreless ball for the first three innings and enjoyed a 3-0 lead but could not get out of the fourth inning and allowed three runs.

Trouble putting hitters away

All of the Padres’ runs in the third inning came with two outs. Eflin had Lamet, the opposing pitcher, down 0-2 in the count and could not put him away. Lamet kept the inning alive with a full-count single on a four-seam fastball. Eflin then had Manuel Margot, 0-2, and gave up an RBI single. He then gave up a two-run double to Josh Naylor on a 2-2 four-seamer. Eflin had been ahead in that count, 1-2, but could not put Naylor away.

Second time not a charm

It was not surprising to see Eflin open with three scoreless frames. Entering the game, he’d held opposing hitters to a .213 batting average the first time through the order. Opponents had been hitting .363 the second time through. Clearly, opposing hitters are getting better looks at Eflin as the game goes on. Eflin has not pitched more than four innings in four of his last five starts. He hit a wall in the fourth inning on July 20 in Pittsburgh and left that game after four innings with “heavy legs.” Eflin is going to have to figure out a way to build more endurance over the winter. In the meantime, he needs to pitch deeper into games the remainder of this season because the Phils are thin on starting pitching and innings in their rotation and he has too much talent to be such a middling starter.

Different approach

Eflin threw 73 pitches, including 27 sinkers. That 37 percent mark was his highest of the season. He’d really de-emphasized the pitch recently, but featured it often in this one and had some success with it in the first three innings.

Eflin allowed seven hits in 3 2/3 innings only got one swing and miss in 73 pitches.

Offense slows down

After 35 hits and 26 runs in the previous three games, all with Charlie Manuel in the dugout as hitting coach, the Phils were held to just six hits.

Rhys Hoskins returned to the starting lineup -- he did not start Friday because of a sore hand – and went 0 for 3. He is 6 for 57 (.105) in his last 17 games.

Bryce Harper proved human by going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

Realmuto stayed hot. He has eight homers and 21 RBIs in his last 22 games. 

Up next

The two teams meet again in the series finale Sunday afternoon. Jason Vargas (6-6, 4.03) opposes Joey Lucchesi (7-7, 4.25) in a matchup of lefties.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies