The Phillies had the guy they wanted on the mound Friday night, but so, too, did the Cincinnati Reds.
Right-hander Tyler Mahle became the Reds’ first 10-game winner this season when he out-pitched Phillies ace Zack Wheeler in front of 26,074 at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies’ 6-1 loss dropped them into a first-place tie with the Atlanta Braves in the tight NL East. The New York Mets are a half-game back.
Wheeler surrendered a pair of home runs, including a three-run shot to Joey Votto in the fourth inning. The right-hander was unable to build on his two-hit, 11-strikeout shutout of the Mets five days earlier.
“I didn’t feel good all day, physically fine, but just a little out of whack,” Wheeler said. “It’s probably the worst I’ve thrown the ball in a really long time.”
Wheeler leads the majors with 162 innings. He said he was not fatigued and would attempt to correct whatever caused him to be out of whack in his next bullpen session. With Monday’s off day, he will get an extra day of rest before his next start.
“Sometimes you can feel fine, but your arm might be a little slow,” he said. “Just out of whack. If I knew I’d tell you.”
While Wheeler was out of whack, Mahle lowered his season ERA to 3.58 with seven shutout innings. He gave up just three hits, walked none and struck out seven.
The Phillies’ offense was nonexistent. They had just five hits. Three of them were singles and one of them was an infield hit.
Since the eight-game winning streak that vaulted them into first place, the Phillies are 1-3 against the Dodgers and Reds. They have scored a total of five runs in the four games, been shut out in one of them and held to one run in another. They have just 22 hits over the four games and only four for extra bases.
Frustration may be setting in for the Phillies. Bryce Harper was ejected by home plate umpire Ramon De Jesus in the ninth inning.
“We’re just not hitting right now,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We’ve got to get going, obviously. We’ve got some guys struggling a little bit. Tomorrow is a new day.”
The Phillies need a win Saturday afternoon to have a chance to win the series. Lefty Matt Moore, who has a 6.79 ERA in 50 1/3 innings this season, will start for the Phillies, who have scuffled to fill the fifth spot in their rotation since Zach Eflin went on the injured list with right knee tendinitis after his July 16 start.
Wheeler really had just one bad inning and that started with some poor defense. He allowed just six base runners in six innings, but four of them were in the fourth inning and three came home on Votto’s 26th homer.
Wheeler blamed himself for the homer. He threw back-to-back cutters to Votto.
“He’s such a good hitter, it was probably a mistake to do that,” the pitcher said. “I need better pitch selection there.”
Defense hurt Wheeler in the inning as first baseman Brad Miller, filling in for injured Rhys Hoskins, was slow making a play on a no-outs ground ball by Tyler Naquin. Miller chose not to flip to Wheeler and Naquin won the race to the bag for an infield hit. Wheeler hit the next batter, Nick Castellanos, with a pitch, setting the table for Votto’s homer.
Wheeler retired the Reds in order in the fifth before giving up a solo homer to Castellanos on a hanging slider in the sixth.
Entering the game, Wheeler had given up just 10 homers. A span of 19 starts had passed since he allowed more than one homer in a game. He gave up three to San Francisco on April 20.
The Reds played without one of their best hitters. Jesse Winker, hitting .309 with 24 homers and 71 RBIs, was a late scratch with back stiffness. His mates more than picked up the slack in laying a beating on the Phillies.