Jake Arrieta was good for four innings on Friday night. But four innings isn’t going to cut it for a team desperately trying to stay in a playoff race despite holes in its starting rotation and bullpen.
The Phillies came home Friday night on the heels of four wins in five games against of pair of last-place clubs, Pittsburgh and Detroit. The road trip gave the Phils a little momentum and a little optimism entering their three-game series against the Altanta Braves. By the middle innings, the momentum and the optimism were gone. The NL East-leading Braves handed the Phillies a 9-2 loss to increase their lead over Phils to 6 ½ games.
“I think the Braves just got more big hits than us and made more pitches than us,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It's that simple. Really not more than that.”
Kapler found himself in the crosshairs of the second-guessers when he went to rookie lefty Cole Irvin with the Phils trailing 5-1 in the top of the sixth. Irvin, a starter pressed into bullpen duty, was torched for four runs as the Braves pulled away. Irvin hit the first batter of the frame, Nick Markakis, on the wrist. (Markakis is headed back to Atlanta for tests and both he and manager Brian Snitker said, “It doesn’t look good.”) Later in the inning, Irvin walked in a pair of runs and some in the crowd booed loudly while others performed an Eagles chant.
Why didn’t Kapler use a more tested reliever to keep the game close in that situation?
Where was lefty Ranger Suarez, who has been such an eye-opener lately?
Kapler said Suarez, who threw 29 pitches Sunday and 17 on Wednesday, “needed another day.”
He went on to add that he liked Irvin in that spot. Irvin had pitched two scoreless innings the previous Friday in Pittsburgh.
“Ranger needed one more day,” Kapler said. “He’s fine. He’s just getting used to bullpen usage. He just needed one more day.
“But, even so, we have a ton of confidence in Cole. He's coming off a great outing. He was the guy who was there to give us length, get us through a couple of innings. It was the right part of the lineup to get a couple of innings out of him. It just didn't work out in our favor.”
Even if Irvin had kept the game close, it would have been difficult to imagine the Phillies having enough offense to overcome a four-run deficit. Despite their good road trip, they have averaged just 2.75 runs in the last four games. They had 12 hits Friday night and just two for extra-bases. One of those, a homer by Jean Segura, came in the seventh when the Phils were down 9-1. In one of the game’s most pivotal moments, with the Phils down by four runs in the bottom of the fifth, J.T. Realmuto grounded out weakly to second base with the bases loaded to end the inning. A big hit there might have been a game-changer.
“We had ground-ball singles,” Kapler said. “We weren't able to effectively solve (Braves starter Mike) Soroka. He was good. We put the ball on the ground. We found some holes. We just weren't able to get the big hit. That was the difference in the game. We weren't able to come up big in the moments where we had a chance to get one big ball in the gap or the seats. We couldn't come up with that one.”
Arrieta was tagged for four runs in the fifth as the Braves took control. He walked two in the inning and gave up a homer, a double and a single. Arrieta is pitching with a bone spur in his elbow and his stuff drops off in the middle innings. When it did, the Braves feasted.
“I was pretty much in control until the fifth and then I was physically just limited and not able to do what I was doing the first four innings,” Arrieta said. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s just what I’m dealing with.
“The movement, the action, the velocity in the first four innings was about as good as it’s been all year. And then it flips. It’s frustrating because that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the majority of the season. It’s not a good feeling.”
Is Arrieta re-thinking his desire to pitch through the ailment?
“I don’t want to stop,” he said. “The way the first four innings went, movement was great, command was really nice. It’s just frustrating that it compounded so quick. There’s nothing that I can really do about it.”
The Phils will send another question-mark pitcher to the mound on Saturday night. Zach Eflin complained of his body feeling heavy after lasting just four innings in his last start.
The trade deadline is Wednesday. This team needs to add pitching. But it also needs the pitching it has to step up.
“We just have to win games,” Arrieta said. “It’s easy to look outside of the clubhouse for solutions. I think we have more than enough talent to make it happen with the guys we have.”
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