Nationals 15, Phillies 1: Nick Pivetta struggles and Phillies' offense silenced

Nationals 15, Phillies 1: Nick Pivetta struggles and Phillies' offense silenced

BOX SCORE 

The Phillies have hit their first rough patch of the new season. They were blown out, 15-1, by the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night.

The Phils have lost two in a row for the first time this season and have been outscored 24-1 over the last 14 innings. Ouch.

The Phils, who blew a 6-1 lead in a 10-inning loss to Washington on Tuesday night, were never in this one. Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta was tagged for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings.

Things got so bad for the Phillies that reserve outfielder Aaron Altherr had to pitch the ninth. He allowed a run but struck out two, flashing an 89-mph fastball.

Washington starter Jeremy Hellickson held his former club to three singles over six innings to get the win.

The Phillies are 7-4.

Washington is 6-5. The Nats have taken three of five from the Phillies this season.

The keys

• It was clear that Pivetta was in for a rough night when he needed 39 pitches to complete the first inning.

• Pivetta walked a batter with two outs in the fourth inning then gave up an infield hit to load the bases. Anthony Rendon then cleared them with a three-run double as the Nats took a 6-0 lead. Rendon is 8 for 15 with nine RBIs in his career against Pivetta.

• The Phillies’ offense was anemic. They were out-hit, 17-3.

Pivetta’s night

It was not good. He allowed seven hits and walked three. He threw 94 pitches and failed to get out of the fourth.

Much is expected from the 26-year-old right-hander this season, but so far little has been delivered. In three starts, he has been tagged for 24 hits and 14 earned runs in 13 1/3 innings. His ERA is 9.45.

Pivetta’s struggles go back to last season. He has an ERA of 6.16 in 19 starts since June 29 and he’s averaged less than five innings.

Pivetta was originally drafted by the Nationals and traded to the Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon. He is 1-5 with a 10.93 ERA in six games, five starts, against Washington.

Sights and sounds

Pivetta walked off the mound in the fourth inning to a fair of amount of boos.

Up next

The Phillies are off on Thursday. They travel to Miami for a three-game series against the rebuilding Marlins on Friday night. The Marlins are 3-9. General manager Matt Klentak warned that the Phils must approach the series with some urgency.

“I think this weekend is a little bit of a trap series for us,” he said. “I think the environment will be a little bit different and I think we really need to make sure we keep our same level of focus.”

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Juan Soto becoming a real pain for Phillies to deal with

Juan Soto becoming a real pain for Phillies to deal with

Nick Pivetta makes his third start of the season Wednesday night as the Phillies wrap things up with the Nationals.

The Phils face each division opponent 19 times this season, and 12 of their head-to-head matchups with the Nats come in their first 75 games.

When: 7:05 p.m. ET — Pregame Live starts at 6:30
Where: NBC Sports Philadelphia+ and streaming live on NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

Big start for Pivetta

There was plenty of hype surrounding Pivetta heading into the season. He had strong peripheral numbers last season and an even stronger showing in spring training. There were a couple starts in Clearwater when Pivetta's fastball touched 98 and 99 mph. 

Well, the spring radar guns may have been juiced. Pivetta's fastball averaged 95.4 mph in his first start but was down to 93.8 in his last start Friday against the Twins.

Pivetta has allowed 17 hits in 9⅔ innings. The Phillies scored 18 runs to win both games but they won't be able to do that consistently. There will be more than a few starts from Pivetta this season when the Phillies need him to deliver a quality start to have a good chance to win. Tonight, they could really use at least six innings from him.

Pivetta has just been missing spots. He's thrown 20 pitches middle-middle, middle-high or middle-low compared to just 10 from Zach Eflin. Few pitchers in the era of velocity can get away with a poorly located heater, especially when the pitcher's fastball speed is in the 93 mph range.

This Nationals team has hit Pivetta around in the past. Anthony Rendon is 6 for 12 with three homers and a double. Ryan Zimmerman is 5 for 9 with a homer and a double. Juan Soto is 3 for 7 with a homer and a walk.

Soto ... such a pain

Rendon and Soto are a nightmare for opposing pitchers. Rendon covers so much of the plate, possessing the ability to hit for a high average, hit 30 homers and uses both gaps. Soto is an incredibly disciplined hitter, not just for a 20-year-old but for a major-leaguer, period.

Aaron Nola has had problems getting through the 3-4 spots in the Nats' order. He won't be the only pitcher to experience those pains this season. 

Then there's Victor Robles, who is certainly too talented to stay in the nine-hole for much longer. With his hot bat there, it gives a team one more thing to worry about at the bottom of the order.

Realmuto heating up

J.T. Realmuto singled three times on Tuesday night to raise his batting line to .257/.357/.371. The power hasn't yet surfaced but the Phillies are confident it will. The hope is that Realmuto heats up while Rhys Hoskins is still seeing the ball as well as he is right now, giving the Phillies an even more potent 1 through 5.

In his customary eight-spot, Maikel Franco had another strong night at the plate Tuesday, going 2 for 5 with a 426-foot home run and a laced single up the middle off Stephen Strasburg, then a 395-foot flyout to the center field wall a few innings later. Good to see him have a quality night at the plate after going 0 for 4 with a few weak at-bats the previous night.

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Tuesday night collapse leaves Phillies fans asking the same question they asked all offseason

Tuesday night collapse leaves Phillies fans asking the same question they asked all offseason

What started out as another promising night at the yard for the Phillies eventually morphed into a game that left many wondering, again, if they have enough pitching.

Aaron Nola took a four-run lead into the seventh inning against the Nationals and had pitched well, allowing lone runs in the first and sixth, when Washington began to claw its way back. 

The Phillies' infield defense had been especially impressive early, with Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco making diving plays and Jean Segura standing out twice on a bare-hand of a slow dribbler and a ball he ranged for up the middle to retire speedster Adam Eaton. But to start the seventh, Franco threw a ball into the dirt that Hoskins was unable to scoop, Yan Gomes followed with a homer, Howie Kendrick homered two batters later and Nola was pulled.

The error was costly, but it's still strange to see what's going on with Nola. Through three starts, he has a 6.46 ERA, has allowed five home runs and issued eight walks in 15⅓ innings. He has given up six and five runs in his last two starts after going 38 straight games surrendering four runs or fewer.

"I classify it as uncharacteristic and think we'll lean on two years of history that suggests this is probably not Nola," manager Gabe Kapler said after the 10-6 loss (see observations). "Certainly have to dig into why the balls are flying out of the ballpark, that's an important part of our process and we'll do that.

"(Entering the seventh) he was working a low pitch count, he was working efficiently, he was looking like Aaron Nola. He's earned a tremendous amount of my trust over the last calendar year. He earned the right to go out and continue to pitch well in that game. The error cost us, certainly."

The Phillies' bullpen, when everyone is available, can be pretty good. But Tuesday night, they didn't have everyone available. The Phillies wanted to stay away from Pat Neshek and David Robertson after using them both three times in the last four days. Both had appeared six times in the Phillies' first nine games. It is a long season and no team with postseason aspirations should burn out its top relievers this early. Kapler is far from the only manager who would exercise caution and try to get through a game with his other six relievers.

He turned to Seranthony Dominguez to finish the seventh after Nola gave up the second home run. Dominguez, for the second straight night, looked good, getting two outs on four pitches.

Kapler considered bringing Dominguez back out for the eighth inning but went with Hector Neris instead because the Phillies preferred Neris' splitter against the heart of the Nats' order. It took Neris 30 pitches, 26 of which were splitters, but he did get through that eighth inning unscathed.

The other issue with bringing Dominguez out for a second inning was his ineffectiveness in those situations last season. When the Phillies trotted Dominguez out for a second inning last year, he often was not the same pitcher he was an inning prior.

The Phillies' plan was to try to use Neris for more than one inning but that obviously changed when he needed 30 pitches to complete the eighth. That left Kapler to choose between Edubray Ramos, Juan Nicasio and situational lefty Jose Alvarez to face the bottom of the Nats' order in the ninth. He went with Ramos, who came within one strike of saving the game and sending the fans home happy. If Ramos executes one more pitch to Victor Robles, none of these questions surface, at least not as loudly as they did Tuesday night when Phillies fans at the park and on the internet made pleas again for the team to sign Craig Kimbrel.

"Would we have liked to have a full bullpen? Absolutely," Kapler said.

"It was a grind to get through, just like it's a grind for them to get through our lineup."

That was the aspect of Tuesday's game that may go overlooked. The Phillies, once again, chased a very good pitcher early. Stephen Strasburg lasted all of four innings, needing 63 pitches to get through the third and fourth. He was taken deep by Bryce Harper and Maikel Franco and allowed a two-run triple to Jean Segura.

The Phillies couldn't hang on, so the story wasn't the offense but the pitching. Can Nola revert to ace form? Do the Phillies have enough relief pitching? Have they fortified their roster enough to protect the leads the offense provides?

These are questions that can't be answered on April 10 but will be answered as the grind of a 162-game season wears on. Good teams blow leads. Great teams hang on to them with a bit more frequency. The Phillies protected one-run leads on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday night, they fell one pitch short.

They can still earn a series win over the Nationals Wednesday night when Nick Pivetta opposes Jeremy Hellickson.

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