Zach Eflin

What gives with this Phillies offense that was supposed to be among the league's best?

What gives with this Phillies offense that was supposed to be among the league's best?

With Bryce Harper out of the Phillies' lineup for the first time all season, the Phillies had their weakest offensive performance of the season, mustering just three baserunners — two singles and a double — in a 2-0 loss to the Diamondbacks (see observations).

The Phillies' loss, coupled with the Braves’ 8-7 win in 11 innings, put Atlanta a game ahead and in sole possession first place for the first time all season.

The Phillies were careful, at least outwardly, about looking past the D-backs to the Braves and this weekend's divisional showdown. On Wednesday, they failed to solve 30-year-old right-hander Merrill Kelly, who has allowed just two runs over his last 22⅓ innings.

The lack of offense wasted Zach Eflin's eight-inning gem, which was filled with weak contact and saw Eflin match his career high with nine strikeouts.

Eflin is a mild-mannered guy who doesn't get very high after a good start. He showed a little fire, though, talking after the game about the Phillies' recent stretch of below-average baseball. They've lost eight of 13.

"It's all about how you respond to it," he said. "How much does it piss you off, how much does it make you wanna go out and kick someone's ass? We're gonna be just fine. Just one of those rough patches every team goes through."

The Phillies have fallen short of expectations at the plate this season. They've been a middle-of-the-pack offense, ranking 15th in the majors in runs scored. They rank 20th in home runs and 18th in slugging percentage. This was believed to be one of the majors' deepest lineups, but to this point, it hasn't played out that way.

An interesting exercise is to ask yourself who the Phillies' best hitter has been this season. It's not an easy answer. There's been solid play from guys like Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Harper, but none that really jumps off the page.

"I think we're going to hit home runs," manager Gabe Kapler said after the loss. "I guess if you just look at a third of the season, would I have expected that's where we'd rank? Probably not. Do I expect us to rank there at the end of the season? I don't. I think we have power up and down the lineup. We have guys who have a history of hitting home runs. I expect that trend to continue.

"I think we have better baseball in us than this recent stretch of games. We have more consistent baseball in us than this recent stretch of games. We have to play better in order to beat teams like the Braves and the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. These are very good teams."

Realmuto took this one hard, that the Phillies couldn't support a pitcher who was dealing the way Eflin was. Eflin has been the Phillies' best and most consistent starting pitcher this season but the Phils have scored a grand total of 10 runs in his last five starts, which won't win any pitcher many games.

"It's more frustrating from an offensive standpoint when you've got a guy battling like that on the mound and we weren't able to do anything for him and put any runs across the board," Realmuto said. "I can't say enough about the way he pitched today so it's definitely frustrating when they do get a couple runs and it's on weak contact like that. It happens. It's just baseball."

Kapler has some things to figure out atop the lineup. Cesar Hernandez is not effective right now out of the leadoff spot. He is 5 for 50 over his last 13 games and has a .222 OBP since replacing Andrew McCutchen in the leadoff spot.

Kapler acknowledged postgame that a little shakeup is under consideration. It could involve Roman Quinn, who is likely to be activated this weekend in Atlanta.

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Diamondbacks 2, Phillies 0: Phillies waste impressive performance by Zach Eflin

Diamondbacks 2, Phillies 0: Phillies waste impressive performance by Zach Eflin

BOX SCORE

Zach Eflin pitched one of the best games all season from a Phillies starter but received no run support in a 2-0 loss to the Diamondbacks.

The D-backs' only runs came across in the fifth inning on three straight softly hit bloop singles and a sacrifice fly. Eflin was in complete control the entire night, inducing two inning-ending double plays and a ton of soft contact. He retired the first nine batters of the game and worked efficiently all night, throwing just 82 pitches over eight innings.

Unfortunately for him, Merrill Kelly was even better. The Arizona right-hander pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings, put only three men on base and struck out five. It was his third consecutive start of at least seven innings and no more than one run allowed.

The Phillies had just three hits, two from Nick Williams, who doubled and singled. The other was an infield single by J.T. Realmuto.

Williams started in right field for Bryce Harper, who was out of the Phillies' lineup for the first time all season (see story). Harper pinch-hit with two outs and the bases empty in the eighth inning and lined out to center off D-backs lefty reliever Andrew Chafin.

Thursday is the Phils' only off day until July 1, and then they're in Atlanta for three big games against the Braves.

This series loss to the Diamondbacks was the Phillies' first at home since May 13-16 against the Brewers.

At 2 hours, 16 minutes, it was the fastest Phillies game of the season.

More on Eflin

Eflin took advantage of the D-backs' free-swinging ways to strike out eight and get six more outs on the ground. Even the balls to the outfield were cans of corn.

The outing lowered his ERA to 2.81. The only thing that kept him from going complete was the Phillies' need for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth.

Eflin had that surprisingly poor outing on April 13 in Miami. In his other 12 starts, he has a 2.25 ERA. He's been the Phillies' best starting pitcher this season by far.

Slumping Cesar

Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 50 over his last 13 games and has a .222 on-base percentage since replacing Andrew McCutchen in the leadoff spot. Hernandez is every bit as cold in June as he was hot in May.

The Phillies don't have many great options out of the leadoff spot. Scott Kingery has been hitting of late but moving him to the leadoff spot could cause him to alter his approach, which is the last thing you'd want right now. It's not the same as moving up from seventh to sixth or sixth to fifth. Out of the leadoff spot, a hitter's approach can change even subconsciously as he tries to do the things he thinks a leadoff man should, like take pitches. That is not Kingery's game.

Roman Quinn could be an option in the leadoff spot when he's ready to return, which will likely be this weekend in Atlanta. Quinn wasn't hitting at the time of his groin injury, but he has since given up switch-hitting and is just in a different frame of mind. Don't be surprised if he's much more productive upon his return.

Injury updates

Quinn (groin) and Pat Neshek (shoulder) could return in the Braves series.

Adam Morgan (flexor strain) could be back late next week as long as the two bullpen sessions he's scheduled for these next four days go well.

Tommy Hunter (flexor strain) shouldn't be too far behind, and David Robertson (elbow) played catch Tuesday for the first time since going on the IL two months ago.

Up next

After Thursday's off day, the Phillies open an important three-game series in Atlanta against a Braves team that has won 20 of 29.

Friday night at 7:20 — Nick Pivetta (4-1, 4.93) vs. LHP Max Fried (7-3, 3.75)

Saturday night at 7:20 — Aaron Nola (6-1, 4.58) vs. TBA

Sunday afternoon at 1:20 — TBA vs. Mike Foltynewicz (1-5, 6.02)

The Phillies have not decided yet whether Sunday's start will go to Cole Irvin, Enyel De Los Santos or an opener.

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Phillies 4, Reds 2: Jay Bruce stays red-hot, Zach Eflin makes strong return from IL

Phillies 4, Reds 2: Jay Bruce stays red-hot, Zach Eflin makes strong return from IL

BOX SCORE 

The Phillies returned home after a difficult West Coast trip and scored a 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night. The Phils, who went 2-4 in six games at Los Angeles and San Diego, maintained their two-game lead on second-place Atlanta in the NL East. They are 36-27 overall and 21-11 at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils took control with three runs in the fifth inning. Newcomer Jay Bruce continued his torrid hitting with a two-run homer in that inning. Scott Kingery followed Bruce with a base hit and scored on a throwing error. The Phils added another unearned run in the bottom of the eighth.

The keys

• Zach Eflin returned after a brief stay on the injured list (sore back) and delivered a good one.

• What more can you say about Bruce? He is the first Phillie in the modern era — since 1920 — to belt four homers in his first four games with the club. Hat tip: Elias Sports Bureau. He has nine RBIs with the Phils.

•The Reds played poor defense and the Phillies capitalized for two unearned runs.

• The bullpen came up huge with 4 1/3 scoreless innings in Wednesday’s win at San Diego. The ‘pen delivered another good performance in this one. Jose Alvarez got two outs and Vince Velasquez and Hector Neris got three each to protect a one-run lead.

With Seranthony Dominguez out, Velasquez was called upon to pitch the eighth. It was his most pressurized outing since going to the bullpen two weeks ago and he delivered with a ground out and two strikeouts. His fastball reached 96.8 mph.

Neris is 13 for 13 in save chances. The crowd of 32,058 stood on its feet and clapped rhythmically as Neris struck out Eugenio Suarez with two men on base for the final out.

Eflin’s night

He was very good. He pitched 6 1/3 innings and allowed just four hits and two runs. One was unearned. Two of the four walks he issued were intentional and he struck out six. He did not let a first-inning homer by Joey Votto get him off course.

Haseley out

The Phillies are committed to giving rookie Adam Haseley a look in center field. In fact, he was slated to start his third straight game at the position, but was held out as a precaution because of a sore hip. That meant Scott Kingery started in center field and Maikel Franco at third base. Franco’s playing time has shrunk recently because of his prolonged slump and Kingery’s success.

More bad news in the bullpen

Dominguez is down and likely out for a while. He has an elbow injury that GM Matt Klentak very openly said could require Tommy John surgery (see story).

Up next

The series continues Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. Nick Pivetta (3-1, 6.14) pitches against right-hander Sonny Gray (2-5, 3.54).

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