LOS ANGELES – This hasn’t been an enjoyable homecoming for Phillies reliever Justin De Fratus.
The Phillies have three losses on this road trip to the West Coast and the California native has been the losing pitcher in all three.
On Saturday night, he entered a tie game in the ninth inning, faced four batters and retired just one, as the Los Angeles Dodgers rallied for a 4-3 win on A.J. Ellis’ walk-off RBI single (see Instant Replay).
De Fratus allowed the hit that gave up the lead in the seventh inning on Thursday night. On Monday night, he took the loss in the 10th inning in San Diego.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. says he’s tried to upgrade the bullpen in the wake of Mike Adams’ season-ending shoulder injury but the prices are too high and he doesn’t want to mortgage the team’s future for a seventh- or eight-inning guy. So, he’s willing to go with a young bullpen and talented but inexperienced arms like De Fratus. Someday this difficult week may pay dividends for De Fratus. But for right now, it’s hell on the 25-year-old reliever and a ballclub that’s trying to stay afloat.
“We’ve had plenty of opportunities to win games and I’ve almost single-handedly blown it in the three games I’ve been involved in,” De Fratus said.
De Fratus, a stand-up, look-you-in-the-eye-guy, beat himself up pretty good after this loss.
But he was far from the only reason the Phils lost Saturday night.
Cliff Lee made a mistake and hung a first-pitch changeup to smokin’ hot Hanley Ramirez in the first inning and Ramirez hit it halfway to Pasadena for a three-run home run.
But Lee was really good after that. He was far from the reason the Phillies lost this game.
This loss went right back to the offense.
The Phils out-hit the Dodgers, 11-6. Ah, but the Phils were a brutal 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base. De Fratus was only in a position to lose the game because the Dodgers’ sloppy outfield defense gifted the Phils the tying run in the top of the ninth.
“We had a tough time putting two hits together,” manager Charlie Manuel said.
“We had opportunities …” Lee said.
The Phils have out-hit the Dodgers, 46-18, in three games yet have just one win to show for it. That, of course, was Friday night’s freakish 16-1 victory. The Phils are 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position in the two losses to the Dodgers.
Clearly, the hits have been there. Just not enough timely ones.
Chase Utley has been the exception. He smacked two solo homers Saturday night and is 6 for 13 with three homers, four RBIs and six runs in three games.
Ryan Howard did not play for the second straight night. Manuel used him as bait to get a more favorable matchup for contact-hitting Kevin Frandsen, but Frandsen grounded out. Earlier in the inning Laynce Nix smacked a pinch-hit double that sent Delmon Young from first to third. Center fielder Matt Kemp made a bid to catch Nix’s ball at the warning track so Young had to stop briefly at second. Manuel did not use a pinch-runner for Young, but he didn’t believe anyone on his bench would have scored on the play, given Kemp’s pursuit of the ball.
The Phils tied the game with the help of two outfield gaffes in the top of the ninth. They had a chance to push across the go-ahead run when Domonic Brown tripled with two outs, but he died on third when Kenley Jansen struck out Delmon Young for the final out.
Manuel went to De Fratus over lefty Antonio Bastardo in the bottom of the inning because the Dodgers were heavy with right-handed bats. De Fratus allowed a leadoff single to Ramirez then walked left-handed hitting Andre Ethier with one out, before turning his attention to the right-handed hitting Ellis.
Ellis singled to right on a 2-2 fastball and the Dodgers danced on the diamond as De Fratus walked off dejectedly. Maybe the experience will help him someday, but Saturday night it hurt like hell, not only for De Fratus, but for a Phillies team that just cannot seem to build any momentum.