Daniel Nava's power trumped by Clay Buchholz's struggles in Phillies' loss to Reds

Daniel Nava's power trumped by Clay Buchholz's struggles in Phillies' loss to Reds

BOX SCORE

CINCINNATI -- Well, at least they didn't get swept.

A year ago, the Phillies opened their season in this very same Great American Ball Park against these very same Cincinnati Reds and were swept in a three-game series. The Phillies' bullpen imploded in a couple of those games.

This year, the Phillies won their season opener on the strength of seven extra-base hits, a good start from Jeremy Hellickson and some tidy bullpen work from Joaquin Benoit, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris.

The Phils had a great chance to win the second game of the series on Wednesday, but came up losers when Jerad Eickhoff pitched well only to receive zero run support.

And that brings us to Thursday's series finale.

The Phils jumped out to an early three-run lead on the strength of a pair of homers by Daniel Nava. There's nothing wrong with two out of three, right? Only one problem. It didn't happen. Starter Clay Buchholz could not protect that early lead and reliever Adam Morgan could not keep the game close (see Instant Replay).

The result: A dispiriting 7-4 loss to the Reds, a team that tied for the worst record in the National League last year and one that might make a run at that distinction again this season, and a 1-2 record heading home to take on the Washington Nationals, a team built to make a run at the World Series this season. If that's not enough, the Phils will face last year's NL Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, on Friday. He is 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 career starts against the Phillies and 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA in five starts at Citizens Bank Park.

Happy home opener, gang!

"I'm glad to be going back home to Philly to see if we can stir it up over there," manager Pete Mackanin said after Thursday's loss. "I think about last year, starting the season 0-4 and getting swept here. At least we managed to salvage one here. We could have won three. We're going to go home and start all over."

Scherzer led the majors with 284 strikeouts last season. Phillies hitters struck out 25 times in losing the final two games of the series to Cincinnati.

The math doesn't look good.

"We're striking out too much," Mackanin said. "And I don't think we're striking out because of that third strike. I think we're getting pitches to hit early in the count and we're fouling them off for whatever reason. We just don't seem to be making good contact on the pitches we should be hitting. So, you know, it's early in the season. We just have to go home and do a little better."

Buchholz joined the Phillies in a December salary-dump trade with the Red Sox. The Phils were happy to take on the veteran right-hander's $13 million salary with the hope that he'd pitch well for a few months and they'd be able to get value for him at the trade deadline.

Buchholz's first start with the Phils didn't help his value. Featuring a fastball that averaged just 90 mph, he allowed nine base runners in five innings. He gave up a run in the second and three in the fourth as an early 4-1 lead evaporated. In that fourth inning, he allowed four straight batters to reach base on three singles and a walk.

"They hit a couple of good pitches," Buchholz said. "I missed with a couple of pitches that got hit as well. That's part of it. You have to minimize the damage when it comes to that and not give up three runs."

Mackanin removed Buchholz after five innings and 77 pitches with the score tied at 4-4.

"I didn't want him to go out there for another inning because it looked like they were sitting on pitches," the manager said.

Morgan made his season debut in the sixth and surrendered a tie-breaking homer to pinch-hitter Michael Lorenzen, who the night before came out of the Reds' bullpen and got three big outs for his team. Lorenzen was a pitcher/outfielder at Cal State Fullerton and offers the Reds a dangerous pinch-hitter on days he's not available to throw.

Lorenzen's two-out homer in the sixth came on a 3-1 fastball.

"We knew he was a good hitter," Mackanin said. "[Morgan] got behind and had to throw a strike. We knew the guy could hit."

Said Morgan: "It never sits well when you give up a home run. I kind of did it to myself by falling behind."

An inning after Lorenzen broke the tie, Adam Duvall put the game out of reach with a two-run homer against Morgan.

The Phils drove Cincinnati starter Rookie Davis from the game after three innings and had a chance to make hay when they got the first two men on base in both the fifth and sixth innings. Both times the threats ended quickly with a pair of double plays and a base-running mistake short-circuiting things.

"The fifth and sixth innings, we should have scored," Mackanin said with a sigh.

He mentioned Nava's two home runs, a solo shot in the first and a two-run blow in the third.

"What a performance he had," Mackanin said. "It's a shame we couldn't have won that game."

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola is a quiet, low-key Southern gentleman. Outward displays of emotion are not his thing.

But Nola made an exception Tuesday night.

After Maikel Franco made the play of the game to get Nola out of a jam in the seventh inning, the pitcher approached the third baseman in the dugout and …

"I gave him a hug," Nola said with a smile.

Franco's glove — and his bat — helped make a winner out of Nola and the Phillies as they rallied to beat the Seattle Mariners, 8-2, at Safeco Field (see Instant Replay).

"The game is about making pitches when they count, getting key hits and making good plays like that to help your pitcher out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We had a little bit of everything tonight. It was a lot of fun tonight."

Mackanin hasn't been able to say that a lot this season, particularly on the road where the Phillies have now won just 11 times in 42 games.

The Phillies came into this series in Seattle having lost three straight in Arizona and scoring just four runs in those losses. Then they were no-hit over the first four innings Tuesday night by Mariners lefty James Paxton.

The Mariners led, 2-0, thanks to a two-run homer by Jean Segura against Nola in the third. Franco led off the fifth with the Phillies' first hit, a double to right against Paxton, and that started a game-tying, two-run rally that featured two hits, a walk and two sacrifice flies.

The game turned for good in the seventh inning. Franco led off the frame with a solo home run — reliever Luis Garcia, one of Franco's best pals, caught the ball in his cap in the bullpen — to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead.

Nola survived a couple of jams early in the game then faced another big one in the bottom of the seventh inning. He gave up a pair of one-out singles before striking out Mike Zunino for the second out in the seventh. The strikeout, Nola's ninth of the game, came on his 112th pitch, the most of his career, and Mackanin quickly popped out of the dugout and walked briskly to the mound. Segura, who had taken Nola deep in the third inning, was due up. Was Mackanin going to take Nola out?

No.

"I just wanted to let him know that this was his game," Mackanin said. "He pitched so well up to that point, I wanted him to know it was his game, finish it for us."

Nola thought there was a chance Mackanin was coming to take him out.

"But once he asked how I felt, I knew I wasn't out," Nola said. "I told him I felt good and thought I could finish the inning."

Nola threw one more pitch. Segura hit it hard down the third-base line, but Franco laid out, made a diving stab and threw across the diamond for the third out. If Franco doesn't make the play, the game is tied and Nola doesn't get a win.

That's why Franco got a hug.

"Segura put a pretty decent swing on that curveball and Mikey made a heck of a play," Nola said. "He also hit a big home run. It was a good team win."

Franco might have the bubbliest personality in the clubhouse, but he hasn't had many opportunities to show it. There's been a lot of losing this season and his play has been inconsistent.

But Franco was able to enjoy this one.

"I don't know how I made that play," he said with a laugh. "That's the little things that win ballgames. Bottom of the seventh, two outs. It was a big play and I'm glad for me and I'm glad for Nola. He did a good job."

And how about that hug?

"Oh, yeah," Franco said with a smile. "He said, 'Nice play, that's a sick play.'"

With two important extra-base hits and a game-saving defensive play, Franco once again showed how special he could be if he could add consistency to his game.

"I keep waiting for it and it's good to see little by little," Mackanin said. "I'd like to see him do it more often. He's capable of it. We've seen him do it in the past."

The Phillies got some good relief work from Joaquin Benoit then blew the game open in the eighth and ninth innings against the Seattle bullpen. Aaron Altherr hit a two-run homer and Freddy Galvis drove in a pair of runs with a pair of singles.

Galvis voiced his frustration with all the losing on Monday and urged his teammates to show more effort (see story). He backed up his words with three hits.

Timely hitting, clutch defense, good relief work and, of course, a second straight strong start from Nola.

We haven't been able to say it often this season, but this was a good win.

"When that starter gives you seven innings, it makes it a little easier," Mackanin said. "Nola made pitches when he had to. He really kept us in the game."

And Franco did the rest.

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola pitched well and Maikel Franco came up huge with his bat and his glove in leading the Phillies to an 8-2 win over the Seattle Mariners in an interleague game on Tuesday night.

Nola won his second straight start to improve to 5-5.

Franco gave Nola a 3-2 lead with a tiebreaking, leadoff homer in the top of the seventh then preserved the lead with a sensational diving play to end the bottom of the inning.

Freddy Galvis had three singles and drove in two important runs late in the game.

The win was just the Phillies' 11th in 42 games on the road this season. They are 25-51 overall.

Starting pitching report
Nola reached a career-high of 113 pitches over seven gutsy innings. He gave up five hits and two runs and got a bunch of big outs with men on base. He walked four and struck out nine.

Nola got out of jams with two men on base three times, including in the bottom of the seventh when he preserved a one-run lead by striking out Mike Zunino and getting Jean Segura on a groundball to third. Franco made a tremendous diving play on the ball to end the inning and prevent the tying run from scoring.

Nola has won two straight starts. He has pitched 14 1/3 innings over that span, allowed just three runs and racked up 17 strikeouts.

Lefty James Paxton did not give up a hit until the fifth inning. He allowed three runs in seven innings of work. He gave up Franco's go-ahead homer.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning to preserve a two-run lead.

The Seattle bullpen allowed five runs in two innings.

At the plate
Franco ignited a game-tying, two-run rally in the top of the fifth. He led off that inning with a double, the Phillies' first hit. Cameron Perkins followed with an infield hit and Cameron Rupp drew a walk. The Phillies then scored a pair of runs on consecutive sacrifice fly balls by Ty Kelly and Daniel Nava. Galvis followed with a single and third base coach Juan Samuel got a little too aggressive in sending Rupp from second base. Rupp was cut down at the plate.

Franco's go-ahead homer in the seventh was his 10th of the season. Galvis pushed home an insurance run in the eighth. He followed Nava's leadoff double with an RBI single. Galvis drove home another run with a hit in the top of the ninth and Aaron Altherr put it out of reach with a two-run homer, his 13th of the season.

Segura smacked a two-run homer in the third to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead.

In the field
Franco made a diving stab on Segura's smash down the third-base line to end the seventh inning and keep the Phils up by a run.

A night off
Odubel Herrera, he of several recent miscues and lapses in concentration, did not start Tuesday night. Manager Pete Mackanin said it was a night off, not a benching. Herrera said he has to start playing smarter baseball (see story).

Health check
Jerad Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper-back strain, will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. That will help determine if he's ready to return in the coming days.

Up next
The two-game series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Rookie right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 3.60) pitches against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (3-2, 4.68). Leiter pitched six scoreless innings in his first big-league start Friday in Arizona.