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."

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies (15-27) vs. Rockies (29-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies were supposed to take a step forward in 2017. Pete Mackanin went out on a limb when he said before the season that he thought they could be close to a .500 team, and so far they've fallen well short of that expectation.

At 15-27, the Phillies are on pace to go 58-104, an even worse record than 2015, the year of Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, etc.

They hope to stop the profuse bleeding tonight against the Rockies, who can't lose on the road lately.

1. Franco and Saunders sit
Looking for some more offense, or just a different approach, Mackanin is sitting Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders tonight in favor of Andres Blanco and Ty Kelly (see lineup).

Franco has actually been hitting a bit more in May, picking up a hit in nine straight games before going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Monday. Still, he's hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage, and his .657 OPS is 27 percent below the league average.

Saunders just hasn't done much with the Phillies. He's hitting .227/.273/.383 with four homers and 15 RBIs, and he's struck out 35 times in 150 plate appearances. Two of those four homers came in games that were already decided.

It's a rare start for Blanco, just his fifth of the season. Coming mostly off the bench the last four seasons, he's been a consistent hitter for the Phillies, batting .270/.333/.449 with 43 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs in 559 plate appearances, essentially a full season's worth.

2. Eflin's turn
Mackanin's hope is that with Aaron Nola back from the DL, Jeremy Hellickson appearing to turn a corner and Zach Eflin giving the Phils some consistent innings, the starting rotation can get into a groove, thus helping out the bullpen and giving the Phillies a chance to win more close games the way they did in 2016.

Jerad Eickhoff was just OK last night, allowing four runs in six innings as he dropped to 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA. A quality start tonight from Eflin against a strong Rockies lineup would go a long way because the Phillies really need more than half of their rotation to be clicking right now.

Eflin was rocked his last start in Texas, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and two walks over four innings. It caused his ERA to rise from 2.81 to 4.25 and his WHIP from 1.00 to 1.25.

As is usually the case when Eflin doesn't pitch well, he just wasn't getting his sinker low enough in the zone. He had induced 40 groundballs over his previous three starts before picking up just eight against the Rangers. 

An interesting note on Eflin is that he's struck out just five of the 70 right-handed hitters he's faced compared to 13 of the 85 lefties he's seen. Righties have hit .323 off him with a .798 OPS compared to .250 with a .715 OPS from lefties.

Current Rockies are 3 for 16 off Eflin with just one extra-base hit. He faced Colorado last season at Coors Field and gave up just two runs over six innings.

3. An unlikely start
Unlike most seasons, the Rockies are pitching well and winning on the road. Colorado has gotten off to hot starts almost every year the last five, but it's usually fueled by an unsustainably hot offense. 

Hasn't been the case in 2017. The Rockies are middle of the pack with a 4.29 ERA, a half-run lower than the Phillies. And away from Coors Field, they have a 3.45 ERA, the second-lowest road ERA for any team behind the Diamondbacks.

The run has been credited to a young starting staff that has been missing projected No. 1 Jon Gray. We saw former first-round pick Jeff Hoffman dominate the Phillies last night (seven innings, three hits, one run, seven strikeouts) and tonight the Phils face 22-year-old German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

One of the biggest difference-makers for the Rockies in 2017 has been closer Greg Holland, who signed a prove-it deal with Colorado coming off a major injury. He has 19 saves and a 0.96 ERA in 20 appearances and has earned himself a whole of money this winter.

4. The book on Marquez 
The Rockies acquired Marquez along with left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the January 2016 trade that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays, where he's thrived.

Marquez made just a handful of appearances in the majors last season but has been solid for the Rockies in five starts so far this year. 

He throws pretty much all four-seam fastballs (65 percent) and curveballs (24 percent), with his heater averaging 95.1 mph. He'll also mix in a few changeups to lefties and cutters.

In two starts away from Coors Field, Marquez has allowed just one run in 11 innings with 11 strikeouts. He's kept the ball in the park in four of five starts.

5. This and that
• Good to see Aaron Altherr pick up two doubles last night. He was 6 for his previous 33.

• Tommy Joseph in May: .345/.418/.707, six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs. 

• Since beginning the season on an eight-game hitting streak, Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP, six walks and 35 strikeouts.

• Daniel Nava was placed on the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. LHP Adam Morgan was recalled again from Triple A to take his place on the active roster.