Phillies' bullpen can't hold Aaron Nola's lead in 3-2 loss to Nationals

Phillies' bullpen can't hold Aaron Nola's lead in 3-2 loss to Nationals


WASHINGTON -- When Aaron Nola pitched against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park last week, his team scored 17 runs. An offensive output like that allows a club to sweep a lot of problems under the rug.

Nola returned to the mound against that same Nationals team on Friday and this time runs were scarce. With no margin for error, the Phillies suffered a 3-2 loss in 10 innings (see Instant Replay).

It was their fourth straight loss as they fell to 3-7.

The Nats won it when their lethal mid-order tandem of Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy struck for a single and an RBI double to open the bottom of the 10th inning.

Harper finished a first-to-home dash with a headfirst dive across home plate. Both of the Nats' hits in the decisive 10th came against the beleaguered Jeanmar Gomez, who last week lost the closer's job after a ninth-inning implosion against these same Nationals.

Gomez came into a tie game in the ninth and pitched a scoreless frame. He stayed on for the 10th and did not get an out.

"That's his job now, to give us multiple innings," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Murphy's game-winning double came on a 1-1 sinker. Murphy, hitting .444, stayed on the pitch and served it down the left-field line.

Gomez has pitched 5 1/3 innings this season and given up seven runs. His confidence appears to be badly wounded. Now the challenge is finding a role where he can rebuild it.

Nola had a nice start. His pitches had some pop and movement and his breaking ball was sharp. However, he was not economical with his pitches and exited after five innings with a 2-1 lead. He threw 90 pitches.

So it became a bullpen game.

Pat Neshek delivered a scoreless sixth.

Mackanin then went to Edubray Ramos for the seventh. He gave up a one-out walk to pinch-hitter Chris Heisey. Two batters later, with two outs, Anthony Rendon crushed a first-pitch fastball off the wall in right-center to push home the tying run. After walking, Heisey had moved up to second on a passed ball charged to Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp. With two outs, chances are Heisey would have scored the tying run even if he had stayed at first base.

Hector Neris pitched a scoreless eighth to keep the game tied, and, with the specter of extra innings looming, Mackanin was looking for length when he went to Gomez in the ninth.

"It's all about handling pitching," Mackanin said. "I thought about Neris for a second inning, but I don't want to get into that rut we were in last year where every close game we're using up our guys and you get into August and September and they run out of gas. Six of one, half-dozen of the other."

Mackanin said he did not want to use his only lefty, rookie Joely Rodriguez, against lefty hitters Harper and Murphy in the 10th "because they both hit lefties well."

In the end, Gomez took the loss, but Ramos' walk to Heisey was quite damaging because it set up the tying run.

A week ago, on the night the Phillies scored 17 runs against the Nats, a seventh-inning walk doesn't kill you. But it cuts deep when your team gets just six hits and scores just two runs in 10 innings.

Stephen Strasburg pitched seven innings of two-run ball for the Nats and the bullpen did the rest.

Michael Saunders had a couple of hits for the Phils. Tommy Joseph belted his first homer of the season and Cesar Hernandez drove home the Phils' second run with a two-out single in the fifth, following Rupp's leadoff double.

"Other than that, not enough offense," Mackanin lamented.

Other than the high pitch count, Nola's outing was heartening, especially considering that he missed the final two months of last season with an elbow injury that had the entire organization concerned.

The right-hander gave up six hits and a run. He walked none and struck out six.

"The story for me was Nola," Mackanin said. "He gave us five good innings -- a few too many pitches. I could have sent him back out for one more but I'm trying to be careful with him."

Said Nola: "My stuff felt good. I feel like I threw a lot of pitches. I definitely want to go deeper than five innings and save some of the bullpen arms. You know you have Strasburg on the mound and you know runs are going to be pretty limited. But other than that, my body felt good. We battled a good team."

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Zach Eflin, Phillies aim for first series win since April

Phillies (17-30) vs. Reds (23-25)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App.

Tommy Joseph came through as the Phillies' hero on Saturday with his second walk-off single in three days. It was just the Phillies' sixth win in their last 27 games, but the victory allows the Phillies an opportunity to take the series with the Reds.

Zach Eflin will take the hill for Sunday afternoon's start and will oppose Scott Feldman, the 'ace' for the Reds this season.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game:

1. What a relief
It may have crept up on you, but the Phillies' bullpen is hot right now -- to the tune of 19 2/3 straight scoreless innings hot.

The Phils' relief corps came through with 3 2/3 more scoreless on Saturday to back up starter Jerad Eickhoff and give the bats a chance to walk off. After Joaquin Benoit expressed public frustration with the lack of roles in the 'pen, the team has slowly but surely found a pecking order for its back-end. With Hector Neris entrenched as closer, Benoit now serves as the primary setup man while Pat Neshek and Edubray Ramos have also been in line for high-leverage innings.

Neris has allowed just one run over 10 2/3 this month after closing last month with that back-to-back-to-back home run implosion in Los Angeles. He's back to his bread and butter -- setting up hitters with his fastball before unleashing his nasty splitter, which he used to retire Joey Votto in Saturday's ninth inning.

Benoit has seven consecutive scoreless one-inning performances. He's looking more and more like the reliever the Phillies thought they were getting when they signed him in the offseason. Neshek has five straight scoreless appearances since giving up his first runs of the season two weeks ago during the doubleheader with the Nationals. Both setup men are in line for possible trades this season and could get the Phillies something in return.

And if the rotation continues to stumble (averaging 5.38 innings per start with an ERA above 6.00 in May), the bullpen could be a backbone to keep the team respectable.

2. Needing a better effort from Eflin
One starter who is certainly struggling is Eflin, who needs to rebound after a couple poor starts.

His last two starts have been nothing short of disasters. In 10 innings, he's allowed 15 runs on 21 hits while surrendering three home runs. The appearances -- losses to the Rangers and Rockies -- account for the worst two-start stretch of his career.

Through seven starts, Eflin has an ERA of 5.36. He was coming off a string of four consecutive quality starts before this late-May swoon and had an ERA of 2.81 while averaging 6.4 innings per start.

The 6-foot-5 righty relies heavily on his sinker, so he's going to have a lot of balls put in play. However, he simply can't survive with home runs. He needs to keep the ball on the ground, especially against the slugging Reds, who have four batters with at least 10 home runs.

There's no doubt that Eflin could pitch his way out of the rotation if he can't turn things around. He's only 23 and has made just 18 MLB starts. However, pitching through his struggles in the majors is the right way to go. This is a pitcher who had a 2.81 ERA just two weeks ago and two bad starts aren't worth an overreaction.

None of his 18 career starts came against the Reds and he has not faced anyone currently on Cincy's roster.

3. The Reds' ace?
Believe or not, the Phillies don't have the worst rotation ERA in baseball. That belongs to the Reds, whose starters sport a combined 5.74 heading into Sunday's rubber match in South Philly.

In 48 games, they've allowed 53 home runs and 154 earned runs. They've walked 109 batters and have the third fewest strikeouts (185) of any staff.

So with an only OK ERA of 3.99, Scott Feldman is actually the staff ace. At 34 years old, he's played for six different teams and had middling results at each stop. For his career, he is 74-81 with a 4.38 ERA.

This season, he has a career-worst walk rate, but has limited hits and home runs to keep teams off the board. On May 7, he threw a four-hit shutout against the Giants and is coming off a six-inning, one-run start against the Indians. He struck out a season-high nine in that game.

The Phillies are more than familiar with the righty as they faced him on opening day in Cincinnati. Feldman lasted just 4 2/3 innings and gave up three runs, including home runs to both Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis. It was his only ever start against the Phillies as he's spent the majority of his career in the American League.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Joseph has been the Phillies' saving grace recently. In both games he finished with walk-off singles, he also hit a home run and he's looking more and more like the hitter that took the Phils' lineup by storm last summer.

Reds: Votto is undoubtedly one of the best hitters in baseball. The 33-year-old Canadian is 0 for 7 with a walk in this series but has a .413 OBP this season with more walks (36) than strikeouts (26).

5. This and that
• Howie Kendrick made his fourth rehab appearance on Saturday with Triple A Lehigh Valley. He went 1 for 5 and played the full game at third base.

• The Phillies have not won consecutive games since their six-game win streak concluded on April 27.

• The Phils lost their last eight series, beginning in Los Angeles against the Dodgers on April 28-30.

• The Phillies are 9-11 in one-run games. They were 28-23 in those contests last year.

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick on Saturday night made his fourth rehab appearance in Triple A during Lehigh Valley's 13-1 rout of the Louisville Bats in Allentown.

Kendrick went 1 for 5 with a run scored and three strikeouts. He also grounded into a double play and left two runners in scoring position.

It was his second rehab game playing third base. He played third during his appearance in the IronPigs' 8-4 loss Thursday to the Indianapolis Indians. He was 0 for 1 in three plate appearances with a run scored and was hit by a pitch twice (see story).

The Phillies' plan for Kendrick was to have him play a minimum four games at Lehigh Valley. He played left field in two games and third base twice. Pete Mackanin said Wednesday that Kendrick would also get a game at first base but he hasn't gotten a game at first yet.

There is a chance Kendrick could be recalled Sunday before the Phillies’ series finale against the Cincinnati Reds depending on how he feels.

Kendrick has been sidelined since April 15 with an oblique strain. In 10 games before the injury, Kendrick went 13 for 39 (.333) with five extra-base hits and four walks while exclusively playing left field.