With just 28,826 in the house Tuesday night, the Phillies had their lowest attendance since the first week of the 2008 season.
Back then the Phillies were in the infancy of a season that would end with a World Series title. Now, they are in the final stages of what will be their first losing season since 2002.
Back then a championship core was beginning to come to flower. Now, the last vestiges of that nucleus are getting nights off so some young players can gain experience and be evaluated to determine if they fit on future rosters.
Those who stayed away from Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night didn’t miss a whole lot.
On a night when their pitchers had a load of trouble throwing strikes, the Phillies suffered a 9-6 loss to the Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay).
“It was a frustrating game on the pitching side,” interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. “There were a lot of pitches and a lot of walks. The walks gave them baserunners and they answered with hits.”
Phillies pitchers walked nine batters and hit another.
They threw 180 pitches. Just 88 of them were strikes.
No wonder the game lasted three hours, 38 minutes. It was the longest nine-inning game of the season.
The Nationals didn’t exactly play clean ball, either. They made three errors, leading manager Davey Johnson to say, “That was an ugly game, one of the ugliest I’ve seen.”
With Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins getting a night off from the starting lineup (both pinch-hit late in the game), Sandberg -- and the folks up in the executive box -- went into full evaluation mode for this one.
They had to like what they saw from rookie third baseman Cody Asche, who had three hits, including a line-drive homer into the right-field seats. The young middle-infield tandem of Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez looked pretty good in the field, too. They turned a blink-of-the-eye double play in the seventh.
Sandberg and the big cheeses upstairs could not have liked what they saw from rookie starting pitcher Ethan Martin. The 24-year-old right-hander has a bazooka for an arm, but control is major issue. He lasted just 4 2/3 innings, walked five and hit a batter. He allowed a three-run homer to Wilson Ramos in the second inning. The homer was preceded by a hit batsman and a walk. Later in the game, Martin walked home a run on four pitches. He was one of two Phillies’ pitchers to do that.
In seven big-league starts, Martin is 2-4 with a 6.90 ERA. He has walked 21 in 30 innings.
“It’s frustrating because I have one or two good innings every start,” Martin said. “I just haven’t been able to keep it going.”
At this stage of the season, the Phillies are likely to keep running Martin out there as they try to determine whether he has a place on the 2014 pitching staff. Still to be determined is whether Martin’s future is as a starter or a reliever (see story). Either way, he needs to throw more strikes or he’ll be starting or relieving in the minors.
“I want to be a starter," Martin said, "but wherever they put me I’ll do the best I can.”
After Martin, the Phils used five relievers, all of which spent time in Triple A this season. The bullpen allowed seven hits and four walks.
There could be more of these nights as this month plays out. Sandberg has made it clear that he wants to look at some younger players. That’s why he started Galvis at shortstop on the day he arrived from Triple A and Hernandez at second.
“It’s all about getting a look and evaluating and seeing who is a fit for 2014,” Sandberg said. “The only way to do that is to get them out there. All of them will get a chance to show what they can do.”
Sandberg will keep trotting Asche and Darin Ruf out as regulars. Both could be just that next season. He will try to get Galvis and Hernandez as many reps as possible because both could be fits on the bench next season. If Sandberg gets the full-time manager’s job, he will use his bench. Charlie Manuel was known for riding his regulars.
“I believe with a long season, you need the best quality bench guys you can have,” he said.
A few strike-throwers would be nice, too.