Dodgers go boom, boom, boom to burst Phillies' bubble

Dodgers go boom, boom, boom to burst Phillies' bubble

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LOS ANGELES — For eight innings, it was a wonderful night for the Phillies.

Brock Stassi, the storybook kid, belted a three-run home run. Rookie Andrew Knapp had three hits, including his first big-league home run to give the Phils a three-run lead in the eighth inning, much to the delight of his family and friends whose cheers could be heard rising from deep within the sellout crowd of 53,110. Zach Eflin pitched superbly over seven-walk free innings and even the boys in the dugout had a little fun goofing on Tommy Joseph as he watched the game oblivious to the fact that he had a perfectly formed bubblegum sphere stuck to the top of his cap.

For the Phillies, there were plenty of reasons to be giddy.

And then the bubble burst, turning their happy little night into a crushing, oh-the-humanity, 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers (see Instant Replay).

"It's one of the worst losses I've ever been associated with, the way we lost," manager Pete Mackanin, looking shellshocked, said moments after it ended.

Trailing 5-2 entering the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers tied the game in the blink of an eye when Yasiel Puig, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner hit consecutive solo home runs off closer-but-don't-call-him-closer Hector Neris.

Puig's homer was a laser into the left-field seats, capping an eight-pitch at-bat. Bellinger's was a shot off the right-field foul pole that electrified the huge crowd. Turner's was a pinch-hit shot to left.

"Those weren't windblown home runs," Mackanin said. "They were bombs. It's tough to take. I'm not real happy with the outcome."

Mackanin removed Neris after a one-out single by Austin Barnes. Lefty Joely Rodriguez came in and got an out, then allowed a two-out single to Corey Seager, bringing No. 3 hitter Adrian Gonzalez to the plate.

With the crowd roaring and the count 1-1, Gonzalez fouled off four straight pitches before hitting a bouncing ball to the left of third baseman Maikel Franco. Franco moved to the ball, but it hit off the end of his glove and bounced wildly as Barnes raced home from second with the winning run.

Gonzalez was awarded an RBI infield hit. But it could have been scored an error.

"I thought [Franco] should have caught it," Mackanin said. "I think he should have [made the play]."

Franco said he could not dive for the ball because it was bouncing so much.

"I was running hard for the ball, but it hit off the tip of my glove," Franco said. "I tried to go out there and do my best on that play. But, you know, I can't get that. I did everything I can on that play."

Really, the game was lost when Neris could not hold the lead. Once the ball started flying out of the park and the crowd started going wild, there was no holding back the Dodgers. They went boom, boom, boom and it was only a matter of time before the Phillies hit the canvas.

In both the macro and micro sense, the Phillies have a problem in the ninth inning.

In the macro, they have blown four saves in the ninth inning, two resulting in painful walk-off losses. The team ERA in the ninth is an appalling 8.83. Neris is the third pitcher to be used as closer (even though Mackanin is reluctant to use the term) and the season isn't even a month old yet.

"I'd like to have a lights-out closer, but we don't have one right now," Mackanin said. "We'll continue to look at it."

In the micro, Neris is still probably best suited for the closer's job, but he needs to make some fixes. Two of the three homers he gave up came on fastballs. Mackanin wants to see more splitters. That pitch helped Neris strike out over 11 batters per nine innings last season.

"One thing about Neris is for some reason he's getting away from his split," Mackanin said. "He wants to throw more fastballs and that's not going to work.

"I think Neris is capable of being a closer, but for some reason, he's just not throwing his split as often as he did and that's his out pitch, the pitch that makes him who he is, who he was, and he's gotten away from it and throwing more fastballs. We'll have a talk with him and get it straightened out."

Neris said pitch selection wasn't his problem in the ninth inning.

"It wasn't because they were fastballs," he said. "It was the location.

"It was just a bad day. Everyone has one."

But this bad?

"What a way to lose," Mackanin groaned. "A real letdown."

Instant Replay: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5

Instant Replay: Dodgers 6, Phillies 5

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES — The Phillies suffered a gut-wrenching 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night.

The Phillies took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning but the Dodgers tied the game on three straight, no-out solo homers against Hector Neris.

The Dodgers got two more hits in the inning before Adrian Gonzalez won it with a two-out RBI infield hit against Joely Rodriguez.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin stacked his lineup with lefty hitters and it paid off as Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Andrew Knapp accounted for five RBIs. But they all went by the wayside in one quick, disastrous inning.

The Phils have lost two in a row.

And this one was bad.

Starting pitching report
Zach Eflin held the Dodgers to four hits and two runs over seven walk-free innings. Both of the runs came on solo homers, one in the first inning and one in the seventh. Otherwise, Eflin retired 11 hitters by groundout and four by strikeout.

Eflin has given up just four earned runs in 19 innings over three starts this season. He has walked just three.

Brandon McCarthy gave up a season-high four runs on eight hits and a walk.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit struck out Yasmani Grandal, the potential tying run, with two men on base to end the eighth inning.

Neris blew the save and took the loss.

At the plate
Stassi's second homer of the season, a three-run shot to left-center off McCarthy in the fourth, gave the Phils a 3-1 lead. He started at first in place of slumping Tommy Joseph.

Knapp started at catcher in place of Cameron Rupp. He responded with a single, double and home run. The homer was his first in the majors.

Andrew Toles led off the bottom of the first with a solo homer for the Dodgers. Rookie Cody Bellinger added a homer in the seventh.

Yasiel Puig, Bellinger and Justin Turner hit consecutive solo homers with no outs in the ninth to tie the game.

In the field
Odubel Herrera made a long run and a terrific lunging catch to take away extra bases from Puig in the fourth.

Chase Utley made an error at second base for the Dodgers.

Health check
Aaron Nola's back is still an issue. Howie Kendrick remains on the DL with an oblique injury, but he could be an option at first base when he returns if Joseph's bat continues to slumber (see story).

Up next
The three-game series concludes on Sunday afternoon. Nick Pivetta will make his major-league debut for the Phillies. He will face Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (0-4, 4.64).

The Phillies acquired Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington in July 2015. He was 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 24 strikeouts and just two walks in three starts at Triple A before being called up.

Reliever Luis Garcia was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley after Saturday night's game to make room for Pivetta.

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris to pitch 9th; Howie Kendrick likely out longer than expected

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris to pitch 9th; Howie Kendrick likely out longer than expected

Pete Mackanin won't officially name Hector Neris the closer, but if the Phillies have a lead in the ninth inning Friday against the Braves he plans to turn to Neris for the save for the second straight night.

Neris pitched a 1-2-3 inning Thursday at Citi Field for his first save of the season. Joaquin Benoit, who Mackanin dubbed the closer "for now" after removing Jeanmar Gomez from the role less than two weeks ago, will pitch in a setup role. Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning Thursday, retiring Jay Bruce, Neil Walker and Jose Reyes.

Benoit has extensive experience as a setup man and has a 2.42 ERA since 2010. When Mackanin gave Benoit the first crack at closing after Gomez faltered, part of the reasoning was that Neris was just so valuable as a setup man capable of getting more than three outs. A lot of times, the eighth inning provides as many or more high-leverage situations as the ninth.

But Neris pitched well and locked down the win Thursday, so he'll get the next opportunity. Mackanin said Thursday that he likes having the luxury of interchanging Neris and Benoit or using Benoit in the ninth when Neris is unavailable.

"I think [Benoit] looks more comfortable [in a setup role]," Mackanin said after Thursday's win. "Over in Washington (when Benoit allowed a walk-off three-run homer to Bryce Harper), I didn't see that good changeup. He spiked a couple of changeups and didn't have command of it. Tonight, he threw some great ones. So that was great to see. In general, we have two guys I feel comfortable with."

Neris has emerged the last two seasons as an elite reliever. In 87 appearances, he has a 2.33 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 111 strikeouts and 31 walks in 88 2/3 innings. He hasn't allowed a run in 69 of those 87 appearances.

Kendrick injury update
Howie Kendrick, on the 10-day DL retroactive to April 16, likely will not return when he's first eligible April 26 and it looks like he'll be out a bit longer than expected. Kendrick said he did not think the injury was to his oblique, but it turns out that's exactly what it is.

Mackanin gave an estimated timetable of about two weeks from when Kendrick first went on the DL but noted the tricky nature of oblique injuries. The constant twisting of swinging a bat can cause setbacks or slow recovery time -- see Asche, Cody last spring. Recovery timetables for oblique injuries tend to last about a month.

Kendrick's absence continues to provide an opportunity for 23-year-old outfielder Aaron Altherr, who is 7 for 21 (.333) this season with two doubles and a homer.