Phillies go silent on Fourth of July, see what is still missing in loss to Pirates

Phillies go silent on Fourth of July, see what is still missing in loss to Pirates

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About an hour and a half after the final out was recorded, fireworks blasted across the Philadelphia skyline behind the center-field backdrop of Citizens Bank Park.
 
Inside the stadium, not a peep was heard from the Phillies before the night lit up around the city for the Fourth of July.
 
A major weakness for the rebuilding Phillies was glaringly evident in a 3-0 loss to the Pirates on Tuesday (see Instant Replay). Pete Mackanin's team, sitting at a majors-worst 28-54, simply does not have a bat that can consistently change the game in one swing.
 
Not yet it doesn't.

Maybe it develops one down the road, but for now, the Phillies are missing such a dynamic and this most recent defeat showed that gaping hole. The Phillies stranded 11 men on base and went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position as Pittsburgh put out fire after fire.
 
"That's tough to take," Mackanin said. "If we execute those situations, we have a better chance to win games."
 
The Phillies left at least one runner aboard in seven innings. Four times they failed to knock in a man standing on third, three of those occasions coming with one out, which was all really more of the same for a team that struggles to sustain offensive momentum. In winning their previous two games, the Phillies broke out for 11 runs.
 
Then it was back to falling flat. This season, with runners on third base and less than two outs, the Phillies are hitting .217, last in baseball. In all situations with a runner on third, they're hitting .205 for a ranking of 28th out of 30 big-league teams.
 
"From my perspective, you've got to be ready to hit early in the count so you don't get two strikes," Mackanin said. "You get a pitch early in the count that you can just put in play, you're going to drive in runs. You don't want to get behind where the pitcher can expand the strike zone on you. Plus, in my opinion, we take too many good pitches to hit, especially with two strikes and men in scoring position.
 
"We've got guys that have potential, that have shown they're capable of driving runs in, but we need more of it."
 
One of those guys is Maikel Franco. The Phillies hope the 24-year-old eventually turns into a big bopper, a middle-of-the-order nemesis that turns offensive threats into explosions.
 
Right now, though, Franco has lacked the constant approach to capitalize on running-producing opportunities. On Tuesday, the Phillies' third baseman went 0 for 4, which included 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position and twice leaving a runner on third. Despite 42 RBIs, Franco is hitting just .203 with RISP.
 
"That's what we're looking for — that consistency in the middle of the lineup," Mackanin said. "That's been one of our biggest issues."
 
But this loss wasn't all on Franco. The Phillies have collectively faltered in timely spots. Five different Phillies left multiple men on base Tuesday, including Aaron Altherr, who stranded five and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded and one out as the Phillies trailed, 2-0, in the seventh inning. The offense also racked up 14 strikeouts, nine of which came against Pirates starter Jameson Taillon, who set a career high in only five innings of work.
 
"He was hitting tough spots," said Nick Williams, who went 0 for 4 after reaching base safely in his first four big-league games. "They said he keeps the ball down and I guess you don't really understand until you get to the plate. He mixed his pitches up and hit some good spots in tough situations."
 
Meanwhile, Pirates five-time All-Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen needed just two loud swings to smack two runs on the scoreboard. He hit a pair of solo home runs, accounting for just about all of the game's offense. The first was a line-drive shot off of Phillies starter Mark Leiter Jr. in the sixth inning. The second, McCutchen jumped on an elevated 97-mph fastball from reliever Ricardo Pinto in the eighth and clanged it off the second-deck facing in left field.
 
"You don't see many guys hit that high fastball out of the ballpark like McCutchen did," Mackanin said.
 
On a positive note for the Phillies, Leiter kept his team in another game. The Toms River, New Jersey, native was making his first home major-league start. He said a ton of family and friends were on hand. He fought through 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball and has gone 1-1 with 16 strikeouts, three walks and a 3.31 ERA over 16 1/3 innings filling in for the injured Jerad Eickhoff (back).
 
"There were a lot of people here for me," Leiter said. "It was good to have them come out to the game, most of them had off of work. It was cool to have everybody here today."
 
If only some offense showed up.

Jerad Eickhoff completes rehab start for Reading without any speed bumps

Jerad Eickhoff completes rehab start for Reading without any speed bumps

It appears all went well for Jerad Eickhoff on Tuesday night.

Eickhoff threw 57 pitches (42 strikes) in five innings Tuesday during a rehab start for Double A Reading in Trenton. He allowed just one run on two hits and struck out five.

He has been on the 10-day disabled list since June 20 with an upper back strain.

Thunder designated hitter Zack Zehner hit a home run to center field off Eickhoff in the second inning. Eickhoff allowed a single to Thairo Estrada in the first inning.

After Zehner's homer, Eickhoff retired the next 10 batters he faced before walking Dante Bichette Jr. in the fifth inning. He struck out the side in the fourth inning.

In all, Eickhoff faced 18 batters, induced six groundouts and two flyouts. Reading lost, 2-0, to Trenton.

With five games left before the All-Star break, Eickhoff could start against the San Diego Padres on Sunday before the break, but a decision has yet to be made.

Eickhoff is 0-7 with a 4.93 ERA in 14 starts this season. He has allowed nine homers, struck out 65 and walked 30. Opponents are hitting .283 off the right-handed pitcher.

He last pitched with the Phillies on June 17 in Arizona. He allowed one run on five hits in six innings. He went on the disabled list three days later.

Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. made his third start in place of Eickhoff on Tuesday. Leiter allowed two runs on four hits and picked up the loss in a 3-0 defeat to the Pirates (see Instant Replay).

Leiter, in three starts this season, is 1-1 with 16 strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA over 16 1/3 frames. He previously made 12 appearances for the Phillies as a reliever. In 12 relief outings with the Phils, Leiter has a 4.74 ERA in 19 innings.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday he's not sure what Leiter's role will be if Eickhoff does return from the DL this weekend, but would like to keep him around.

"I haven't really talked to Matt [Klentak] about it yet," Mackanin said, "but I'd like to keep him around in the bullpen unless he wants him to be stretched out down in Triple A."

Instant Replay: Pirates 3, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Pirates 3, Phillies 0

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Aside from celebrating America, there wasn't much else for Phillies fans to take joy in Tuesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
 
While the Phillies went quietly on the Fourth of July, Andrew McCutchen did not. The five-time All-Star hit a pair of home runs as the Pirates handed the Phillies a 3-0 loss in Game 2 of the four-game series.
 
The Phillies, on the other hand, fell short time and again with runners aboard, snapping a modest two-game winning streak in front of 24,087.
 
The Phillies are a majors-worst 28-54 and haven't won three straight since June 3-6, when they won four in a row. Last season, after July 4, the Phillies were 38-46.
 
The Pirates improved to 38-46 and ended a four-game skid.
 
A quick rain shower in the middle of the eighth inning resulted in a 22-minute delay.
 
Starting pitching report
Mark Leiter Jr., from Toms River, New Jersey, made the first home start of his big-league career. He battled through 5 1/3 innings with shaky command, allowing two runs (both earned) on five hits, two walks and two hit batters.
 
He ran into trouble in the second and third innings and was burned by a solo homer in the sixth, which extended the Pirates' lead to 2-0 and marked the fourth home run yielded by Leiter over his previous seven innings.
 
He allowed a run in the third inning on a sacrifice fly. The damage could have been worse, but the Phillies turned a double play on the run-scoring fly out as cutoff man Tommy Joseph nabbed Josh Harrison trying to advance from second to third.
 
In three starts this season, Leiter is 1-1 with 16 strikeouts, three walks and a 3.31 ERA over 16 1/3 innings. The 26-year-old has been filling in for the injured Jerad Eickhoff (back), who made a rehab start Tuesday night with Double A Reading and could return before the July 10-13 All-Star break.
 
Pirates right-hander Jameson Taillon, who underwent surgery in May to treat testicular cancer, notched a career-high nine strikeouts over five shutout innings. The 2010 second overall draft pick is 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in five starts since returning to action. Overall, the 25-year-old is 5-2 in 11 starts this season.
 
At the plate
The Phillies left a man on third base four times and stranded at least one runner in seven innings. In total, they stranded 11 and went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
 
Maikel Franco was 0 for 4, with three of those outs coming with a runner in scoring position. Franco entered the day hitting .211 in such situations.
 
Trailing, 2-0, in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Phillies threatened with the bases loaded and one out. However, Aaron Altherr grounded into a 6-4-3 double play as Pittsburgh escaped more trouble. Altherr, who left five on base, tripled earlier to collect one of the Phillies' six hits. Odubel Herrera had two, representing the Phillies' lone multi-hit game.
 
Nick Williams went 0 for 4. The 23-year-old outfielder had reached base safely in his first four games.
 
In the top of the sixth inning, centerfielder McCutchen took two pitches in and near his eyes, then promptly scalded the next offering for a solo home run to left field, giving Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead. He more than matched that shot with another in the eighth inning, this one clanging off the facing of the upper deck in left field.
 
Nine of McCutchen's 12 career homers against the Phillies have come at Citizens Bank Park.
 
First baseman John Jaso pushed across the Pirates' first run with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the third inning.
 
Bullpen report
Luis Garcia threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 2.84.
 
Ricardo Pinto, the Phillies' 2015 minor-league pitcher of the year (Paul Owens Award) in his second call-up of the season, gave up McCutchen's second blast. Pinto finished with three strikeouts over two innings.
 
Daniel Hudson, Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio and Felipe Rivero combined for four scoreless innings to finish off the Phillies. Rivero picked up the save, his fourth.
 
In the field
Rightfielder Altherr made a nice ninth-inning grab in foul territory by reaching into the stands to snag it back.
 
Up next
The Phillies' four-game series with the Pirates continues Wednesday (7:05 p.m./CSN) with Game 3, as right-hander Ben Lively (1-3, 3.72) opposes Pittsburgh righty Gerrit Cole (6-7, 4.51).