The homestand began with four-straight wins, a sweep of Cubs, and walk-off grand slam. It ended with an IV being stuck inside Bryce Harper’s arm and an entire lineup looking to be rejuvenated. Harper was dehydrated on Sunday and the Phillies were lagging energy for two-straight days as they dropped a series to the San Diego Padres, who have the fourth-worst record in the National League. Monday seems to be an opportune day off and then it’s two games at Fenway Park to begin a key five-game road trip.
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Jared Hughes toiled in the summer of 2011 for the sixth-straight season in the minor leagues, stuck riding the buses in double A with a fastball that could not crack 90 mph. He turned 25 that summer and the pitcher thought that his career was nearing an end.
But then Hughes found himself in triple A - finally - after two Pirates minor-league pitchers suffered injuries. And it was there that Hughes received advice that changed his life.
“My catcher said ‘Hey, dude, you should sprint in and see how hard you could throw because you might not get many more chances. Just go for it,’” Hughes said. “I did it and it clicked. That was the key for me. Two months later, I was in the big leagues.”
Hughes sprinted to the mound Sunday afternoon, running hard all the way from the bullpen for his second-appearance with the Phillies. He has used that minor-league advice for four major-league teams, running to the mound as soon as the bullpen door opens. Eight years after thinking it was over, the 34-year-old Hughes is still going.
“It gets my heart rate up and gets me a little more energetic out there,” Hughes said. “Tempo is huge for me. I’m a big dude and it’s easy for me to be slow. Picking up the speed is something I need to work on so the sprint helps.”
“It was a crazy time in my life, where I thought that it might all be over. But the sprint kind of revived things for me."
The Phillies claimed the 6-foot-7 Hughes off waivers last week from Cincinnati, where he had a 1.94 ERA last season but a 4.10 ERA this year. He allowed a solo homer in Sunday’s seventh inning, but the Phillies believe his groundball rate - the eighth-highest among relievers at 59.9 percent - can make him a key part of their bullpen down the stretch. If so, he has a team-option for 2020 worth just $3 million.
“Nasty, nasty sinker,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Left one off-speed pitch up and other than that he's going to be a ground ball machine against right-handed batters and every chance we get with runners on first base, runners on first and second, nobody out, when we need somebody to come in and get a ground ball he's going to be a really good choice for us. Incredible energy. Obviously he's not happy that he made that one pitch, we're not either. But it's a good look. It's a big, heavy sinker.”
Hughes’ velocity sits in the low 90s, as he’s no longer soft-tossing the way he did as a minor-leaguer. Kris Watts, the catcher who told him to sprint, is now an investment banker and Hughes thanks him every time he sees him in San Francisco. Thanks to Watts, his career is still going.
“I hit 500 appearances last night, which is awesome,” Hughes said Sunday morning after pitching in his 500th game. “And I remember when I wouldn’t hit one. Every time I think about, it makes me so grateful to have the opportunity to come out here every day and put on a major-league uniform.”
Bryce Harper left Sunday’s game with dehydration, which put an end to his strong homestand. He said he started having vision problems during the game and did not know what was wrong. The Phillies were relived it was just dehydration.
Harper wasn’t the only Phillies player to seem sluggish on Sunday as their bats went silent against the hapless San Diego Padres. Jean Segura had two hits and the rest of the lineup went 2 for 27.
David Robertson had Tommy John surgery this weekend and could miss all of next season. If so, the Phillies will have paid the relief pitcher $23 million for just seven appearances.
Today: The Phillies spend an off-day in Boston.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola starts the series opener at Fenway Park, 7:10 p.m.
Wednesday: Drew Smyly faces Red Sox righthander Rick Porcello, 7:10 p.m.
Thursday: The Phillies are off again.
Friday: Phillies open three-game series in Miami, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday’s loss to the Padres snapped a four-game winning streak, which prevented the Phillies from winning five-straight games for the first time this season. Bob Brookover did the research and a Phillies team has not finished the season without a five-game streak since 1990. Even better, the Phillies have failed to win five in a row 19 times during their first 136 seasons. All 19 of those teams finished below .500, 15 of them finished in last place, and 11 of them lost more than 100 games. The 2019 Phillies won’t finish in last place and they won’t lose 100 games. But it seems like a five-game winning streak would be a nice way to make the playoffs.
“That’s crazy,” Harper said when told this year’s Phillies could become the first ones in 29 years to fail to win five straight. “Hopefully we can break that a little bit and win five in a row. Why not?”
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: What is it with Phils pitchers giving up home runs with two strikes, even 0-2? Happens far too often. - Larry via email.
Answer: Thanks, Larry. This email came in just as Jared Hughes gave up an 0-2 homer to give the Padres a 3-2 lead. Three innings earlier, Luis Urias hit a two-strike homer off Jason Vargas. But it was not just a trend isolated to Sunday. The Phillies have allowed 66 two-strike homers this season in 124 games, which is the eighth-most in the majors and the third-most in the National League. Interestingly, the NL teams with more are division rivals: the Mets and Marlins. Why are the Phillies giving up so many? It comes down to execution. Both two-strike homers on Sunday came after the pitchers missed their spot. J.T. Realmuto was set up inside for Urias, but the pitch trailed outside. The catcher wanted Hughes to throw low and outside to Austin Hedges, but instead it was low and inside. The Phillies’ pitchers have to be better at finishing batters with two strikes.