The Phillies returned home Sunday night from California after winning just two games on their six-game road trip. They were outplayed by the Dodgers and Giants, two of the National League’s premier teams. And the month won’t get any easier this week.

They’re scheduled to face Max Scherzer on Tuesday against the Nationals, who took three of four this weekend from the first-place Mets and have won seven of their last eight games. After two with the Nats, the Phils go to Queens for four with the Mets. The West Coast was tough, but the East Coast might not be any easier.

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Phillies should let Spencer Howard get right at triple A

The Phillies have been open all season about Spencer Howard’s innings limit, which means he inched closer to that number on Sunday by pitching as a mop-up reliever in a five-run game.

Howard was scheduled to start Sunday’s series finale in San Francisco, but instead was skipped and used out of the bullpen in the sixth inning of an 11-2 loss. Howard was a starter in spring training, a reliever in the majors, and a starter in the minors before again starting in the majors and moving Sunday to the bullpen.

The 24-year-old is the team’s top pitching prospect, but he has not pitched like it this season. And it’s hard to see the developmental benefit for Howard when he’s used in roles like he was Sunday. Howard struggled in four starts to maintain his velocity and command after a few innings and he struggled Sunday with his command as he walked three batters and uncorked a wild pitch in 1⅔ innings.

“As the inning got longer, he lost the strike zone and couldn’t throw his off-speed for strikes,” manager Joe Girardi said. “... It started off good, but it did not end well.”

It’s enticing to keep Howard in the rotation because of his talent and potential, but it seems like the best way to develop Howard is to allow the righthander to start for an extended stretch at triple A. The Phillies can allow Howard to fine tune his command in the minors, rework his mechanics that he recently said went awry, build arm strength, and gain confidence with Lehigh Valley.

If his innings limit is still not reached when that is completed, then he can return to the majors. If it is reached, then the Phillies know they have an important piece of their future ready for next season. It doesn’t seem like Howard’s present or future is being helped by “piggyback” starts in the majors or pitching in lopsided games.

The Phillies will need a starting pitcher for Friday’s doubleheader in New York against the Mets, but Girardi said the team has not yet decided if Howard will pitch one of those games. The team is continuing to look at things, Girardi said.

Perhaps they could hand one of those games to Bailey Falter, who has impressed in two relief appearances since being brought back from triple A. The lefthander had a 1.82 ERA in 29⅔ innings at triple A and emerged as a rotation prospect. But the Phils did not have a spot for him, so they added Falter last week to their bullpen and planned to use him in long relief when Howard starts.

In six innings, Falter allowed one run this week on three hits while striking out six without a walk. He doesn’t throw hard, but the long extension of his delivery (the longest among all pitchers) makes his pitches appear faster than they are.

It could be worth giving him a shot on Friday to make his first major-league start. And it could be worth giving Howard a chance to start at triple A. Both pitchers could play key roles in the team’s future. And one of them needs to get right.

“He’s nasty,” Bryce Harper said of Falter. “I really like him a lot. He goes out there and throws strikes. He has four pitches that he can throw strikes with. When you’re able to do that in the big leagues, you’re going to have success. I’ve been very impressed with him.”

The rundown

Where would the Phillies be without Ronald Torreyes? Scott Lauber has a story from San Francisco about how the super-sub credits his father for his unlikely big-league success.

Lauber has observations from Sunday’s loss, which was highlighted by Zach Eflin allowing four homers against Gabe Kapler’s Giants.

The Phillies expect Jean Segura to be out until July, but he’s optimistic that he’ll return sooner from his groin injury.

Major League Baseball on Monday will start cracking down on pitchers using foreign substances, which means this mystery mud from South Jersey will be the only substance applied to the balls.

Important dates

Today: The Phillies are off.

Tomorrow: Zack Wheeler opens two-game series vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m.

Wednesday: Vince Velasquez faces Erick Fedde in the series finale, 1:05 p.m.

Thursday: Phils are off again.

Friday: Phillies play a doubleheader at the Mets, 4:10 p.m.

Stat of the day

The 76ers’ loss on Sunday night was the team’s 17th Game 7 in franchise history. The Phillies have never played a Game 7. They’ve played winner-take-all games, like Game 5 of the 2011 Division Series, but never reached the final game of a seven-game series. They are one of just five major-league teams to never play a winner-take-all Game 7, along with the Mariners, Padres, Rockies, and White Sox. Five times the Phillies have played a Game 6, but those series never reached seven games.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: What’s going on with Adam Haseley? Is he coming back to the Phillies? — Harry B. via email.

Answer: Thanks, Harry. Haseley is off the restricted list, but he was placed this weekend on the triple-A injured list with a strained right groin. He had 11 hits in 50 at-bats with Lehigh Valley since returning last month from a leave of absence. Haseley missed time in spring training with a strained left groin, which he also injured in June 2019. The Phillies want him to build some success in the minors before he returns to the majors. First, he has to get healthy.