It was come-see-your-kids-play night at Dodger Stadium, and for the most part, Phillies rookies Spencer Howard, Luke Williams and Bailey Falter, all Southern California natives, treated their families (and friends) to a pretty good show.
The Phillies, however, did not provide the desired result, as their four-game winning streak came to a close Monday with a 3-1 loss to Los Angeles. The Phillies fell to 4-14 at Dodger Stadium since 2015 and to 11-20 overall on the road this season. They also slipped back to .500 at 32-32 and fell four games behind the first-place New York Mets, who beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Howard had what might have been his best outing of the season, but was left with the loss after giving up a two-run home run to Will Smith in the fourth inning and a solo shot to Chris Taylor to open the fifth.
Williams had the largest contingent of family and friends in attendance and came through with a pinch-hit single in the sixth inning to improve his average to .455 in his first six big-league games.
Falter, called up earlier in the day after pitching extremely well at triple-A Lehigh Valley, provided the Phillies with three scoreless innings of relief, allowing just one hit.
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The piggyback program is here to stay
Even though it did not result in a victory Monday, manager Joe Girardi believes the piggyback program that has been in place for Howard’s first four starts this season is working.
“I do,” Girardi said, a clear indication he is married to the piggyback plan. “We have not given up a lot of runs in those games. I think we’re 2-2 maybe in these games and we have not given up a lot of runs, so I definitely think it can work.”
Howard has not pitched more than four innings in any of the four games, but his 4.05 ERA is not awful. It is the bullpen, however, that has made the plan work. Phillies relievers have allowed just four earned runs in 21 2/3 innings during Howard’s four starts for a 1.66 ERA, making the team ERA in the four games 2.25.
Ranger Suarez allowed just one hit in eight scoreless inning during Howard’s first three starts, and Connor Brogdon and Falter contributed to the plan’s success Monday night by pitching four scoreless innings, including three by Falter.
“He threw the ball well,” Girardi said of Falter. “I thought he located all his pitches and followed the game plan well.”
Girardi was also mostly pleased with Howard’s performance. Howard retired the side in order in the first three innings before issuing a leadoff walk to Mookie Betts in the fourth.
“He walked Mookie Betts, got the next two guys out, and then he left a [92-mph fastball] up [to Smith] and it turned into a two-run home run,” Howard said. “His pitch count was pretty low going into the fourth inning, and that’s why I left him in there. His stuff didn’t really fall off. To me, it was pretty much the same. He made a mistake with one pitch, and it cost him the game.”
Howard left another fastball up and in the middle of the plate to Taylor to start the fifth inning and that, too, turned into a home run. His velocity had dipped some at that point, but not nearly as much or nearly as early as it had in his previous three starts.
“I think overall it was a step in the right direction, holding my mechanics a little bit longer,” Howard said. “I think later in the game it was a matter of flicking in more off-speed for strikes to get them off the heater because these guys aren’t going to miss fastballs down the middle. But really both home-run pitches, I backed myself into a corner where they knew the fastball was coming and I didn’t miss too much over the plate.”
Despite taking the loss, Howard realized that his first career outing at Dodger Stadium was still a pretty special evening. It included his first career hit, a double to right field in the second inning.
“Yes, absolutely,” he said. “The first time pitching in Southern California was awesome. Having my family here and my buddies here was incredible. I was definitely a little bit amped up to start the night.”
It was Howard’s second at-bat in the fourth inning that stuck more in Girardi’s mind. After Andrew McCutchen walked and Alec Bohm singled to start the inning, Ronald Torreyes was called out on strikes by home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook on a pitch that was clearly out of the zone.
Howard was then ordered to bunt, but was also called out on strikes despite taking two pitches that were clearly low and out of the zone. The Phillies finished the night 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners.
“It’s tough,” Girardi said. “I didn’t think we got too much help from the umpire in the one inning with Torreyes and Spencer Howard, and that’s pretty frustrating. But we had some opportunities and we didn’t cash in on them, and that was the difference in the game.”
The Phillies are on the road, so, as Matt Breen writes, that means Bryce Harper will play the role of villain again during the team’s six-game trip to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Oracle Park in San Francisco. According to teammates Brandon Kintzler and Rhys Hoskins, it’s a role Harper relishes.
Don’t go looking for the Phillies’ three games against Gabe Kapler’s San Francisco Giants this weekend on NBC Sports Philadelphia. The games will instead be broadcast on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. Scott Lauber has the details.
Tonight: Zach Eflin goes against Dodgers 9-game winner Julio Urias, 10:10 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aces up — Zack Wheeler faces Clayton Kershaw, 10:10 p.m.
Thursday: Phillies are off.
Friday: Start of a three-game series against Kapler’s surging Giants.
Sunday: Zach Eflin starts final game of the road trip against the Giants, 4:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
Gene Mauch, at the time the manager with the most wins in franchise history but still best known for the team’s 1964 collapse, was fired on this date in 1968. At the time, he was embattled in several controversies with Richie (later Dick) Allen, the Phillies’ best player.
“I’d rather not comment because I’m going to get the blame for Gene being fired,” Allen said at the time. “Wherever Mauch goes, I wish him good luck. He is a good manager. We got along OK. Still, everybody’s going to think it was my fault.”
Catcher Clay Dalrymple had the most interesting comments about Mauch’s removal.
“After eight and one-half years and after as many differences as we have had, and after all the times I would have liked to have wrung his neck when he chewed me out, I feel as if a piece of me went with him,” Dalrymple said. “We didn’t always agree, but he taught me an awful lot and I know he did things as he saw fit.”
Mauch’s record with the Phillies was 646-684, but six of his eight full seasons were winning ones.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: Vince (Velasquez) pitched 5 decent innings (Saturday) yet Joe (Girardi) pulls him with a 5-run lead. You still have a full bullpen to use if he gets in trouble later in the game and waste your best pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 5th. I think this contributed to what happened later in the game along with Hector (Neris) walking 2 batters before the game-tying home run. — Joe G., via email
Answer: I have had some questions of my own about some of Girardi’s moves this season, with the biggest one being why he used Travis Jankowski as a pinch-runner for Hoskins in the ninth inning of the June 4 game against Washington. Even if Jankowski scores and the Phillies tie the game, Girardi had removed one of his best hitters from the lineup just to get even. Of course, it turned out much worse than that, but that’s beside the point.
As for the situation you raised, I did not mind the move to send up Brad Miller to bat for Velasquez in the fifth. Velasquez had already thrown 83 pitches, and many of them were in high-stress situations because he had pitched out of jams in the third and fifth innings. Miller went up with runners at second and third with nobody out, so that meant the Phillies were going to have three chances with three good hitters to make it 9-2. If that happens, we probably never even see Neris in the ninth inning.