Hector Neris’ name went next to the Phillies’ disturbing 3-1 loss to the Miami Marlins on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park and manager Gabe Kapler was willing to accept the blame for asking too much from one of his best relievers.
Bryce Harper begged to differ.
“That’s on me,” Harper said. “A guy on third base and less than two outs I have to get that job done.”
It was a deflating moment in another frustrating game for a Phillies team that is just 6-10 since opening the season 7-2. Andrew McCutchen had opened the sixth inning with a leadoff double against crafty Marlins lefty Caleb Smith. J.T. Realmuto put together his second really good at-bat of the game against his former teammate with a productive out to deep center field that moved McCutchen to third with one out.
A fly ball is all that Harper needed. Instead, he fouled out to third baseman Martin Prado on a 1-1 fastball.
“I have to be better personally,” Harper said.
He is not alone in that department. The Phillies managed only four hits off Smith and five Miami relievers and their only run came on a second-inning homer by Sean Rodriguez, who was not even on the roster until Wednesday.
The first five hitters in the Phillies’ order went 1-for-19 with seven strikeouts. But Harper is the only one of those five who signed a lifetime deal for $330 million, so his struggle is always going to be the headliner and right now he is not swinging the bat well.
With his 0-for-3 performance Thursday, his average slipped to .196 (10-for-51) in his last 13 games, and five of his 10 hits came in one game out in Colorado. In the other 12 games, he has gone just 5-for-44, a .114 average.
“I feel great,” Harper said. “I can’t tell you I feel terrible or anything like that. I feel good. I’m just missing pitches. I’m swinging at stuff out of the zone sometimes and I have to take my walks. If I take my walks and get on base for the guys behind me, then I’ll be OK.”
A night after wishfully thinking they had emerged from a recent slumber with a late surge against the New York Mets, the Phillies seemed to carry that momentum into Thursday.
Realmuto struck out in his first at-bat against Smith, but he also created a buzz with the crowd when he fouled off 10 straight pitches during a 16-pitch at-bat. He received a loud ovation when he returned to the dugout, and when Rodriguez homered in the second, the Phillies had a 1-0 lead for ace Aaron Nola against a team that dragged a National League-worst 7-17 record into the start of a four-game series.
Now the Marlins are 8-17 and a quarter of their wins have come against the Phillies.
After his 34-second trip around the bases at CitiField following his home run that solidified the series-finale win over the Mets, Rhys Hoskins talked about momentum and that maybe New York had “poked a sleeping bear” when reliever Jacob Rhame sailed a couple of pitches over the slugger’s head in the ninth inning Tuesday night.
“That last couple of innings [Wednesday] was a pretty good indication that that may have happened,” Hoskins said.
Nope. The Phillies’ offense went back into hibernation as they wasted a solid effort from Nola, who covered 6 2/3 innings and allowed just a single run.
Nothing is easy for the Phillies right now. The fearsome batting order they had to open the season is not to be feared at all. With Jean Segura missing from the two hole and Odubel Herrera absent from the sixth spot, the Phillies have struggled to score runs recently and manager Gabe Kapler’s job of juggling the lineup was made even more difficult after reserve outfielder Roman Quinn landed on the disabled list with a Grade 2 groin strain Thursday.
“At this point in the season we thought we’d have Odubel as our center fielder and Roman Quinn as a nice mix-and-match option,” Kapler said. “We don’t have either of those players now, so I think we have to look at it a little bit differently and exercise a little creativity here. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like, but I’m open to all options.”
Truth is, the struggle started even before that. The Phillies scored 63 runs and hit 17 home runs during a 7-3 start, but since then they have scored just 61 runs in 15 games and hit 14 home runs.
“There’s no question our lineup hasn’t been clicking like it can,” Kapler said. “We’ve been pretty beat up by injuries, but that’s no excuse. We can perform better at the plate.”