Just under a week ago, the Phillies faced Dodgers starter Julio Urías and put up eight hits and five earned runs against him. On Friday, they only managed to get two hits off the lefty, and only seven hits and one earned run against the Dodgers overall, in a 4-1 loss.
The Phillies attempted a ninth-inning rally that proved to be futile. With two outs, Kyle Schwarber doubled to center field, and J.T. Realmuto drove him in with a double of his own. Johan Camargo followed with a dribbler down the third-base line which got him safely to first and moved Realmuto to third. But Odúbel Herrera struck out swinging to end the game.
Urías appeared to be attacking the Phillies differently Friday than he was in his previous start against them. On May 14, 47% of his pitches were four-seam fastballs, which he decreased to 34% on Friday night. He also relied more on his curveball (33%) on Friday than he did on May 14 (19%) and upped his changeup usage from 27% to 31%.
“He didn’t make mistakes up in the zone like he did last week,” manager Joe Girardi said of Urías. “Really, that’s probably about the only game he had done it all year long. I thought he used all of his pitches effectively, he elevated when he needed to, and we weren’t able to do much on him.”
Another glaring difference between those two starts is that Bryce Harper was not in the lineup on Friday, but Harper shouldn’t be carrying an offense of this caliber, anyway. Which leaves the Phillies, after another loss, searching for answers yet again.
“It’s baseball, it’s the cliche catch phrase, it’s baseball, but it is,” Schwarber said. “There’s going to be times when we’re going to be rolling, having a really good week, and there are going to be times when we have a really bad week. We want to limit those bad weeks, but we have to be able to keep grinding, and things will turn. We had some really good at-bats with guys on base. If Mookie [Betts] doesn’t make a good play out there in right field, it could be a different complexion of the baseball game. But it’s just how it goes. It’s a good player out there in right field, makes a good play. Like I said, the ninth inning was a big momentum shifter. And we were able to get Craig [Kimbrel] in the game.”
Among those struggling the most is Realmuto. After Friday night, the Phillies catcher is now batting .175/.254/.281 over his last 15 games. He said after the game that he hasn’t felt right timing-wise this season and had been playing around with his mechanics as a result. He had a leg kick in Los Angeles, took the leg kick away during the Padres series, and reverted back to his leg kick in his last at-bat on Friday.
“I’ve been going through way too many swing changes, just really thinking too much in the batter’s box,” Realmuto said. “That at-bat, I finally got up there and tried to slow everything down and feel natural in the box and not think about mechanics, and it ended up working out for me. Hopefully it’s my a-ha moment where I figure it out and getting heading in the right direction.”
Realmuto hardly is the only problem. Entering Friday’s game, four of the Phillies’ nine hitters had streaks that began with “0-for.” The collective slump is more glaring given the historic offensive performance they put together in Los Angeles, against this same team.
“After the way we hit in L.A., it’s tough to turn around kind of throw up a dud so far this week,” Realmuto said. “This offense is built to score runs, and we’re not doing that the last few games. We have too many guys struggling at the same time. Once we get Harp back in the lineup that should help, and the rest of us start clicking, we’re going to be fun to watch. It’s just right now we’re struggling a little bit.”
Following that Dodgers road series and entering the Phillies’ first game of their homestand, they led MLB in slugging percentage (.431) and OPS (.750) and ranked second in batting average (.256) and total bases (509). They had the highest average exit velocity in the National League at 89.7 mph, which ranked fifth in MLB. Entering Friday’s game, the Phillies had dropped to third in MLB in batting average (.251) and fourth in slugging percentage (.416) and total bases (531). They still are hitting the ball hard — they have the highest average exit velocity in the NL at 89.5 mph, which ranks seventh in MLB — but those balls just aren’t falling for hits.
One culprit could be that the Phillies aren’t drawing many walks. After Friday night, they ranked 25th out of MLB’s 30 teams in walks with 110, good for last in the National League.
“The free passes are important, and we have not been walking a lot lately, and it’s probably hurt us,” Girardi said.
Harper’s absence is felt in multiple ways
There are the obvious ways that Harper’s absence affects the Phillies’ lineup — like all of those extra-base hits the Phillies aren’t getting now — and then there are the intangibles. The Phillies’ energy, for one, seems to be affected by his absence, but beyond that, his absence affects how opponents see the lineup.
With Harper gone, the middle of the order looks much less daunting, particularly with Realmuto hitting the way he has been. Realmuto was the Phillies’ cleanup hitter Friday night for just the 12th time in his nine-year career — at a time when he’s going through his worst slump of the season. That alone speaks to the impact of Harper on this lineup.
“I think opponents attack an individual the way they’re going to affect the individual,” Girardi said. “But there are times where there might be a situation, second and third, Harper’s on deck, you can’t afford to walk the guy. Then it can become a little bit different, in a sense. But they have a game plan, and they’re going to go after hitters the way the game presents itself.”
Rough start for Ranger Suárez
In his last start against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, on May 14, Ranger Suárez gave up only five hits over seven innings pitched. He had a bumpier start in his outing against the Dodgers at home, allowing four hits and three earned runs through his first two innings of work. By the end of the second inning, reliever Nick Nelson was warming up.
After allowing a single to Will Smith in the bottom of the third, Suárez evaded more trouble by striking out Justin Turner and inducing a double play. But after that inning, his night was over, as Nelson came in for the fourth. In all, Suárez allowed three earned runs, five hits, two walks and struck out five.
He had trouble locating his pitches, in general, but seemed to struggle particularly with locating his sinker. Of the 36 balls Suárez threw, 15 of them were sinkers. He threw 84 pitches.
“You can sum it up by saying it was a bad day,” Suárez said. “I didn’t have command of my pitches the whole night.”
“He was just not throwing strikes,” Girardi said, “and they waited him out. They did a good job of getting him in long counts, right from the beginning. Mookie Betts did it right from the beginning. He just didn’t throw enough strikes.”
Freddie Freeman accounted for all of the Dodgers’ runs. He scored in the first and ninth innings, and drove in the other two with a single in the second inning.