If coughing up two- and seven-run leads and getting swept in a doubleheader Thursday seemed like rock bottom for the Phillies, well, what the heck do you call what happened Friday night in Atlanta?
An uncharacteristically rough start for Aaron Nola? Check.
Further proof that the bullpen needs every drop of the help that general manager Matt Klentak acquired Friday night? Yessir.
More examples of the defense -- rookie third baseman Alec Bohm's, in particular -- doing no favors for those overmatched relievers? Bingo.
Add it all up, factor in that Bryce Harper was given the night off, and the Phillies got walloped, 11-2, by the Braves, who didn’t even have injured superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. in the lineup for the series opener at Truist Park.
Make it four losses in a row -- and seven defeats in 10 games -- for the Phillies. They are 9-13, four games behind the division-leading Braves (15-11) and 2 1/2 behind the second-place Miami Marlins (10-9).
Not even Nola was able to stop the skid.
“I got myself in a lot of bad counts, a lot of 2-0 counts,” Nola said. “It’s hard to pitch when you’re that far behind. Three walks. Leadoff guys on base. It was pretty bad all around all night.”
Nola entered the game on a three-start roll in which he allowed two runs on eight hits and racked up 30 strikeouts to only three walks in 21 innings. But he struggled to establish command of his fastball and didn’t make it out of the third inning, the shortest start of his career.
The Braves, fast becoming Nola’s nemesis, KO’d him by scoring four runs in the third inning on back-to-back homers by Travis d’Arnaud and Marcell Ozuna and an RBI double from Johan Camargo. Nola had a 4.75 ERA in six starts against the Braves last season, including a 5.19 ERA in three starts in Atlanta.
“I didn’t get out of the third inning, which obviously stinks,” Nola said. “I don’t think that’s ever happened. I was just getting behind. You get 2-0, you’ve got to make a really good pitch, and when I gave them a pitch in the zone, they squared it up.”
Or as manager Joe Girardi put it, “He just didn’t have it.”
Trailing 4-1, Girardi had to turn to his bullpen, never a desirable move. On cue, Reggie McClain and Cole Irvin combined to allow seven runs in the fifth inning.
Bohm, who has lived up to his top-prospect billing by impressing at the plate and looking inconsistent in the field since getting called up last week, had a particularly rough fifth inning. He made a fielding error on a ball hit by Austin Riley and a wide throw on a grounder from Dansby Swanson.
“The last couple of days, he’s had some throws that got away from him,” Girardi said. “He had a tough play coming in tonight. He probably let that maybe carry over. I’m not even sure if he’s able to make that play. We’ll get him straightened out.”
While the Braves broke it open, Klentak finalized a trade with the Boston Red Sox to acquire relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree for pitchers Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold.
So maybe it wasn’t a total washout?
Workman and Hembree -- along with David Hale, who was acquired earlier in the day in a trade with the New York Yankees -- figure to help stabilize a bullpen that entered the night with a collective 8.07 ERA. Hale could join the Phillies on Saturday in Atlanta. Workman and Hembree won’t be far behind.
“We think that both Workman and Hembree are both going to come in and really give our group a boost,” Klentak said. “And that’s what we need right now.”
Said Nola: “Those guys have been around a little while, and we’ve seen what they did with Boston all those years. We’re glad to have those guys on the team. It’ll be good to get those guys here.”
Another potential bright spot: In his major-league debut, left-hander JoJo Romero struck out the side on only 12 pitches in the eighth inning.
But silver linings have been few and far between for the Phillies, 36.7% of the way through a shortened season and falling fast. Surely, then, getting routed with Nola on the mound has to represent the low point, right?
“I think any pitcher that has the talent and the consistency of Aaron Nola, when they don’t have it, you’re shocked,” Girardi said. “It just happens. It happens to the greatest pitchers of all-time. He just really struggled tonight for whatever reason. I would expect that he’ll bounce back the next time.”