PHOENIX — Bryce Harper had just made a run-saving diving catch in right field in the fifth inning Tuesday night when Gabe Kapler marched to the mound to check on Jake Arrieta. Swiftly, even dismissively, Arrieta waved off the manager.
It was the perfect symbol of what was about to happen.
For weeks, Arrieta has pitched with a bone spur floating in his right elbow. It's painful, he admits, and sooner or later it will need to be surgically removed. It also has left him unable to pitch as deep into games as he might ordinarily go.
But Arrieta recently said he believes he has more six-inning starts in him before the end of the season. At the very least, he was intent on finishing the fifth with a one-run lead against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a goal that he achieved one batter after sending Kapler back to the dugout.
There were still four innings to go, though. And with the offense providing no margin for mistakes, the bullpen coughed up the lead and then some in an 8-4 loss that dropped the Phillies into second place in a bunched-up wild-card race in the National League.
"I would've liked to go one more [inning]," Arrieta said. "[Kapler] came out to the mound and he said, 'Just want to make sure you're good.' I said, 'I'm fine. I'm good.' Yeah, I would've liked one more, but they decided to pinch-hit for me and it just didn't work out."
After the Phillies hit for Arrieta in the top of the sixth, Ranger Suarez loaded the bases and allowed a two-run single to Alex Avila that gave the Diamondbacks a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the inning. Blake Parker then allowed an RBI single to Eduardo Escobar and a homer to David Peralta in a three-run seventh. And starter-turned-reliever Zach Eflin gave up a solo homer to Avila in the eighth.
The Phillies slid one game behind the wild-card-leading Washington Nationals. But the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and surging New York Mets are all on their tail, none sitting more than 1 1/2 games back. The Diamondbacks are lurking, too, 2 1/2 games behind the Phillies' with the rubber game of the three-game series set for Wednesday night.
Suarez, who has risen to become one of Kapler's most trusted relievers in an injury-ravaged bullpen, endured a hiccup. But the offense shouldered the blame, too. The Phillies went 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners, including leaving the bases loaded in the sixth inning. Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto — the heart of the order — combined to go 3-for-15 and strand 10 runners.
"I need to be better," Hoskins said. "I think it starts with me, especially if I'm going to hit towards the top of the lineup. I, plain and simple, need to be better. I think if I'm better we win that game."
The Phillies jumped to a 2-0 lead that was erased by Escobar’s two-run homer in the fourth inning. But Arrieta was mostly good while he lasted, holding the Diamondbacks hitless until the fourth inning. The Phillies went up 3-2 in the fifth on a leadoff double by Hoskins, who scored on a throwing error by Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker, a Norristown native.
But after Arrieta got through the fifth — with considerable help from Harper’s catch — he was due to bat third in the top of the sixth inning. At 80 pitches (he hasn’t thrown more than 88 in a start since the end of June) and with a runner on base with one out, Arrieta was lifted for a pinch-hitter. Roman Quinn singled, but both he and Adam Haseley were left stranded.
"There's going to be times where it's smart to take me out, and then there's also going to be times where it's smart to continue to let me go even though it's not comfortable. I'm OK with that," Arrieta said. "I would've liked one more. But it's all right. 'Q' got a base hit to left field. He did his job. After that point, it just got away from us a little bit."
Suarez loaded the bases on a single and back-to-back walks before Avila singled to right field.
“He had a hard time throwing strikes,” Kapler said. “We had this very specific stretch of the lineup lined up perfectly for Ranger. He was going to get several lefties. Felt like it was the right spot to deploy Ranger. He just wasn’t able to come in and attack the strike zone like he’s capable of.”
If only Arrieta could’ve kept waving off Kapler.