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Phillies offense remains dormant in the desert

Team-wide offensive malaise continues, Ranger Suárez struggles, and other observations from a 4-2 loss to the Diamondbacks

Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto tags out the Diamondbacks' Josh Rojas on a play at the plate in the second inning Wednesday night in Arizona.
Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto tags out the Diamondbacks' Josh Rojas on a play at the plate in the second inning Wednesday night in Arizona.Read moreRoss D. Franklin / AP

PHOENIX — Maybe it’s time for John Middleton to start tweeting.

Hey, it worked for New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, who awoke Wednesday, fired up his Twitter account, and called out his “unproductive” hitters for lacking a “more disciplined approach.” A few hours later, the Mets rallied for four runs in the 12th inning in San Francisco to snap a five-game losing streak.

Perhaps the Phillies could use similar prodding from their owners after the offense fell flat again here Wednesday night in a 4-2 loss to the Diamondbacks. The Phillies have scored a total of 19 runs in their last eight games, a stretch in which they have gone 2-6 and slid from two games ahead in the National League East to 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

After mustering three hits Tuesday night in a 3-2 loss, they were held to just four by the NL’s worst pitching staff. Two came from reinstalled leadoff man Odúbel Herrera, who tripled and scored in the first inning and homered in the eighth. Otherwise, the Phillies’ bats remained as dry as the desert.

“You’ve got to find a way to grind this out and turn it around tomorrow,” manager Joe Girardi said with only ace Zack Wheeler standing between the Phillies and a three-game sweep by the Diamondbacks, who have the NL’s worst record and are on pace to lose 108 games. “We’ve just got to find a way to get it corrected. That’s all.”

But how is a team-wide slump solved?

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The Phillies have talked among themselves over the last two days about fly balls not carrying as they usually do at Chase Field. They hit a few balls hard against Diamondbacks rookie Humberto Castellanos and two relievers. Bryce Harper flew out to the warning track in left field in the first inning. Herrera flew out to deep right field in the fifth. But Jean Segura, Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius, and Andrew McCutchen -- the heart of the order -- combined to go 2-for-18 with two walks. In the last eight games, they are 24-for-132 (.182).

So much for the Phillies feasting on Arizona pitching.

“I think you can’t press and kind of make it more because we all care and we know this is crunch time,” first baseman Brad Miller said. “We want to win every game. I think that’s how we’re going to get through this, just moving on to the next pitch and trying to contribute somehow.”

Said Girardi: “Sometimes it’s just catching a break, a bloop here. You’ve just got to string things together. It can all start over tomorrow. That’s the message.”

Ranger danger

Once again, the lack of offense meant the pitching had to be nearly perfect.

Ranger Suárez was far from it.

Making his fourth start since being moved into the rotation, the erstwhile closer kept the basepaths busy by giving up eight hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. He allowed three runs and might have given up more if not for a generous strike call on Josh Rojas with the bases loaded in the fifth inning.

The biggest damage against Suárez was done by Castellanos. Never mind that the rookie had one hit in five minor-league seasons. He collected two in as many at-bats against Suárez, including an RBI single in the fourth inning to give Arizona a 2-1 lead.

As usual, Suárez relied heavily on his sinker. He wasn’t hit particularly hard (six of the Diamondbacks’ eight hits were singles). But 61 of Suárez’s 86 pitches were some variety of a fastball. As he progresses as a starter, he may need to hone his slider or develop a curveball.

“Fastball and changeup are my best pitches,” said Suárez, who has allowed four runs in 14 2/3 innings over four starts. “I think I have a pretty good slider, too. But I’ve been working with those two pitches the most and they’ve been working, so I thought it was a good approach to do that today.”

» READ MORE: Phillies seek to jumpstart offense by moving hot Odúbel Herrera into leadoff spot

Realmuto banged up?

Realmuto flexed his right hand after a wild pitch in the seventh inning. He remained in the game and didn’t report anything to the Phillies’ coaching staff, according to Girardi. But considering he missed time earlier this season with a bruised right wrist, the situation bears watching.

Girardi said Realmuto is scheduled to catch Thursday’s matinee series finale, but the Phillies would check him out in the morning before putting him in the lineup.

D’backs pitcher ejected

Diamondbacks reliever Caleb Smith had his glove confiscated after the eighth inning and was ejected for suspicion of using an illegal foreign substance.

Crew chief Tom Hallion said there were “two darker areas of the glove, one on the left side, one on the right side of the heel ... that had a sticky feel to it.” The glove will be sent to Major League Baseball for further inspection.

“I’m not stupid,” said Smith, who was checked two innings earlier. “I know the two main things they check is your glove and your hat. If I was using something -- and I wasn’t -- I wouldn’t put it my glove or my hat. That’s ignorant.’’

Girardi said he didn’t suspect Smith was using a foreign substance.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you exactly what it was,” Hallion said. “If you want to say it was rosin, I’ll leave that up to Major League Baseball to decide whether it was or wasn’t.

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Leading man

Girardi’s decision to move Herrera into the leadoff spot paid off right away. Herrera lined the third pitch of the game to right field for a triple against Castellanos and scored on a passed ball.

Herrera is an imperfect solution atop the order. But he’s also a streaky hitter in the midst of a hot spell. He entered on a 14-for-44 (.318) roll with a .380 on-base percentage this month.

And it’s not like the Phillies have other appealing leadoff alternatives.