WASHINGTON -- Facing a two-run deficit in the eighth inning of the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday, and with a well-rested bullpen after back-to-back rainouts, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler turned to Cole Irvin to make only the eighth relief appearance of his four-year professional career.
It did not go well.
Irvin allowed back-to-back home runs to Brian Dozier and Gerardo Perra, the Washington Nationals broke open a tight game en route to a 6-2 victory, and Kapler sparked the latest wave of second-guessing about his pitching decisions with a move that understandably raised eyebrows.
Kapler explained that lefty Jose Alvarez would have been the choice to come in from the bullpen if the game was tied. But with the Phillies trailing and the second half of the doubleheader looming, he decided to go with Irvin.
"We have pitchers on our roster that we have to trust," Kapler said. "We trusted Cole there."
But the Phillies' faith in Irvin -- and several other pitchers who are being pressed into higher-profile roles because of a spate of injuries and ineffectiveness -- must be waning. The organization's pitching depth has been tested over these last few weeks, and it isn't getting a passing grade.
Irvin, who has struggled since winning his first two major-league starts last month against the Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies, was recalled from triple-A Lehigh Valley last Sunday and got rocked in a relief appearance in Atlanta. He has allowed seven home runs in his last 18 1/3 innings.
But Irvin represents one of the Phillies' few options to make a spot start either Saturday or Sunday at home against the Miami Marlins. The Phillies also haven't named a No. 5 starter to replace Jerad Eickhoff, who was demoted to the bullpen last week before being placed on the injured list Monday with right biceps tendinitis. Like Eickhoff, Irvin doesn't throw particularly hard or miss many bats. His effectiveness is predicated on being precise with his command.
"[Irvin] is the type of pitcher who has to pitch ahead in the count," Kapler said. "He has to be very, very aggressive. Put hitters on their heels and put them away. When I say, 'put them away,' I don't mean he has to strike batters out. The idea is to get into an 0-2 or 1-2 count and continue to stay on the gas pedal and put hitters on their heels. He wasn't able to do that today."