The Phillies already knew when they arrived at Marlins Park for a seven-game series that they’d have to face Sixto Sanchez, the prized rookie pitcher that once belonged to them and now is a National League rookie of the year candidate for one of baseball’s most surprising teams.
They could not know, however, that this marathon series in this sprint of a season was going to be even more miserable than their season-opening three-game series with the Marlins that ended with a couple of losses and an unwanted weeklong vacation forced by a COVID-19 outbreak that didn’t even touch their clubhouse.
Before they faced Sanchez and the Marlins in Game 1 of their second doubleheader in three days, the Phillies had to figure out who was healthy enough to play and who they would send out to face the 22-year-old righthander from the Dominican Republic.
The heart of the Phillies' order was mostly cut out as catcher J.T. Realmuto, the player the Phillies got for Sanchez, and first baseman Rhys Hoskins were forced to sit with injuries. Realmuto was out with a hip injury and Hoskins was sidelined by a left forearm injury. Neither one played in either game Sunday and the Phillies' normally explosive offense managed a total of two runs against two rookie starters.
They lost the opener to Sanchez 2-1 and were beaten in the second game 8-1 by lefty Braxton Garrett, a 2016-first-round pick who made his major-league debut.
If that’s not enough bad news, here’s some more: Phillies rookie pitcher Spencer Howard landed on the injury list with a shoulder problem that is likely going to end his season.
And let’s not forget that the trip to Miami started with Zack Wheeler’s pants-induced nail injury Wednesday night that prevented him from pitching Friday or at any point in this critical series.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” manager Joe Girardi said after announcing that injury Thursday night.
We at least got an intriguing pitching matchup in Game 1 when manager Joe Girardi decided to send rookie Ramon Rosso out to face Sanchez. Two years ago, they were roommates in high-A Clearwater.
“It was really nice to live together and we would go out to eat,” Rosso said of his fellow Dominican Republic native. “To this day, we still talk and we see each other sometimes in the offseason, so it’s a good relationship.”
For a couple innings, it was also a good pitching matchup.
Rosso, in fact, went to the mound in the bottom of the third with a 1-0 lead and had shown an impressive fastball that touched 97 miles per hour a few times in the first two innings.
By the third, he was “out of gas.” His velocity dipped into the low 90s and his command disappeared as the Marlins took advantage of two walks and two singles at the start of the inning to score a couple of runs.
“I think the main difference is that for the past few months I’ve been doing all my workouts and I’ve been training to be a reliever, so when it was time for me to get on the mound for that third inning, I felt like my energy wasn’t the same,” Rosso said.
Rosso said the longest he had pitched at the Phillies' alternative training site in Allentown was 3 1/3 innings. On this day, he was done after 2 1/3 innings. When Rosso walked a third batter, Girardi went to the bullpen and the duo of Connor Brogdon and David Hale gave him 3 2/3 innings without allowing a run.
Sanchez made sure that rare flash of excellence from the Phillies' bullpen was wasted while also reminding his former team what they surrendered to acquire Realmuto, the All-Star catcher who could leave as a free agent in a couple of months.
“He’s got good stuff,” Girardi said. “The young man has four pitches and he has a lot of velocity and good movement. He’s got good stuff.”
After Alec Bohm reached on a leadoff double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Andrew Knapp in the second inning, Sanchez shut the Phillies down over the final five innings. He faced Bohm again in the seventh and struck out the fellow rookie on three pitches with the final one being clocked at 100 miles per hour.
“I wanted to strike him out with a fastball,” Sanchez said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I’ve got to tell you that I was more motivated to pitch against the Phillies. I went out there with my plan and I went out there with my head held high and I got the victory. That makes me really happy.”
By the end of the day, Sanchez must have been even happier because the Marlins had another victory and the suddenly injury-ravaged Phillies had slipped into third place.