The Phillies were just three outs from a needed win on Wednesday after Ronald Torreyes poked a run-scoring single through the infield in the eighth inning. But three outs — if the first eight innings of a 13-12 loss to Washington were any indication — would be hard to come by.
Héctor Neris blew the save in the ninth as the Phillies blew three leads to lose for the sixth time in eight games. Josh Bell and Josh Harrison started the ninth with singles before Starlin Castro drove them in with a one-out single. Another lead slipped away as the Phillies dropped three games below .500.
Joe Girardi said on Sunday that this was “a really important week” as the Phillies play six games against the Nationals and Mets. They started the week with two losses and it’s hard to find a more crushing defeat than the one they were handed Wednesday.
“It’s a bad day,” said Neris, who has blown saves in three of his last five appearances and could be bumped from the closer’s role when the Phillies return Friday. “It’s past us right now and we’re still focusing on what we have to do to help the team to win.”
Neris’ blown save sealed the loss but it almost felt predictable after the Phillies blew a five-run lead in the fifth and a four-run lead in the sixth. The Phillies walked seven batters in those two innings and six of those walks turned into runs.
Joe Girardi said he was without four relievers — Ranger Suarez, Connor Brogdon, Bailey Falter, and Spencer Howard — and that became an issue when Vince Velasquez failed to finish five innings. Archie Bradley relieved Velasquez in the fifth and his second pitch was hit by Kyle Schwarber for a three-run homer to tie the score at 5.
“He was not locating anymore,” Girardi said of Velasquez, who allowed four runs in 4⅓ innings. “So we thought we’d bring in Archie, who has been pretty good in those situations when we bring him in to get a big out. He hung a breaking ball.”
Andrew McCutchen bailed out Bradley with a grand slam in the bottom of the inning, but that four-run lead was quickly tested. In the sixth, Sam Coonrod struggled to throw strikes and walked three of the five batters he faced to load the bases with two outs.
Girardi was short on relievers, but it still felt like a curious spot to insert long reliever David Hale. He could have used José Alvarado to face Trea Turner, but the Phillies did not want to use him that early in the game.
If Alvarado — who pitched a scoreless eighth — was used to finish the sixth and handle the seventh, the Phillies could have then used Hale and Neris to protect a four-run lead for six outs. Girardi used Alvarado for two innings last week in Los Angeles, so he has shown he can come back for a second inning of work.
Turner sliced a two-run single into right off Hale, Juan Soto walked, and Josh Bell hit a grand slam to give Washington a two-run lead. It was a brutal sequence.
“Our starters getting deep into the game is important just because you look at what happened in San Francisco, we went to the bullpen pretty early. We went to the bullpen early yesterday,” Girardi said. “It caught up to us today is what happened. We haven’t had to do that a whole lot until this last four or five days [knocks on wood]. We have to get our starters to where they can give us a little more distance.”
McCutchen’s grand slam
McCutchen’s knee, Girardi said, was “a little bark” after he fouled a ball off his leg on Tuesday night. So the Phillies kept him out of Wednesday’s lineup to give him two straight days off before Friday’s series opener in New York.
But his barking knee did not prevent McCutchen from being used in the fifth as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded. It was just McCutchen’s 23rd career pinch-hit chance and he ended it with a grand slam to give the Phillies a four-run lead. It was a great moment, but the energy from it was quickly gone.
Alec Bohm had a career-high four hits including a single to tie the game in the eighth. Bohm, Travis Jankowski, and Torreyes — the lineup’s sixth, seventh, and eighth hitters — combined for nine of the team’s 15 hits. Bohm’s day was spoiled by the bullpen, but he is 23-for-62 this month and has raised his batting average to .244, 41 points higher than where it was at the start of June.
Another Harper solo
Bryce Harper homered for the 10th time this season and all of them have come without runners on base. Dating back to last season, Harper has hit 12 straight solo homers. Entering Wednesday, just 85 of Harper’s 215 plate appearances (39.5%) have come this season with runners on base.
The Phillies are off Thursday before opening a four-game series Friday with a doubleheader in New York against the first-place Mets. The Phillies plan to start Aaron Nola and Matt Moore on Friday. A bad weekend could bury the Phillies while a strong showing could inch them close to .500 or even give them a winning record.
“You can go one way or you can go the other way,” Harper said. “We need to regroup as quick as possible. We need to go into this weekend, get through it and hopefully win the series, take it one game at a time. And we need to come out on top up there because if we don’t, it’s going to be miserable coming back from that and we can’t afford to do that right now.”