The Phillies were at least able to watch Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to the Nationals with the comfort that starting pitching help was near. Word filtered through the clubhouse in the afternoon that the front office had acquired Tyler Anderson, a steady left-hander from Pittsburgh.
So that made the pair of three-run homers Matt Moore allowed in the first inning a bit digestible, knowing that reinforcements were coming. Then the deal hit a snag, but it was still expected to be completed. And then -- after Moore gave up six runs in four innings -- Anderson was dealt to Seattle.
The loss was rough, but losing out on the type of pitcher this team needs was even more deflating. The Phillies were not looking for Anderson to front the rotation, but just keep the offense in games, which Moore and Vince Velasquez have struggled to do at the back of the starting rotation.
“We need to do better,” manager Joe Girardi said after the game but before Pittsburgh sent Anderson to Seattle. “That’s the bottom line. We have to find people to get us outs. We need to do better.”
Anderson would have only filled one rotation place. Tuesday night was a reminder that the Phillies need at least two starters if they’re going to chase down first place. The Phillies will continue to search for starting pitching before Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline.
Moore now has a 6.46 ERA and has pitched more than five innings just once in six starts since returning from the injured list. Velasquez is scheduled to pitch Thursday and has a 7.74 ERA in his last 10 starts. Zach Eflin is on the injured list with tendinitis in his right knee and the team does not have a timetable for his return, which seems concerning. For now, he’s being replaced by Spencer Howard, who was forced out Monday in the fourth inning due to a blister.
The Phillies are hoping the back of their rotation can simply just keep them in games. Moore and Velasquez have struggled to do that, but one of them will remain in the rotation if the Phillies acquire just one starter before Friday’s trade deadline.
“Everybody understands the bargain here. There’s ends that need to be help up,” Moore said. “Just speaking personally, it doesn’t really change things for me because I’m really trying to just focus on the things that are in my control.”
Josh Bell, the game’s fourth batter, hit a three-run homer on a 3-1 pitch in the first and Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the second inning that bounced onto Ashburn Alley. A six-run hole after 12 batters is tough to overcome.
“It’s very tough as an offense to come out each night and try to score six, seven, eight runs,” Bryce Harper said. “It’s just not possible, especially with the pitching in this division and this league, as well.”
Didi Gregorius did not get charged with an error, but his defense did Moore no favors. He couldn’t throw Trea Turner out at first base in the first inning and then was unable to catch a Victor Robles pop-up in foul territory in the second.
“That’s a play he’s usually going to make and he didn’t,” Girardi said. “It’s a long run. You start to get near the fence but it’s a play that he’s capable of making.”
Those first two innings may have gone different if Moore was able to get those outs. Instead, the innings rolled on.
“If anything, it makes me want to get a groundball,” Moore said. “It makes me want to punch the guy out and get a strikeout right there and pick my guys up. Trea is one of the fastest guys in the game. That’s not as easy as a play as you might think. If anything, I want to shoulder that responsibility for my guys and be in a position to step up and have a better outcome for that. Unfortunately, tonight I wasn’t able to do that but that’s where my head is at in those moments. No one makes a mistake on purpose, right? The biggest thing I can do is not compound that mistake by walking a guy, which I did.”
The Phillies nearly overcame Moore’s start in the fifth inning when Harper hit the first inside-the-park homer of his career. Harper’s fly ball hit the top of the angled wall in center field, just out of reach of the leaping Robles. The ball bounced across center field and Harper sprinted home. It was another display of aggressive baserunning by Harper, who stole three bases on Friday night to trigger a win over Atlanta.
“I saw Robles jump and the ball hit off the wall and it flared up pretty high,” Harper said. “Once I saw that, I was trying to run as fast as I could. I saw Dusty waving me and I got to the plate. Pretty cool.”
Andrew McCutchen followed Harper with a homer to left field, which got the Phillies within two runs. It was the first time since 2008 -- Jayson Werth and Chase Utley -- that the Phillies hit back-to-back home runs and one of the homers was an inside-the-parker.
The ballpark roared after each homer, but imagine what it would have been like if the Phillies’ starter had simply kept them in the game. That’s all they’re asking for.
Zack Wheeler will face Patrick Corbin on Wednesday night in a match-up of the pitcher the Phillies signed and the one they tried to sign. Corbin visited South Philadelphia in November of 2018 before signing with Washington. The next winter, the Phils signed Wheeler. They likely would not have had the money to sign Wheeler had they landed Corbin, who has a 5.71 ERA in 19 starts this season.