Joey Votto, his face grimaced, looked Friday night to the fans sitting in the lower bowl of Citizens Bank Park, flexed his arms and pointed his thumbs to himself. Not only has the Phillies’ Zack Wheeler been one of the National League’s top pitchers this season, but also one of the hardest to homer against. So the three-run homer Wheeler allowed in a 6-1 loss to the Reds was worth celebrating.
Wheeler entered Friday with the second-lowest home runs per nine innings in the majors (0.58), yet the Reds tagged him for two as Votto’s fourth-inning homer was followed two innings later by Nick Castellanos’ solo shot. It was the first time since April 20 that Wheeler, who pitched six innings, allowed multiple homers in a start. And it was too much to overcome for a struggling offense.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel good all day,” Wheeler said. “Physically fine, but just a little out of whack. It was probably the worst I’ve thrown the ball in a really long time.”
The Phillies had just five hits against the Reds and have now lost three of their last four games since their eight-game winning streak. Losing a Wheeler start now puts even more emphasis on Saturday, when the Phillies turn to Matt Moore (6.79 ERA) to slide into the rotation.
Perhaps Wheeler’s night would have gone differently if Brad Miller had gotten an out at first base to start the fourth. Wheeler retired nine of his first 10 batters before Tyler Naquin started the fourth with a sharp grounder to first base. Miller fielded it but was not able to beat Naquin to the bag.
“You learn to get over that stuff a while ago back in your career,” Wheeler said. “You just move on and try to get the next out, but it was one of those days that I wasn’t feeling right. Just a combo of it got to me today.”
Instead of an out, the Reds had a leadoff single. Wheeler hit the next batter -- Castellanos -- and then Votto homered. It was the only time in the game when Wheeler had more than one runner on base. Wheeler started Votto’s at-bat with a cutter that he whiffed on, but then tried to throw the pitch again.
“He saw a few of them. I think he saw one or two of them in the first at-bat and obviously the first one of the second at-bat,” Wheeler said. “As soon as I was about to throw it, I was like ‘This probably isn’t a good idea.’ I think it was a decent pitch, but when you throw the same pitch in the same place against a guy like him, he’s the kind of guy who’s going to make an adjustment pretty quick if he’s already seen it a handful of times.”
Wheeler allowed four hits, struck out six, and walked one. But two of the four hits were homers. For a change, it was homers that beat Wheeler.
“He really didn’t pitch that poorly,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s not like he gave up a bunch of hits, but it was the time of the big hit by Joey Votto.”
Where’s the offense?
The Phillies averaged 6.88 runs per game during their eight-game winning streak but have totaled just five runs in their last four games. The lineup is 22-for-125 (.176) during the four-game stretch. The bats have gone cold. The Phillies beefed up against the Pirates, Nationals, and Mets before struggling this week against the Dodgers and now the Reds.
“As a team, things are not falling into place the last couple days,” said shortstop Didi Gregorius, who had two of the team’s five hits. “It’s a hiccup on the road but we’re going to get back at it. Every day is a new day, so we have to forget about today and move on.”
Cincinnati right-hander Tyler Mahle pitched seven scoreless innings. The Phillies had just one extra-base hit before Gregorius hit a two-out RBI double in the ninth to trim a six-run deficit to five. They went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
“We have to get going, obviously,” Girardi said. “You have to score some runs, but right now we have some guys who are struggling a little bit. Tomorrow is a new day.”
Bryce Harper missed the final out of the game as he was ejected with two outs in the ninth inning by home-plate umpire Ramon De Jesus. Harper flew out and shouted at the umpire after returning to the dugout.
“There were some calls that he didn’t like and our guys didn’t like,” Girardi said. “He just barked. I think it’s a really quick hook. It’s important to remember that this is going to be a tense time of year and I think you have to give players some warnings and some leeway.”
But was this a sign of frustration over the team’s offensive struggles?
“I think it’s more Bryce and some of the guys not liking the calls tonight,” Girardi said. “I think it’s more that.”
Mickey Moniak came off the bench for a late-inning at-bat for the second straight day, but it seems to be time for the Phillies to give Moniak some time in the starting lineup. Odúbel Herrera continues to play nearly every day in center-field despite batting .196 in 143 at-bats since June 14. Herrera batted leadoff on Friday and went 0-for-4. Moniak had a .800 OPS in triple A when he was promoted this week. With Herrera struggling, it wouldn’t hurt to see what Moniak could do. It can’t be much worse than the production the Phillies have received over the last two months.
Roster move coming
The Phillies will have to make a roster move before Saturday’s game if they are to activate Bailey Falter. The left-hander said he plans to join the bullpen, which means either Maurico Llovera or David Paulino will likely be sent out. Paulino pitched a scoreless eighth in his Phillies debut before allowing a two-run homer to Eugenio Suárez in the ninth. Llovera has allowed five homers in his last three appearances, including three straight on Saturday against the Mets.