The Phillies already had a lead Friday night in the eighth inning, but they knew that a lead would never feel truly safe with their top two relievers sidelined in a ballpark like Coors Field.
So it was a welcome sight when Nick Maton -- who entered the lineup as a replacement just before the start of a 5-4 loss to the Rockies -- doubled to the gap in left field. The Phillies, it seemed, had some more support for their bullpen.
But as quickly as Maton pulled into second, the rally fizzled. Matt Joyce grounded out and Roman Quinn popped up. The inning was over and soon the Phillies’ lead would be finished, too.
They went 0 for 10 Friday night with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base. The shorthanded bullpen blew a lead for the third-straight game as Ramiel Tapia’s homer off Hector Neris in the ninth dropped the Phillies below .500.
But the lineup played a heavy role, too.
“We have not hit particularly well all year and it’s probably a good reason that we’re 9-10,” Joe Girardi said. “We have to have better at-bats with runners in scoring position. Sometimes it takes a bloop to get guys going in a sense. Hopefully, that can happen and we can score more runs.”
Sam Coonrod allowed an inherited runner to score in the seventh and returned in the eighth to allow a two-out tying homer to Garrett Hampson. He threw just 13 pitches in the seventh inning, but faced four batters and allowed two singles. Girardi never waved about pushing the right-hander into the eighth.
“He didn’t really have that many pitches. He got ground balls,” Girardi said. “That’s the thing when you look at him. He’s going to get ground balls and strikeouts and there’s no better place than this ballpark. His pitch count was down. He had days off. He was pretty well-rested. Felt like he could give me multiple outs.”
Two weeks ago, Coonrod’s role was to be a hard thrower in the middle innings. But Archie Bradley’s oblique injury pushed him into higher-leverage situations and Jose Alvarado’s placement this week on the COVID-19 injured list forced Girardi to use him in a spot like Friday night.
The bullpen has struggled to redefine roles without their two key arms as the absences of Bradley and Alvarado continue to be glaring.
“It’s definitely more difficult. We’re asking people to step up and maybe get us more outs than they’re used to doing,” Girardi said. “That’s what you need to do. It has to be the next man up. You go through injuries all year or different things all year where guys have to step up and it’s important that they do that.”
The Phillies scored twice in the seventh earlier, but their scoreless eighth was a missed opportunity. And it stung when Coonrod allowed the homer in the bottom of the inning.
In the seventh, Roman Quinn led-off with a double to right field for just his second hit of the season. He stole third on the next pitch and scored the go-ahead run two pitches later on a sacrifice fly by Andrew McCutchen. Rhys Hoskins, the next batter, homered to put the Phillies ahead by two. But that would not be enough.
J.T. Realmuto and Maton, who started for Brad Miller after his neck tightened up, each had three hits. But the Phillies struck out 11 times and left runners on base in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings.
Joe Girardi hoped Vince Velasquez could reach 75 pitches. He threw 67 and lasted just four innings, but only allowed two runs. The Phillies could live with that.
Velasquez may not return to the starting rotation as he’ll likely remain in the bullpen as the top candidate to fill in when needed as a spot starter. The way he pitched Friday -- Velasquez wasn’t perfect but he kept the Phillies afloat -- is what the team wants in a pinch.
“My job is not to complain about a role,” Velasquez said. “My job is just to go out there, pitch, and get outs. You’re going to mature through situations like that.”
Velasquez allowed one hit in the first three innings before allowing fourth-inning home runs to Trevor Story and C.J. Cron. But the homers were both solo shots, as the damage was limited. Velasquez ended the inning by stranding two runners, avoiding a nightmarish start, and kept the Phillies in it.
“Situations like that, you start to mature a little bit,” Velasquez said. “A lot of failures and experiences, you tend to mature a little bit. I knew I had to bear down and I’ve done it before. It was just another situation that I knew I could overcome and keep the team in the game.”
JoJo Romero retired three of the four batters he faced in the fifth, an inspiring inning after an unimpressive first week since returning from the minors. David Hale handled the sixth and passed the ball to Coonrod in the seventh.
The Phillies started Velasquez on Friday in place of Matt Moore, who remains out due to COVID-19 protocols. Velasquez threw 63 pitches six days earlier, leaving the Phillies hopeful he could give them four or five innings.
They knew their bullpen would be tasked with heavy lifting. They were four outs away from a win. But that was as close at they could get.
“When you ask for five innings out of your bullpen, especially at a ballpark like this, chances are you’re going to give up a couple runs,” Girardi said. “It’s unfortunate that we gave up three.”