NEW YORK -- Aaron Nola had thrown 92 pitches on Tuesday night and was beginning to tire in his first start in two weeks. But the Phillies knew they were facing a bullpen game on Wednesday and they needed as much as they could get from Nola in a 6-4 loss at Yankee Stadium.
So Joe Girardi pushed Nola into the sixth inning, hoping the starter could preserve the bullpen by three outs. Instead, he recorded just one. The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez homered on the third pitch of the inning and Rob Brantly followed two batters later with a loud double for his first hit since 2017.
That was it for Nola, who went just 5 1/3 innings and allowed four runs in his first start from returning from the COVID-19 injured list for having close contact with an infected teammate, Alec Bohm.
The Phillies needed Nola to not only keep them in the game but provide a respite for the bullpen, which became even more important after relievers J.D. Hammer and Bailey Falter were placed on the COVID-19 injured list during batting practice. Nola was able to do neither.
“It’s probably the longest stint of not pitching since I’ve been up,” Nola said. “But I felt normal. I felt OK out there.”
Since June 1, Nola has a 6.10 ERA in eight starts and has lasted six innings in just two of those starts.
“Just the execution of my pitches haven’t been where I want them,” Nola said. “Mainly my fastball on both sides of the plate. It hasn’t been as true as it has. My misses have been a little too big.”
The Phillies stayed afloat in the first half mostly thanks to their starting pitchers. Only three other teams had three pitchers each log 100 innings.
But the Phillies are beginning the second half with a struggling Nola and an injured Zach Eflin (knee tendinitis). They are still within striking distance of first place, but the questions in the rotation could hurt their chances to chase down the first-place Mets. The Phillies missed a chance to gain ground on the Mets, who lost Tuesday in Cincinnati, 4-3..
“There’s a lot of games left,” Nola said. “A lot of starts left. We just have to stay healthy and hope Zach can bounce back quick. We have to do our best to try and win as much as possible. Take it game by game and every game matters.”
The Phillies are optimistic that Eflin’s injury will cost him just one start. They’re so confident that they’re not even replacing him in the rotation.
“This is not overly concerning in the realm of injuries,” general manager Sam Fuld said. “We’re optimistic that he’ll be back soon. When exactly that is, I don’t know. But we’re not concerned that this is going to be a long-term issue.”
Eflin was scheduled to pitch Wednesday until he was placed on the injured list before Tuesday’s game. The Phillies will replace him on Wednesday with a parade of relievers. But that plan became harder after Falter and Hammer were placed on the COVID-19 injured list and Nola’s short start forced the Phillies to use three relievers -- José Alvarado, Brandon Kintzler, and Enyel De Los Santos -- for the final eight outs.
Tuesday night was difficult as Nola struggled and Wednesday should be a challenge.
“We have plenty of innings down there,” Girardi said of the bullpen. “We just want them to be productive innings.”
Leave ‘em loaded
The Phillies seemed ready to overcome Nola’s rough night when they loaded the bases with one out in the seventh inning. J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper both singled and Andrew McCutchen walked. But Rhys Hoskins went down looking and Didi Gregorius also struck out. The rally was quickly extinguished as the Phils came up empty. The Phillies left 11 runners on base.
“You look for those opportunities to get some runs and have a big inning and we weren’t able to tonight,” Girardi said. “...We just weren’t able to get it done.”
The blown chance in the seventh inning only mattered because Alvarado escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth. Alvarado inherited a runner on second from Nola with before walking the first two batters he faced to load the bases with one out. The next batter grounded sharply to Alvarado, who fired home to start a 1-2-3 double play. Alvarado was fired up and the play kept the Phils within two runs. But it didn’t matter.
Hoskins homered in the second and scored in the fourth to become the first player in Phillies history to reach 300 runs, walks, and RBIs in his first 500 career games. Hoskins entered Tuesday -- his 495th career game -- with 298 runs scored. The only other players in big-league history to do it are Aaron Judge, Frank Thomas, Eddie Mathews, Ralph Kiner, Charlie Keller, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth.
The Phillies will use a bullpen game on Wednesday against Yankees right-hander Asher Wojciechowski, who will be promoted before the game from triple A. Cristopher Sánchez will likely handle the bulk of Wednesday’s innings.