NEW YORK — Since the Phillies sent him back to triple-A three weeks ago, Spencer Howard made three starts, all on six days’ rest, the most recent coming last Saturday night. The training wheels still weren’t off, but at least the handle-with-care prospect was back on a starter’s routine, which was kind of the whole point of sending him down in the first place.
This week brought a disruption.
First, the Phillies put Zach Eflin on the injured list Tuesday with patellar tendinitis in his right knee. Then, rookie Bailey Falter, a candidate to eat innings in Eflin’s stead here Wednesday night, went on the COVID-19 restricted list. Suddenly the Phillies called on Howard for a start at Yankee Stadium, of all places — and on short rest, no less.
Under the circumstances, manager Joe Girardi said he’d have been happy with two innings. Howard provided three scoreless, a shot in the arm to begin a bullpen game in the midst of a stretch in which the Phillies’ pitching depth could be pushed to the brink.
More than anything, though, the offense must do the heavy lifting for the next week or so. But the Phillies failed to take advantage of 11 walks, went 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position, and left 12 men on base in a 6-5 walk-off loss on Ryan LaMarre’s single off closer Ranger Suarez in the 10th inning to fall back to .500 at 47-47.
“We were probably lucky to score five runs,” Girardi said. “We just didn’t swing the bats particularly well.”
It was a costly loss, and not only because the division-leading New York Mets won earlier in the day in Cincinnati. Girardi emptied his bullpen after rookie Cristopher Sánchez lasted only one inning in relief of Howard. Connor Brogdon went two innings, Archie Bradley got four outs, and Suarez came back out for the 10th inning after getting the final two outs of the ninth to strand the winning run at third base.
And now, that taxed bullpen may be worked again Thursday night. Left-hander Matt Moore, who is scheduled to start the series opener at home against the Atlanta Braves, hasn’t gone beyond five innings in any of his starts this season.
“We’re OK, bullpen-wise,” Girardi said after the Phillies slipped to 3 1/2 games behind the Mets. “We’ll get it back in order.”
Scoring a bunch of runs would surely ease the burden. In the last five games, the Phillies are 7-for-44 (.159) with runners in scoring position and have left 43 men on base.
“Obviously it’s going to help the more runs you score,” Girardi said. “Again, we didn’t swing it great tonight. But we’ll get going offensively. I’m not worried about that.”
Bryce Harper, who was serving as the designated hitter, came up hobbling in the eighth inning after fouling a ball off the top edge of his right foot, near his ankle. He would’ve hit again if his spot had come up in the 11th inning, according to Girardi.
But the Phillies were planning to get X-rays before leaving New York to rule out anything more than a bruise.
With the Phillies likely to need a starting pitcher to fill in for Eflin on Monday night at home against the Washington Nationals, Girardi said Howard may be considered for the assignment.
“Obviously he’s in the conversation,” Girardi said. “Coming on short rest, he did a heck of a job for us.”
Howard came out with his fastball blazing in the mid-90s, but that wasn’t a surprise. Sustaining that velocity after the first inning has been more of a challenge. He kept his fastball cranked up and paired it with his slider. Knowing he wouldn’t pitch more than three innings, he mostly shelved his change-up.
After giving up a leadoff single to Gary Sánchez in the second inning, Howard erased him on a double play. He put two runners on base in the third on a walk and a hit batter but froze Giancarlo Stanton on a 95-mph fastball.
Girardi noted that Howard’s slider was harder than during his previous stint in the big leagues. His slider averaged 81.2 mph previously. Against the Yankees, it averaged 88.5 mph.
“I’ve been working on that,” Howard said. “Just messing around with it in catch play and thought it was better than the one that I had been throwing and definitely more consistent around the zone. Just went with it.”
Use the force, Luke
The Phillies tied it, 5-5, by batting around and scoring three runs despite getting only one hit in the eighth inning.
Luke Williams, who entered as a pinch-hitter two innings earlier and stayed in the game in center field, stroked a two-run single to cut the margin to 5-4. Two batters later, Ronald Torreyes hustled home with the tying run on a wild pitch by Yankees reliever Nick Nelson.
Jean Segura is known more for making consistent contact than for working deep counts. But who needs a leadoff hitter to take a few pitches when he puts the first one of the game over the fence?
Segura did exactly that against Yankees spot-starter Asher Wojciechowski. In 12 consecutive games atop the Phillies’ order, the second baseman is 14-for-51 (.275) with one double, one triple, two homers, four walks, and six strikeouts.