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Phillies lose opener as bullpen coughs up lead

CINCINNATI - The bullpen door opened in right field at Great American Ball Park, and Jeanmar Gomez paused. Nine outs. Pete Mackanin asked his bullpen for nine outs. Nine outs, and the Phillies could secure an opening-day win Monday to start this season rife with drab expectations.

Cincinnati Reds' Tyler Holt, left, slides home safe for the tying run against Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, right, off a sacrifice fly from Zack Cozart in the eighth inning of their opening day baseball game, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds' Tyler Holt, left, slides home safe for the tying run against Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, right, off a sacrifice fly from Zack Cozart in the eighth inning of their opening day baseball game, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Cincinnati.Read more(AP Photo/Gary Landers)

CINCINNATI - The bullpen door opened in right field at Great American Ball Park, and Jeanmar Gomez paused. Nine outs. Pete Mackanin asked his bullpen for nine outs. Nine outs, and the Phillies could secure an opening-day win Monday to start this season rife with drab expectations.

A quartet sang "God Bless America." Mackanin pleaded in silence. But when two rebuilding teams gathered before 43,683 people in a city that holds a parade for opening day, the weakest group in the building was exposed.

Reds 6, Phillies 2, and a manager's greatest fear emerged before his team's first game even ended. There is no hiding in a 162-game season. At least, Mackanin thought Monday when he lifted Jeremy Hellickson after 79 pitches, he could escape opening day with nine outs from his relievers.

No.

"I'm not going to let it set the tone for the season," Mackanin said, "although we all know that's where we might have a little weakness."

Three Phillies relievers threw 40 pitches in the eighth inning. They walked three Reds batters. Five runs scored. Mackanin foresees his team's being more competitive this season than last. Yes, fewer games will be miserable by the third inning. The pain, instead, is delayed.

Gomez tossed a perfect seventh; last season's Phillies were 51-3 with a lead after seven innings. Those Phillies had Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon, late-inning luxuries for a rebuilding team.

"I just didn't throw quality pitches," said David Hernandez, who signed for $3.9 million last winter and retired none of the three batters he faced.

"We've got to be better than that," said James Russell, a veteran lefty who came to spring training on a minor-league contract and could not clean up Hernandez's mess.

The largest regular-season crowd in Great American Ball Park history chanted "Joey! Joey! Joey!" for Joey Votto, who snubbed the crowd when he did not appear on the field for pregame introductions. Votto struck out in his first three at-bats. He lined a Russell fastball to right for the go-ahead hit, a two-run single to center. Hector Neris hit a batter before Jay Bruce cracked another two-run single to center.

Before the game, Mackanin shrugged when asked who would pitch the ninth inning in a save opportunity. He said he did not decide on Dalier Hinojosa until during the game. "It's a touchy situation," Mackanin said. He never had a chance to use Hinojosa, although Freddy Galvis staked the Phillies to a 2-1 lead with a two-run homer in the second.

On Sunday, before the implosion, Mackanin met with his relievers. He described the jumbled bullpen as a chance to "audition." He told the pitchers to attack. Hernandez issued a leadoff walk in the eighth, and that was that.

It spoiled an exceptional start by Hellickson. He made Votto, one of the game's most cerebral and talented hitters, look foolish. Three times.

Votto struck out in the first inning on a 79-mph change-up. He whiffed on an 89-mph fastball in the fourth. And, in the sixth, after jumping ahead, 3-0, Votto swung and missed at an 88-mph fastball. Hellickson pounded him inside on all three strikeout pitches. Each time, a befuddled Votto halfheartedly swung.

The third strikeout of Votto, with the tying run on third base, was Hellickson's final act. The Phillies pulled Hellickson at 79 pitches. He allowed one run, and it was unearned because of a Ryan Howard error committed 13 minutes into the season.

Had Hellickson pitched the seventh, Mackanin said, Hernandez still would have been on the mound for the eighth inning. It's April, and managers are judicious with their starters. Gomez is a middle reliever. He did his job, Mackanin said. The rest did not.

"I hope that the right guys are here right now," Mackanin said. "I'm not going to condemn Hernandez because he didn't pitch that well tonight. He's going to get more opportunities. We'll continue through the season and we'll see who rises to the occasion."

mgelb@philly.com

@MattGelb

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