Before he exited Citizens Bank Park with a strained right forearm and a murky prognosis Tuesday night, Clay Buchholz stood powerless on the mound. He pitched for 21 minutes in the first inning of a 14-4 Phillies loss and fooled no one. The Mets mounted a three-run lead three batters into the game. Buchholz recorded his first out on his 22nd pitch.
The veteran righthander was dismantled. Now he will head to the disabled list.
"That's the worst thing ever, having to call your manager or trainer out in the middle of an inning," Buchholz said. "I tried to get through it. I wasn't doing the team any favors throwing what I was throwing at that point in time, so I made the move."
It is not clear when Buchholz will pitch again, but the initial returns on a $13.5 million investment by the Phillies are not good. He is an injured pitcher with a history of injuries. The 71/3 innings he pitched before succumbing to the arm ailment yielded a 12.27 ERA and a steady stream of baserunners.
His final pitch, in the third inning, was 70 mph. It bounced before it reached home plate. Buchholz shook his right arm. His teammates converged at the mound and motioned to the Phillies dugout for help.
Somehow, the depths reached Tuesday were even lower than that moment. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called a two-minute team meeting before the beatdown to reinforce some positive feelings after Edubray Ramos' fateful fastball Monday night.
Then Yoenis Cespedes crushed three home runs in the game's first five innings. Odubel Herrera lost a fly ball in the lights. A Mets runner advanced to second from first base on a foul pop-out behind the plate. Lucas Duda destroyed a baseball that sailed over the batter's eye and onto Ashburn Alley.
The highs from a 12-run first inning Saturday have dissolved. The Mets pounded 20 hits, 14 of which were for extra bases. They have beaten the Phillies 28 times in the last 40 games since the start of the 2015 season and outhomered them, 78-33.
"Another embarrassing game against the Mets," Mackanin said.
This latest loss cast the most doubt on Buchholz. The righthander has a history of ailments; he has pitched 140 or more innings in just three of his 10 seasons before this. If injured for an extended period, the acquisition will be nothing more than a sunken cost.
Buchholz said he injured the flexor tendon in his right arm, an injury he suffered in July 2015. He missed almost three months to end the season.
"I actually reinjured myself throwing a bullpen at that point," Buchholz said. "Nobody in a big-league clubhouse wants to be hurt. You're here for a reason. You're here to play baseball. You're here to win. Whenever you're not able to do that, it's frustrating, especially being a guy that's been hurt multiple times."
Buchholz, facing a lackluster Reds lineup in his first start, survived five innings. Against the potent Mets, he could not avoid chaos.
Curtis Granderson began the game with an eight-pitch walk. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a hard-hit double on the eighth pitch of his at-bat. Cespedes fouled off the first two that Buchholz threw him, a cutter and a curveball. With the count 0-2, Cameron Rupp called for a high fastball. He raised his mitt. Buchholz badly missed the target. Cespedes deposited the pitch into the shrubbery, 411 feet from home plate.
The Phillies, because of two coming off days, do not need to fill Buchholz's spot in the rotation until April 22. Zach Eflin was activated from the disabled list and optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he started Tuesday night. He pitched five shutout inning with five hits and three walks.
Jake Thompson is scheduled to pitch Wednesday for Lehigh Valley. Ricardo Pinto is Thursday's starter. The entire triple-A starting rotation is on the 40-man roster, so they are all possible options.
By the third inning, with Buchholz's pitch count rising and the crowd's patience thin, it was clear his night would not last. Then, to add insult, it ended with a walk to the dugout alongside a Phillies athletic trainer.