SAN FRANCISCO – Scott Kingery stood Saturday night with his red cleats touching the infield grass. Cesar Hernandez, the second baseman, moved onto the other side of second base and stationed himself just a few feet to Kingery's left. Maikel Franco played shallow at third base.
The Phillies installed an extreme defensive shift with one out and a runner on third in the sixth inning of a 2-0 loss to the Giants. These alignments – which are based in analytics and scouting reports – burned the Phillies early in the season but manager Gabe Kapler refused to stray from them. The shifts, he said then, would work more often than they would fail.
And the shift on Saturday worked. Andrew McCutchen chopped a dribbler straight at Kingery. He moved just a few feet to grab the grounder, a play he would not have had a chance on if he was not positioned so close. The Phillies got exactly what they wanted. Then Kingery made the throw. It was not a bad throw, Kapler said, but it was not a perfect throw. Kingery threw high and Joe Panik slid past Jorge Alfaro's tag. The Giants had the only run they needed against the Phillies' anemic offense.
"On that play it's do or die," Kingery said. "You don't really have time to re-grip or kind of aim. It's just kind of catch it and get rid of it as fast as possible. Unfortunately, the throw was a little bit high, but in that situation I had to get rid of it as quick as possible."
Kapler challenged the call and a replay on the Giants television broadcast showed that Panik may have been out. Kapler and Kingery both said after the loss that they had not seen the play. Kingery said Panik made "the perfect slide" as he maneuvered around Alfaro with a foot-first slide. The call stood and a difficult night continued. The one run was more than the Phillies have scored in their last 20 innings as they were shutout for the second-straight night.
Vince Velasquez allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out nine, walked one, and allowed five hits. But he ended his night as a losing pitcher. Velasquez has a 2.14 ERA over his last six starts as he begins to look more like a pitcher than a thrower. He attacked the Giants with his four-seam fastball, using it for 11 swing and misses and five of his strikeouts. But one earned run was one too many.
"It was close," Velasquez said of the play at home. "I got a ground ball and I can't do anything about it after that."
The Giants scored another run in the eighth when Panik added a run on a sacrifice fly by McCutchen. A one-run lead felt safe, but a two-run lead seemed impenetrable against the Phillies' stagnant offense. They had just three hits as they were mesmerized by lefthander Andrew Suarez, who had a 8.05 ERA over his last four starts. Suarez pitched seven shutout innings and struck out five.
The first four hitters in the Phillies lineup – Hernandez, Kingery, Odubel Herrera, and Aaron Altherr – combined to go 0 for 15. The Phillies went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and they did not work a walk. Their lone extra-base hit was a one-out triple in the third by Jorge Alfaro. Hernandez, two batters later, smoked a fly ball to right center but McCutchen tracked it down. Carlos Santana and Maikel Franco both singled to start the fifth but the next three batters went down without much of a fight. The Phillies could not get Velasquez the support he deserved.
Kapler said before the game that he was confident their recent struggles were just a bad rut. Phillies hitting coach John Mallee, Kapler said, is the best in baseball.
"I think it's extending faith. I think it's encouragement at the right times," Kapler said when asked what he could do as manager to help the offense's woes. "It's positive reinforcement when something is very well done. And it's pointing out something that may not be so well done. It's a combination of supporting and raising the bar like we've said since the beginning of spring training."