PHOENIX — For 24 seconds, Ben Lively savored the moment. He trotted around the bases at Chase Field while some fans congregated at the outfield pool goaded a man into chucking the home-run ball back onto the field. Lively was the first Phillies pitcher to homer in more than two years, and it looked Saturday night like the Phillies could ride a wave.
"I was pretty pumped up about that," Lively said. "Then I kind of stayed a little too pumped up."
They have appeared more competitive in the last week because of their rotation. That stretch ended in a 9-2 loss to Arizona. Lively could not extend his streak of quality starts. He was lifted in the sixth inning with five runs (four earned) on a night that accentuated his shortcomings.
Lively relies on contact. He struck out none and walked none in 5 1/3 innings. The Diamondbacks hit the ball hard. It was not a good match.
"I was just squeezed on some pitches down in the zone," Lively said. "It got me going, going, going. I let the speed of the game catch up to me and I usually don't let that happen. I made some bad pitches."
The Phillies had received at least six innings from their starters in eight consecutive games before Saturday. They had not received a home run from their pitcher since May 10, 2015, when Chad Billingsley swatted one. It didn't matter Saturday because the actual hitters could not drive in runs.
There was no help from Odubel Herrera, who trudged through another scattershot game. He dropped a deep fly ball in the second inning. It was a three-base error that led to an unearned run. He was caught stealing to end the sixth inning. His mental miscues have mounted in the last week; Herrera is prone to streaks of absentmindedness. He is deep into one right now.
The centerfielder did single to push his current hitting streak to eight games. He's batting .353 in that span. Herrera batted seventh in Pete Mackanin's lineup Saturday. He was removed from the game in the sixth inning as a part of a double switch.
The manager awoke in his suburban Phoenix house and had to remind himself that his team began the day with a winning streak, albeit a modest one. He attributed it to the improved quality from his rotation.
The Phillies' rotation slogged to a 6.55 ERA in 28 May starts. That mark dropped to 3.95 in 21 starts this month, before Lively's lackluster outing. The rotation has kept the ball in the park at a higher rate in June. It is not a perfect product. But it is a slightly better version.
Lively, 25, was a part of that. He had dodged trouble in previous starts against the Red Sox and Diamondbacks. But Lively has struck out 11 batters in his first 32 1/3 major-league innings. His margin is slimmer because of that. His 8 percent strikeout rate is the lowest among all major-league pitchers with at least 30 innings in 2017.
"He didn't walk anybody or strike anybody out," Mackanin said. "They put the ball in play. They have a good-hitting team. So when you make a few mistakes, they're going to get hit. Some of them are going to find holes when you don't strike people out."
The last Phillies starter with a strikeout rate that low was Cliff Brantley in 1992. He made nine starts that season, and never pitched in the majors again.