Let’s be clear: The Phillies didn’t lose Thursday night because of the way Odúbel Herrera played left field in the first inning. It had much more to do with Matt Moore’s inability to put away the Atlanta Braves with two outs in the third before Dansby Swanson hit a grand slam.
But if the Phillies were hoping to set a tone at the start of a pivotal four-game series at Citizens Bank Park, Herrera’s defense hit the wrong note.
Fresh off the injured list — and with Andrew McCutchen getting a rest after the Phillies got home from New York at 3 a.m. — Herrera started in left field and was tested three batters into the game when Freddie Freeman’s single fell in front of him. Herrera bobbled the ball, then lobbed it into second base. Ozzie Albies kept running around third and slid home, jarring the ball loose from catcher Andrew Knapp to score the first run in an eventual 7-2 Braves victory.
After a 10-4 surge put them back in the buyer’s club before the July 30 trade deadline, the Phillies dropped their third consecutive game, fell back below .500 (47-48), and slipped into a second-place tie with the 47-48 Braves, four games behind the division-leading New York Mets.
“You’ve got to come up and throw and hit the cutoff man,” manager Joe Girardi said. “If you come up and throw to [Ronald] Torreyes, everything stops. [Herrera] threw it to second and we just didn’t make the play at home.”
When the Phillies put Herrera on the injured list June 10, they hoped an extended rest would help heal his ankle and give him a second wind in the second half of the season. Herrera didn’t play after Memorial Day in 2019 because of his suspension for violating MLB’s domestic-abuse policy and missed all of last year.
“His workload had not been a lot the last couple years, but it was pretty heavy here,” Girardi said before the game. “There was a time period he was on base a lot and playing center field. We thought maybe that attributed to [the injury], so I think this is going to be really beneficial.”
Herrera went 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI double in the seventh inning. He was in a 13-for-79 (.165) funk when he went on the injured list after initially stabilizing the center-field position — and the leadoff spot in the batting order — when he got called up from triple A in late April.
Neither McCutchen nor star catcher J.T. Realmuto was in the lineup for the series opener against the Braves. Girardi explained the Phillies are in the midst of a stretch of 20 games without a day off and will face left-handed starters in the next two games after seeing Braves righty Charlie Morton on Thursday night.
Two-out trouble for Moore
Moore was one out from a clean third inning when the Braves broke open the game by scoring four runs in a span of nine pitches.
It began with singles by Albies and Freeman, both on first-pitch fastballs. After Freeman stole second, Moore walked Austin Riley to load the bases for Swanson, who was hitless in 14 at-bats. But he left a fastball over the middle of the plate — Moore called it “as poor a pitch as I made all night” — and Swanson hit his first career grand slam to open a 5-0 lead.
Girardi stuck with Moore for six innings, his longest start of the season, in part because the bullpen was taxed in the previous two games. Moore allowed six runs, raising his ERA to 5.79.
Didi back in swing
The Phillies finished with seven hits and continued to struggle with runners in scoring position. They were 2-for-9, making them 9-for-53 (.170) in the last six games.
But shortstop Didi Gregorius tripled in the seventh inning and doubled in the eighth. Since a 41-game absence because of an elbow injury, he’s 11-for-58 (.190) with three doubles, one triple, and four homers.
The Phillies will turn to their ace to halt the losing skid, and Zack Wheeler has been a good bet this season. In nine starts following a loss, Wheeler is 5-2 with two no-decisions. Overall, he has a 2.44 ERA in 19 starts and leads the league in strikeouts (152) and innings (125⅔).