Kyle Schwarber slammed his bat to the dirt. He spiked his helmet. He pointed down to home plate, then up to the sky. He turned to umpire Ángel Hernández and gestured wildly, with both arms, in every direction.
Quite simply, Schwarber lost it.
And then, the Phillies lost.
Cause and effect? In a sense, yes. For much of Sunday night, on national television, the Phillies sparred with the Milwaukee Brewers in a 1-0 loss — and also with Hernández. They tried to make sense of his strike zone. Instead, they struck out 16 times, their highest total since a 16-whiff game on Aug. 2, 2019, against the Chicago White Sox.
Seven pitches were called strikes against the Phillies despite being off the plate, according to Statcast. For eight innings, Schwarber said they held their tongues. Not in the ninth. Not with one out against lights-out Brewers closer Josh Hader and the Phillies facing their ninth loss in 12 games.
After Schwarber got rung up on a pitch that appeared to miss the outside corner, he exploded in an epic tirade that got him ejected by Hernández.
“I’m not here to bury anyone, but it wasn’t very good,” Schwarber said after the Phillies’ record slid to 6-10, their worst 16-game start since 2015 when they lost 99 games. “I don’t know how to really say it. It just wasn’t very good.”
What, exactly, did Schwarber say to Hernández?
“That can stay between me and him,” Schwarber said.
It’s fine. Everyone could surely take a guess.
Schwarber’s frustration boiled over from his previous at-bat. With a runner on second base and two out in the sixth inning, Schwarber fouled off a 1-0 curveball from Brewers starter Eric Lauer. The next two pitches were high and outside. Hernández called them both strikes.
“It’s frustrating. Especially for a guy that has such a great eye,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “He prides himself on it. So I think it’s even more frustrating for a guy like him.”
To be fair, it wasn’t only the Phillies. According to Statcast, two of Aaron Nola’s nine strikeouts came on pitches that were off the plate. Nola admitted that Hernández’s strike zone was generous.
It wasn’t only Schwarber, either. With the bases loaded in the fifth inning, Hernández called a first-pitch strike on Jean Segura that was “way inside,” as Girardi put it. Two pitches later, Segura popped out on a pitch that was nearly over his head.
“You get nervous about taking anything close,” Girardi said. “It makes it really hard.”
Girardi said he‘s a proponent of the electronic strike zone (commonly known as “robo-umpires”) that has been tested in the Arizona Fall League. Schwarber, a former catcher who describes himself as “pro-umpire,” isn’t ready to endorse the idea, even after his outburst against Hernández.
“I don’t want the electronic strike zone,” Schwarber said. “I like the element of sometimes pitches don’t get called. It’s an enjoyable part of the game. But when you have things that are getting called off the plate with really good pitching on their side, it can be harder to score. You saw on both sides that it was a harder game to score.
“Guys were doing a really good job tonight of not saying much. It just got to me to where I was going to stick up for myself, stick up for some other guys.”
In their defense
The Brewers broke a scoreless stalemate in the ninth inning on a rally that began with Jace Peterson’s flair into center field. The ball fell between onrushing Odubel Herrera and backpedaling shortstop Johan Camargo.
Should Herrera have called for the ball?
“I’m not sure if he could have had it,” Girardi said. “I was worried when it was hit.“
Peterson went to third on a single by Andrew McCutchen and scored on Christian Yelich’s sacrifice fly against closer Corey Knebel, who hadn’t allowed a run in his first six appearances for the Phillies.
Before the game, Girardi said he figured Nola — after four Grapefruit League starts and three in the regular season — was up to speed after the three-week spring training.
And Nola certainly looked to be in midseason form.
Nola unleashed the full array of his repertoire on the Brewers. Not only did he throw five pitches, but he leaned on his changeup and curveball almost equally and located his fastball. He threw a first-pitch strike to 18 of 24 batters.
Hit or (lots of) miss
At a time when balls in play are fewer and farther between, the ESPN audience was treated to 26 strikeouts (16 by the Phillies, 10 by the Brewers) among 64 batters. Five were called strikeouts by Hernández.
Pitchers are often ahead of hitters early in the season. But many within the game wondered if that trend would reverse this year because of the shortened spring training. Instead, entering play Sunday, National League teams were slashing .233/.313/.369 while American League clubs were at .229/.301/.364.
The homestand will continue at 6:45 pm. Monday with the opener of a four-game series against the Rockies. In a rematch from last Tuesday night in Colorado, Kyle Gibson (1-1, 3.57 ERA) will face Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland (0-2, 7.71).