Phillies cap trip with shutout loss to Nationals
WASHINGTON – After a week on the road, the Phillies return to Citizens Bank Park on Friday night.
You might not recognize them.
Popular outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are gone, replaced by Nate Schierholtz and Domonic Brown, a familiar face who is back in the majors to either sink or swim.
Josh Lindblom has joined the bullpen, and he’ll get plenty of reps as the Phils look for talent that can help fix what has been a serious weakness this season.
When you last saw the Phillies at home, they were completing a three-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers, a fleeting run of success that kindled hopes of a second-half surge. Four days after finishing that sweep, the Phils had the tables turned on them. They were swept in Atlanta, leading management to wave the white flag and unload Victorino and Pence for some young players and about $6 million in salary relief.
The Phillies responded to those two trades with a brief show of life. They defeated NL East leader Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday nights only to conclude the series with a thud and a 3-0 loss to the Nationals on Thursday night (see Instant Replay)
The Phils were held to three singles by three Washington pitchers. Lefthander Ross Detwiler delivered seven shutout innings in out-pitching Cole Hamels, whose line would have been a lot better had he been supported by good defense.
Three of manager Charlie Manuel’s starting eight position players Thursday night had spent significant time in Triple A this season, but that didn’t make the putrid offensive performance any easier to swallow.
“He threw a lot of fastballs, moved it around with a lot of sink,” Manuel said of Detwiler. “We only hit one ball hard off him. We hit a lot of weak ground balls. We didn’t square anything up.”
Manuel used just two left-handed hitters in the starting lineup, Chase Utley because he’s Chase Utley and Brown because he needs the time and at-bats if he’s going to be a viable candidate for every-day work next season.
Ryan Howard, 2 for 18 with 11 strikeouts in the first five games of the road trip, was held out of the starting lineup.
“Right now I’m in a funk,” Howard said before the game. “There’s no sense in hiding it. It’s kind of a mental day. I’m not going to lie. I’m a little frustrated. It’s a good day for me to take off.”
Howard pinch-hit for Brown with two outs and two men on in the ninth inning.
“Domonic is going to play, but when we have a chance to tie the game, Howard’s going to hit,” Manuel said.
Howard’s tough trip concluded with a three-pitch strikeout against Tyler Clippard to end the game. The Phillies ended up 2-4 on the trip.
Hamels lost twice on the trip, both defeats coming after he had signed his six-year, $144 million contract extension. He pitched poorly, walking a career-high six, in his previous start in Atlanta. He pitched well Thursday night, walking just one and striking out nine in seven innings. Hamels could have pitched to a better fate had Utley and Jimmy Rollins made plays on balls up the middle that led to runs in the third inning. Both were scored hits, but could have been errors.
“I’ve seen them catch those balls,” Manuel said.
The two runs in the third allowed Washington to build its lead to 3-0. Adam LaRoche ambushed Hamels for a first-pitch homer leading off the bottom of the second. LaRoche had three of the eight hits that Hamels allowed.
So now the Phillies head home, a different team with a different goal than they had a week ago. No longer do they have visions of a miracle run to a sixth-straight playoff berth. They are a team looking to find out about some players and build some momentum going into next season.
How will they be greeted by the fans Friday night?
Will the sellout streak, sitting at 254, continue?
“I think people will still come see us,” Manuel said. “I hope they do. We’re going to keep trying to improve this team. Talking to our front office, we definitely want to keep a quality team so the fans will have something to be excited about. But for now we have to win some games. We have to show them we can win some games.”
On Tuesday, Hamels called the trades of Pence and Victorino “a wakeup call” for the team and expressed a strong belief that the Phils would contend again next season. He, too, hopes the fans stick with the team over these final two months.
“I hope they stay with us,” he said. “We have good players. We have good pitchers. The sellout streak is something we want to keep intact. We’re trying to win as many games as we can.”