Saturday, May 12, 2012

Phillies fall short at plate in loss to Padres

PHILADELPHIA – A week ago, Hunter Pence looked like he was on his way to leading the Phillies out of their month-long offensive doldrums.
Pence hit two home runs to help the Phillies avoid a sweep in Washington, wrapping up a six-game road trip that saw him hit safely in each game. He took a nine-game hitting streak into the homestand.
Upon returning home, however, Pence’s bat went bust as quickly as it bloomed last week.
Pence, the lone middle-of-the-order-threat with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley sidelined, came up with runners on base in each of his five trips to the plate Saturday but failed to drive in a run as the Phils dropped a 2-1 defeat to the San Diego Padres.

After stranding three runners in the seventh, Pence stepped to the plate with two outs and the game-tying run on second in the ninth. He struck out swinging to end the game.
“Today, I got my pitch,” Pence said. “It’s just not happening right now.”
Pence went 0-for-3 with two walks. He’s hitting .105 (2-for-19) on the homestand.
Before the game, Pence admitted that he was putting too much pressure on himself. After working endlessly in the batting cage Friday, he decided it was time to back off Saturday.
“If you have a girl that you really like and you just want to do everything you can for her, you smother them,” Pence said. “That ends up repelling them. It’s like I’m smothering hitting right now. … Sometimes you’ve got to let that girl go, relax. … Sometimes when you do all that hitting, your
hands start getting sore, your body starts getting stiff, you don’t have the same reaction time, you over-think and cripple yourself.”
Pence’s plan didn’t pay dividends Saturday.
In the top half of the seventh, the Padres took a 2-1 lead when pinch hitter Jesus Guzman lifted a foul ball down the right field line. Pence camped under it and then unleashed a throw to the plate, but Cameron Maybin, tagging from third on the play, slid under Carlos Ruiz’s tag.
“Honestly I thought the throw beat him, watching the whole thing right in front of me,” said Roy Halladay, who hasn’t won a game since April 16. “I thought the throw beat him but it was a tough play for Chooch. … He did everything he could.”

How bad has Hunter Pence been lately? Yep, that bad.

In the bottom half of the inning, Pence was front and center in the Phils’ inability to rally back.
Juan Pierre led off with a pinch-hit single and Jimmy Rollins followed with a sacrifice bunt attempt that led to an error by Padres pitcher Luke Gregerson. The Phils had runners on second and third with no one out.
But both runners stayed put as the Phils failed to hit the ball out of the infield. After Placido Polanco was robbed on a comebacker from Gregerson, the Padres decided to walk Shane Victorino intentionally and take their chances with Pence.
Pence eyed up the first pitch he saw – a slider on the outer half, just below belt-high – and popped out to second base. Ty Wigginton followed with a ground ball to short to end the inning.
Wigginton (0-for-4) stranded nine runners on base and made the third out in every inning he batted. He’s 1-for-20 with nine strikeouts in his last eight games.
But Wigginton is a $2 million bench player summoned into regular duty due to the absence of Howard. Pence is an All-Star making $10.4 million, and he’s a hitter even hitting guru Charlie Manuel can’t quite figure out.
“He’s different from any hitter I’ve ever had,” Manuel said before Saturday’s game. “You wouldn’t call him a disciplined hitter. You would call him an unorthodox hitter. He’s a guy who sees it and if he thinks he can hit it, he swings at it. To me, right now, I think you have to kind of accept that and hope he gets good balls to hit.”
Pence was hitting .294 with eight extra-base hits in his last 12 games before the homestand. But he heads into play Sunday mired in a 1-for-13 funk.
“That’s baseball. I feel like I’m a better hitter than I’m hitting,” Pence said. “I just have to keep the attitude and keep pushing.”
The Phillies, meanwhile, have managed to lose five straight Halladay starts. It’s the first time Halladay’s team has lost five of his starts in a row since the Toronto Blue Jays did so in April and May of 1999.
The difference is the then-rookie Halladay had a 9.30 ERA in the 1999 five-game skid.
In his last five starts with the Phillies, Halladay has a 4.59 ERA and has held the opponent to three runs or less in four of the five games. In those same four games, the Phils have scored a grand total of five runs.
“I feel for him,” Manuel said of the run support. “I would get upset. As a matter of fact, I do.”
Halladay allowed two runs on seven hits in seven innings on Saturday. He struck out a season-high 10 batters.
“(It’s) not the run support. I think it's just not winning games, that's frustrating for everybody,” Halladay said. “That's really the bottom line. That's what you're concerned about. There's a lot of different reasons for that."


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