Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Phillies drop fifth straight game

PHILADELPHIA – Even with their best man down, the Phillies will continue to rely heavily on the arms of their starting pitchers as they attempt to dig out of their current hole in the National League East and into contention this summer.
Roy Halladay might be out until late July, but the Phils have the luxury of sending two other All-Stars to the mound every fifth day, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, and three right-handers who are at the very least expected to pitch effective and long enough on their turns to give the team a chance to win.
With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley playing in their own version of spring training games, the starting pitching has to be the Phillies strength.

On consecutive days against the Dodgers, Charlie Manuel has leaned on that starting pitching. On both nights, the starting pitchers hit a wall at the end of their respective starts and the Phillies didn’t have an answer.
A night after Cliff Lee took a shutout into the eighth but left the inning in line for a loss, Kyle Kendrick gutted hit way into the sixth inning but, like Lee, he couldn’t escape trouble in a 6-5 loss.
The Phils have lost a season-high five games in a row. They’ve also lost another player to injury.
After the game the Phils announced they would be placing slick-fielding rookie second baseman Freddy Galvis on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain. Galvis left in the middle of an at-bat in the fifth inning after apparently tweaking his back while running out a foul ball.
“It’s another one of our guys going down?” an exasperated Manuel said. “What more can I say?”
The injury-plagued Phillies fell to six games behind Washington in the National League East standings. They’ve been in last place for all but one day since May 5.
“Right now, we’re not getting it done,” Manuel said. “Everything about our team is whacked up. Our offense, our pitching, at times we don’t play very good defense. We have to get it together and play better. We’re actually not playing good enough to win, that’s what it is.”
While both Lee and Kendrick have been on the hook for the last two losses, the fact that Manuel left them in to attempt to pitch their way out of their respective jams was just as much a statement on the faith he has in his current bullpen as it is in his confidence in his starters.
In front of closer Jonathan Papelbon, Manuel has one struggling veteran (Chad Qualls), a journeyman (Raul Valdes) and three relievers (Jake Diekman, Joe Savery and Michael Schwimer) with a combined 48 major league innings.
While the injuries to Howard, Utley and Halladay have been crushing, the absences of Mike Stutes, David Herndon, Jose Contreras and even Justin De Fratus have been crippling to the bullpen. The current relief corps has four left-handers and just one pitcher with a defined role: Papelbon.
On Tuesday night, Lee allowed a double, a single, another single and another double before Manuel made the move to pull him in favor of Qualls. Of course since it was Lee and he did have the lead until the last hit, it’s awful tough to criticize sticking with the starter.
But if the Phils had a shutdown setup man – think Ryan Madson circa 2008 – at least Manuel would have had the option of lifting Lee earlier. Lee’s last pitch, in which he gave up a go-ahead double – was his 122nd of the night.
Same story, different situation on Wednesday night.
Kendrick slithered his way out of trouble in the third inning, when the Dodgers took a 2-1 lead but also failed to cash in on a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity. Kendrick took the momentum from the third and carried it into the fourth and fifth, when he retired six of the seven batters he faced.
But in the sixth, with a 4-2 lead, Kendrick gave up back-to-back, one-out hits to A.J. Ellis and James Loney and then found himself in another bases-loaded jam after falling behind Tony Gwynn Jr. and issuing an intentional walk. With no room for error and pinch hitter Jerry Hairston Jr. coming to the plate, Manuel, however, stuck with Kendrick.
Kendrick came a strike away from escaping the inning unscathed.
Instead, he threw a 93-MPH sinker that just missed the outside corner to walk in a run. The pitch was Kendrick’s 112th of the night, the most he had thrown in a game since August.
With the bases-loaded walk cutting the Phils’ lead to 4-3, Manuel finally replaced Kendrick with Valdes.
Then the hesitation to replace Kendrick at all became apparent. Dee Gordon drilled Valdes’s first pitch into right field for a two-run single that turned a 4-3 Dodgers’ deficit into a 5-4 lead.
The bullpen’s results weren’t any more encouraging when Valdes was gone after 1 1/3 innings. Diekman, brought in to keep the game within striking distance for the Phils in the bottom of the ninth, issued back-to-back, two-out walks.
The second came with the bases loaded, giving the Dodgers their second straight RBI off a walk.
Since Valdes let two inherited base runners to score and Diekman’s run was unearned, the Phils’ bullpen didn’t allow an earned run Wednesday. But they exited the game with a 4.23 ERA, the sixth worst bullpen ERA in baseball and third worst in the National League.
“We’re not really clicking right now.,” Manuel said of the ‘pen. “Also, we’ve got some young guys, and I talk about the experience we’re trying to get for them, and all of a sudden when you throw them right into the fire, it hasn’t been working out too good.”
After losing the lead, the Phillies offense went quietly in the seventh and eighth before the ninth inning rally. The Phils are 0-22 when trailing after seven innings this season.
But the offense supplied five runs for Kendrick early, on home runs from Shane Victorino, Wigginton and Jimmy Rollins.
“I feel like what’s going on wrong, sooner or later it’s going to be like the stock market and bottom out somewhere,” Manuel said. “We’ll start working from there. Hopefully that was tonight.”


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