The conventional wisdom before the season was that the Phillies’ pitching would be better. Twelve games is a small sample size, but it hasn’t worked out that way.
Entering their off day on Monday, the Phillies had the third-worst ERA (4.94) in Major League Baseball. Bryce Harper’s two home runs during the Phillies’ 6-4 loss Sunday pushed the Phillies to the top (or bottom) in terms of allowing home runs. They have given up 21 home runs 12 games.
Opponents are batting .267 against the Philies, tied for the fourth-worest mark in the majors. By contrast, the Phillies are batting .237.
No wonder they are 4-8.
Adam Morgan, the biggest offender in terms of home runs, allowing six in six innings, has already been sent to the minor leagues. Clay Buchholz, who has the worst ERA (12.27) on the team, is headed for the disabled list with a partial tear of the flexor pronator mass in his right forearm, an injury which could end his season after just two starts.
But removing Buchholz and Morgan from the pitching staff won’t solve the problem. Starters Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 1.59 ERA), Jerad Eickoff (0-1, 2.75 ERA) and Aaron Nola (1-0, 3.27 ERA) have been very good. The weak spots in the rotation have been Buchholz, who will be replaced by Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.
Remember all of those stories about Velasquez working on becoming more of a pitcher than a thrower? Well, it seems as if he’s forgotten everything he was supposed to have learned. Velasquez is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA. He has only made it through a combined nine innings in two starts because he throws too many pitches. Velasquez has 17 strikeouts, averaging nearly two per inning, but that doesn’t do the Phillies much good when he can’t last beyond five innings.
When Velasquez, or any other starter, can’t make it past the fifth inning, they leave the game in the hands of the bullpen. That’s not a bad thing when Hector Neris or Pat Neshek takes over. Neither has allowed a run in six appearances this season. But it’s not such a good development when Joely Rodriguez or one of the Phillies’ closers gets on the mound.
The plural “closers” is used because the Phillies are already on their second closer this season. Jeanmar Gomez, last year’s closer, has been a home run machine this season, allowing three in 5 1/3 innings. Gomez has allowed seven runs and has an 11.81 ERA. Ouch!
Gomez’s replacement was 39-year-old Joaquin Benoit. He pitched well in a non-closer role, but is just 1 for 2 in save opportunities after blowing Sunday’s game against the Nationals, with Harper crushing a three-run homer to center field in the bottom of the ninth inning.
If Benoit doesn’t work out, the Phillies will most likely turn to Neris. If he doesn’t work out, it could be time to move Velasquez to the closer’s role, as I speculated in my Phillies season preview.
If the Phillies can’t find a closer and reduce the number of home runs they’re allowing, it will be difficult to escape the National League East basement.
RISK DOESN’T PAY OFF: If it turns out that Buccholz’s injury is serious enough to end his season, this will be the second straight year that the Phillies signed a veteran in hopes of flipping him at the trade deadline, only to have the player suffer a serious injury. Charlie Morton made four starts last season before being shelved for the rest of the year. Buccholz only made it through two starts.
It’s uncertain if Buchholz is done for the season, but any sort of long-term injury will make it impossible to trade him, which means the Phillies will eat his $13.5 million salary this season and get nothing for it.
GOOD START FOR NOLA: On the positive side, Aaron Nola is off to a good start. Nola was shut down in the middle of last season due to elbow issues. He didn’t inspire confidence during spring training by posting an 0-3 record with an 8.38 ERA. During the regular season, though, he is 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA. He’s only made two starts, but so far, so good.
HERNANDEZ HOT: Cesar Hernandez, who led Phillies regulars in batting average last season, is batting .346 through Sunday’s games. He hit a game-winning two-run homer in the eighth inning of Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the Nationals and had three of the Phillies’ eight hits during Sunday’s 6-4 defeat.
FRANCO IS NOT: Maikel Franco might be the most important hitter in the Phillies’ lineup. He leads the Phillies with nine RBI, but he is batting just .174 and has a .235 on-base percentage. Franco will have to do much better if he wants to prove he’s worthy of a lucrative long-term contract.
MENDOZA LINE: Franco isn’t the only Phillies starter below the Mendoza line. Freddy Galvis, who was supposed to work on improving his on-base percentage, is batting .190 with a .222 on-base percentage. Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are both batting .167, with Rupp’s on-base percentage at .286 and Joseph’s at a paltry .205.
ROSE TO WALL: It’s old news at this point, but I’m pleased the Phillies decided to add Pete Rose to their Wall of Fame. Rose, who is banned from the Baseball Hall of Fame and from working in Major League Baseball because he bet on games while serving as Reds manager, deserves to be remembered for his contributions to the Phillies and baseball. Rose will be honored on August 12.
LOOKAHEAD: After two series with the Nationals and one with the Mets, the Phillies will continue their battles with National League East opponents, visiting the Mets on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before returning home this weekend for three games with the Braves. After a day off next Monday, the Phillies will host the Marlins for three games before departing for the West Coast to face the Dodgers.