The Phillies will play 49 more games this season before they empty their locker stalls inside the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park and depart for the winter. Consider each of those games as auditions for the five roles in next season’s starting rotation.
Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff have claimed their places, leaving a handful of candidates to compete for the three remaining jobs and convince the front office that outside help is not warranted. Friday night’s 7-6 loss to the Mets was not a good audition for Nick Pivetta. The righthander lacked command of his fastball and allowed five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.
Pivetta has shown flashes since arriving from triple A, but has yet to provide consistency. He has allowed 11 earned runs over 7 1/3 innings in his last two starts and has a 7.58 ERA over his last nine starts.
“There’s a lot of season left to go and it’s moving in the right direction,” Pivetta said. “Keep working hard. Keep your head up. Keep believing in yourself because I know the team believes in me. And just going with the punches. You get knocked down, get back up. Just keep moving forward. I have confidence in myself that I’ll get through this.”
The Phillies spotted Pivetta a three-run first-inning, but he spoiled the lead. They then rallied to tie the game before he dug them into a two-run hole. Cesar Hernandez took him off the hook with a tying homer in the eighth but Hector Neris allowed a homer to the first batter he faced in the ninth. It was rookie Ahmed Rosario’s first career homer. And it sealed another Phillies’ loss as they have dropped all five home games to the Mets this season and have been outhomered, 17-4.
Two of those 17 homers came against Pivetta. Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto both hammered his fastball for home runs. Pivetta attacked with his fastball, throwing it as a first pitch to 16 of the 22 batters he faced. But the pitch was hit hard. The righthander relies heavily on his fastball command and ran into trouble on Friday without it.
“It’s always command,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn’t command his fastball. He didn’t have command of his breaking stuff. It’s always mistakes out over the plate. He was behind a lot. The answer is always command and control.”
Righthander Vince Velasquez, another rotation candidate, was placed on the disabled list with a bruised finger on his pitching hand. His return is unclear. Zach Eflin pitched well this week against Atlanta, but will get a better test on Sunday against the Mets. Mark Leiter has strung together two dominant relief appearances and will likely fill in for Velasquez, giving Leiter the chance to audition. Jake Thompson and Ben Lively are at triple A after mixed results in the majors.
“This is all part of the learning curve,” Pivetta said. “There’s a lot I have left to learn. I have a lot of time. There’s a lot of season left and we have a good team here. There’s a lot of guys I can learn from.”
The home run to Rosario was the first Neris has allowed since June 23. The righthander has not been perfect over the last seven weeks, but he has been more than solid. He entered the ninth inning with a 1.66 ERA in his last 21 games. But none of that mattered as he watched Rosario circle the bases.
Rhys Hoskins went 0 for 4 with a walk as he still looks for his first major-league hit. Tommy Joseph, perhaps motivated by Hoskins’ arrival, had a pair of run-scoring hits. Odubel Herrera went 2 for 4 and stretched his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games. His first-inning double was his 50th extra-base hit of the season.
Hernandez’ eighth-inning home run — a “surpise,” manager Pete Mackanin said — was his seventh of the season. One more and he’ll equal his career total before this year. Freddy Galvis followed with a single, as did Herrera, who somehow managed to drive a hit to shallow center after being jammed by a curveball that seemed to break on his hands.
The rally was short-lived. Hoskins struck out after swinging late on a Hector Robles’ fastball. Nick Williams ended the inning with a fly out and the Phillies handed the game — and the loss — to Neris.