Tyler Cloyd, Phillies rocked by Nationals, 11-2
WASHINGTON - Tyler Cloyd stepped farther away from the rubber and waited for Erik Kratz. Before long, manager Ryne Sandberg joined the Phillies' battery on the mound at Nationals Park.
Jayson Werth had just collected an RBI single in the fifth inning and Bryce Harper, who hit a pair of doubles about 700 feet, was due up.
Cloyd handed the ball to Sandberg and found a spot inside the visiting dugout.
Cloyd was removed before recording an out in the inning, continuing an ugly trend among Phillies' starting pitchers. For the fourth time in the last six games, the starter could not complete five innings.
Not surprisingly, the Phils have lost three of those four games.
Cloyd surrendered five runs on 10 hits in four innings as the Nationals cruised to an 11-2 victory over the Phillies yesterday afternoon.
"I wasn't executing pitches," Cloyd said. "In the first three innings, the balls were down . . . But then I started getting it up and over the plate too much."
The Nationals made him and every Phillies pitcher who followed pay for their mistakes. Washington tied a season high with 18 hits.
"It was tough on us," said Domonic Brown, who returned to the starting lineup after a 2-week absence with a right Achilles' injury. "It felt like everything we were throwing, they weren't missing. It's tough when a team does that. You have to tip your cap to those guys over there and keep it moving, stay positive."
That's difficult to do when your team's starting pitchers are consistently handing the ball over to the bullpen before the game is half over.
After leading baseball in innings pitched in each of the previous three seasons, Phillies starters have struggled mightily to pitch deep or effectively in 2013.
With 2 weeks remaining on the schedule, the Phillies' starters have a 4.37 ERA. Only eight teams in baseball have been worse.
But no one has been worse since the All-Star break. The Phils' rotation has a 5.36 ERA since then.
While the team clearly has holes elsewhere, the starting staff will have to be examined this winter with only Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee guaranteed spots in 2014. Recent Cuban signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is also expected to join the rotation.
"The game starts with the starting pitching," Sandberg said. "I think the bullpen has been somewhat of a bright spot with some answers there, but still the rotation needs to be addressed and it will be addressed."
In his last two starts, Cloyd has given up 12 runs in eight innings. Cloyd replaced rookie Ethan Martin in the rotation, who had allowed 11 runs in 9 1/3innings in his final three starts of 2013.
With Kyle Kendrick sporting the worst ERA among any regular starter in the league since the All-Star break, and with Roy Halladay's regular irregularity every 5 days, the starting staff, supposedly a team strength at the outset of the season, has been downright dreadful.
Take away Hamels (2.54 ERA) and Lee (3.25) and the remaining pitchers who have taken turns in the Phillies' rotation have a ghastly 7.58 ERA since the All-Star break. The Phils are 10-23 in games started by pitchers not named Hamels or Lee since the break.
"Those are some things that have to be addressed and have to show improvement," Sandberg said of evaluating the bottom three spots of the rotation.
With great starting pitching, the Phillies had baseball's best record in 2010 and 2011. With bad starting pitching, they already have collected 80 losses with 13 games to play.
The Phillies are two losses from clinching their first losing season since 2002. This, of course, is nothing more than a formality for the Phillies, who also can't help but see a steep hill to climb to return to contention in 2014, too.
For a week, the Phils were reminded that Washington, also in the midst of a disappointing season, is younger and more talented. Even with Stephen Strasburg scratched on Friday, the Nationals outclassed the Phils on the mound, at the plate, on the bases and in the field.
Centerfielder Denard Span upped his hitting streak to 27 games, tying the major league-high for 2013. Catcher and underrated seven-hole hitter Wilson Ramos went 4-for-4 with a home run to finish the three-game series 7-for-13 with two home runs and eight RBI.
Ryan Zimmerman hit his eighth home run in nine games on Friday and Harper followed up a two-hit night Saturday with three yesterday, while also gunning down three runners on the base paths during the three games.
"Being in the division like they are, yeah [it's tough]," Sandberg said. "Them and the Braves. That's who we shoot to beat and be compared to."
"Excuse my French," Brown said, "but we got our ass whooped. They're playing good baseball over there. It was tough on us."
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21