PITTSBURGH — When he walked the first batter he faced in the second inning, Roberto Hernandez had already allowed every position player in the the Pirates lineup to reach base.
Hernandez had already thrown 51 pitches. And for all intents and purposes, Hernandez had already created a deficit too large for the Phillies to overcome.
The Pirates batted around in the first inning of yesterday’s Independence Day tilt between intrastate rivals, making easy work of Hernandez and putting the foundation down on a 8-2 victory over the Phillies.
“It sets a tough tone for the rest of the game,” manager Ryne Sandberg said of the first inning.
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“Obviously, you don’t want to be down after the first inning,” Ryan Howard said. “It’s going to happen [sometimes], but ... the way things have gone this year, yeah, it’s even tougher. It’s even tougher. There’s no dancing around it or anything like that. It’s a tough situation to be in when you’re scratching and clawing and trying to find ways to win games.”
The Phillies (37-49) have lost seven of their last eight games. They have six games remaining on their current road trip and nine before the All-Star break.
In addition to looking like a team on the verge of some changes before the July 31 trade deadline, the Phillies appear to be a team ready for the midsummer break, too. The Pirates (45-41) had more hits in the first inning (five) than the Phillies had over the course of nine innings (two).
The Phillies have been held to fewer than three runs in 32 of their 86 games this season and in seven of their previous 12.
“I guess, at times, when it rains, it pours,” Howard said. “Chase [Utley] was able to get a hit. Ben [Revere] was able to get a hit. I had a couple balls that would have been hits. Guys made plays. It’s been tough. It has been tough. We’re missing pitches or just missing pitches that normally we wouldn’t miss. I don’t know. It’s tough. It’s tough to explain.”
Any momentum the Phillies could have hoped to take from Thursday night’s ninth-inning, come-from-behind win in Miami was blown up when Hernandez took the mound yesterday afternoon. Hernandez couldn’t even take advantage of the Pirates’ running into an out in the disastrous first inning.
The 33-year-old former Fausto Carmona gave up back-to-back singles after retiring the first batter he faced. He even got a gift of what should have been a second out when Starling Marte tried to score from second on an Andrew McCutchen single that caromed off third baseman Cody Asche’s glove. Jimmy Rollins easily threw Marte out.
With two outs and a runner on first, Hernandez gave up three more hits and walked two batters, too, as Pittsburgh sent nine hitters to the plate and put a four-spot on the home half of the scoreboard.
“In the first thing, no pitches were working,” Hernandez said. “The two seamer, the changeup, the slider — everything was flat.”
“He was just off of the plate and control — wouldn’t say command, but control problem,” Sandberg said. “Five hits in the inning pitching behind in the count.”
Hernandez has a 4.48 ERA in 19 games (16 starts). Among National League pitchers who have made at least 16 starts, only seven have a higher ERA than Hernandez.
He’s also failed to pitch at least six innings in nine of his 16 starts and has throw seven or more only twice. But he’s not a candidate to come out of the rotation.
“Right now,” Sandberg said, “there are no [other] options.”
Despite having eight innings remaining, the offensively challenged Phillies couldn’t make up for the four-run first inning.
Sandberg’s lineup, which has scored more than four runs only twice over their last 10 games, was held to one hit over the first five innings against Gerrit Cole. Even Cole’s early exit (lat soreness) couldn’t jump-start the Phils’ bats.
After pushing across two runs in the sixth to avoid being shut out for the 12th time this season, the Phillies were sent down in order in each of the game’s final three innings. Four Pirates relievers combined to sit down 11 straight to end the game.
Pittsburgh All-Star and reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen led the home team’s offense with four hits and was a home run shy of the cycle.
McCutchen came close, though: He ripped a double high off the wall in rightfield off B.J. Rosenberg in his final at-bat in the eighth inning. McCutchen out-hit the Phillies, 4-2, and had three extra-base hits to their zero.
The young Pirates outfield trio of McCutchen, Marte and rookie Gregory Polanco combined for six hits, three runs, three walks, two RBI and two stolen bases.
The Phillies outfield, meanwhile, continued to be a problem on both sides of the diamond. After Revere appeared to close in on a catch on a McCutchen-batted ball to left-center in the second inning, he collided with leftfielder Tony Gwynn Jr.
The ball landed fair and McCutchen was surprisingly credited with a triple.
“It was one of those deals where the ball is falling in between two fast outfielders,” Revere said. “There’s nothing you can do.”
When Revere was asked again about the play, fellow outfielder Marlon Byrd got cagey and sounded off on reporters.
“Hold on. Time out. He already answered the question,” Byrd blurted out. “He’s good. He already answered the questions about that. Period.”
Byrd, fourth in the NL with 101 strikeouts, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He also grounded into the doubleplay in the sixth, when the Phillies had their best opportunity to erase their early deficit.
Byrd’s rally-killing 5-4-3 doubleplay came with the Phillies trailing, 5-1, with the bases loaded and one out.
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21