The Phillies three-game series against National League-leading Arizona was meant to be a measuring stick. The Phillies racked up a majority of their early wins against teams with losing records. The Diamondbacks, manager Gabe Kapler said, are “really good” and “really challenging.” And the Phillies could not quite measure up on Tuesday.
The series opener — an 8-4 loss at Citizens Bank Park — revealed some glaring holes in the Phillies lineup. Scott Kingery struck out four times. Jorge Alfaro went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Carlos Santana whiffed three times. Kingery is 2 for his last 24 with 12 strikeouts. Alfaro has struck out this season in 24 of his 52 plate appearances. Santana is batting just .154.
There was not much concern about these three when the season began. Sure, Kingery is a rookie. But he was the Phillies’ top prospect and debuted with a strong start. Alfaro flashed his power last season. Santana was expected to be a lock in the middle of the lineup. But, all three are struggling four weeks into the season. And the Phillies will need them to adjust.
The Phillies entered Tuesday winners of 13 of their last 16. They were winning with a lineup that had yet to hit as they batted just .230 before Tuesday. It was hard to imagine those wins continuing if the lineup continued to struggle. Tuesday was proof that it would be hard to do. And it won’t get much easier Wednesday against Zack Greinke.
Kingery struck out in the third with two runners on. Santana struck out to end the sixth with two runners on and the tying run at second base. Alfaro had struck out three batters earlier. The three play key roles in the Phillies’ lineup and it is hard to build rallies without them.
The Phillies scored three of their runs in the third as Aaron Altherr doubled in two runs and Maikel Franco hit a sacrifice fly. Cesar Hernandez singled in a run in the sixth. But that would be all they could do. Arizona lefthander Robbie Ray recorded 11 of his 14 outs by strikeout. The Phillies tried to stack their lineup with righthanders, but it did not matter. They struck out 16 times and have double-digit strikeouts in 15 of their 22 games.
Vince Velasquez allowed four runs on four hits in his 42/3 innings. He struck out six and walked two. Velasquez relied early on his fastball, throwing it for 82 percent of his pitches through the first three innings. He used the fastball for five strikeouts in those inning, but both of his homers came off the pitch. Alex Avila and Jarrod Dyson both crushed fastballs for homers to right field. It seemed like the Diamondbacks were starting to sit on the pitch.
Velasquez tried to wean off the fastball in the fifth and throw more curveballs, but the pitcher ran into trouble and loaded the bases by throwing breaking balls for 11 percent of his first 22 pitches. He went back to the fastball and David Peralta crushed a two-run double. The Phillies wanted Velasquez to attack with his fastball and the game plan was quick to work. But then the Diamondbacks caught on.