SAN DIEGO — Never mind that Jacob Nix was making his major-league debut here Friday night, or that he had started exactly one game above the double-A level. The Phillies, manager Gabe Kapler said, had more than enough video on the San Diego Padres righthander and didn’t need to hire Sherlock Holmes to track it down.
“If you just wanted to dig into YouTube,” Kapler said, “there’s some good stuff on there.”
If preparation wasn’t a challenge, it can’t be an excuse either. But the way the Phillies’ offense has been going lately, getting shut out by Nix for six innings of a 2-0 loss in the series opener against the lowly Padres was merely par for the course.
The Phillies haven’t scored a run in 19 innings dating back to the eighth inning Tuesday night in Arizona. Through 41 innings in four games on this West Coast trip, they have scored a total of seven runs and gone 3-for-29 with runners in scoring position. They were shut out for the ninth time this season and blanked in back-to-back games for the first time since June 1-2 in San Francisco.
And if they aren’t pressing, as Kapler and slugger Rhys Hoskins insist, they’re taking some awfully hard swings in an attempt to get the timely hit that has eluded them for most of the week.
“I think we’ve had some hard-hit balls that have been right at people,” said Hoskins, hitless in 20 at-bats. “A lot in Arizona. We had a lot of hard-hit balls tonight, too. I think the three outs in the first inning were barrels. Sometimes you go through stretches like this. Obviously you hope to limit them, but it’s the game of baseball, man. These things happen.”
But this is a particularly bad time for the bats to go cold. While the Phillies flounder, the Atlanta Braves have won nine of their last 12 games and moved into a tie for the division lead. It’s the first time the Phillies haven’t held sole possession of first place in the NL East since July 23.
Once again, the Phillies got a strong performance from their starting pitcher. Zach Eflin, a former Padres farmhand, said he “was looking forward to this day probably since the day I got traded” in 2014. He held his original team to two runs on five hits, piled up eight strikeouts and made only one pitch he regretted — a fastball that wasn’t elevated enough and got hit for a solo homer by Austin Hedges in the fourth inning.
Eflin’s outing continued a run of excellence by Phillies starters. Over the past 10 starts, they have allowed 15 earned runs in 65 1/3 innings for a 2.07 ERA. But the Phillies are only 6-4 during that stretch.
“They’re doing their job. They really are,” Hoskins said. “We can’t ask for more from any of the arms. Starters have been outstanding like they’ve been all year, and the bullpen’s been strong. We can’t complain about that as a team.”
It all might have been different if the Phillies had capitalized on a first-inning opportunity against Nix. They loaded the bases with two outs, but Odubel Herrera grounded out, wasting the best chance they would get against the 22-year-old former third-round pick.
Nix retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced against Cesar Hernandez’s two-out walk in the second inning. With a fastball that scraped 96 mph and a bending curveball, he flummoxed the Phillies until lefty Matt Strahm took over to start the seventh inning.
“We did have him on the ropes and we let him off the hook,” Kapler said. “We can do a better job of stepping on guys when we have the opportunity to.”
Likewise, the Phillies couldn’t cash in against Strahm in the seventh inning and Padres closer Kirby Yates in the ninth. In both cases, they put the first two batters on base, then failed to make enough contact to push the runs across.
In the seventh inning, pinch-hitting Roman Quinn showed bunt before striking out. Hernandez struck out and Hoskins grounded back to the pitcher to end the threat. In the ninth, Jorge Alfaro and pinch-hitting Andrew Knapp both struck out before Hernandez hit a tapper back to Yates.
That’s how it goes when an entire team slumps at the same time. Maybe the solution will come Saturday night when the Phillies face another Padres rookie, Walker Lockett, who has a 9.28 ERA in three career major-league appearances.
“I see it more as kind of the ebbs and the flows of a Major League Baseball season from an offensive perspective,” Kapler said. “Sometimes we see three or four games in a row where we have trouble driving in runs, we have trouble hitting with runners in scoring position, we have trouble getting rallies going and having big innings. Then we see stretches where we do. I just don’t want to get too caught up in a three-, four-, five-game stretch.”
The Padres grabbed the lead in the second inning. Austin Hedges reached on an infield single, stole second base and scored on an RBI single from former Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis, who is 8-for-14 in four games against his old team this season.
Hedges extended the lead to 2-0 with his solo homer in the fourth inning.
“It was almost like I took a little bit off it because I wanted to put it exactly where I wanted to instead of raring back and firing it,” Eflin said. “That one kind of punched me in the gut. I wasn’t happy about that.”
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