Gabe Kapler glanced Friday afternoon at one of his office television screens — the one that at all times displays an enlarged image of the Phillies monthly schedule — and pondered the challenges ahead.
His team was finally back at Citizens Bank Park after a difficult 10-game road trip, but being home did not mean the games would be any less taxing. The television screen listed each of the team's 27 games in June, all of which are against teams that entered Friday with a .500 or better record. And the Phillies, who lost 12-4 on Friday to Milwaukee, have started that stretch with some stumbles.
"This is a grind of a month," Kapler said a few hours before the Phillies lost for the sixth time this month in seven games.
The ability to navigate that grind will be shouldered on the team's starting pitchers as the offense continues to show little life. Vince Velasquez used just 15 pitches Friday to pitch a perfect third inning. But it was his three-run first, two-run second, and five-run fourth that did him in. Velasquez allowed 10 runs on nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. He struck out four and walked two.
Velasquez allowed more runs Friday than he had in his previous 34 innings. He became just the second Phillies pitcher in the last 58 years to allow 10 runs in less than four innings. Ryan Braun hit a three-run homer off Velasquez in the first after Velasquez issued two straight walks with two outs. Braun then added a two-run homer in the fourth when he was the first batter to face Mark Leiter Jr., who replaced Velasquez.
"You have to learn how to make adjustments midway through, help yourself out and help the team," Velasquez said.
The Phillies trailed 11-0 before they even had a runner reach second base. They have lost 13 of their last 20 games and seven of their last nine. Friday was "1990s Retro Night" and the blowout loss felt like a fitting tribute to those late-1990s Phillies teams.
"I'd like to be able to give you the exact, 'Hey, we can point right here and this is why we're not performing a lot.' I just don't think that's what it is," Kapler said. "I think collectively we're not performing the way we're capable."
Dylan Cozens, who started for the third time since being promoted from triple-A, left the game in the second inning with tightness in his left quadriceps. Kapler said after the game that it is a "potential strain" and the Phillies will evaluate him Saturday morning. Scott Kingery doubled in the fourth and scored on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Santana to cut the deficit to 10. The Phillies mustered just two hits until the seventh inning. Santana started the seventh with a homer and the Phillies scored two more to claw back within seven runs.
There are still seven weeks until the July 31 trade deadline. That date will show up on Kapler's next monthly schedule. And there is still plenty of time to decide how the Phillies will act. Two weeks ago, they were in first place for a day and looked like buyers. They have since gone 3-9 and are starting to look like holders. General manager Matt Klentak said his moves next month will be decided by his gauge on whether the Phillies are "contending and in a legitimate spot to make a run."
"I didn't make up this expression, but I think the idea of playing meaningful games in September is one definition of contending that I like," Klentak said.
Those meaningful games — if they are to come — are still three months away. Kapler has to first flip through June, July, and August. And nights like Friday made those meaningful September games difficult to imagine. The grind of the next month will give an even better indication.