CINCINNATI — Cesar Hernandez turned himself around Saturday night trying to locate where exactly the ball went after it skipped past his glove in the sixth inning of a 6-2 loss to the Reds, rocketed off the dirt and soared in the air.
Hernandez located the ball soon after it landed in the shallow right-field grass. But it was too late. The Reds had scored a run and would tack on another when Maikel Franco fielded a ground ball at third and threw to second instead of home. The Phillies did almost nothing right in the sixth, and the game was as lost as the baseball that flew over Hernandez' head.
Tommy Hunter threw only 12 pitches, but he allowed two runs, both of which scored on ground balls that were hit hard but playable. That's baseball, Hunter said. The Reds scored twice more in the eighth off Austin Davis.
"On the defensive side of the ball, we haven't been perfect," manager Gabe Kapler said. "But at the same time, we've had stretches where we played really good baseball. For me, all this says is we had a game where we didn't defend the baseball like we could. We're going to have more games where we defend the baseball like we can and we believe in that conceptually."
Hunter, who has allowed runs in four of his last nine outings, looked to have escaped the sixth after allowing one run when Eugenio Suarez hit a grounder to Franco for what appeared to be a double-play ball. But Franco double-clutched on the throw to second and Hernandez fumbled the exchange as he tried to throw for first. A run scored and the inning continued. Kapler thought Franco made the right choice of throwing to second after double-clutching instead of throwing home to get Scooter Gennett, who strolled toward the plate thinking the inning was over.
"It's the type of play that you know what the ground ball looks like that's going to give you the double-play chance and then in your mind, it's 'I'm going for the double-play here' and you're not even thinking about what you're going to do next," Kapler said. "It's just 'Let's try to turn the double play.' I think everything was right except the execution of the play."
Rhys Hoskins homered in the fourth off Matt Harvey for his 21st home run of the season and his seventh homer in eight games. The Phillies had just three more hits, as they finished with four. They've combined for 11 hits in their last two games, both losses, after racking up 18 on Thursday night. The division standings remained the same, as Atlanta and Washington both lost. The Phillies, who are in first in the National League East by 2-1/2 games, were bailed out, but nights like this will be remembered if they are able to stay in the race in September and failed to clean up against a last-place team.
"These guys come in every day and work just as hard as we do," Hunter said of the fielders. "I don't think there's a guy out there intending to have a ball bounce off his glove, you know. Maybe if I throw a ball a little lower in the zone and he hits it to him and it's between his legs."
The Phillies built a rally in the eighth when Hernandez bunted for a hit to put runners on first and second. But the threat ended quickly when Hoskins hit a sharp line drive that bounced at the back of the infield dirt, but in front of shortstop Jose Peraza, who was able to turn a double play. It was a tough break.
Asdrubal Cabrera, whom the Phillies received Friday in a trade with the Mets, joined the team just a few hours before first pitch and went 0-for-4. He started at shortstop for the first time this season before finishing the game at third base. Scott Kingery came in to play short in the seventh inning.
"I haven't played short for a little while, but I'm going to come here and work hard and do my best no matter what position they put me at," Cabrera said before the game. "I just come here to help the team. I'm going to do my best at shortstop to help them."
Vince Velasquez, just three days after he pitched an inning of relief early on Wednesday morning, allowed two runs in five innings. He struck out four, walked five, and allowed six hits. The Reds reached a runner in scoring position in all five innings as Velasquez constantly faced trouble.
He loaded the bases in the fifth with just one out by walking Tucker Barnhart on four pitches. Velasquez looked ready to crumble, and the Reds appeared set to break the game open. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz visited the mound, giving Velasquez a chance to compose himself.
He struck out the next two batters as both chased 96-mph fastball. It was a perfect escape. Velasquez pumped his fist as he walked off the mound. The Phillies were still alive. But not for long.