Somehow, José Álvarez still managed to make the play.
He got hit in the groin with a 105.3 mph line drive in the fifth inning of a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays in Game 1 of a seven-inning doubleheader Thursday at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y. Álvarez scrambled to pick up the baseball that Lourdes Gurriel Jr. smashed his way. He threw to first base to end the inning.
Álvarez collapsed to the turf. He had to be lifted onto a cart and driven off the field.
“It was pretty bad,” Álvarez said. “Obviously, it hit me in my private parts. It’s a pain that’s hard to describe. But thank God I feel much better now. Everything was good in the hospital. Nothing wrong. Nothing bad. Hopefully, I’ll be good in a couple days.”
Álvarez has been the Phillies’ best pitcher in a bullpen that has an 8.07 ERA, following a 9-8 loss to Toronto in Game 2. It is the highest ERA in baseball. No Phillies bullpen has had a higher ERA through 21 games since 1938 (10.26 ERA), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Álvarez has a 1.42 ERA in eight appearances this season. The only other Phillies reliever with better than a 5.63 ERA (minimum 5 2/3 innings pitched) is left-hander Adam Morgan (4.05 ERA).
“Well, obviously we know everything that’s going on right now,” Álvarez said. “Obviously, we don’t want that. We want to do a better job and everything. I think this game is about adjustments. The guys we’ve got in the bullpen, some guys got a lot of experience. They know how it is about adjustments. We’ve got a month and 10 more days for the season. I think we’ve got a chance [still]. I think we’re going to make the big adjustment by the end of the season.”
But the inexperienced relievers are struggling, too. The Phillies’ front office chose the quantity over quality path this offseason. Right-hander Tommy Hunter is the only free agent it signed to a big league contract. Several veteran non-roster invitees did not make the team. Blake Parker did. He got called up recently. He has not allowed a run in 5 1/3 innings.
But Phillies manager Joe Girardi has been leaning on arms like Connor Brogdon (16.88 ERA in three appearances), Austin Davis (21.00 ERA in four), Trevor Kelley (10.80 ERA in four), Ramón Rosso (7.94 ERA in five), Nick Pivetta (15.88 ERA in three) and Reggie McClain (3.86 ERA in three).
“You know, they come up to the big leagues right now in a tough moment when they don’t have any Minor Leagues,” Álvarez said. “It’s tough to come up and play at the highest level when you only are facing your own guys in the camp in [Triple-A Lehigh Valley]. I think that’s a big part we have to think about. But if they’re here, they’re here for some reason. I trust all my guys.”
Phillies rookie Spencer Howard allowed five hits, one run, two walks and struck out five in 3 2/3 innings. He looked better than in his first two starts this season. He got eight swings and misses on 25 fastballs (32 percent) after getting four on 38 fastballs (10.5 percent) in his first two starts. But after Howard got himself into a jam in the fourth, Girardi moved to his bullpen.
“As far as going deeper, you know, I trust Joe and whatever he feels is best for the game,” Howard said. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction. Still, that's not the best I've been. But I made a few minor tweaks within the past couple of days. I'm starting to feel a little bit better on the mound.”
Parker got out of the jam in the fourth. Álvarez got the final out of the fifth. He would have started the sixth inning against Blue Jays left fielder Billy McKinney and catcher Reese McGuire, who both hit left-handed. But Girardi went to Hunter, who allowed a leadoff single and later a two-out double to Cavan Biggio to score McKinney and tie the game.
Deolis Guerra started the seventh. He allowed a single to Teoscar Hernández and a single to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with one out. Roman Quinn could not handle Guerrero’s ball in center, which allowed Hernández to advance to third. Gurriel’s chopper over the head of Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm scored the game-winning run.
The Phillies carried a 2-0 lead into the fourth. Bryce Harper hit a solo home run to left field in the first inning. Quinn reached on an infield single, stole second, reached third on a throwing error from McGuire and scored on a single from Andrew McCutchen in the third.