Joe Girardi did not sound as dejected as he could have been following Saturday night’s 12-inning loss to the Braves at Truist Park.
The Phillies blew a two-run lead in the ninth, a one-run lead in the 11th and a three-run lead in the 12th. They blew a shot at a six-game winning streak, too. Asked afterward if he worried that a loss like that could kill their momentum, Girardi said no. He believed “momentum is only as good as your starting pitcher the next day.” Girardi liked the Phillies’ chances in Sunday night’s series finale because they had Aaron Nola on the mound.
But Nola struggled from the jump. He threw a career-low 58 pitches in four innings in a 6-1 loss.
“Pitchers aren’t going to be perfect,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Nola could have allowed two runs in eight innings and the Phillies still would have lost. The Phillies’ offense went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. But the good vibes Andrew McCutchen created when he hit a first-pitch leadoff home run to center field against Braves right-hander Huascar Ynoa in the first inning evaporated when Nola allowed four runs in the bottom of the inning.
Nola walked Ronald Acuña Jr. to start the game. He allowed a single to center to Freddie Freeman and a one-out triple to Ozzie Albies to score both runners and make it 2-1.
“The walk hurt me,” Nola said.
Dansby Swanson crushed a two-run homer to left field to make it 4-1.
“A hanging breaking ball for Dansby,” Nola said. “It was the icing on the cake for the first inning. My stuff wasn’t really breaking tonight. My curveball hasn’t been sharp the past few outings, I feel like.”
Nola stepped on the mound 3-1 with a 2.89 ERA in his first seven starts. He threw the first nine-inning shutout of his career on April 18 against the Cardinals. He was 2-0 with a 3.79 ERA in his last three starts, finding ways to compete without his best stuff.
He knew he needed a good one Sunday.
He knew his team needed it after Saturday.
“You know how tough of a loss it was,” Nola said. “Of course, I put it on me. It’s a chance to go out and win a series. I didn’t do that today. I didn’t give the guys a good chance to score runs. I mean, four right off the bat, it’s tough. It’s tough for the guys to put runs up on the board. Ynoa threw well today. He’s got good stuff.”
After Freeman homered in the third to make it 5-1, Girardi figured it made sense to have Brad Miller pinch-hit for Nola to start the top of the fifth. Maybe Miller could get on and McCutchen and Jean Segura could get something going.
“You know, with his workload so far this season, we had to try to score some runs,” Girardi said of Nola’s quick hook. “He’s worked really hard. And maybe that has something to do with it. But I'm glad he gets an extra day [before his next start Saturday against the Blue Jays]. And again, I think it's really going to benefit our starters.”
The Phillies have played 17 games in 17 days. They do not play Monday, their first day off since April 22. It will be an opportunity for the Phillies’ starters to get an extra day of rest, which they need. It will be an opportunity for others to clear their minds.
But what an opportunity wasted this weekend. The Phillies could have won a series in Atlanta, which is no small feat, considering they have not won a series on the road (minimum, three games) since September 2019.
Nola had no explanation for the team’s road struggles. Girardi only knows it needs to change.
“We definitely need to turn it around,” he said. “I mean, I think overall, when you look at the week, we had a pretty good week. But it's frustrating because of what happened last night and you’ve got to put it in a compartment and throw it away and move on to Washington and go try to win a series there. Winning game one is always important.”