WASHINGTON -- Now in his 11th big league season, reliever Pat Neshek is well aware that all good streaks in baseball are fleeting. And for him and the Phillies, that was on full display Sunday night against the Nationals.
The decisive blow in the second game of a doubleheader came courtesy of Washington outfielder Michael Taylor, whose eighth-inning, two-run homer off Neshek put the Nats up, 6-5, a lead they wouldn't relinquish. It was the first runs allowed in 2017 for the 36-year-old right-hander.
"It was a backup slider. Terrible pitch, [Taylor] was looking for it," Neshek said of the homer, a moonshot that hit the foul pole in left field. "I was hoping it would go foul. He was looking to do that, so you tip your cap."
For the first five weeks of the season, it seemed Neshek was practically immune to the struggles that afflicted the rest of the Phillies' bullpen. Acquired from the Astros in the offseason, he started his Philly tenure with 14 consecutive scoreless outings (12 2/3 innings), the only relief arm on the team with double-digit appearances to stake that claim.
And yet, in the latest setback for a much-maligned bullpen, its most consistent member had a costly first hiccup.
"You're playing against world-class athletes every day who are trying to kick your butt," Neshek said. "[It was a] good run. These guys played so hard ... I felt like I let them down today."
"Neshek's been great for us," manager Pete Mackanin said."He made one bad pitch and it cost us."
Despite the snapped streak, Mackanin didn't want to harp on the bullpen woes once again. Instead, he pointed to his starters not working deeper into games, a recurring theme through the season's first five weeks. The manager wants his rotation arms to log more innings so the relievers can be well-rested and carve out better-defined roles.
"Once we get going and we get that length [from the starters] and we can go to that formula, then we're going to be fine," Mackanin said.
Entering Sunday, the Phillies ranked 14th in the National League with 181 2/3 innings from their starters this season. And in the doubleheader, Philly relievers pitched four innings in each game, a trend the team knows needs to be reversed.
"It's unfortunate that we don't go as much as we want to, but we got to make pitches," said right-hander Vince Velasquez, who threw 100 pitches over five innings in the nightcap. "[If] we go five, we go five, and then that's something. It's unfortunate that the bullpen does a little bit more work than they should."