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Phillies cooled off by D-backs in first big test

Velasquez allows 4 runs in 4 2/3 IP; Altherr notches 2-run double
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies fans have been cautious, maybe even a little skeptical. They watched the Phillies jump to fast starts each of the previous two seasons. It is easy to understand why the fans have been looking for more proof that their team is as good as they have looked.

The proof did not come Tuesday night in an 8-4 loss to the D-backs at Citizens Bank Park.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies fans have been cautious, maybe even a little skeptical. They watched the Phillies jump to fast starts each of the previous two seasons. It is easy to understand why the fans have been looking for more proof that their team is as good as they have looked.

The proof did not come Tuesday night in an 8-4 loss to the D-backs at Citizens Bank Park.

View Full Game Coverage

The Phillies were 24-17 in 2016 and 11-9 in '17 only to lose 91 and 96 games, respectively. And even as the Phillies built a 14-7 start this season, the talent differential between this team and those teams is significant and indisputable.

The D-backs entered the series with the best record in the National League. They are the only team the Phillies have played this season that made the postseason last year. They are the Phillies' greatest test to date.

Video: ARI@PHI: Kapler discusses loss to D-backs, Velasquez

"I think we're right up there," said Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez, who allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings. "I think we're up there with them. You saw their record. You saw ours today. We're kind of right up on their tail there. I don't know what it's going to come down to. I'm not going to make that prediction. I don't know what it's going to be. But I know that we're a solid team."

The Phillies have two more nights to show it. They showed some holes Tuesday, particularly offensively. They struck out 16 times for the second time in five games. They have struck out 227 times this season, putting them on pace to strike out 1,671 times.

They struck out a franchise-record 1,417 times last year.

Video: ARI@PHI: Ray strikes out 11 of the 14 batters he sees

The Phillies have said they do not mind strikeouts because they are seeing a lot pitches and walking a lot.

"Part of working deep counts and seeing a lot of pitches is that you're going to go through stretches where you strike out some," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "That doesn't mean that we don't need to put the ball in play more, we do. It's absolutely a necessity, but sometimes you give credit to the opposing pitcher. [Robbie Ray] has swing-and-miss stuff, he's got a history of striking guys out, and we weren't able to put the ball on the bat as much as we could have tonight."

Velasquez matched Ray early, striking out four batters in the first two innings. But he surrendered back-to-back home runs to Alex Avila and Jarrod Dyson in the third to hand Arizona a 2-0 lead. Avila and Dyson entered the game hitting .114 and .160, respectively.

Video: ARI@PHI: Avila, Dyson swat back-to-back jacks

The Phillies scored three runs in the third to take a 3-2 lead, but Velasquez allowed two more runs in the fifth. He allowed four hits, four runs, two walks and two home runs in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out six.

"This is a good team we're playing," Phillies rookie Scott Kingery said. "I think we're a good team as well. This is definitely a test for us. Unfortunately we didn't come out on top tonight. I think it's going to be a really good series. We're going to find a way to scratch out a few wins."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Phillies center fielder Aaron Altherr doubled to score two runs in the third inning to tie the game, 2-2. Altherr started the season in a terrible slump, but he is 5-for-7 with one walk in his past eight plate appearances. It is an encouraging sign for a hitter who posted an .856 OPS in 412 plate appearances last season.

Video: ARI@PHI: Altherr doubles home a pair in the 3rd

"Altherr continues to have really good at-bats and put the bat on the ball, come up clutch in big situations and working counts and that was a huge positive for us tonight," Kapler said.

SOUND SMART
Kingery is struggling. He struck out four times in four plate appearances. He has two hits in his past 25 at-bats. He has struck out 12 times and walked three times in that span.

"I started swinging at balls in the dirt," Kingery said. "That's always been one of my weaknesses. They're not really throwing me too much. They're starting to work ahead with off-speed and try to get me to chase. So now it's something I'm going to have to adjust back to. I knew this was going to happen. Coming into the season, they probably didn't have much information on me. I didn't have much information on them. You start to see some tendencies and stuff like that. They start attacking areas that you're not strongest in. I'll watch video. More information, seeing a guy more than once, and preparing for him."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The D-backs had a runner on first with no outs in the seventh inning when David Peralta ripped a ground ball to the right of Phillies shortstop Pedro Florimon. Florimon made a fantastic diving catch then flipped the ball to second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who threw to first to complete the double play.

Video: ARI@PHI: Florimon dives to start incredible 6-4-3 DP

HE SAID IT
"The one thing we know is that the league is going to adjust to our hitters, and we trust that Kingery has the ability to adjust back. We're seeing some adjustments made, again, he was really really good early on and he's going to go through a stretch where he scuffles a little bit. It doesn't change our confidence levels in him, in fact they're as high as they ever have been. We know he's going to come back strong, he's going to need to make some adjustments but no doubt in his capability to do so." -- Kapler

UP NEXT
This might be the biggest pitching matchup of the Phillies' season. Phillies right-hander Jake Arrieta (2-0, 2.04 ERA) faces D-backs ace Zack Greinke (2-1, 4.13 ERA) on Wednesday night at 7:05 ET in the second game of a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park. Arrieta struck out 10 and allowed just one hit in seven scoreless innings last week against the Pirates.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Aaron Altherr, Vince Velasquez