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Lively struggles as Phils drop series to D-backs

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA - Ben Lively could have helped the Phillies send a message Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

But four pitches into the first inning of an 8-2 loss to the D-backs it became clear he would not. He had tightness in his lower back and a two-run deficit after light-hitting Jarrod Dyson jumped on a 1-0 fastball for a two-run home run. Lively threw only 63 more pitches, allowing seven runs in 2 1/3 innings as the Phillies lost a measuring-stick series to the best team in the National League.

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PHILADELPHIA - Ben Lively could have helped the Phillies send a message Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

But four pitches into the first inning of an 8-2 loss to the D-backs it became clear he would not. He had tightness in his lower back and a two-run deficit after light-hitting Jarrod Dyson jumped on a 1-0 fastball for a two-run home run. Lively threw only 63 more pitches, allowing seven runs in 2 1/3 innings as the Phillies lost a measuring-stick series to the best team in the National League.

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"We absolutely can [measure up]," Lively said afterward. "If I felt a little bit better today and on my 'A' game today it's a whole different ballgame. Our team has the most positive feeling in the world. We're going to put up runs and we're not going to let this set us back. It's going to be great. We'll be alright."

Video: ATI@PHI: Lively throws home, gets Descalso in rundown

The D-backs are the first team in baseball since the 2001 Mariners to win their first eight series of the season. They are the first National League team to accomplish the feat since the 1977 Dodgers. They are legit.

Are the Phillies? They are 15-9. They have pitched remarkably well. Lively's start represented only the fifth time this season a Phillies starter allowed four or more earned runs in a game. The offense is making pitchers work. It is walking (and striking out) a lot. It could be getting better, too.

Carlos Santana and Aaron Altherr are heating up after poor starts. Santana is hitting .280 (7-for-25) with three doubles, five walks and an .819 OPS in his last seven games. Altherr is hitting .389 (7-for-18) with two doubles, one triple, one home run, one walk and a 1.199 OPS in his last five games.

Video: ARI@PHI: Altherr plates Herrera on grounder to second

Many looked at this series as a good test for the Phillies because the D-backs are the only team they have played that made the 2017 postseason.

"I mean, a three-game series is no indication that one team is better than the other," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "That's for sure. We can definitely play with those guys. We can play with anybody in this league. I feel very confident in our team right now."

Lively said he could not get loose on the mound and experienced lower back stiffness throughout his start, which affected his fastball command. Lively, who said he is not injured and should be fine, does not have overpowering stuff. His ability to locate his fastball is key.

"I just felt off and everything kind of leaked over the middle of the plate," he said. "I couldn't follow through that well and that's what happens when I can't follow through. Balls come back across the middle and they get hit pretty hard. I guarantee they saw that I was missing over the plate with my fastballs and they were ready for it, and every single one I threw over the plate got hit really hard."

Video: ARI@PHI: Altherr makes smooth sliding catch in right

The D-backs were ready for fastballs early in the count. They were thrilled to see them running over the plate.

"Early on their guys threw a lot of heaters, so you go up to the box ready to hit, first pitch," Dyson said.

The Phillies will be tested again this weekend against the Braves. They are 2-4 against them this season.

"We came into today with a chance to win a series and against a good team, especially at home, that's really all you can ask for," Rhys Hoskins said. "Obviously it didn't go the way that we wanted today, but we've got a series coming up against the Braves, a divisional series that can get us right back to where we want to be."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Phillies had a chance to make things interesting late when they loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning. But D-backs left-hander T.J. McFarland got Altherr to ground into an inning-ending double play on a 1-2 fastball.

Video: ARI@PHI: McFarland induces DP, escapes trouble in 8th

SOUND SMART
Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera singled to right field in the sixth inning. He has reached base safely in 26 consecutive games. It is the longest active streak in the big leagues.

Video: ARI@PHI: Herrera extends on-base streak to 24 games

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Nick Ahmed ripped a line drive down the right-field line with one out in the fifth inning. The ball left his bat at 99.3 mph and looked like a certain extra-base hit, but Santana made a fantastic diving catch before the ball left the infield.

Video: ARI@PHI: Santana lays out for spectacular diving grab

HE SAID IT
"I think results-wise they quote/unquote 'struggled.' Both of them are definitely having good at-bats through and through, Santana especially. I heard something where he was one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball. He was hitting balls all over the place. Stretch was having good at-bats as well, though not ending the way you want them to. I think now you're seeing some balls fall. They're hitting the ball on the screws. It's a testament to them that they've been able to stick with that and not hit the panic button." -- Hoskins, on Santana and Altherr heating up at the plate

Video: ARI@PHI: Lively, Hoskins, Santana on loss to D-backs

UP NEXT
Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (2-1, 2.30 ERA) faces Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (1-1, 4.00 ERA) for the third time this season as the teams open a three-game series Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. It will be the Phillies' first look at top prospect Ronald Acuna Jr., who was called up by the Braves on Wednesday.

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, Ben Lively