PHILADELPHIA -- This is not a time to stumble.
But the Phillies are stumbling. They have lost three consecutive games following Thursday night’s 7-2 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The skid follows a 10-4 start to July, which thrust the Phils into contention in the National League East and gave players hope for big things from the front office with the July 30 Trade Deadline a little more than a week away.
The Phillies have seven more games to play before July 30, and each one is at home against the Braves or the Nationals.
They need to make them count.
“It’s really important,” Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius said. “It’s a work in progress. We keep fighting. We don’t give up. We look forward to winning. We hate losing.”
Phillies left-hander Matt Moore allowed six runs in six innings. He allowed a run in the first when Ozzie Albies took advantage of a lazy throw to second base from left fielder Odúbel Herrera and scored from second on a single. Herrera should have thrown the ball to shortstop Ronald Torreyes instead of second baseman Jean Segura, whose throw to the plate short-hopped catcher Andrew Knapp.
Moore retired the first two batters in the third, but in a span of nine pitches, he loaded the bases and allowed a two-out grand slam to Dansby Swanson.
“That inning right there is the difference between this game being a good one for us and this one not being a good one,” Moore said. “Being able to work out of that right there, even if I did give up a homer later in the game, it’s still two runs right there, I like our chances with our team. So really that was the story. It’s about as poor of a pitch as I made all night right there to Swanson.”
Moore entered the game 0-1 with a 5.25 ERA in 13 appearances (seven starts), although he had a 3.06 ERA in his last four starts. He had not pitched more than five innings until Thursday. But one of the reasons he pitched six was because manager Joe Girardi felt the bullpen had been overworked recently. It explains Girardi’s decision to have Moore hit with a runner on second and one out in the fifth.
Of course, the score might have explained it, too. The Phillies trailed 6-0 after four.
“We had to push him,” Girardi said.
The Phillies need pitching help, including help in the rotation. Girardi split Moore’s and Vince Velasquez’s starts this week with Zack Wheeler, because Moore and Velasquez have been unable to pitch deep into games and Girardi wants to protect his bullpen. Aaron Nola is struggling, with a 6.10 ERA in his last eight starts. Zach Eflin is on the 10-day injured list with tendinitis in his right knee. He said he expects to miss only one more turn through the rotation, but time will tell.
The Phillies watched free-agent left-hander Cole Hamels throw in Texas last Friday. Some think he could help, even if marginally at the back end of the rotation. Others do not.
Either way, Hamels is about a month away from being ready to pitch in the big leagues, while the Phillies need help immediately. Will the Phils do something to improve the pitching staff? The expectation is they will, but to what degree is unknown.
“I’m never going to discuss that publicly,” Girardi said about the team’s greatest pitching needs. “It doesn’t make sense, because what I try to do is worry about the guys that are in that room. That’s all I can do. Because it always takes two teams, if you’re going to make a trade. My job is to win with the guys in that room.”
But the Phils could strengthen their case for greater help with a strong finish in the final seven games of this homestand.
“Well, momentum always starts with the starting pitcher the next day,” Girardi said. “We’ve got Wheeler going. We need a big start out of Wheeler tomorrow.”