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Phillies in need of lengthy starts from rotation

Thompson's outing is club's 8th in a row with fewer than 6 frames
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin answered a question about his bullpen on Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, when he quickly segued into a discussion about the rotation.

"We just need our starters to get out of that rut where we're not getting six, seven, eight innings," he said before a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers. "We're trying to develop nine-inning pitchers."

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PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin answered a question about his bullpen on Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, when he quickly segued into a discussion about the rotation.

"We just need our starters to get out of that rut where we're not getting six, seven, eight innings," he said before a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers. "We're trying to develop nine-inning pitchers."

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But it has not happened like the Phillies had hoped, particularly lately. Rookie Jake Thompson yielded five hits, five runs, four walks and two home runs in five innings in his third big league start. He threw first-pitch strikes to just 10 of 24 batters as he fell to 1-2 with an 8.79 ERA.

"He's 22 years old and made some mistakes," Mackanin said of the Phillies' No. 5 prospect. "The interesting thing is that he doesn't walk that many people, but he's got nine walks in [14 1/3] innings. I attribute that to the fact he's 22 years old and his first go around at the big league level. Pitching is all about repeating your mechanics and making good pitches. In time, he'll get there."

Mackanin said Thompson simply might be trying to impress too much, trying to follow up an impressive run at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he went 8-0 with a 1.21 ERA in his final 11 starts with the IronPigs.

"I wouldn't say I'm trying to impress," Thompson said. "I'm just trying to get outs regardless of who I'm facing. Just trying to be too fine, falling behind, especially to those guys in the middle of the lineup. That's a terrible place to be."

Phillies starters have pitched fewer than six innings in eight consecutive games, tying a franchise record last done in 1999. They also have not thrown seven or more innings in a game since July 26 in Miami, when Jerad Eickhoff gave up one run in seven innings.

That is 19 consecutive games without a starter pitching seven innings. Phillies starters have a 7.05 ERA in that stretch, falling short of logging six innings 16 times.

"We have to get it going and get back on track and pounding the strike zone, getting ahead early and running the counts deep, and getting outs early in the counts," Mackanin said.

The Phillies' rotation looked pretty good early in the season, but the past few weeks have been quite a contrast. Aaron Nola will finish the season on the 60-day disabled list with an injured right elbow. Zach Eflin might not pitch again this season because of knee issues. Vince Velasquez has struggled recently, posting a 7.24 ERA in his last five starts.

Thompson, who is the No. 67 overall prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, has not pitched more than five innings in his three starts.

"Mentally I'm fine," Thompson said. "It's kind of how pitching goes. Every now and then you struggle with stuff. I dealt with it in Lehigh. I had a terrible first month of the season, partially due to the same thing -- erratic fastball command. We'll get in the bullpen and get it ironed out."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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