Phillies' pitching confident they can 'figure it out'
ARLINGTON -- The good news is it's only two games. The bad news is the Phillies' pitching staff is off to its worst two-game start in nearly a century.
The reigning National League champions dropped a 16-3 decision against the Rangers on Saturday afternoon at Globe Life Field. Coupled with Thursday's 11-7 Opening Day loss, it marks the first time since 1929 that Philadelphia has allowed at least 10 runs in each of its first two games.
"It's not what we were expecting, for sure," manager Rob Thomson said. "We've just got to clean it up."
Two days after Aaron Nola pitched just 3 2/3 innings in his sixth consecutive Opening Day assignment, co-ace Zack Wheeler lasted only 4 1/3 frames on Saturday. The duo combined to allow 10 runs (nine earned) in those eight innings.
Wheeler needed at least 20 pitches to navigate each of the first three innings, while allowing two runs each in the first and third. The Phils have allowed multiple runs in seven of their 16 defensive innings this season, including five of eight on Saturday.
"We've just got to figure it out -- everybody get in a rhythm," Wheeler said. "It's two games. It'll be all right.”
Wheeler appeared to settle in as the game went on. He struck out the side in the fourth, then recorded another strikeout to begin the fifth before his day ended on a walk that came on a borderline 3-2 pitch. He retired seven of the final nine batters he faced with the only exceptions coming on a Trea Turner error and the walk.
“He was better as the game went on,” Thomson said. “He settled in pretty good, might have just been a little rust. First game – we’ll chalk it up to that.”
That's hardly any consolation for a Phillies rotation that figures to be reliant on its one-two punch at the top -- especially in the season's opening month. After all, presumed No. 3 starter Ranger Suárez is out until at least late April, top prospect Andrew Painter is sidelined indefinitely with a sprained UCL in right elbow and No. 5 starter Matt Strahm -- set to start Tuesday night against the Yankees in the Bronx -- has been stretched out to just three innings.
Knowing the bullpen may be needed to soak up some extra innings in the coming days, Thomson turned to utility player Josh Harrison -- making his Phillies debut -- to record the final two outs in the eighth.
“We're going to have to figure it out,” Thomson said of the club’s plan to cover innings over the next week. “Can't control it now. Just got to figure it out.”
Nola and Wheeler aren't the only Philadelphia pitchers to get off to a slow start this season. After newcomer Gregory Soto failed to record an out against the four batters he faced on Thursday, one of the Phillies' other high-leverage options, Seranthony Domínguez, did the same against six batters on Saturday.
Domínguez allowed three hits (including a three-run homer by Mitch Garver), while also walking a batter and hitting another. The other reached on an Alec Bohm error.
“I was terrible,” Domínguez said. “That wasn’t good. I don’t feel good with myself right now.”
Domínguez clarified that he feels fine physically, before adding: “Just terrible results today.”
The results also weren’t there for Craig Kimbrel, who retired just one of the four batters he faced while throwing 18 pitches (nine strikes) in his Phillies debut. Kimbrel allowed a leadoff double, then sandwiched a strikeout between a pair of walks before Thomson turned to Harrison, who allowed all three inherited runners to score.
“I hate it,” Thomson said of the decision to use Harrison. “Especially for Craig, because those are his runs. I hate doing that, but I wanted -- and I explained it to him -- I just wanted to make sure he was going to be available for tomorrow. … He’ll be better, but I hate doing that.”
The bullpen has conceded 17 runs (14 earned) in its eight innings over two games.
“We’re going to turn it around,” Domínguez said. “We’re going to start to win games and we’re going to start to pitch better than it is right now.”
Bailey Falter will look to start that turnaround when he takes the mound for Sunday night’s series finale.
"I still have a lot of confidence in the club and I like this club,” Thomson said. “We're going to be fine."