NEW YORK — Tuesday’s series opener at Citi Field marked the official mark of the third season for the Phillies, and they played well in their first 54 games, with plenty of swings on court outside the strike zone in the 2-0 loss.
The Phils were facing Mets right hand Kodai Senga for the first time. The $75 million starting pitcher has walked at least three hits in eight of his nine games since coming from Japan but didn’t walk anyone Tuesday night. The Phillies had only one baserunner in their seven innings pitched, Cody Clemens’ song. They chased 43% of Senga pitches outside the strike zone, well above the league’s 31% chase rate.
Even when he was patient, the Phillies didn’t take the calls. Brandon Marsh made a 3-1 run with two outs in the fifth and Phillies in a run. A pitch off the high ground was called the second strike, and Marsh later hit a groundout. Every such call counts in a tight game.
Brandon Nemo stole Nick Castellanos’ home run in the first inning, marking the second consecutive game that an opposing quarterback recovered a homer from the Phils. Michael Harris II victim Kyle Schwarber Sunday night in Atlanta.
“That’s the way things are for the Phils at the moment,” Castellanos said. “But we just have to keep treading water, keep fighting. It’s a long season.”
Senga certainly had a “thorn-fork” run against the Phillies, generating whiffs 12 of the 18 times he swung. But the lack of plate selection was a constant theme in the Phils’ 25-29 start to the season. Only six teams in the majors have a lower walk rate. Only the White Sox chased more pitches out of the area.
“He was throwing it for a shot early and then he expanded with it and we chased it,” said head coach Rob Thompson. “We haven’t seen him. Usually, our guys, the more experienced guys, see the pitcher again and again, they feel more comfortable. When you see a guy the first time, it’s sometimes hard to handle.”
The Phillies’ most selective hitter, Bryce Harper, was out of the lineup for the first time since returning on May 2 from Tommy John surgery. It wasn’t about the injury, Thompson said, but it was strange that he didn’t use Harper as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a two-run game.
“He’s fine and he’ll play tomorrow,” said the manager. “We wanted to give him a full day of rest, don’t swing, don’t warm up. A lot of times when they hit strikes they take a lot of swings, a lot of swings, a lot of swinging (throughout the game). We wanted to give him a full day.
“For his health, I prefer not to risk it.”
The Phillies wanted to give Harper two full days off with the day off. It meant sitting Sunday or Tuesday. Harper wanted to play on Sunday, so Phils sat him on Tuesday. In retrospect, it probably made sense to relieve him Sunday night of a Spencer Stryder-Dylan Coffey game that skewed heavily in favor of the Braves.
The Mets men were shaky and Adam Ottavino was heard booed after walking JT Realmuto on four pitches to start the eighth game. The tying run was at the plate but Realmuto was thrown out to steal second on a two-run game for saving Ottavino, who was out of the role after a few pitches. David Robertson pushed Bryson Stott into a 6-4-3 double play to shut the door in the ninth.
“Oh yeah, that was all on me,” Thompson said of Realmuto’s stolen primary attempt. (Ottavino) 1.8 seconds from the plate, it should be a stolen base, and that keeps you off the double play ball and puts some pressure on it. But he was a little quicker and the catcher made a good throw.”
Ranger Suarez bounced back with 6 solid runs, a promising sign after how poorly he pitched in his first three starts. He threw more strikes and worked forward with the charges and worked out his full ammunition.
In his first three games since returning from an elbow injury, Suarez has put 22 men on base in 11 innings and had a first-pitch batting average of just over 50%. Against the Mets, he threw a first batter on 18 of the 26 batters he faced.
“It was amazing, it was really cool,” Thompson said. “He went forward, he hit the shots, he had a good feeling on his off-set, he threw good balls. I thought he was great. That was a really good outing against a good ball hitting club.”
The Velez needed to see signs like this from Suarez. They received a combined 6.30 ERA from Suarez and Taijuan Walker going into Tuesday, but Walker came on slowly, pitching well in four of his last five starts. The Fils are now hoping Suarez can find success. Production in the middle of the cycle will mask some of the problems the Phillies have in the fifth.
“I felt a lot better on the mound today,” said Suarez. “I felt like I was a lot calmer than in my previous matches and that helped me a lot to get deeper into the game. In my previous rounds I was a bit faster.
“The thing that was really key for me was that in the last gaming session, I kind of simulated a game. We went through a beat, like if I’m late in the count, what am I going to throw? If you’re ahead of us in the count, what am I going to throw? Little things like that.” like.”
The Phils are at 2-3 in their first NL East road trip of the season. They have two more matches in New York and three in DC
Aaron Nola (4-3, 4.59) starts Wednesday night in front of Carlos Carrasco (1-2, 6.75).
It’s Walker (4-2, 5.57) versus Max Scherzer (4-2, 3.54) in the series finale on Thursday afternoon.
“We certainly haven’t played badly,” Castellanos said of the trip so far. “Other than the last game in Atlanta, it wasn’t that good. But we played good baseball. We played good baseball tonight but they played a little bit better.”
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