Aaron Nola proves human as Phillies suffer 14th loss in last 18 games

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WASHINGTON -- Throughout the Phillies’ recent run of mostly losing baseball, the team could still rely on Aaron Nola to spin a quality start and give the club a puncher’s chance in a ballgame.
 
Though Nola conducts himself with the poise of a 10-year veteran, it’s important to remember he turned 23 just last week and is only 24 months removed from pitching in the SEC. He’s still a developing talent who will have ups and downs and he establishes himself as the leader of the Phillies’ rotation.
 
Saturday was one of those times when Nola was more down than up. His string of nine straight quality starts ended in an 8-0 loss to the Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay).
 
“Nola was out of synch,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
“He said it right,” Nola confirmed. “I felt out of synch. I wasn’t getting ahead of hitters with my fastball early. I was missing early and threw a lot of balls with my secondary stuff.
 
“I was trying to be too fine with my pitches and that caused my pitch count to jump pretty high.”
 
That high pitch count and the specter of Bryce Harper’s dangerous left-handed bat due up with a man on base forced Nola to exit the game after just 3⅔ innings. It was the shortest of his 26 big-league starts. He gave up seven hits and four runs. All the runs came in the second inning when the Nats batted around. The frame started with Nola hitting a batter and included his giving up RBI hits on a 1-2 curveball and an 0-2 curveball. Nola’s signature breaking ball lacked sharpness and did not fool the Washington hitters.
 
“His breaking ball didn't have a lot of bite,” Mackanin said. “I didn't think it had a tight spin like he normally does. It was a little flatter than usual.”
 
Giving up RBI hits on 0-2 and 1-2 counts has not been uncommon for this staff.
 
“We've talked a lot about that,” Mackanin said. “It's all about command, making a quality pitch 0-2 or 1-2. Their guy was able to do that. Our guy wasn’t.”
 
Their guy was right-hander Tanner Roark. He scattered six hits over seven shutout innings, walked one and struck out seven. He has given up just two earned runs in 21 innings over three starts against the Phillies this season.
 
The Phillies are averaging just 3.19 runs per game and have been held to two or fewer runs 24 times in 62 games. Given that, it’s a wonder that Saturday marked just the third time they’ve been shut out.
 
The Phils ran out to a surprising 25-19 start but have lost 14 of 18 since then. Over that time, the starting pitchers have a 5.25 ERA. That plus the poor offense will equal a lot of losses.
 
Mackanin remains frustrated with his team’s offense and the hitters’ inability to adjust their approaches at the plate. The Phils were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and struck out 10 times. They struck out 13 times in Friday night’s loss.
 
“We didn't play well today,” Mackanin said. “We didn't swing the bats well. Maybe it was the early game. Maybe the heat. It didn't seem to affect them but it affected us.
 
“So I was disappointed in the way we hit today. Not because we didn't get hits, but selection, once again, taking too many fastballs that I think are hittable pitches and swinging at pitches we shouldn't be swinging at. Same old story.
 
“At some point we have to have a better plan.”

Mackanin has inserted Tommy Joseph full time into the lineup. Other than that, he doesn’t have a lot of options for offensive improvement on his roster. Upper management is in hold-on-and-wait mode as it allows the rebuild to continue and prospects to development in the minors.
 
“You've been seeing my lineups,” Mackanin said. “I've been dipsy-doodling every day. I’ve tried a lot of everything.”
 
Dipsy-doodling?
 
“Is that a word?” asked Mackanin, who hasn’t lost his sense of humor as this season has begun to spiral downward.

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