ATLANTA — Michael Lorenzen was unhittable — literally — six weeks ago when he no-hit the Nationals on a career-high 124 pitches.
His first two starts as a Phillie could not have gone better — 17 innings, two runs, 11 baserunners, peak efficiency.
It's all come crashing down since.
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Lorenzen was shifted to the bullpen over the weekend as the Phillies moved back to a five-man rotation. He was the guy because of his recent struggles, his experience relieving and the fact that he is so far beyond his prior career-high in innings.
Making his first appearance as a piggyback reliever for starter Cristopher Sanchez, Lorenzen was knocked around in Tuesday's 9-3 loss.
He entered in the fifth inning with the Phillies down three runs. He faced seven batters. Six reached base. Three scored. He recorded one out but it took 37 pitches and that's where his night ended, a night he and manager Rob Thomson hoped Lorenzen could pitch four innings.
"I was hoping to definitely go more than an out," he said. "I was hoping to bridge it to go four innings.
"Sometimes this game's really easy for you and sometimes it's just really hard. Every single guy in here has been through it, where you think, 'Oh, I could do this for the rest of my life, no biggie.' And then it flips, just like that. You've got to maintain that confidence but you're like, 'There's nothing I can do right out here.' You've just got to keep going."
Lorenzen has a 9.23 ERA and 2.05 WHIP since the no-hitter. His role is now TBD. It seems unlikely he piggybacks Sanchez again in the same way. He may end up as a traditional right-handed reliever heading into October. Part of the reason the Phillies acquired him from Detroit at the trade deadline was because he relieved from 2016-21, so the Phils saw him as a starter for most of the second half and a reliever when the playoffs arrived.
He last pitched on September 11, eight days ago.
"It's a lot (of rest)," Lorenzen said. "The way the roster is constructed, the starters need to pitch. Going back to a five-man, I have bullpen experience. So it's just the way it is. We're in win-now baseball, so you have to do whatever it takes. I have to adjust better and hope to adjust better. But I just haven't been doing that.
"There's always urgency in my mind. There's always urgency. There's never sit back. I don't like not being good. It's not something I do well with. So I don't care if it's the first month of the season or in the situation we're in now."
Part of this is baseball evening out over the course of a 162-game season. Lorenzen the starting pitcher has not missed many bats or struck out many hitters (7.0 per nine innings) over the last two seasons. When you induce so much contact, you're more subject to good luck and bad luck, you're more affected by the defense behind you. There were periods earlier this season when the ball bounced the right way for Lorenzen, when borderline pitches were called strikes rather than balls.
"That's where it gets a little tough being so contact-oriented," he said. "This is my third year starting. Out of the 'pen, I was like a strikeout-per-inning guy. So you just don't know out of the rotation how your stuff's going to play. There will be some adjustments this offseason knowing that my stuff has been pitch-to-contact this year. Now that I have that information, I'll be able to make an adjustment and see what I can do better to get some more swing-and-miss during the offseason. But right now, I just have to keep going."
Sanchez went four innings and threw 60 pitches. Thomson said after the game that the plan was for him to face the Braves' lineup twice. Sanchez is also far past his prior innings max, 44 innings beyond. He went into the eighth inning, threw 96 pitches and struck out 10 Braves last Wednesday.
"Last time out, most innings in his career that he's pitched, most pitches for the season," Thomson said. "His next start will be on regular rest. So we're kind of managing that, too. At the top of the lineup, we were going to go to Michael third time through, and it just didn't work out. (Lorenzen) threw strikes, but there wasn't any swing-and-miss."
Is Thomson concerned about Lorenzen?
"A little bit, because you know my concerns on no-hitters and complete games and things like that, and guys bouncing back," he said. "But now he's coming out of the bullpen, so that's another new thing. We'll get him some more work and he'll be able to bounce back here in a couple of days."