Phillies' pitchers help potent Blue Jays do damage in loss

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Even though the Toronto Blue Jays’ offense has been a little slow warming this season, it is still one of the most dangerous in baseball. Just look at their Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters. Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion have combined for 45 homers and 140 RBIs.
 
The Jays don’t need a lot of help lighting up the scoreboard. They can handle things just fine themselves.
 
But Wednesday night, the Jays did get some help in posting a 7-2 win over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay). It was provided by the Phillies' pitchers, much to Pete Mackanin's chagrin.
 
“Three walks and a hit batsman, they all scored,” the Phillies' manager lamented. “That was our demise.”
 
That’s right, four of the Jays’ seven runs initially reached base with free passes.
 
Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson walked the first two batters in the fourth inning and both eventually found their way home. Later in the game, struggling reliever Hector Neris gave up three runs in the eighth as the Jays pulled away. One of the runs came on a home run by Donaldson. The other two started off as a walk and a hit batsman.
 
While the pitching was not good, it was not the sole reason the Phillies lost for the 17th time in their last 22 games to fall to 30-36. The offense generated just six hits. Cody Asche had half of them with a second-deck homer and a pair of doubles. He drove in both of the Phillies’ runs.
 
“That’s the best Cody has looked in a while,” Mackanin said. “I hope he keeps it up. We’re starving for offense.”
 
The Phillies are averaging 3.24 runs per game, the second-worst mark in the majors.
 
The Phils were able to run out to a 25-19 start — it seems like eons ago — mostly on the strength of their pitching. Lately, the starting pitching has faltered and the bullpen, particularly early-season star Neris, has not been as sharp.
 
Pitching mostly as the setup man for closer Jeanmar Gomez, Neris had a 1.29 ERA in his first 26 appearances.
 
But over his last eight appearances, he has given up eight earned runs in 6 1/3 innings for an ERA of 11.37. He has allowed 11 hits and eight walks over that span.
 
Neris’ big problem is he has lost the command of his splitter, a pitch that was so good over the first two months of the season that Mackanin called it “an invisible pitch.”
 
“We’ve got to get Neris back on track,” Mackanin said. “We’re trying to pinpoint what’s going on. We’re looking at video, looking at his arm angle.
 
“What I see is when he was automatic over the first two months, he was throwing his split for strikes at will. Now he doesn’t have command of it and he’s getting behind. That’s what’s getting him in trouble.
 
“The reason I brought him in down two runs is I want to get him out there and get him back on track. I’m sure he’s thinking about it. You go through ups and downs through the course of a season. He’s in a little bit of a lull, obviously. He needs to have a real good 1-2-3 inning to get him going. He threw a couple of sliders tonight. He’s got a pretty good one. We might go to that a little bit. But we’re looking at him and his mechanics to see what’s going on.”
 
Hellickson, who blew a 4-0 lead his last time out, has walked nine batters in his last three starts.
 
“He’s not a power pitcher, obviously,” Mackanin said. “He relies quite a bit on his command and control. Tonight he battled. He’s close to the plate, he's right off the plate and he tried to be too fine I think. I’d like to see him try to stay down in the zone instead of hitting the corners because that gets him behind in counts and he uses up a lot of pitches.”
 
Hellickson was not happy about the two walks he issued to Donaldson and Encarnacion to open the fourth.
 
“It’s a good lineup,” Hellickson said. “I don’t think there’s a better 2, 3, 4 in the league. But at the same time, I feel I can pitch against anybody. Those two walks killed me. I’ve got to make them get hits there, put the ball in play so our defense can work.”
 
While Hellickson struggled, Jays right-hander Marco Estrada sailed. He allowed just four hits and two runs over 6 2/3 innings. His 2.58 ERA is the fourth-best in the American League and his .168 opponents' batting average is the best in the majors.

Estrada has allowed five or fewer hits in 10 straight starts, a Jays' record.

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