Aaron Nola's Outing Ruined by Single Pitch in Phillies' 5th Straight Loss


Aaron Nola's 0-2 fastball to Austin Hedges was on the outside corner. Not a terrible pitch, but not the sort of perfection required of a Phillies starting pitcher, either.

Hedges, San Diego's catcher, slapped the ball into right field for a single, driving in the seventh-inning run that snapped a 1-1 tie and paved the way for the Padres' 2-1 victory Saturday afternoon (see Instant Replay).

Nola, already amid the best stretch of his fledgling major league career, was great. Brilliant, even.

But he was not quite good enough to survive another anemic day by the Phillies' offense. Their 325 runs are second-fewest in the bigs – only San Diego, with 311, has managed fewer – and they have put up exactly nine during their current five-game losing streak.

"No offense once again," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Tough loss, another one-run loss. It's not fun."

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The Phillies, the majors' worst team at 28-58, are 11-23 in one-run games. They are 17-49 since beginning the season 11-9, and during their current 7-22 slide have averaged just over three runs a game.

Cesar Hernandez and Howie Kendrick, who would be the top two hitters in the lineup, have been out since June 11 and 28, respectively, with an oblique strain and a hamstring pull. That hasn't helped. Neither have the continuing struggles of Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco.

Herrera, hitting .256 this season, was hitless in two at-bats Saturday. Mackanin sent Cameron Perkins to hit for him in the eighth, which raised some eyebrows.

"Odubel just hasn't been swinging the bat like he can," the manager said.

Mackanin gave his centerfielder a vote of confidence, saying that he believes Herrera is "going to end up hitting .280 or more," but he also said he reserves the right to yank him if he doesn't like what he's seeing.

"But I don't plan on doing that for the whole season – hopefully not," Mackanin said.

Franco's homer, his 13th of the season, staked the Phillies to a 1-0 lead in the fifth. But he grounded into his 17th double play of the season, most in the majors, in the second. And with the Phils down 2-1, runners on second and third and one out in the seventh, he popped to short. He also grounded into a forceout to end the game, leaving his average at .220.

Mackanin said that in clutch spots, "some of our players tend to overswing; they come out of their mechanics."

Franco is one of the guilty parties, according to the manager.

"He had good pitches to hit," Mackanin said. "He just missed them. It boils down to that – two or three fastballs he had to hit and didn't."

Franco did not disagree with the critique.

"You go up there and you try to do too much, and do everything for your team," he said, "and sometimes you have to just stay focused, stay relaxed and calm down."

Overall, he said, "I have to get better. Too much up and down. A couple days good, a couple days bad, but you have to stay positive."

Nola (6-6), who saw a personal three-game winning streak end, went eight innings and allowed two runs on four hits while striking out nine and walking two. He became the first Phillies pitcher since Jerad Eickhoff in 2015 to work seven innings or more and allow two runs or fewer in four straight starts.

Nola's command, particularly of his fastball and changeup, have been critical to his success. And on Saturday he allowed only one hit while blanking San Diego over the first six innings, retiring 12 straight in one stretch.

Then Hunter Renfroe opened the seventh with a softly hit double, just inside the first-base line. Nola retired the next two hitters, but Carlos Asuaje tripled off the center field fence to tie it, on a 2-1 fastball.

Next up was Hedges, who had homered twice Friday. Nola, however, buried him in that 0-2 hole before unleashing the fateful fastball.

"It was on the corner, but it was just a little up," he said of the 93 mph offering. "If it was a little more down, I think I would have gotten him out."

Just a matter of an inch or two. The slimmest margin of error, really. Nola claims not to think about such things – that he cannot fret over run support, or lack of same.

"I try to pitch like it's a close game every time," he said.

Too close for comfort, usually.

After the game, RHP Ben Lively was optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley to open a roster spot for Eickhoff, who was activated from the disabled list. Eickhoff will start Sunday's game against San Diego, the Phillies' last before the All-Star break.

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