Early Struggles Continue for Phillies' David Robertson in Loss to Nationals

WASHINGTON- The Phillies lost their first game of the season Wednesday afternoon and it took three uncommon events for it to happen.

Aaron Nola had his worst outing since the 2017 season.

Rhys Hoskins simply missed a toss from Seranthony Dominguez that would have ended an inning but instead allowed the tying run to score.

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And David Robertson pitched poorly again, his third straight subpar outing in his first week as a Phillie.

Robertson allowed a leadoff single to Anthony Rendon then walked the next three batters he faced to force in the game-winning run in a 9-8 Phillies loss (see observations).

The Phils, with an offense that will keep them in most games this season, had come back from an early 6-2 deficit and even took a lead in the top of the eighth before things fell apart.

Robertson's struggles are confounding. This is a pitcher with a 12-year track record of success as a late-inning reliever. He has been reliable setting up and reliable closing. And in nine of those seasons, he's done so in the high-pressure environment of New York.

"I'm pitching like crap," Robertson said, still hot about how his outing went. 

"I've been sucking out there, that's for sure. I throw it over the plate, it gets hit. Not throwing strikes, walking guys, putting guys on, giving them every chance to score runs.

"It's probably three of the worst outings I've ever put together. Fortunately, we won the last two games but I'm pretty hard on myself and if I keep going out there and pitching like crap, I'll have to figure something out."

Just six of Robertson's 19 pitches Wednesday were strikes. He's allowed four runs and nine baserunners in two innings of work. He has as many walks in three appearances with the Phillies as he had in his first 19 appearances with the Yankees last season. 

Of all the Phillies who may have been a candidate to struggle early, Robertson was not close to the top of the list. He had a 2.54 ERA and 0.94 WHIP with 189 strikeouts in 138 innings the last two seasons. And he's certainly not a reliever who cares much about having a specific role or inning.

Phillies fans are a passionate bunch. Many on social media are already ready for the team to sign Craig Kimbrel or determine that Robertson is worthless. Just search his name.

There's more scrutiny when the fanbase's only glimpses of you are bad outings.

"I would love to come right out of the gates hot and be that dependable piece at the back end of the bullpen like I felt I've been for most of my career," Robertson said. "It's not happening right now and I gotta figure it out."

Much of the Phillies' bullpen hopes rely on Robertson being that solid late reliever. The tandem of Robertson and Dominguez has a chance to shorten games, especially combined with Pat Neshek's consistency in multiple spots. 

Getting Robertson right is a top priority for a Phillies team with high expectations. If a few months go by and the bullpen is still underperforming, they'll be forced to look for help externally. But that's a ways away. The season is five games old and the Phillies are 4-1.

"One thing that stands out to me today is that we had three players not have their best games in Aaron, Rhys and David and they're all three guys that I would push all my chips in right now that are going to help us win a ton of baseball games and be at the central point of those wins," manager Gabe Kapler said. 

"They didn't have their best days today. I acknowledge that. We move on."

The Twins come to town Friday for a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park, which is sure to be rocking again. 

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