Phillies' bats go quiet in final game before pivotal series in Atlanta originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Having run out of competent, big-league quality starting pitching, the Phillies rolled the dice on a guy who'd pitched just one game -- 4 1/3 innings, to be exact -- above the Double A level in the final home game of the 2021 season.
Hans Crouse did not have a memorable major-league debut.
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But he was not the Phillies' problem Sunday afternoon.
A lack of offense was.
The Phillies' bats came up small in a damaging, 6-0, loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rookie Max Kranick, who entered the game with a 7.28 ERA, held the Phillies scoreless over five innings and the Pirates' bullpen did the rest to avoid a four-game sweep.
For the day, the Phillies had just six hits and five were singles.
The Phillies won three of four in the series, but they needed to be greedy and sweep the lowly Pirates. The Phils entered the game 1½ game behind the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves, who were set to play later in the day at San Diego. A Braves win would put them up by 2½ games and lower their magic number for clinching the division to five.
The Phillies and Braves play a huge three-game series in Atlanta starting on Tuesday night. The Phils need to think sweep. They will send Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson to the mound. The Braves will counter with Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson.
With six games left in the regular season, the Phillies are 81-75, one victory shy of their first winning season since 2011. They finished the home portion of their schedule at 47-34. They are 34-41 on the road.
Crouse, 23, was acquired from Texas in July in the same trade that netted the Phillies pitchers Gibson and Ian Kennedy. He made six starts at Double A Reading and one at Triple A Lehigh Valley after the trade.
Three-fifths of the Phillies' season-opening rotation is out of the picture. Zach Eflin is out for the season with a knee injury, Chase Anderson was released, and Matt Moore lost his spot and is now on the injured list. Vince Velasquez made 17 starts after opening the season in the bullpen, but he, too, has been released.
With no quality starting pitching depth close to helping, the Phillies have been forced to scramble for a starter every fifth game this month. The bullpen filled three starts. Adonis Medina filled one. On Sunday, Crouse, a right-hander with a funky delivery, got the surprise call.
Crouse will never forget his first pitch in the majors. It was a 94-mph fastball that Pirates leadoff man Cole Tucker lofted over the right field wall for a 1-0 lead.
Crouse lasted three innings and gave up just that one run. He allowed six baserunners, four on walks, and was fortunate to give up one run. The wind knocked down a ball that might have been a three-run homer in the first.
Still, Crouse and Cristopher Sanchez, another rookie, managed to keep the Pirates to just a run over five innings.
The problem was the Phillies' offense -- or lack thereof. J.T. Realmuto had big chances with runners on base in the third and fifth innings and both times could not come up with a hit that might have changed the course of the game.
The Phils trailed, 1-0, when things got ugly in the sixth. Veteran reliever Jose Alvarado was tagged for a pair of runs in an inning that included two conventional walks, two intentional walks, a wild pitch, a balk and generally a whole lot of ugliness.
The Pirates scored two more against Medina in the eighth.
Medina was bypassed for the start, so it was interesting that Girardi went to him in the eighth while trailing by just three runs with six outs remaining. Given the importance of the game, Hector Neris or Sam Coonrod would have made more sense than Medina. It's possible that neither pitcher was available.
The attendance on Fan Appreciation Day was 29,336. The Phils drew 1,515,888 for the season, their smallest total since 1997. The ballpark, however, was not open to full capacity until June.
Will the Phillies be back at Citizens Bank Park this season for a playoff game?
Or will the place go dark and the playoff drought reach a decade?
The next three games in Atlanta will tell a lot.