Phillies' hitting, pitching struggles continue

RICH SCHULTZ / GETTY IMAGES Carlos Torres, filling in for injured starter Matt Harvey, handcuffed the Phillies.
RICH SCHULTZ / GETTY IMAGES Carlos Torres, filling in for injured starter Matt Harvey, handcuffed the Phillies.
Posted: August 30, 2013

NEW YORK - Matt Harvey, who started the All-Star Game for the National League last month, was supposed to start yesterday afternoon's game at Citi Field.

Harvey leads the National League in strikeouts and is second in ERA and WHIP. He has been the best righthander in the league in 2013 and obviously no treat for opposing hitters.

But Harvey's first full major league season was cut short on Monday, when he announced he had a tear in his pitching elbow. The Phillies watched the press conference from the visiting clubhouse that day, with most in shock and showing empathy for the Mets pitcher.

With Harvey sidelined, it should have been a break for the Phillies, but it really didn't matter who was on the mound because the Phillies' offense was dreadful on get-away day in Flushing.

New York fill-in starter Carlos Torres took a shutout into the seventh inning and Phils rookie Ethan Martin was chased after four as the Mets won in an 11-3 rout. The loss gave the Phils a split in the four-game series before heading to Chicago, where they'll complete their weeklong road trip with three games against the Cubs over Labor Day weekend.

In a lost season, the Phils blew a chance to collect what would have been their third consecutive series win. They were handcuffed by Torres, 30, who entered the afternoon with a 6.70 ERA in nine career starts.

Even Domonic Brown's return to the lineup for the first time since Saturday couldn't ignite the offense.

"He was getting guys off-balance a little bit," said Brown, who was held out of the lineup for the previous four games with right Achilles' soreness. "I thought he would calm down a little bit with his velocity [from reliever to starter], but his velocity was still there. He was mixing up his speeds well with the fastball. And he had some late life on that, and his sinker was working. When a guy does that, it's going to be tough as a hitter."

Brown, who finished 2-for-4 in his return, had one of the two hits the Phillies managed off Torres in the first six innings.

"Guys really had a hard time staying on his pitches and getting solid contact," manager Ryne Sandberg said.

The Phillies' failure to hit an ordinary pitcher like Torres isn't exactly anything new. Neither was their offensive struggles in general

The Phils entered the game last in baseball in both hitting (.218) and on-base percentage (.283) this month. Even if you go beyond August, the numbers don't get much better: Only three teams in baseball have scored fewer runs than the Phillies in 2013.

Still, the lineup has changed in the last month - hello Darin Ruf, goodbye Delmon Young - and Sandberg sees reasons for optimism, even if most of the current names remain in 2014.

"We've got guys to build around," Sandberg said. "With Chase Utley, J-Roll [Jimmy Rollins], with a healthy [Ryan] Howard back, that's big. There's some ifs, [free agent Carlos] Ruiz. Depending if we have an [Cody] Asche or a Ruf in the mix, there's definitely some pieces there and there's some young guys with some experience now that are doing some good things. It's definitely something to build on. Having Ryno in the four spot and producing would be a big bat that's been missed."

The Phillies also will need pitching if they hope to rebound from two non-playoff seasons with a return to contention next summer.

They didn't get any pitching yesterday. All four pitchers who took the mound at Citi Field yielded at least one run.

Martin, making his sixth career start, was maddening. He struck out five of the first eight batters he faced and collected nine punchouts in four innings, but he also yielded three runs on three hits and three walks.

Martin needed 86 pitches to get through four innings. He has only pitched more than five innings once in six starts.

"I felt pretty decent in almost every start," Martin said. "It's just that when I get to that 60-pitch mark I kind of struggle. I have to get to where I can sit back and get through there. Hopefully I can get to that point this year."

Martin's strikeout ability and inability to pitch deep would seem to point him into the direction of the bullpen, where a power arm with swing-and-miss stuff would be welcomed.

"There hasn't been too much discussion about that," Sandberg said of a possible role change for Martin.

But should there be? The Phils have Tyler Cloyd capable of finishing out the season in the rotation, and perhaps giving Martin meaningful major league innings as a reliever will help him transition, if that's where he's needed most in 2014.

"Any time a guy starts he still gets to work on things," Sandberg said, also pointing to the 24-year-old's season workload as a reason for his recent struggles. "You never know if he's going to bounce back and give us six good [innings] at this time of the year, but it's something to keep an eye on and watch carefully . . . This is all new to him with the innings."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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