PHILADELPHIA – It wasn’t supposed to be this way where the Phillies are off to the same slow start that they faced through the first two months last season.
Sure, that turned out well in 2022 as the Phillies reached the World Series. But through all the delirium, the Phillies fortified themselves heading into this year, spending $300 million on All-Star shortstop Trea Turner, who offered this candid assessment of his season so far: “I’ve sucked.”
He’s not alone.
“It seems like the nights we pitch, we don’t hit,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “And the nights we hit, we don’t pitch. We’re just going through one of those times right now. We just gotta smooth it all out and get consistent. And then we’ll be fine.”
That didn’t happen Tuesday, when the Phillies didn’t pitch or hit well enough in their 4-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
On the one hand, there’s plenty of time for the Phillies to turn it around. After all, they’re 22-26, one game better than last season through 48 games.
On the other hand, the hitting has been inconsistent, the starting pitching ranks 22nd in baseball with a 4.86 ERA, with both aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola struggling, with $72 million signee Taijuan Walker sporting a 5.79 ERA, and with prized phenom Andrew Painter still working back from elbow trouble.
So Thomson was left with a bullpen game Tuesday. That meant relying on Dylan Covey, who was designated for assignment by the Dodgers last week, to eat up five innings after replacing Matt Strahm to start the third.
Covey did his part, giving up just a run on five hits. Everyone else? Not so much.
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“It’s a new team, different team,” Bryce Harper said. “You never want to bank on having success the year before or anything like that. That year’s over. It was a lot of fun with what we did, and what we were able to do. But also, this is a new team, a new club. We gotta go out there and play our game, understanding who we are and what we are.
“Understand that we’re a really good team, and we just gotta play good baseball.”
They’re just not doing it yet.
The problem is the Phillies struggled through the first two months of the season without playing either the Braves or the Mets. That’s about to change. The Phillies finish off this homestand on Wednesday afternoon, going against Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen, who’s 6-2 with a 2.95 ERA.
Then they’ll play 13 of their next 29 games against the Braves (29-19) and the Mets (25-24), beginning Thursday with four games in Atlanta followed by three in New York. They’ll play both teams in late June at Citizens Bank Park.
That’s why Thomson said it was “real important” to get some momentum against the Diamondbacks.
Instead, the Phillies continued to struggle.
Sure, many of those players struggled through the early part of last season before turning it around. That includes Turner, who started slowly with the Dodgers last season.
He went 0-for-4 Tuesday and is hitting .251 with an OPS of .679, well below his career OPS of .833. Turner has just 4 homers and 11 RBIs. Last season, Turner hit 21 homers with 100 RBIs and 27 stolen bases.
Harper has no doubt that Turner will figure it out soon enough.
“He’s a great player. That’s why he’s here,” Harper said. “He’s done it his whole career. He understands what he needs to do. He’s going to get there. I have no doubt that he’s going to be Trea Turner and play the game he knows how to play. He’s one of the best guys I ‘ve ever been around my whole career.”
Then there’s Kyle Schwarber, who also went 0-for-4 Tuesday. He’s hitting .173 with 12 homers and 24 RBIs so far this season. His on-base percentage is .315 and his OPS is .725.
Last season at this time, Schwarber was hitting .203 with 10 homers, 22 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .316 and a .722 OPS.
Schwarber ended up with 46 homers last season, 38 of them from the leadoff spot. He’s batting fifth now.
So Thomson waits. He has kept Turner at No. 2 in the batting order despite admitting that he has thought about dropping him lower.
“I’m just waiting for him to come out of this thing,” Thomson said. “It’s just a matter of time. And when he comes out of it, I want him there in that spot.”
It didn’t happen Tuesday.
Turner came up in the eighth inning, the Phillies down by a run, and he grounded out to second. Harper followed with a rocket off the fence in right center. Had Turner or leadoff man Bryson Stott gotten on base, they would have scored.
Then Schwarber sent a liner to center that Dominic Fletcher slid for in order to catch. Schwarber slammed his helmet in frustration.
It was emblematic of Schwarber’s night. In the second inning, he ripped a liner to right that was caught by Corbin Carroll. In the fourth, he lined out to second base, before popping out to first in the seventh.
Schwarber’s popout came after Harper started the inning with a walk followed by Nick Castellanos’ double. The Phillies were trailing 3-1 at the time. Eventually, Kody Clemens got a home run on a ground out, and Alec Bohm, pinch-hitting for Edmundo Sosa, singled in the other to tie the game.
Then the bullpen failed the Phillies as Seranthony Dominguez didn’t retire any of the three batters he faced.
So Thomson has little choice to keep hoping for signs that Schwarber and Turner are figuring it out. There’s also JT Realmuto and Brandon Marsh, who was a late scratch Tuesday with shoulder inflammation.
“Really, the bulk of the guys aren’t really where they’re normally at,” Thomson said.
Then Thomson said this about Schwarber: “The popup at first base, he just missed that. He hits the ball on the nose to right field. He hits the ball on the nose to center field. He’s starting to get it.”
The Phillies have to hope that it won’t be too late when that finally happens.
Contact Martin Frank at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: As Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber struggle, can Phillies find 2022 magic?