Cliff Lee has allowed 21 hits and nine runs in 10 2/3 innings since returning from the DL after being sidelined for two months. (AP)
The Phillies lost on multiple fronts Saturday night.
They were held scoreless for the final seven frames and blew a four-run lead to fall to the Diamondbacks, 10-6, in 10 innings (see Instant Replay). But more importantly, two of their more tradable commodities struggled again five days before the trade deadline.
Cliff Lee, in his second start since returning from a lengthy stint on the DL with an elbow strain, allowed three runs on nine hits and lasted just five innings. In those two starts, he’s surrendered 21 hits and nine runs in 10 2/3 innings.
Antonio Bastardo, the Phils’ lefty reliever being scouted by multiple teams in search of bullpen help, was taken deep for the second consecutive night. He took the loss, allowing four runs in the 10th inning on a game-winning sac fly by Martin Prado and a three-run homer off the bat of Nick Evans.
In two games in the series, Bastardo has put seven men on base in just 1 1/3 innings. Five of them have scored.
The Phils are limping toward the deadline, though Lee’s struggles should have been expected after he was shelved for two months.
“It looks like [Lee’s] still building up arm strength,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “The ball’s just not coming out crisp and darting with some life at home plate. He’s lacking that right now along with the command.
“Not a lot of difference from his first outing. Control, command, lacking real good pop. He actually went to his changeup early on just because he felt like that was his most effective pitch the first two or three innings. Seems to be just behind a little bit with strength and reps.”
Lee put the leadoff man on base in four of his five innings. He wasn’t the reason the Phillies lost, but he spent so much of the night under duress that Sandberg had little choice but to pull him after five, leaving 12 outs to the bullpen.
“I’m not really happy going five innings,” Lee said. “It was one of those games where they forced me to throw a lot of pitches. They took a lot of borderline pitches that were called balls.”
Lee was squeezed by home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott, but so was every pitcher on both teams. That played a large role in the 33 combined hits between the Phillies and Diamondbacks.
Lee was not upset to be pulled after five innings, though he did call the move “conservative.” He says his elbow is a non-issue at this point, he just isn’t locating as consistently as he’d like.
“It’s just a matter of getting back in and getting to where I’m locating better,” Lee said. “That’s what I do and I’m always trying to improve on it, but the last two games hasn’t been even close to what I want it to be. Today wasn’t that far off but I just threw way too many balls, period.
“I just think there’s a natural process you’ve gotta go through. Obviously I’d like to come back and pick right up where I left off but I missed two months so there’s gonna be a little rust there. As much as I’ve ran and lifted weights and did everything I did in between, there’s nothing that simulates going out there and playing the game. Doing that’s what’s gonna get you back where you need to be.”
Bastardo is nowhere near where he needs to be. He’s allowed homers on back-to-back nights to mediocre hitters to raise his ERA from 3.27 to 4.17. He’s getting beat with his slider, according to Sandberg, but no matter the cause, this is simply the worst time to be allowing runs in bunches.
At this point, why would a team give up anything of value for a reliever as maddeningly inconsistent as Bastardo? Sure, a team may take his salary off the Phillies’ hands, but acquiring prospects to replenish a barren farm system has been and remains the Phillies’ goal.
“It makes no sense to put any thought into it,” Lee said when asked about the trade deadline. “I have no say in the matter so it’s pointless to worry about.”
There may not be much worrying going on inside Lee’s head. You can bet there is inside the Phillies’ war room. Teams across both leagues continue to fill their holes while the Phils have stood pat. The trade deadline is Thursday and they appear no closer to bringing back difference-making pieces for the future than they were last year at this time.
Several of the Phillies’ supposedly attractive veterans have contract provisions that are prohibiting Ruben Amaro Jr. and company from finding the return(s) they desire.
These performances in the final days of July certainly haven’t helped.