The Philadelphia Phillies have lost the series with a sad loss to the Boston Red Sox.

They Phils have lost four in a row and are a season-worst two games under .500 at 22-24.

Here’s three takeaways:

Howard’s first start of 2021

In his first start of the season, Spencer Howard looked like the same Spencer Howard we saw in 2020.

Hard fastballs early, followed by command issues and a precipitous drop-off in velocity for the right-hander who’s spent the better part of three years as the Phillies’ top pitching prospect.

Howard lasted three innings in the loss. He started in place of Chase Anderson, who is in the bullpen after giving up seven runs in 1⅓ innings in his most recent start against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Howard was on a pitch count of 70 to 75, but only threw 68. His first two innings were impressive. In the first, he struck out two and seven of his nine fastballs were at least 96 mph. In the second, he hit a batter but struck out the side.

In the third inning, Howard’s fastball sat at 93 mph and was all the way down to 90-91 on occasion. He walked three batters in the frame, including the opposing pitcher, and allowed two runs. The inning would have played out differently had Bryce Harper come down with a diving catch in right field that was instead a Rafael Devers RBI double.

Howard was lifted after walking the leadoff batter in the fourth. His hardest fastball was 97.3 mph; his slowest was 90.4.

In 2021, few pitchers can get away with a low-90s fastball unless they have wipe-out secondary stuff and/or strong command. The problem with Howard early in his major-league career has been that when the velocity goes, so too does the command. He had trouble Saturday keeping the ball below the belt.

In 10 games and seven starts with the Phillies over two seasons, Howard has a 6.25 ERA and 1.67 WHIP.

It remains to be seen what the Phillies will do with this rotation spot the next time around. Prior to the game, manager Joe Girardi said that every start is an opportunity to hold onto the job. Howard did not do a ton to hold onto the job Saturday night but may keep it by default because his development is important, Matt Moore is on the IL with a back injury and Anderson offers little upside or length.

Slow offense, Harper in awful slump

The Phillies had another lackluster offensive performance. They scored in the fourth inning when Brad Miller tripled off starter Nate Eovaldi and came around on Odubel Herrera’s sacrifice fly. Rhys Hoskins added a solo homer in the sixth, his first in 97 plate appearances and the 100th of his career.

The other run scored when Hoskins was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the seventh. They were left loaded when Miller struck out to end the inning.

The Phillies have scored seven runs in their last four games. They’ve struck out at least 10 times in eight of their last nine games.

Harper went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and one of them came with the bases loaded during that seventh inning. He hit into a fielder’s choice with the winning run on base in the ninth. Harper is 2-for-25 with 13 strikeouts and one walk over his last seven games.

After committing two more errors Friday, Alec Bohm had the night off until an eighth-inning double switch. He whiffed in his only at-bat.

Coonrod allows back-to-back

Boston’s back-to-back homers in the sixth off Sam Coonrod by Xander Bogaerts and Danny Santana loomed large.

Up next

The series concludes Sunday when Zack Wheeler opposes Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, the best of Boston’s three starting pitchers this weekend.

The Phillies have won each of Wheeler’s last three starts as he’s allowed two earned runs in 22 innings with 25 strikeouts and one walk.