The same thing keeps happening to Aaron Nola every single time.
He dominates early, forces swings and misses, racks up strikeouts, and appears to be on track for a great start.
Then he falls apart in the middle innings and the Phillies lose.
Nola and Hector Neris both suffered Sunday on 0-2 counts against the Colorado Rockies’ Garrett Hampson, who hit a three-run homer off of Nola and a two-run shot against Neris two innings later in a 5-4 Phillies loss.
“When you’ve got a chance to expand the zone, you’ve got to be able to expand the zone,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s execution. It has to get better or this is what happens.”
The Phillies have given up 16 home runs this season on 0-2 counts, the most in the majors.
“We’re just not executing our pitches when it comes to 0-2 counts,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “We have the least amount of wasted pitches 0-2 which means we’re throwing more pitches in the strike zone 0-2 than anybody in baseball. And with today’s hitters, there’s a lot of chase in the game. You don’t always want pitchers chasing a strikeout two or three pitches in a row, but 0-2 is a good time to do it.
“I think our guys have the right intent. Obviously, they’re not trying to throw the ball in the middle of the plate. We’re just not doing a very good job of executing in those counts and it’s something that we have to work on. You have to be able to put guys away when you get into those advantage counts.”
Down in Atlanta, the Braves beat the Miami Marlins, pushing the Phils’ NL East deficit to 4.5 games.
Nola ran through the Rockies for the first four innings Sunday as the Phils built a two-run lead. When he struck out the first batter of the fifth inning, he’d already whiffed eight and set down 13 of the 14 hitters he faced.
But with one out in the fifth, Nola allowed a single to Elias Diaz before Bryce Harper misplayed a ball for a single and Hampson hit a go-ahead bomb.
The Phillies tied the game in the sixth on a wild pitch that scored J.T. Realmuto, but Hampson homered again a half-inning later. Hampson entered the day with a .241 slugging percentage and two home runs on the road all year.
Nola has a 3.26 ERA in the first two innings this season. In innings 3-5, his ERA is 6.01. In the fifth inning, it’s 10.57, worst in the National League.
Nola simply made way too good of a pitch on the 0-2 count to Hampson, hanging a middle-in curveball. It was the third 0-2 homer he’s allowed this season and the 10th he’s allowed after beginning a count 0-2.
“He’s a guy that, especially his curveball, when he throws it with two strikes in the right location, it’s almost a swing and miss every time,” Realmuto said. “When he’s right and he’s able to locate with two strikes, he’s borderline unhittable. We just have to hone in on those counts because he’s one of the best in baseball at getting to two strikes.”
The Harper play was pivotal. Charlie Blackmon also had trouble with the sun in right field. Harper did not appear to see it well off the bat, shielded his eyes with his glove and fell to the ground as he attempted to catch it. If he makes that play, it’s possible Nola escapes the inning unharmed and the entire course of the game is different.
But he didn’t. Through 29 starts, Nola is 7-8 with a 4.58 ERA. His opponents have hit .297 with runners in scoring position compared to .222 in his previous six seasons.
The Phils wasted a three-hit day from Realmuto (his best work since August 1) and another home run from Harper (No. 32). They had the tying run on second base with one out in the ninth inning but couldn’t capitalize.
This was a pitiful series for the Phillies, who are 72-71 with 19 games left. The Rockies came into Philadelphia with a road record of 18-50 and MLB’s worst batting average, OBP and slugging percentage away from home. The Phillies lost three of four. They are 6-11 this season against the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Pirates — three of the worst teams in baseball.
“It stunk. It stunk. It stunk,” Girardi said. “There’s no other way to describe it, it stunk.”
The Phils are off Monday before hosting the Chicago Cubs for three games.
“We have to win every series the rest of the season and sweep a couple of them to catch the Braves,” Realmuto said.