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May 31, 2016

Nola can't survive two solo homers, woeful offense as Phillies drop fifth straight

Jeremy Hellickson pitched a fine game on Monday night – seven innings, one run, eight strikeouts, no walks – but it wasn’t good enough to deliver the Phillies a win, thanks to the bullpen and baseball’s worst offense.

It’s become a common theme in South Philly, one that was hidden for a good portion of the season’s first two months by consistent starting pitching, surprising work from the ‘pen, and an opportunistic if not regularly productive offense.

Following his effort on Monday, Hellickson, the veteran of the starting staff that’s dominated by under 25-year-olds, was asked if the lack of regular run support can wear pitchers out after a while.

“I don’t think so,” the 29-year-old Hellickson said. “I can’t really speak for everybody, but us as a staff, we just have one job every time we go out. Whether we score one run or 10 runs, we just have to keep our team in the game and go as deep as we can.”

On Tuesday night, it was Aaron Nola’s turn. The second year starter served up a home run on the third pitch he threw, but it was one of just two solo home runs that accounted for all of the damage on his otherwise strong pitching line.

And like Hellickson before him, it didn’t matter because baseball’s worst offense stayed as cold as Benjen Stark’s hands.

The Phillies banged out a grand total of four hits – and just one after the fifth inning – and couldn’t make up for solo home runs from Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy in a 5-1 defeat to Washington.

The Phils have lost a season-high five straight games, and nine of their last 11 games. They’ve scored two runs or fewer in seven of those nine losses.

The Phillies (26-26) are also back at the .500 mark for the first time since April 27, when they entered play 10-10 after the season’s first 20 games.

"I feel like it’s a broken record – we’re not hitting," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You know, we had a good two months, a good month and a half. When things are going good, they snowball. When they’re going bad, they snowball. You have to keep that snowball from rolling. Somehow we have to figure out a way to get out of it."

The Phillies, who haven’t scored more than three runs in a game since last Wednesday in Detroit, got their only run on Tuesday night when David Lough led off the third inning with a base hit and Cesar Hernandez, demoted to the eighth spot in the lineup, followed with a triple.

Lough (2-for-3) and Hernandez (1-for-3) were the Phillies offense on Tuesday. The top six hitters in the lineup – Odubel Herrera, Freddy Galvis, Maikel Franco, Cameron Rupp, Ryan Howard, and Tyler Goeddel – were 0-for-the night until Herrera led off the ninth inning with a double. He would stay stranded there are as Jonathan Papelbon finished his second straight game at Citizens Bank Park.

Nola, meanwhile, saw his ERA jump slightly from 2.86 to 2.88. 

More fun Nola numbers:

•  Nola's 0.93 WHIP remains third in the National League (behind Clayton Kershaw and Jake Arrieta).

  After striking out six and walking one on Tuesday, his 5.85 strikeout-to-walk rate is also third in the league (behind Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard).

   Nola has held opponents to a .240 on-base percentage this season. Entering Tuesday, only Kershaw had a lower opponents' OBP (.185) among National League starters.

Since his last game against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park, an 8-1 loss on April 16, Nola has a 1.87 ERA in his last eight games. The Phillies have lost just two of those eight games. They scored a single run in each of those defeats.

Again, we're only two months into 2016. Could this eventually have a negative impact on the psyche of a young pitching staff?

"I haven't seen an indication in our guys, they don’t have an issue of it at this point," Mackanin said. "Eventually, they might. It’s tough to go out there and see pitching spoiled."

Nola shrugged it off on Tuesday night. The Phillie scored eight runs for him last week in Detroit.

"I mean, it’s baseball, it happens," Nola said. "Sometimes we pitch bad and we get a lot of run support. Sometimes we pitch good and we don’t get too much run support. But guys are still battling, they’re still doing everything they can out there. The defense was doing really well. As a pitching staff, we’re just trying to keep the guys in the game as best as possible."   

  • Cody Asche went 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI, and two runs scored in Triple-A Lehigh Valley's 8-6 loss to Norfolk on Tuesday. Asche's 20-day rehab assignment expires after Wednesday, but it would hardly be surprising if the Phillies activate him in time for tonight's game at Citizens Bank Park. The left-handed hitting Asche is 3-for-9 in his career against Max Scherzer, who will be on the mound looking to complete a Nats' three-game sweep. 

  • Jayson Werth hit the first pitch he saw on Tuesday night, a 92-MPH fastball on the inner half of the plate, "right down the chute," according to Nola, out to left for his 14th home run against the Phillies since he left the team as a free agent to sign with Washington. It's the most home runs Werth has against any team since he signed that 7-year, $126 million contract in December of 2010.

  • J.D. Drew's brother and former Camden Rivershark Stephen Drew hit an inside-the-park home run in the top of the ninth inning. It was the eighth pinch-hit home run of the year for the Nationals, matching a Nationals single-season record (2006). We're guessing with four months to go, they'll surpass that mark in 2016.

  • The Phillies failed to muster up much offense, but they did turn a nifty double play, or, as Mackanin called it, "one of the best double plays you’re every going to see." 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21