PITTSBURGH -- J.T. Realmuto bent his knees, looked at the home-plate umpire, and shook his head. He was called out on strikes in the sixth inning of a 5-1 loss to the Pirates on Saturday night. And Realmuto could not believe it.
Another rally was squashed, another listless night for an offense built to be anything but listless rolled on, and yet another third chance against a starting pitcher turned fruitless.
Saturday's sixth inning was the third time that Pirates starter Joe Musgrove had to face the Phillies lineup.
As for so many others, the third time through the Phillies lineup provided little challenge to the opposing pitcher. Musgrove allowed a single to Jean Segura before striking out Bryce Harper, retiring Rhys Hoskins on a fly ball to center, and freezing Realmuto with a slider. He fooled the Phillies as much as home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo puzzled Realmuto.
The Phillies entered Saturday with a .412 slugging percentage when facing a starting pitcher for the third time. It is the fifth-worst mark in baseball. Their .247 batting average is the eighth-worst and their 45 runs scored are the fourth-least even though they have the eighth-most chances.
For most teams, the longer they get a look at a starting pitcher, the greater success they can find.
Manager Gabe Kapler is hesitant to let his starters face a lineup for a third time. And he has good reason, as his starters have the highest OPS-against in the National League when facing a lineup for the third time. Not so for his own lineup.
The Phillies did not chart a course to the postseason with their pitching staff. They will start veteran Drew Smyly on Sunday and they plugged the seventh inning with new reliever Mike Morin. Nick Pivetta, jettisoned from the starting rotation, pitched two innings in relief.
Their pitching is not their strength, but that should be OK when your lineup is constructed to hit. But it's not hitting.
Their only run was unearned and they mustered just three hits against the Pirates on a night when Pittsburgh started a pitcher with a 4.31 ERA. A night earlier, the Phils were stymied by a starter with a 10.13 ERA in his previous seven starts.
Zach Eflin pitched just four innings before he was pulled in the top of the fifth for a pinch-hitter. He allowed three runs on five hits and did not look particularly sharp.
Even early on, it was easy to see that the Phillies were desperate for runs after falling into an early three-run hole. So Kapler swapped Eflin for pinch-hitter Nick Williams.
And then a rainstorm soaked PNC Park just as Williams stepped into the batter's box. The game was delayed for 28 minutes. But Musgrove returned after the delay and struck out Williams on four pitches as the batter swung and missed on three curveballs. Scott Kingery, the lineup's leadoff hitter, ended the threat of a rally.
Musgrove was ready to face the Phillies batters for a third time. Maybe their fortunes would have shifted if the rain clouds hung around Pittsburgh's North Shore just long enough to keep Musgrove from returning.
(c)2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.inquirer.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.