PHOENIX — Quality starts have been so rare this season the Diamondbacks can not afford to waste one as they did Saturday.
But on a night when Bronson Arroyo had his best outing of the year, Trevor Cahill — one of the few available relief arms — had his first off day out of the bullpen, and it cost the Diamondbacks in their 6-5 loss to Philadelphia at Chase Field.
The D-backs led 5-0 after six innings, and it was 5-1 when Arroyo turned over the game to bullpen after making the team’s fifth quality start of the season. Things fell apart from there, however, and the D-backs had a season-long three-game winning streak broken while also wasting a two-hit, three-RBI game from Cody Ross and three hits by A.J. Pollock.
"It’s a game we should win. I think we would all agree with that," manager Kirk Gibson said.
The cumulative effect of ineffective starting pitching has pushed the bullpen hard, and Gibson said he did not want to use four of his relievers — closer Addison Reed, Brad Ziegler, Oliver Perez and Randall Delgado — unless forced to on Saturday. Reed and Ziegler had worked the previous three games, and Perez the last two. So his choices were limited.
Joe Thatcher replaced Arroyo with one in the seventh, when the Phillies scored twice, but the D-backs still took a 5-2 lead into the eighth.
The inning got off to a bad start when third baseman Martin Prado dropped a popup by Ryan Howard, and Cahill found immediate trouble upon entering. He walked the first batter he faced and gave up singles to the next two before getting his first out. Pinch-hitter Cody Asche’s double down the first base line drove in two runs to tie the game at 5, and Ben Revere’s looping single to short center field put the Phillies ahead for the first time.
J.J. Putz pitched a scoreless ninth, but the D-backs could not rally off Jonathan Papelbon.
"The guys who were available pitched," Gibson said of his choice of relievers.
Cahill had given up only one hit and no runs in six innings of relief since he was taken out of the starting rotation two weeks ago. But Saturday was different.
"It’s embarrassing. Bronson threw a great game. I should be able to come in and get three outs, especially with a three-run lead," said a disconsolate Cahill, who fell to 1-5. "I felt good warming up. Then I got in the game. It just happened so quick. I think I was over-throwing.
"The biggest thing was I came in and faced a righty and walked him. Since I’ve been down there (bullpen), I feel like I’ve had good command and not put anybody on base through a walk. The confidence is there. Just couldn’t execute. It’s frustrating."
The D-backs (8-19) have lost two four-run leads this season and now a five-run lead. They had three errors Saturday and have 24 this season. Only Washington, with 25, has more.
The D-backs’ ninth inning also was a study in frustration. Prado lined a single to center field to start the inning, and he made second base with a slide when a pitch to Paul Goldschmidt got away from the catcher. Philadelphia manager Ryne Sandberg challenged the safe call at second, however, and it was over-turned when replays showed Prado’s left foot came off the bag. The rally ended there.
"I slid a little bit too close to the base and my foot came off the base a little bit," Prado said.
Prado is off to a slow start, as he was last season, and when the D-backs talk about pressing, Prado is a prime example. He has committed six errors this season, five at third base, where he committed six all of 2013. He has no homers and eight RBIs. He blamed himself for the Phillies’ eighth inning rally.
"When I missed the fly ball, everything started," said Prado, who was playing near the shortstop position and a little closer to the plate than usual in the D-backs’ shift against Howard. "I took my eyes off the ball and it was hard to recover from there. The wind was a little factor, but I’m not trying to make any excuses. I should catch that fly ball and give our pitcher a chance to work that inning with one out, but it didn’t happen.
"This is not time to make any excuses right now. A lack of a lot of things. Things happen, and it’s just unfortunate we lost."
Cody Ross made a remarkable sliding catch along the left field foul line on Cliff Lee’s fly ball to open the fifth inning. Ross caught the ball as he slid across the foul line on his right hip, the hip that he fractured on a play against the Mets here last Aug. 11. He popped right up, seemingly no worse for the wear.
3 — consecutive quality starts, a first for the D-backs this season
— Bronson Arroyo and Lee take strike-throwing to a new level. Since the start of the 2011 season, Arroyo and Lee rank 1-2 in games in which they have walked two or less. Arroyo has 92, two more than Lee. Arroyo walked one Saturday and Lee walked two. Lee had walked only two in his previous 35 innings this season.
— A.J. Pollock was a home run short of the cycle, and he used his speed for both of his extra-base hits. He tripled into the right field corner in the third inning and doubled down to left field in the seventh. His ball to left field was to Domonic Brown’s right, and because Brown is left-handed, he had to throw across his body to make the play at second. Pollock realized that and make second easily.
— Aaron Hill is on a roll in the No. 5 spot. He is 8-for-15 with five RBIs and five extra-base hits in four games since moving there in the third game of the Cubs’ series on Wednesday.
Arroyo threw pitches clocked at 68 mph, 69 mph and on up through the mid-80 mph range while pitching through a bug of some kind in his first quality start of the season. "I have been able to give a ball club at least 20 of those a year, and that’s what you are here to do," Arroyo said. "When you get off to a slow start and you don’t get deep enough in a ball game to get a quality start, it doesn’t make you happy."