PHOENIX — Brandon McCarthy put an emphasis on increasing his strikeouts this season, and it is working. McCarthy had a career-high 12 against the Phillies on Sunday, but even that was not enough for the Diamondbacks to win a series.
The D-backs’ offense was absent in a 2-0 loss Sunday at Chase Field, as the synching up process manager Kirk Gibson talks about remains a work in progress.
McCarthy was good, giving up two tainted runs in seven innings, but Phillies starter A.J. Burnett was better. Making his third start after being diagnosed with an inguinal hernia, Burnett struck out eight in eight scoreless innings and made the most of his two runs, one of which scored on the D-backs’ 25th error of the season.
After losing two out of three to Philadelphia, Arizona (8-20) has won only one of its nine series this season. The D-backs are 2-13 at home, including the two-game series against the Dodgers in Sydney, Australia, in which they were the designated home team.
"We need to get synched up and play a total game, all aspects of the game," manager Kirk Gibson said.
McCarthy did his part, relying on a fastball that regularly hit 94-95 mph with a curveball in the low-80 mph range to keep the Phillies off-balance. He got eight strikeouts swinging and four looking, getting outs with curves in the dirt and fastballs at the letters. McCarthy struck out so many batters in the minor leagues that he would keep a running total as a game progressed. He did not do that Sunday, but he is pleased that he is able to accomplish a goal of getting mores swings and misses.
"I felt like I was executing and able to punch guys out, whereas it has been a thing the last few years where I haven’t been able to put guys away like I want to," McCarthy said.
McCarthy has averaged an even six strikeouts per nine innings in his nine major league seasons. While this season has offered a small sample size with just six starts, he is averaging 8.2 now. His fastball has gained about 3 mph after an offseason program designed to strengthen his shoulder.
"I wanted more strikeouts," McCarthy said. "Typically, more strikeouts mean better success. If I can get early contact and weak contact, and once I get ahead I am able to put them away, it lends itself to more success. That’s why I wanted to be better with my curveball this year. It’s why I want to do a better job with disguising fastballs. I’d like it if it stayed there."
McCarthy struck out two batters in the first, second, fourth and fifth innings and one in the third. He got the side in the seventh inning, his last, hardly looking like the pitcher who brought a 6.23 ERA into the game. Yet he was not rewarded when the Phillies scored on a looping single into no-man’s land in left-center field in the first inning and on shortstop Chris Owings’ throwing error in the sixth.
Cody Ross appeared to get a late break on Chase Utley’s pop fly to left that fell for a single to drive in Ben Revere from second base in the first inning, and Utley scored from second base in the sixth when Owings hit him with a throw. Owings made a nice stop on Marlon Byrd’s hard infield single in the hole, and his only play was to third. But Utley positioned himself in a line between Owings and the bag while running to third, making himself a target to prevent an out.
"Utley actually veered out … that’s the kind of player he is," Gibson said, admiringly. "He got to a spot between (Martin) Prado and the ball, and the ball bounced off him and he scored a run."
Prado also was late to the bag, Gibson said.
McCarthy followed Mike Bolsinger, Josh Collmenter and Bronson Arroyo with the D-backs’ fourth consecutive quality start, but the rotation still remains tied for last in the majors with seven.
"It’s big for me," said McCarthy, whose ERA fell to 5.54. "But it’s also good to keep a row of good starts coming from the starters. We’re trying to do as much as we can now to hold up our end of the bargain and keep pitching well, and I needed to fall in line with what those other guys have started to do."
Wade Miley, who has been the Diamondbacks’ most effective starter this season, will pitch the first game of a three-game series against the Rockies on Monday.
"I know everybody is back to getting where they are confident and realizing that the first few weeks were somewhat of a fluke," McCarthy said. "Everything was going against us. At least now I think we feel like we are back to being ourselves. Now it is just making sure we improve and get the results to go our way."
Phillies starter A.J. Burnett made the defensive play of the game to save a run after Chris Owings tripled with one out on the fifth. Burnett stabbed Brandon McCarthy’s hard one-hopper headed to center field to hold the runner and throw out McCarthy. If the ball gets past the pitcher, even if an infielder makes the play, Owings scores to tie the game at 1.
9 — hits by Aaron Hill in his last five games.
— Brad Ziegler has made 11 consecutive scoreless appearances after pitching a scoreless ninth inning Sunday. Ziegler has not been scored upon since April 3, when he gave up his only two runs of the season in an 8-5 loss to the Giants. He has made 15 appearances.
— Chris Owings leads National League rookies with 25 hits after his two-hit game Sunday, when he singled and tripled.
— It might have something to do with his agent’s outburst, but Archie Bradley has not pitched well in his last three starts at Reno, a stretch that began shortly after agent Joe Franklin questioned the D-backs’ decision to keep Bradley in the minors rather than promote him to fill a vacancy in the major league rotation. Bradley gave up five runs on seven hits and four walks in a 8-5 loss to Salt Lake City on Saturday, and he has allowed 12 runs in his last 12 1/3 innings. Overall, he is 1-4 with a 5.18 ERA.
A.J. Burnett had some fun this weekend. Not only did he throw eight scoreless innings for his first victory of the season Sunday, but he was also a willing participant in Zombie Night festivities at Chase Field on Friday. Burnett had his he his face "zombie-fied" at the face painting station behind the center-field fence. "I love that show," Burnett said of AMC’s "The Walking Dead," which helped put on the event. "When they come, I’ll be ready."