PHILADELPHIA -- The Pirates kept skidding through September on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, and Gerrit Cole's return from the disabled list did little to stop their fall from .500. Cole surrendered five runs in two shaky innings as the Phillies handed the Pirates their fourth straight loss, a 6-2 decision to open a four-game series.
The Pirates have lost 12 of their last 14 games, falling four games below .500 for the first time since June 28. They remain far removed from the leaders of the National League Wild Card pack, and their six-game deficit held steady due only to losses by the Mets and Cardinals on Monday night. Officially eliminated from the NL Central race on Sunday night, the Pirates faded farther from the postseason picture on Monday night with 20 games remaining.
"It was just a bad night," Cole said. "I put us in a huge hole early. That's not what we needed."
Freddy Galvis homered off Cole, making his first start since Aug. 24 due to elbow inflammation, and rookie Roman Quinn recorded his first Major League hit and RBIs -- on a two-run double in the second inning -- as well as a stolen base off the struggling Cole. Jorge Alfaro, another highly regarded Phillies rookie, recorded his first big league hit off Jared Hughes in the eighth inning, reaching safely on a swinging bunt down the third-base line.
"Roman Quinn had a nice night," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "It was a good night all around."
The Phillies held the Pirates to five hits and three walks on the night. Starter Jeremy Hellickson gave up an unearned run on three hits while striking out six over 6 1/3 innings, easily outdueling Cole. The Pirates' ace a year ago, Cole's ERA climbed to 3.88 as he grinded through two innings on 55 pitches, allowing four hits and tying a career high with four walks.
"Today it was like he was trying a little more," catcher Francisco Cervelli said of Cole. "He hasn't pitched in a long time. Maybe the next one, it'll be better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Don't walk the pitcher: Giving the opposing pitcher a base on balls rarely works out. Just ask Cole.
The Phillies had two runs in and a runner on second with one out in the second inning, but Cole had a chance to limit the damage with Hellickson at the plate. Instead, Hellickson and Cesar Hernandez walked to load the bases. Quinn followed with a two-run double and another run scored when Maikel Franco grounded out to the right side, giving the Phils a commanding early lead.
Lumps off lefties: Cole has struggled against left-handed batters all season, and the issue was further magnified Monday night. He had nine plate appearances against lefties and recorded only two outs, both of them strikeouts by Ryan Howard. The other seven resulted in four hits, including Galvis' homer and the two doubles, and three walks. Making Cole's issues even more confounding: He held lefties to a .227/.287/.310 batting line last season.
"The fastball wasn't there," Cervelli said. "I don't know the way he felt, but the most important thing for him is fastball command." More >
Unflappable: The game could have gotten away from Hellickson early. He should have been out of the first inning, but Gregory Polanco's two-out grounder went through the legs of Howard to allow an unearned run to score. Unfazed, Hellickson struck out Jung Ho Kang and then allowed just two more singles before leaving the game with one out in the seventh.
"It's such a good changeup that it plays. The one thing you try to do as a hitter is sell out to it, give in that you're going to get beat with a couple fastballs along the way," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a premium pitch for him. … Then he continued to make pitches." More >
Nicasio, with a K: Picking up for Cole's short start, Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio struck out five in two scoreless innings. Nicasio has recorded at least one strikeout in 26 straight appearances, a single-season record for a Pittsburgh reliever. Only Andrew Miller has put together a longer streak this season, doing so in 28 straight for the Yankees. After running up a 5.83 ERA in the Pirates' rotation, Nicasio has put together a 3.07 ERA while striking out 12.68 batters per nine innings as a reliever.
"I'm sure [Jorge] Alfaro is going to tell everybody years from now that it was a line drive to center field."-- Mackanin, on the first Major League hit by Alfaro, a dribbler up the third base line
"Just a precautionary visit based on something Dr. Cervelli saw along the way. … Turned out to be nothing to be concerned about."-- Hurdle, on the visit he and assistant athletic trainer Ben Potenziano made to the mound to check on reliever Felipe Rivero; "Dr. Cervelli" later said he noticed Rivero's body language was off, but Rivero remained in the game
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Galvis hit his 18th home run of the season in the second inning, continuing a power surge that nobody saw coming. The long ball off Cole came in the 518th at-bat for the 5-foot-10 switch-hitter. Coming into this season, he had 20 homers in 1,073 Major League at-bats and just 25 in 2,399 Minor League at-bats.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: The Pirates will give the ball to right-hander Ivan Nova, who has been a bright spot amid this disappointing stretch, on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Nova is 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA in his first seven starts with the Pirates, becoming the latest reclamation success story under the tutelage of Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Searage. Nova has thrown complete games in two of his past four starts, including his nine-inning, one-run effort against the Reds on Thursday.
Phillies: Right-hander Alec Asher will make his second big league start of the season at 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. Asher held the Nationals to two hits and a walk over six scoreless innings in his last start.