SAN DIEGO — No known cure for a team-wide slump has ever been quite as effective as facing a rookie starting pitcher with a 9.28 ERA for a last-place team.
And Walker Lockett was the perfect flavor of medicine for the Phillies’ ailing bats.
Three batters into the game here Saturday night, the Phillies had already broken a 19-inning scoreless drought. Two batters after that, they seized a two-run lead. By the middle of the fifth inning, they were leading by five runs on their way to an easy-breezy 5-1 victory, a welcome departure from the heaping pile of cuticle-chompers they have played lately.
The win, coupled with the Atlanta Braves’ 4-2 loss at home against the Milwaukee Brewers, put the Phillies back into sole possession of first place in the National League East. It also gave them a chance to go home with a .500 record on this six-game West Coast road swing if they’re able to defeat the Padres in Sunday’s series finale.
For a change, the Phillies didn’t need their starting pitcher to be lights out. And ace Aaron Nola wasn’t at his sharpest, either. He struggled with his command en route to walking three batters, including Lockett in the second inning.
But the Phillies recorded four extra-base hits, including Nick Williams’ RBI triple in the first inning and a double by Asdrubal Cabrera that drove in Williams. Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez added solo homers in the fourth and fifth innings, with Hernandez’s shot marking his career-high 10th of the season. And Rhys Hoskins snapped an 0-for-22 funk with a fifth-inning single.
The offense still didn’t completely click. Lockett, making his third career start, was unable to follow up the success of Jacob Nix, who flummoxed the Phillies in his major-league debut Friday night. But Lockett still retired nine of 10 batters between Cabrera’s double and Franco’s homer. Cleanup-hitting Carlos Santana and Odubel Herrera each went 0-for-4 to deepen their funks to 2-for-20 and 4-for-27, respectively.
But five runs represented good progress for a Phillies team that had scored only seven runs in its previous four games.
Nola got out of a two-on, one-out jam with a double play in the first inning, then got Manuel Margot to ground out to escape a bases-loaded situation in the second. He held the Padres scoreless for six innings before giving way to lefty reliever Austin Davis, who allowed a run in the seventh.
Struggling closer Seranthony Dominguez came on for the ninth inning, his first appearance since giving up two runs and blowing a save in the ninth inning Monday night in Arizona. He allowed a leadoff single to Cory Spangenberg but retired the next three batters, including strikeouts of Manuel Margot and Eric Hosmer.