Thursday, April 30, 2015

Harang Falters In Final Start Of The Month

GAME RECAP: Cards Beat Phils 5-2

Buoyed by a four-run fifth against a pitcher that had allowed that many runs in his first four starts combined, the Cardinals grabbed a 5-2 win over the Phillies at Busch Stadium on Wednesday to ensure that they'll end April without losing a single series. All five runs came against Philadelphia righty Aaron Harang, now 7-16 in his career against the Cardinals. Harang held a 2-1 lead until the Cardinals batted around in the fifth while scoring four runs in an inning for the first time this year. Kolten Wong, who had earlier delivered an RBI hit, sparked the big inning with a leadoff single. Five consecutive batters then reached with one out to run the Cardinals' lead to three. The support was sufficient for Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez, who, in covering six innings, has pitched at least that deep in all four of his starts. He served up a game-tying solo homer to Ryan Howard -- the St. Louis native's 11th in 33 games at Busch Stadium -- and scattered five other hits. "He gets in trouble a little bit, just missing with some changeups to Howard, but he challenges him," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That's a guy who can hurt you when you get into those counts. … He had a nice changeup today, used his breaking ball, had guys chasing out of the zone and still had all the velocity he needed." Martinez's ability to wiggle out of trouble after allowing two hits and two walks in the fifth set up the Cardinals' come-from-behind win. "Yeah, actually the whole game I thought was decided in the fifth," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said, referring to the Phillies' offensive deficiencies in the top half and the Cardinals' execution in the bottom half. "It would've been nice to get one more run there for Harang and who knows, that might've made a difference in the bottom half."

  • Harang had been one of the team's few bright spots this month, but he struggled in his final start of April. Harang had allowed a combined four earned runs in 26 1/3 innings in four starts before allowing five earned runs in six innings. A four-run fifth inning turned a 2-1 Phillies lead into a 5-2 Cardinals lead.
  • The Cardinals' defense helped bail Martinez out of the fifth by catching Ben Revere straying too far from third. Revere rounded third after Odubel Herrera's go-ahead single, but he was held up there as right fielder Jason Heyward fired the ball home. Yadier Molina then made a snap throw to third to start a rundown that ended with Revere as the second out of the inning. Martinez worked around further damage with an inning-ending strikeout of Jeff Francoeur.
  • The Phillies had an opportunity for a big fifth inning, but scored just once. It involved a botched bunt, a big base-running mistake and a big spot for cleanup hitter Francoeur, who struck out to end the inning.
  • "That was one of those ones where you're running thinking, 'Let's slide. No, I don't need to slide. Yeah, I need to slide. No, I'm not going to slide. Yeah, let's slide.'" -- Harang, on advancing to third on a wild pitch in the fifth inning. He decided late and awkwardly slid over the base.
  • The Phillies lost a challenge in the fifth inning. Bourjos scored on a play at the plate, but the Phillies thought Howard's throw and Carlos Ruiz's block of the play had nabbed Bourjos. The play stood as called. "As he hit me, my foot popped up," Bourjos said. "I knew it was close. I didn't know how close until I came in here [to see it on video]. I think it's a good thing they called me safe because it would have been tough to overturn."
  • Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is hitting .114 this month, which is tied for the lowest batting average in April in franchise history (minimum 40 plate appearances). Roy Sievers hit .114 in April 1962. Third-lowest on the list is Billy Kelly, who hit .119 in April 1928.
Phillies right-hander David Buchanan hopes to build off his last start Saturday against the Braves. He allowed two hits, three runs, three walks and struck out three in 6 2/3 innings, easily making it his best start of the season. Buchanan had allowed 14 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings in his previous three starts.


Bad Game, Good Month – Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang had been one of the team's few positives in April, but the good times could not continue forever. One inning spoiled Harang's final start of the month Wednesday in a 5-2 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. He allowed a combined four earned runs in 26 1/3 innings in his first four starts this month, but he allowed five runs in six innings as the Cardinals try to win the four-game series with a victory Thursday. "They're a good ballclub," Harang said. "They've kind of got everything over there. When they put it together they can make things happen." Harang actually looked like himself through four innings, allowing a run in the second inning as the Phillies had a 2-1 lead. But trouble came in the fifth. Kolten Wong stood on second base with one out when Peter Bourjos tripled to right field to tie the game. Matt Carpenter followed with a ground ball to Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard threw home, trying to nail the lightning-fast Bourjos. But Bourjos beat the throw and the tag from Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz to hand the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. "He's pretty quick," Howard said about Bourjos. "It was one of those bang-bang plays and it was actually a lot closer than I thought it was on the replay, because it looked like his foot was still in the air when they showed the other angle." Matt Holliday walked, Matt Adams doubled and Jhonny Peralta singled to score two more runs to give the Cardinals a three-run lead. Harang allowed nine hits, one walk and struck out six. He fell to 2-2 with a 2.51 ERA.

An Inning To Sum Up The Month – The top of the fifth inning Wednesday seemed to encapsulate why the Phillies have the lowest-scoring team in baseball. Freddy Galvis and Aaron Harang started the inning with a single and a walk, respectively, in the Phillies' 5-2 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Ben Revere then bunted a ball in front of the plate and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina threw to third to get Galvis for the inning's first out. It is the fourth time this season the Phillies have bunted with runners on first and second and had the lead runner thrown out at third. It has happened three times with no outs and once with one out. "Why do I like it?" Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said about the decision to bunt there. "First and second and no outs with a bunter up there." Sandberg pointed out that the Phillies have improved their bunting recently. They lead baseball with 12 sacrifice bunts. But giving away outs has proved costly at times for a team averaging 2.76 runs per game, the seventh-lowest average of any team in baseball since 1900 (if stretched over a full season). In this case, the failed bunt put the slow-footed Harang on second base, potentially clogging the bases. Fortunately for the Phillies, Harang and Revere advanced a base because of a wild pitch from Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez. Odubel Herrera followed with a single to right field to score Harang to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. But Revere took a wide turn at third and was slow to get back to the bag. Molina, who had the ball after a throw home from Cardinals right fielder Jason Heyward, fired a ball to third. Revere was out after a rundown. "There needed to be some quick effort to get back to third base once he stopped," Sandberg said. So instead of runners at the corners and one out, the Phillies had a runner on second and two outs. The Cardinals then intentionally walked Chase Utley. He enters the final game of the month Thursday hitting .114, which is tied for the lowest batting average in April (minimum 40 plate appearances) in franchise history. Intentionally walking a .114 hitter made sense to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny because it matched Martinez with the right-handed hitting Jeff Francoeur, who struck out swinging to end the inning. In search for a balanced lineup, Sandberg has been hitting Francoeur fourth recently. But Francoeur has hit .125 (5-for-40) with one double, five walks and nine strikeouts in that spot. He is hitting .286 (6-for-21) with two doubles, two home runs and four RBIs everywhere else he hits. "We need to get better in the middle of the order," Sandberg said. "That needs to pick up." Ryan Howard homered to right field in the fourth inning. He has homered four times in his last eight games. Perhaps he finds himself back in the cleanup spot in the near future. "Do I think it's time?" Howard said. "That's something you've got to ask the manager. I'm just trying to do the best I can wherever I am. … I feel I'm a four-hole guy. I've been there most of my career. But, again, that's his call."

Defensive Shuffle – The Phillies made a significant move Tuesday when Cody Asche spent part of batting practice at Busch Stadium catching fly balls in left field. Asche is likely headed there in the future, particularly once the Phillies promote Triple-A Lehigh Valley third baseman Maikel Franco, who is hitting .333 (28-for-84) with 10 doubles, one triple, one home run, 11 RBIs and an .883 OPS in 19 games. "You've got to do what you're asked and play hard," Asche said Wednesday. "I'm a strong enough player. I can handle it. If I'm not good enough to be a big league third baseman I can handle that. If I have a future in left field I'll handle that. You have to roll with it and just play." The only thing communicated to Asche is that he needs to work more in left field, so it remains to be seen how everything unfolds. But while Franco's promotion is not imminent, it is inevitable. If the Phillies promote Franco before May 15 he could become a free agent in 2020 rather than 2021, so it would be surprising to see him in Phillies pinstripes before then. The Phillies also could avoid Super 2 salary arbitration status for Franco if he is promoted after the first week of July. But whether it is next month, close to the All-Star break or some other time, Franco is coming. "At some point we need to make sure that Cody is prepared," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Wednesday afternoon. "It's no secret that Maikel is doing very well down there. We want to try to create as much versatility with our guys as we possibly can." Asche worked a little in left field before Spring Training but the Phillies pulled the plug because they wanted him to prepare to be the team's everyday third baseman. But when Franco joins the team, Amaro wants him playing nearly every day. Franco can play first base, but he is regarded as a strong defensive third baseman, which is why they are seeing what else Asche can do. "That's his best position," Amaro said about Franco at third. "That's where I think his future lies. But his future could also lie at first. Again, it's about creating as much versatility as you possibly can, particularly with our young guys and particularly with our younger guys who can swing the bat. We're looking for people who are going to help us offensively. The whole point is getting as many of those guys as we can on the field." Asche has not played in the outfield since he became a professional, so throwing him out there midseason could be a challenge. But it has happened before. The Phillies moved Placido Polanco to the outfield in 2005 after he spent his entire career in the infield. They did the same in 2013 with infielder Freddy Galvis. "He's a pretty good athlete," Amaro said about Asche. "If it's something we choose to do, we would have to feel comfortable. Will he be a Gold Glover if he gets a chance to go out there? No. But we'll have to decide if he's athletic enough to do that. We think he is." Franco's arrival and Asche's potential move to left involves other players, too. For instance, what does this mean for left fielder Ben Revere and first baseman Ryan Howard? Amaro said Revere can play center field and right field, if needed. Odubel Herrea could be a candidate to move to right, although Amaro said Herrera seems much more comfortable in center. And the Big Piece? "Howard is our first baseman," Amaro said. Amaro said Asche is not a candidate to move to second base, despite playing 64 games there for Class A Williamsport in 2011. "Playing second base is very difficult for someone who has not played on the right side of the field," Amaro said. "He did it briefly, but the pivot and the process of learning that is very difficult and a lot more difficult than people think. Middle infielders are more born. They're not developed, necessarily." Asche started at third base Wednesday night against the Cardinals. That should surprise nobody. It might be some time before Franco is promoted, plus Asche needs more time to learn left field. The Phillies also need time to figure out how the rest of the dominoes might fall.

No Hurry – Ruben Amaro Jr.'s cell phone rings and buzzes pretty much constantly, but the calls and texts have picked up lately. The Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright for the season. The Dodgers lost Brandon McCarthy. The Red Sox rotation has a 6.03 ERA, which is the worst in baseball. The Blue Jays have a 5.37 ERA, which is 27th in baseball. There are other teams with rotation problems, too. Just like there are teams with bullpen problems. But the Phillies have no plans to rush to trade Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon. Why hurry now? The Phillies already have waited this long to trade their remaining veterans because they said they have not liked the deals proposed to them. So they will take their chances that Hamels and Papelbon continue to perform and stay healthy, while other teams become more desperate to fill the voids on their roster. "What people don't understand is nobody is holding a gun to our head to trade a player," Amaro said Wednesday. "Typically, if a team wants a player they typically will try to go get that player. If you really wanted to make a trade with the Phillies or any other club you would be the aggressor." But that does not mean Amaro is not talking to teams about his players. He is. "We have continued dialogue with a lot of clubs on several fronts," he said. Many have criticized the Phillies for not trading Hamels, Papelbon or others before they potentially suffer an injury. Amaro sees that as flawed logic. "The reality is this: There are a lot more chances for the 29 other teams to get people hurt than the one or two guys that we have," he said. "That's basic math." The Phillies also have been criticized for not considering other players if an organization's top prospects are deemed untouchable. Amaro sounds like somebody willing to wait for what he considers to be the right deal. "Yeah, we don't want any good players," Amaro said sarcastically. "I have no mandate to trade players. These are not financial deals. These are baseball deals. That's the beauty of the flexibility our ownership group is giving us. This is really about doing baseball deals. We don't have to move money." In fact, Amaro reiterated something he has said several times over the past year: The Phillies would consider paying some of a player's salary to acquire the talent they like. "We haven't changed any of our thought process as far as our open-mindedness with our club," he said.

Tough Vote – If somebody had to pick a Phillies position player to make the National League All-Star team, they would have to look at two of the youngest players on their roster: shortstop Freddy Galvis and third baseman Cody Asche. Each is probably a long shot, but each player is on the NL All-Star ballot, which Major League Baseball announced Wednesday. Other Phillies on the ballot include catcher Carlos Ruiz, first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, left fielder Ben Revere, center fielder Odubel Herrera and right fielder Domonic Brown, who has not played a game for the Phillies this season. Fans can cast their votes for starters at and all 30 club sites -- on their computers, tablets and smartphones -- using the 2015 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot until Thursday, July 2, at 11:59 p.m. ET. For the first time, voting is exclusively online, where fans may submit up to 35 ballots. Fans may also receive the ballot by texting VOTE to 89269 (USA) or 101010 (Canada). Or text VOTA for a ballot in Spanish. Message and data rates may apply. Up to five messages. No purchase required. Reply STOP to cancel. Reply HELP for info. Following the announcement of the 2015 All-Stars, be sure to return to and cast your 2015 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote for the final player for each league's All-Star roster. On Tuesday, July 14, watch the 2015 All-Star Game live on FOX, and during the game visit to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2015 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. will provide extensive online coverage of All-Star Week festivities. The 86th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now near the bottom of the NL east at 8-14. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and performance this spring, don’t expect their competitive place in the standings to last. All time, the Phillies are 41-49-3 on this day.

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