Saturday, April 25, 2015

Harang Keeps The Braves At Bay

GAME RECAP: Phillies Stun Braves 1-0

The Phillies have scored the fewest runs in baseball this season, but they got the pitching performance they needed Friday in a 1-0 walk-off victory over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Aaron Harang threw eight scoreless innings and Ken Giles pitched a scoreless ninth, setting up the Phillies' game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Freddy Galvis singled, reached second on a sacrifice bunt, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored when Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman could not handle a ground ball from Ben Revere. "You know what?" said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, who had his team on the field early to work on fundamentals after a sloppy loss Thursday. "We played a real clean game." The Braves managed just two hits, but also grounded into three double plays to kill the few opportunities provided by Harang, who rejuvenated his career while proving to be one of Atlanta's most consistent starters last year. "We didn't do anything against Harang, a guy that we've seen pitch 30-something times," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He did a good job of keeping us off balance."

  • The Phillies' right-hander remains one of the team's brightest spots, allowing two hits and one walk and striking out six in eight scoreless innings. He retired the first 10 batters he faced before walking a batter with one out in the fourth and he allowed his first hit with one out in the fifth.
  • Galvis easily is one of the team's biggest surprises. He opened the season without much of a track record of offense, but went 3-for-4 to improve to .345 for the season. He also showed his instincts on the basepaths, advancing to third on a passed ball in the ninth. It set up the winning run. He also helped turn three double plays to keep the game scoreless.
Shelby Miller will oppose David Buchanan when the Braves and Phillies resume their three-game series on Saturday night. Miller has posted a 1.97 ERA during a 10-start stretch dating back to Aug. 23, which was his most recent outing in Philadelphia. Maybe Ryan Howard and Chase Utley can get going against Miller. Howard is 3-for-5 with two home runs, four RBIs, one walk and two strikeouts in his brief career against Miller. Chase Utley is 4-for-9.


Can Galvis Keep It Going? – Phillies fans searching for things to watch this season should follow Freddy Galvis. Can he possibly keep this up? He went 3-for-4 and scored the winning run in the ninth inning Friday in a 1-0 victory over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. He is hitting .345 (19-for-55) with one double, one triple, one home run, eight RBIs and an .855 OPS through 16 games. His prowess at the plate is surprising, considering he entered the season with a .621 OPS in 500 big-league plate appearances and a .625 OPS in 2,631 plate appearances in the Minor Leagues. "I feel really good right now," Galvis said. "I think Spring Training helped me a lot. I've been working a lot on it." Galvis also helped turn three double plays to kill Atlanta's scoring opportunities. It included a big one in the fifth when the Braves had runners at the corners and one out. "Right now we're not scoring too many runs," Galvis said. "We have to play defense if we want to win games." Galvis singled to center field to get things going in the ninth. Pinch-hitter Cesar Hernandez executed a successful sacrifice bunt -- the team's third of the night -- to move Galvis into scoring position. Galvis then advanced to third on a passed ball by Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "Real alert play," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Real instinctive play getting over to third base." "I was just trying to be ready," Galvis said. "Get to third on a base hit or something like that. And then I suddenly saw the ball on the ground, and with a big lead I just went for it." Phillies center fielder Ben Revere then hit a ground ball to Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who charged the ball knowing that Galvis was running on contact. But Freeman did not field the ball cleanly and Galvis scored without a play at the plate. "I tried to just get one up in the air, but with [Braves pitcher Jim Johnson] it's so tough," Revere said. "You know you've got Freddie right there, so I didn't want to hit a popup in the infield. "So I was like, all right, if I could find a way to hit a little dribbler somewhere and get something. Of course he's going on contact, but luckily that was a little soft so Freeman had to try to come in and make a play and messed it up. So it worked for the best."

Rotation Anchor? – Remember the concern in Spring Training about Aaron Harang's back? Yeah, he's past that. Harang allowed two hits, one walk and struck out six in eight scoreless innings Friday in a 1-0 victory over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Harang, who missed a couple starts in March because of a back issue, has a tidy 1.37 ERA through four starts this season, easily becoming one of the Phillies' brightest spots through 16 games. "It was the same thing last year," Harang said, referring to a 0.85 ERA through his first five starts last season with Atlanta. "If you work fast in the count and try to get their guys to hit the ball early in the count, it's going to keep the defense on their toes. I'm trying to get us off the field and back to the dugout to get the offense going." Harang retired the first 10 batters he faced until he walked Braves second baseman Alberto Callaspo with one out in the fourth. Nick Markakis followed with an inning-ending double play. He allowed his first hit in the fifth inning when A.J. Pierzynski doubled with one out. Chris Johnson followed with a single to put runners at the corners, but Harang got Andrelton Simmons to ground into another inning-ending double play. "Playing with Simmons last year, he's an aggressive player and wants to make something happen, so I used that to my advantage," Harang said. Harang praised Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz for calling a good game. "Chooch and I were on the same page from the get go," Harang said. "Everything he threw down was exactly what I was thinking. It was one of those fun nights where everything falls into sync and we're both on the same page."

Back To Basics – Ryne Sandberg on Friday fulfilled his promise that the Phillies would work more on their fundamentals. He had his players on the field in the afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, working on the basics following a 9-1 loss Thursday to the Marlins and an overall tough start to their season, which includes a 5-11 record and 17 errors, which is tied with the Nationals for the most in Major League Baseball. "No miracles," Sandberg said before the Phillies' series opener against the Braves. "Not asking for miracles, just make the routine plays and make it a priority. Keep the focus on playing good defense. Basic fundamentals of catching the ball, throwing the ball, routine plays, hitting the cutoff men." Sandberg regularly held these early workouts at home when he replaced Charlie Manuel as manager in August 2013. They continued early in 2014 before fading midway through the season. Sandberg said in the offseason he would bring back those workouts with a relatively younger team. Friday was the first extensive pregame workout since the season started. "When we're at home here we utilize the field," Sandberg said. "Whether it's one or two guys on early work, whether it's one day the outfielders throwing to the bases or whether it's the middle infielders turning double plays, that's something that we established, and I established, in Spring Training and that's something we'll continue to do." The Phillies know they have very little room for error this season with an offense that ranks last in baseball in runs per game and a pitching staff that leads the National League with 66 walks. It is possible players might be playing tight, fearing a bad result could lead to a loss. "I don't think there's any reason to be tense," Sandberg said. "Rather than that, I'd rather have the guys talking on the field, create some relaxation there. But also being on the balls of their feet, anticipating the ball to be hit to all of them and making the routine plays and basically playing the game right. That's what's expected at this level. "This is Major League Baseball and you have to play good defense. You have to play fundamental baseball at this level."

Waiting Game – If Phillies prospect Maikel Franco continues to hit like he has in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, there is no question he will join the Phillies in 2015. But do not expect him in the next few weeks. "We'll see," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said, when asked if he could see Franco sooner rather than later. "There hasn't been much talk about him." There are reasons for that, despite the fact Franco entered Friday hitting .355 (22-for-62) with eight doubles, one triple, one home run, nine RBIs and a .968 OPS in 14 games. First, service time is involved. If Franco remains in the Minor Leagues for at least 40 days (or about the middle of May) the Phillies could push back his free agency from 2020 to 2021. That is important for a rebuilding team not expected to contend until 2017 at the earliest. Second, because the Phillies are not expected to contend until 2017 they can be patient with his development. In other words, if the Phillies were a third baseman or first baseman away from being the second National League Wild Card team they might have a more difficult decision to make. But because they are not going to contend they can move him along more slowly, making sure he is ready before promoting him. Third, when they bring him up they probably will want him to play regularly. Right now, Phillies third baseman Cody Asche is one of the team's only bright spots, hitting .333 (17-for-51) with two doubles, two home runs, three RBIs and an .872 OPS in 15 games. He has earned the right to play every day. First baseman Ryan Howard is struggling, but they are expected to let him play for the foreseeable future. His is owed a combined $60 million this season and next, so before they throw that money away they would like to see if he could get things turned around first. Again, there is no immediate reason to promote Franco. But do not worry, if he continues to hit he will be with the Phillies at some point.

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now near the bottom of the NL east at 6-11. 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 37-50-2 on this day.

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