Monday, April 13, 2015

Phillies Just Miss The Sweep

GAME RECAP: Nationals Outlast Phillies 4-3

The Nationals will take it any way they can get it. They avoided a series sweep to the Phillies on Sunday, when right-hander Justin De Fratus uncorked a wild pitch to allow Yunel Escobar to score from third base in the 10th inning of a 4-3 victory at Citizens Bank Park. It was the go-ahead run with the Nationals also scoring a needed insurance run in the inning. The Phillies tied the game in the seventh when Darin Ruf hit a pinch-hit solo home run to left field, giving Nationals ace Max Scherzer a no-decision. Scherzer allowed one run in six innings. "It's a big win for us. Max pitched really well again. It's good to come through late," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "I like the fight in the guys," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said about the team's 3-3 start. "We had a chance to win all but Opening Day. That's a good sign. And the guys have fought back to win some games. The energy is there. The fight is there. So we'll just continue to work at it and do the little things a little bit better."

  • Before his pinch-hit home run in the seventh inning, Ruf had been hitless in 11 at-bats this season. It marked the first pinch-hit homer of his career. Ruf remained in the game, replacing Howard at first base. Howard went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on 15 pitches. He left runners in scoring position in the first, third and fifth innings.
  • The Phillies sent O'Sullivan to Minor League camp in March, but he became their No. 5 starter because of injuries and the ineffectiveness of other pitchers on the 40-man roster. O'Sullivan more than held his own against Scherzer, allowing five hits, two runs, one walk and striking out five in six innings.
  • De Fratus replaced Jake Diekman with one out and a runner on third in the 10th inning. He threw his first pitch -- a slider -- into the dirt to allow the go-ahead run to score. De Fratus allowed one more run in the inning to hand Washington a two-run lead.
  • "There was an energy in the clubhouse I haven't felt since I've been here, for the most part. It's nice to get -- not necessarily off to the best start at 3-3 -- but we've played well these past three games. Better than people thought. So we'll try to take that into next week." -- Ruf, on Saturday's 10-inning victory carrying into another close game Sunday.
  • The Phillies designated left-hander Cesar Jimenez for assignment before the game to make room for O'Sullivan on the 25- and 40-man rosters.
  • Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown went 1-for-3 with a home run and a walk Sunday in a rehab game with Class A Advanced Clearwater. He is recovering from tendinitis in his left Achilles and could rejoin the team before the end of the month.
  • The Phillies won an instant-replay challenge in the 10th inning. First-base umpire Bob Davidson called Ryan Zimmerman safe on an infield single, but replay officials in New York overturned the decision. It took 2 minutes, 20 seconds to call Zimmerman out.
The Phillies open their first road series of the season Monday afternoon at 1:05 ET against the Mets at Citi Field for their home opener. Right-hander Aaron Harang makes his second start after pitching 6 1/3 scoreless innings Wednesday in a victory over the Red Sox.


Ruf Game – This is supposed to be a season about learning and developing talent, and many Phillies fans would love to learn more about Darin Ruf. His opportunities have been limited in the past, and it seems he will need to hit to remain in manager Ryne Sandberg's lineup. But after going hitless in his first 11 at-bats this season, he hit a pinch-hit solo home run to left field in the seventh inning Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. The first pinch-hit homer of his career tied the game in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings to the Nationals. It was just the Phillies' second home run through six games. "You want to be the best player you can be in any role you are in," Ruf said. "You play yourself into roles, and that role can change through the course of the year. I'm looking to stay positive and keep working hard." The Phillies could use Ruf's power. He entered the season having hit .251 with 21 doubles, one triple, 20 home runs, 48 RBIs and an .805 OPS in 447 plate appearances with the Phillies. He was the only Phillies player with 400 or more plate appearances from 2012-15 with a .787 OPS or higher. Ruf also had an .839 OPS against left-handers, which would seem to make him a strong candidate to platoon in left field or first base. First baseman Ryan Howard went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on 15 pitches before Ruf replaced him in the seventh. He ended four innings with strikeouts, leaving runners in scoring position three times. "All I can say is, tough game," Howard said. "That's all I've got today." Howard is hitting .150 (3-for-20) with three doubles, one RBI and seven strikeouts, but he is hardly the only Phillies hitter struggling. The team is hitting .214 with just 16 runs through six games. "Howie is just looking for some consistency," Sandberg said. "He was just a little bit behind the fastball off of [Nationals ace Max] Scherzer. Just didn't connect today. He continues to work at things. Hopefully, Howie can regroup and get on the road. He's going to continue working on it, I know that. He spends a lot of time working at it." Ruf is working at it, too. The Phillies are looking for people to hit. There should be opportunities for others. "I think we have a good, solid squad," Ruf said. "We're going to be in a lot of close games."

Solid Start – The Phillies shipped Sean O'Sullivan to Minor League camp last month because they figured they had better options to be their No. 5 starter. But as those options dwindled because of the ineffectiveness of other starters in camp, O'Sullivan suddenly became the logical choice. It surprised nobody last week when the Phillies announced he would pitch Sunday's series finale against Nationals ace Max Scherzer at Citizens Bank Park, but perhaps O'Sullivan's performance did. O'Sullivan held his own against Scherzer in the Phillies' 4-3 loss in 10 innings. O'Sullivan allowed five hits and two runs with one walk and five strikeouts in six innings. "I was happy being able to get through six there," O'Sullivan said. "And with Scherzer on the other side, to be able to limit damage when I got in a little trouble there, I kept the crooked numbers off the board." O'Sullivan allowed a solo home run to Bryce Harper in the first inning and a run in the fourth inning that might not have scored had he not thrown a wild pitch to move Ryan Zimmerman into scoring position. "I just wanted to go in off the plate with the pitch, and it went farther in than I wanted to," O'Sullivan said. O'Sullivan could make a couple more starts this month before right-hander Chad Billingsley possibly joins the rotation. Billingsley made his first rehab start Friday with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but if O'Sullivan makes the most of his opportunity, who knows? Maybe he remains in the rotation. He certainly took advantage Sunday. "I believe he has another start in him," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said.

Putting It Behind Him – Justin De Fratus left the mound discouraged Sunday afternoon, but he left the Phillies clubhouse encouraged by the way his team played the first week of the season at Citizens Bank Park. De Fratus uncorked a wild pitch in the 10th inning Sunday in a 4-3 loss to the Nationals. It was the first pitch he threw in the inning after replacing Jake Diekman with a runner on third and one out. The wild pitch scored a run to give the Nationals a 3-2 lead. De Fratus allowed another run to score, which proved costly as the Phillies could muster only one run in the bottom of the 10th. "The tough part about a situation like that, you don't want to give him anything elevated and give him an opportunity to hit a sacrifice fly," De Fratus said about the wild pitch. "You have the infield in for a reason. You're trying to get the ball on the ground, and I just yanked it a little bit. "That game falls on me. I 100 percent take the blame. It just didn't work out. That's a tough one." The Phillies hit the road for a seven-game road trip through New York and Washington, beginning Monday afternoon against the Mets at Citi Field. The Phillies went 3-3 this week. "I think we have a lot of grinders in here and a lot of people who have the belief that it doesn't take the biggest payroll in the world to win," De Fratus said. "That last at-bat [in the 10th] we could have easily laid down and we didn't. That was a positive sign. If you're going to take something positive out of that game, it's the way we grinded and battled."

Making Room – The Phillies designated left-hander Cesar Jimenez for assignment Sunday. The move allowed them to place right-hander Sean O'Sullivan on the 40-man roster. O'Sullivan started Sunday's series finale against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. Jimenez had one strikeout in two-thirds of an inning in his one appearance this season. He is 2-3 with a 4.28 ERA in 79 career appearances in the big leagues, including a 1.69 ERA in 16 games last season.

Harang Looks To Continue Strong Start – For the first time since September, Citi Field will spark to life when the Mets face the Phillies Monday afternoon in their home opener. Reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom will oppose Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang in the matinee, which kicks off a three-game series and a 10-game homestand for the Mets. Things to know about this game: 1. Harang makes his second start for the Phillies, after pitching 6 1/3 scoreless innings Wednesday against the Red Sox. He is 6-5 with a 4.28 ERA in 13 career starts against the Mets, for whom he briefly played in 2013. deGrom gave up two runs in six innings of his 2015 debut, taking a hard-luck loss in Washington. 2. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard enter the series struggling at the plate, but maybe they will have better luck against deGrom. They are a combined 3-for-11 with one home run, three RBIs and one walk against him. 3. The Mets will honor the families of fallen NYPD heroes Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos as part of Monday's pregame ceremonies, which will also include a national anthem performance from NYPD officer Lauren Leggio. The team is encouraging fans to take mass transit and arrive early. Gates open at 10:40 a.m. ET, with the pregame ceremony beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Author Sighting – Though it wasn't actually the "To Kill a Mockingbird" author at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday, this fortuitous Nationals-Phillies fan pairing was still pretty cool. Considering that both Bryce Harper and Cliff Lee have been active at the same time for a while, it's sort of surprising we haven't seen this before. You think Harper Lee is reclusive? Go set a watchman for these well-known writers the next time you're at the ballpark. We'll cut you a little slack on some of the harder ones. Alternate spelling accepted.

The Phillies are starting the season better than expected and are now in a competitive position in the NL east at 3-3. 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 26-25-0 on this day.

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