Saturday, April 11, 2015

Phillies Pitching Returns To Form

GAME RECAP: Phillies Beat Nationals 4-1

Pinch-hitter Cesar Hernandez's two-run single highlighted a four-run seventh inning as the Phillies rallied for a 4-1 win over the Nationals on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez had pitched six scoreless innings against the Phillies before he walked Grady Sizemore and Cameron Rupp and hit Andres Blanco with a pitch to load the bases with one out. Hernandez then followed with a go-ahead hit against Xavier Cedeno. Freddy Galvis, who finished with three hits, added an RBI single and Chase Utley had a sacrifice fly in that seventh inning. Phillies right-hander Jerome Williams pitched well enough to win, but earned a no-decision. He allowed five hits, one run, one walk, one home run and struck out six in six innings. Jonathan Papelbon picked up the save for the 108th of his Phillies career. He needs five more saves to pass Jose Mesa to set the franchise record.

  • The Phillies scored four runs in the seventh inning with the help of some unlikely candidates. Sizemore walked, Rupp walked and Blanco was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hernandez's two-run single to right scored a pair of runs. Everybody other than Sizemore entered Spring Training without a guaranteed spot on the Opening Day roster, although Sizemore struggled throughout most of the spring.
  • After Williams allowed the leadoff home run, he did not allow a run the rest of the way. Williams, who struggled mightily at the end of Spring Training, allowed five hits, one run, one walk, one home run and struck out six in six innings.
  • Setup man Ken Giles pitched a scoreless eighth inning after struggling mightily Wednesday against the Red Sox. The Phillies hope their hard-throwing right-hander is moving in the right direction.
  • The Phillies announced a crowd of 19,047, which was the smallest crowd in the history of Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies drew a previous low of 19,182 on April 26, 2006, against the Rockies. It is the smallest crowd in Philadelphia since Sept. 3, 2003, when the Phillies drew 18,0002 against the Expos at Veterans Stadium.
  • Phillies broadcaster Matt Stairs modeled a replica of a 1915 National League champion Phillies sweater during Thursday night's broadcast. Mitchell & Ness, who used to make the sweaters, has suddenly seen an increase in demand and said they might start making them again.

Left-hander Cole Hamels hopes to bounce back from a rough opener Monday against the Red Sox. He allowed four home runs in five innings in the 8-0 loss, but he has had much better luck against the Nationals. He is 15-8 with a 2.63 ERA in 32 career starts against Washington.


Unlikely Production – This is not how the Phillies predicted they would win their second game of the season Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez pitched six scoreless innings before he unraveled in the seventh in a 4-1 loss to the Phillies. He walked Grady Sizemore and Cameron Rupp then hit Andres Blanco with a pitch to load the bases with one out. Pinch-hitter Cesar Hernandez followed and smacked a first-pitch fastball to right field for a single against Xavier Cedeno to score Sizemore and Rupp to hand the Phillies a 2-1 lead. Rupp beat a throw to the plate from the strong-armed and typically accurate Bryce Harper. "I didn't know what was going to happen," Rupp said. "I'm thinking as soon as the ball is hit, freeze on the line drive and then go until [third base coach] Pete [Mackanin] stops me. He kept waving me on." Cedeno then hit Ben Revere with a pitch to reload the bases before Craig Stammen entered. He allowed a single to right to Freddy Galvis to score Blanco, and Chase Utley followed with a sacrifice fly to center to score Hernandez to give the Phillies a three-run lead. Sizemore, Rupp, Blanco, Hernandez, Revere, Galvis and Utley: it was an unlikely crew. "It comes down to playing the game," Rupp said. "We've all played it forever and that's why we're here."  Sizemore is trying to reestablish himself as a productive player following lost years because of injuries. He might not have made the team if not for a guaranteed $2 million contract. Rupp had played just 22 games in the big leagues. Blanco had played just 27 since 2011. Hernandez, who had just 237 career at-bats before Friday, struggled this spring and might have made the team only because he was out of options. "I'm ready for every opportunity in the game, whether it's pinch-running or hitting," Hernandez said. "I made it happen today." Galvis, who went 3-for-3 with one double, one walk and one RBI in the No. 2 spot, entered the night with a .617 OPS in 560 career plate appearances. "I feel good," said Galvis, who is 5-for-13 this season. "My approach is much better. If I keep working, everything will be all right." Said Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg: "To come up with the win, it's even more special, but just involves everybody and really creates a spark. Not only on the field, but in the clubhouse."

Problem Fixed? – Jerome Williams vowed to fix the problems that plagued him at the end of Spring Training. "I'm going to force it to happen," he said late last month. It appeared he did. He allowed a leadoff home run to Nationals center fielder Michael Taylor in the first inning Friday in the Phillies' 4-1 victory at Citizens Bank Park, but did not allow another run the rest of the way. Williams allowed five hits, one run, one walk, one home run and struck out six in six innings. His performance certainly was welcomed. Williams allowed 28 hits, 17 runs (14 earned runs), two walks and struck out 10 in 12 2/3 innings in his final three Grapefruit League starts. "It was just throwing the ball down," Williams said about Friday's success. "I can't really pinpoint what it was (in Spring Training). I know it wasn't feeling right. I knew how to fix it and I wasn't really fixing it at all." Williams said he found himself after two productive bullpen sessions before his 2015 regular-season debut. "You think it worked?" he said. Friday night it certainly did.

Giles Returns To Form – Ken Giles is still not pumping 100 mph fastballs, but he looked better Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed one hit and struck out two in a scoreless eighth inning in a 4-1 victory over the Nationals. After he retired the first two batters he faced, he allowed a double to Yunel Escobar. Giles recovered and struck out Bryce Harper looking on a 1-2 slider to end the inning. "It was good to see Giles," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's working on some things. He made some good adjustments on his slider for this game and [quality sliders were] his big pitch with Harper. So really saw an improved slider. Still working on his fastball, but he did throw a couple in the zone that kept them honest." Giles allowed one hit, two unearned runs, three walks and struck out one in 2/3 of an inning Wednesday in a victory over the Red Sox. His ineffectiveness forced Jonathan Papelbon to pick up a four-out save. Wednesday's struggles seemed to continue a troubling trend from the spring. Giles went 1-1 with a 6.08 ERA in 14 appearances this spring with his fastball never hitting more than 95 mph. He walked 12 and struck out 15 in 13 1/3 innings. Compare that to 2014, when Giles went 3-1 with a 1.18 ERA and one save in 44 appearances. He allowed 25 hits, 11 walks and struck out 64 in 45 2/3 innings. His fastball sat in the 98-100 mph range. Giles' fastball hit 96 mph once Friday. "He got back down in the zone," Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp said. "I went out there and told him to throw it through me, get the ball down. And he did. He threw strikes. He's got two good pitches. It's kind of either or with him. If he's locating his fastball his slider is even better. He was on. He had his good stuff."

Another Step Toward Return – Phillies right-hander Chad Billingsley pitched his first competitive game in about 10 months Friday. He made a rehab start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley in Allentown. Billingsley allowed four hits, three runs, one walk, two home runs and struck out four in 3 1/3 innings. He threw 58 pitches (39 strikes). Billingsley, who is recovering from a pair of right elbow surgeries, could make two to three more rehab starts before potentially joining the Phillies' rotation before the end of the month. Right fielder Domonic Brown went 0-for-2 with one strikeout in a rehab game with Class A Clearwater. He is 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in two games. Outfielder Odubel Herrera said his left foot is finally OK after fouling a pitch off it Monday on Opening Day. But Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg decided to start Grady Sizemore in left field and Ben Revere in center field instead. Herrera appeared in Friday night's game against the Phillies as a pinch-runner in the seventh, scoring a run on Cesar Hernandez's pinch-hit two-run single, then played the final two innings in left field and grounded out in the eighth.

Matt Stairs: Sales Genius – Maybe Phillies broadcaster Matt Stairs deserves a cameo in Zoolander 2? He modeled a reproduction of the sweater worn by the 1915 National League champion Phillies during Thursday night's Phillies-Red Sox game at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies celebrated the 100th anniversary of their first pennant winner Thursday and immediately afterward Mitchell & Ness, the company that made the sweater, started receiving inquiries about it. The company has not made those sweaters in more than a decade, but that could change. "I would love to make these again," Mitchell & Ness head Jonathan Yuska said Friday. "It's such a legacy of baseball. They're just gorgeous." "It's a historically accurate garment," said Mitchell & Ness founder Peter Capolino, who sold the Philadelphia-based company to adidas in 2007. "It's also a very fashionable garment. But the cost of making these sweaters in the U.S. and making them just the way they were historically made, the sweater is going to retail for around $850." The company made the historically accurate sweaters for maybe 15-18 teams over the years, but they are not easy or cheap to produce. In the past, literally only one person made them for the company: 71-year-old Norma J. Reichert, who lives in Embden, Maine. Reichert made about three-to-four sweaters per month. They were made on a manual flatbed knitting machine. Once the components were finished she linked them in a process known as full-fashioning. "It's really craft knitting," Yuska said. "If you look at the quality of it, there's a lot of yarn in there, especially the way it's sewed in. It takes a ton of yarn. When I was looking at doing this last year, the amount of yarn we were using was like, 'Oh, my Lord.' But it's beautifully made." Capolino said an authentic 1925 Yankees sweater just sold on the collector's market for $48,000. So, hey, maybe $850 for an accurate reproduction isn't too bad? "The one I have Norma make is so accurate you almost can't tell the difference," Capolino said.

The Phillies are starting the season better than expected and are now at the bottom of the pack in the NL east at 2-2. 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 22-19-0 on this day.

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