Thursday, April 16, 2015

Phillies Put Out Of There Misery In Series Finale

GAME RECAP: Mets Sweep Phillies 6-1

Lucas Duda and Travis d'Arnaud's first home runs of the year supported Jon Niese's first win as the Mets earned their first series sweep by topping the Phillies 6-1 on Jackie Robinson Day at Citi Field in their first game without David Wright. Niese scattered nine hits, holding the Phillies to one run over 6 1/3 innings despite the best efforts of Odubel Herrera and Cody Asche. The pair combined for six hits and four doubles off Niese, but the lefty worked out of multiple jams and stranded eight runners. The Phillies left 11 men on base in all. d'Arnaud and Duda supplied the power with solo shots off Phillies starter Jerome Williams, who was tagged for five runs (four earned) on 10 hits in five innings. d'Arnaud, batting in the No. 2. hole, gave the Mets the lead with a solo shot to left in the third. Duda launched a solo homer of his own into the seats beyond the right-center-field fence in the fifth and scored d'Arnaud with a sixth inning RBI double. Recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas to replace Wright, who landed on the disabled list Wednesday with a strained hamstring, Eric Campbell singled, scored and made an exceptional barehanded play to rob Chase Utley of a bunt single in the fifth. The Phillies are 6-20 against the Mets since August 2013. "I see the discrepancy in the win-loss record," Asche said. "Do I have an explanation? No. Do I wish it was different? Yeah. If we are going to make moves, we have to take care of the teams in our division. So we definitely have to play better against the Mets."

  • The Phillies' right-hander allowed 10 hits, five runs (four earned runs), one walk, two home runs and struck out one in five innings. His night included leadoff home runs to d'Arnaud and Duda in the third and fifth innings, respectively.
  • The Phillies' offensive issues really came to light this week against the Mets. They were 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position Wednesday, and 3-for-27 with runners in scoring position for the series.
  • "Couldn't come up with a drive to put up a crooked number. We had the opportunities. Could not do it." -- Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, on his team going 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
  • Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels dominated the Nationals on Saturday. He allowed two hits, one run, two walks and struck out five in seven innings. Hamels is hoping the offense can do something for him Thursday it has not done when he has been in his first two games this season: score a run.
  • The Phillies need Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to get going offensively. They are a combined 5-for-26 with one double, one RBI and five strikeouts against Fister.

Left-hander Cole Hamels opens a four-game series Thursday night at 7:05 p.m. ET against the Nationals at Nationals Park. Hamels allowed two hits, one run, two walks and struck out five in a 3-2 victory last Saturday. Hamels got the no-decision as he waits for the Phillies to score their first run for him while he is in the game. The Nationals hope to carry some momentum from Wednesday's 10-5 victory in Boston into a four-game series against the Phillies beginning Thursday night at Nationals Park. The Phillies took two of three from the Nationals over the weekend at Citizens Bank Park as Washington scored just seven runs in the series. The good news for Washington is that it has scored at least seven runs in each of the past two games.


Behind Closed Doors – Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon had something on his mind Wednesday afternoon at Citi Field, so a few minutes before batting practice he hastily cleared the visitors' clubhouse of everybody except his teammates. Once the doors closed he held a brief players-only meeting. "It was a team meeting about baseball," Papelbon said before a 6-1 loss to the Mets, "About playing the game. It wasn't a big deal." Papelbon later said it was nothing more than a meeting to establish a kangaroo court. Regardless, the Phillies have plenty of things going on these days, but very little going well. They fell to 3-6 partially because Phillies right-hander Jerome Williams allowed five runs in five innings, but also because the Phillies went just 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position. They had runners on first and second with no outs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, but none of them scored. "I think it has been a trend here the last four or five games," said Phillies third baseman Cody Asche, who went 3-for-3 with one walk to improve to .500 (12-for-24) for the season. "We kind of need that big hit, a two-out double here and there to really spark something. It's going to come. It's still early. There's no need to panic or have knee-jerk reactions. But we do need a big hit. I think that would help a lot." The Phillies are hitting .159 (11-for-69) with just two extra-base hits with runners in scoring position this season. The batting average is 29th in baseball. "That's the first thing you ask for is base runners and opportunities," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Couldn't come up with a drive to put up a crooked number. We had the opportunities. Could not do it." Will they? The Phillies entered the night tied for eighth in baseball with 59 runners left on base -- they left 11 on base Wednesday -- which is saying something considering they ranked 23rd with a .278 on-base percentage. Their lack of extra-base hits has contributed to that. Asche had a double Wednesday. Rookie Odubel Herrera had two doubles and a triple to become the first Phillies player to have three extra-base hits in a game since John Mayberry Jr. on June 12 last season. But the Phillies' offense otherwise remained powerless. It has been for most of the season. "Don't press, keep grinding and have good at-bats," Asche said. "The law of averages has to take over sometime. The hits are going to come."

Ebb And Flow On The Mound – Jerome Williams stumbled Wednesday after he appeared to take a step forward last week against the Nationals. He allowed 10 hits, five runs, one walk, two home runs and struck out one in five innings in Wednesday's 6-1 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. He had struggled terribly in his final three Spring Training starts, but allowed one run in six innings Friday in a victory over the Nationals. He could not build upon that success at Citi Field. "I ain't going to take no steps back from that," Williams said. "Just move forward with this one and put this one behind me and come back at home and pitch well [Tuesday against Miami]." Williams simply left too many pitches over the middle of the plate, and the Mets took advantage. He hung a breaking ball to Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who hit a homer to left field to lead off the third inning. He left a first-pitch fastball over the middle of the plate to Lucas Duda, who hit a homer to lead off the fifth. "Just elevated," Williams said. "Got to make a better pitch." Williams also was victim to some miscues. Mets third baseman Eric Campbell advanced to second base on a wild pitch in the second inning because the ball rolled behind home-plate umpire Dan Bellino and blocked catcher Cameron Rupp's view. Juan Lagares followed with a single to score Campbell and tie the game, 1-1. "He's supposed to release himself from the ball," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said about Bellino. "There was no courtesy there. Usually they dance out of the way and show where the ball is. Rupp couldn't see where the ball was. And [Bellino] didn't do anything about it. That might have been the first time I've seen that. That was a first for me." Third baseman Cody Asche bobbled a potential inning-ending double play ball in the fourth. It led to a run scoring to make it 3-1. But in the end, Williams allowed 10 hits, way too many for five innings. "I was just leaving the ball over the heart of the plate," he said. "You're not going to have success doing that."

Progress! – Phillies right-hander Chad Billingsley threw five scoreless innings Wednesday in his second rehab start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He allowed two hits, two walks and struck out three. The veteran starter threw 73 pitches (44 strikes), and Billingsley said the plan is to make three more rehab starts, which would allow him to join the Phillies' rotation as early as the first week of May. "I felt pretty good," Billingsley said in a transcript provided by the IronPigs. "I didn't feel like I had my best stuff, but I was able to go out there and execute some pitches to get some ground balls and get out of a jam early. "It's been a long road, but I'm excited and I'll keep working. The strength is there, my arm feels good. I talked to my doctor who performed the [2014] surgery [on my right elbow], and he said if I can get through a month and a half of pitching in games with no pain, I'll be in the clear."

Looking For Lefties – The Phillies employed a double-switch in the sixth inning Tuesday, but curiously chose not to have left-hander Jake Diekman, who was part of the switch, start the seventh inning to face Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murphy, who hits left-handed, homered against Phillies right-hander Dustin McGowan in the 6-5 loss. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg explained that Diekman is the only left-hander in the Phillies' bullpen and had pitched five times in the team's first eight games. Sandberg wanted to keep his options open, but if Diekman had pitched the seventh inning and racked up eight to 10 more pitches he might not have been available to pitch Wednesday's series finale against the Mets at Citi Field, if they needed him. The Phillies could use an extra left-hander in the bullpen. Left-hander Cesar Jimenez is in Triple-A after being designated for assignment Sunday to make room for right-hander Sean O'Sullivan on the 25-man roster. "We don't have one to give them," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "The guys in the bullpen should be able to get righties and lefties out." Jimenez is not eligible to be called up for at least another week. Left-hander Elvis Araujo is in Double-A and has posted an 8.10 ERA in two appearances. Left-hander Joely Rodriguez is starting for Triple-A and is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA following two starts. The Phillies had Rule 5 Draft pick Andy Oliver in Spring Training, but the left-hander struggled toward the end of camp with his command. He allowed six hits, five runs, 11 walks and struck out 12 in 12 2/3 innings. Oliver cleared waivers and the Phillies outrighted him to Triple-A. But Oliver opted for free agency instead and signed a Minor League contract with the Rays. Oliver would've been on the short list for a callup. "We offered him a pretty good deal to come back," Amaro said. "He just decided to go somewhere else. I think it was a very foolish move on his part, but that's OK. He had a choice. He had that right."

Some Adjustments Required – Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has not started twice in the team's first nine games, including Wednesday's at Citi Field against Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese. Both times Howard has sat against lefties. Could this become a pattern? "You've got to talk to the manager about that," Howard said. "You keep bringing up these lefty questions. I talked with Ryno [manager Ryne Sandberg] earlier about that kind of stuff. I think right now it's more so trying to get rest, days off here and there. "I don't think it's going to be a pattern. I think early on he said that he's going to pick days to get rest. Obviously with it being two lefties and two days off people are going to try to make something out of it, but it's nothing. Like I said, we had that conversation earlier that when this situation arises that's what it is." "We'll see as we go forward," Sandberg said, when asked if this could become a regular thing. "It's a chance for a right-handed bat to get in there. Kind of take that a series at a time." Howard entered Wednesday hitting .148 (4-for-27) with three doubles, one RBI and 10 strikeouts. Interestingly, pitchers have been attacking Howard with fastballs more than ever. "It's confusing isn't it?" Howard said. According to FanGraphs pitch type data, 59 percent of the pitches Howard has seen this season have been fastballs. That is his highest percentage of fastballs since he became an everyday player as a rookie in 2005, when it was 58.3 percent. That number dipped as low as 44.8 percent in 2009, remaining in the 44.8 to 51.3 percent range from 2007-13. It is a small sample size, but FanGraphs Pitch f/x plate discipline data also shows Howard is seeing 55 percent of his pitches in the strike zone this season, far and away his highest percentage since it started recording the data in 2007. It has been between 39.5 to 43.7 percent from 2007-14. The data also shows Howard is swinging at more pitches than ever before, but making less contact when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone. "I have to make adjustments," Howard said. "You get guys like [Max] Scherzer and [Matt] Harvey yesterday, those guys will sit 95, 96 mph. There's been a pretty good amount. It's just about getting them in the zone and taking care of them." Sandberg said he sees bat speed with Howard, but he also said adjustments are needed. "He's getting fastballs throughout the game," Sandberg said. "I've had a conversation with him about being on the fastball. Each day that's a different speed. It's a game of adjustments. If a guy's at 96, then you need to do something to be a little earlier to be on 96. If it's 89 and sinker that day then you want to be on 89 and sink. That's the game of adjustments. That's where the inconsistency has been, just not being on the fastball that day. "The amount of fastballs that he's getting, he should look fastball and just really disregard the breaking ball until he gets two strikes."

A Lasting Legacy – The Phillies wore No. 42 jerseys Wednesday to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day at Citi Field. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said he heard plenty of Robinson stories when Don Zimmer managed the Cubs from 1988-1991. Robinson and Zimmer played together with the Dodgers. "He just liked his wild abandon on the bases," Sandberg said. "His aggressive, total aggressive approach to playing the game in all aspects. He also remembered like 10 or 15 times he stole home." Said Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard: "The first thing that comes to mind when I hear Jackie Robinson is hero. Robinson is a hero because he helped pave the way for me to be able to play in this game today."

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 3-6. 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 27-45-0 on this day.

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