Tuesday, May 19, 2015

And The WINNING Streak Continues…

GAME RECAP: Phillies Freeze Rockies 4-3

Cole Hamels struck out seven and limited the Rockies to six hits in 7 1/3 innings for his third straight win as the Phillies prevailed, 4-3, on Monday night at Coors Field. Hamels (4-3) dueled with Rockies righty Jordan Lyles (2-4) until the sixth, when the Phillies scored three runs with two outs. Odubel Herrera doubled in two runs, and Carlos Ruiz added an RBI single. "We're making less mistakes," Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon said about the team's six-game winning streak. "Are we playing perfect baseball? No, but we're making less mistakes and I think that's a bright spot for us and hopefully we can make less and less mistakes and learn how to play big league baseball and learn how to win." The Rockies fanned 11 times and have had double figures in strikeouts for a club-record six straight games. "We just need to tighten up our approach with two strikes and not miss your pitch when you get it early in the count," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. Lyles, who left his previous start against the Angels after one inning when he was hit on the throwing hand with an Albert Pujols line drive, was rolling until the sixth, when he gave up three hits and a walk with two outs.

·         The Phillies have won six consecutive games for the first time since they had a seven-game winning streak Sept. 5-12, 2012.
·         Hamels started the season slowly, but he has pitched very well lately. He is 4-1 with a with a 2.45 ERA in his last six starts. He continued to roll against the Rockies, and is 11-0 in 17 starts since last season, when the Phillies score three or more runs for him when he is in the game.
·         Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco rolled a ball through the infield with two outs and nobody on base in the sixth to spark a three-run rally to hand the Phillies a 4-1 lead. Chase Utley walked and Herrera doubled to clear the bases. Riuz followed with a single to score Herrera.
·         The Phillies won a replay challenge in the first inning. Freddy Galvis hit a ball to the first baseman Rosario, who appeared to step on first base for the force out before throwing to second. Replay showed Rosario never tagged first base, putting runners on first and second with no outs. After replay officials overturned the call, they returned to the headset for a rules check. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg was on the field trying to get an explanation for the second visit, but there was no challenge by the Rockies. Sandberg challenged a play at the plate in the eighth inning when Nolan Arenado evaded the tag of Ruiz after Carlos Gonzalez's single to right. The call stood.
·         "It's been fun. I think everybody is really enjoying themselves. You can see personalities a little bit more. When you win, there's that more positive environment and guys can be themselves a little bit more instead of trying to crack down and be all serious 24-7. I think guys are starting to be a little more relaxed." -- Hamels, on the difference in the clubhouse with the team winning recently.
·         Tuesday will signal Harang's eighth career start at Coors Field, where he is 3-2 with a 5.63 ERA.
·         Bettis has one career start against Philadelphia -- 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball in a 5-4 loss on Aug. 22, 2013, at Citizens Bank Park.


For those taking a peek at Tuesday's Coors Field pitching matchup, the players involved certainly cover both ends of the baseball spectrum. One is a grizzled veteran plugging along in year 14, while the other is still testing the waters as a Major League starter. Phillies hurler Aaron Harang (4-3, 2.03 ERA) currently leads the Philadelphia rotation in ERA despite turning 37 earlier this month. Tuesday will mark Harang's 361st career start and 15th all-time against the Rockies. Rockies righty Chad Bettis (0-0, 7.20) will make just his 10th career start and the second this year since being recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque on May 14. Bettis needed 106 pitches to push through a five-inning no-decision, yielding four runs and seven hits in Thursday's 5-4 win over the Dodgers.


DL Roster Gets A Little Deeper – The Phillies took a couple more hits to their starting pitching on Sunday. They announced right-hander Chad Billingsley has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right latissimus dorsi. He could rejoin the rotation in four to six weeks. Triple-A right-hander David Buchanan, who opened the season in the Phillies' rotation, suffered a severely sprained right ankle in Sunday's start. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks. "Both those injuries are a blow to the starting pitching depth that we have," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. Triple-A right-hander Severino Gonzalez will start in Billingsley's place on Wednesday against the Rockies at Coors Field. The Phillies acquired Triple-A right-hander Chris Leroux from the Brewers for cash considerations. He will fill a spot in Lehigh Valley. Billingsley started to feel some discomfort in his lat in his May 10 start against the Mets. It became more of an issue in Friday's start against Arizona, which was the best of his three starts this season. Billingsley had an MRI on Saturday, and the Phillies decided to place him on the DL. Billingsley is pitching again after missing most of the previous two seasons because of a pair of right elbow surgeries. The Phillies had a concern that if Billingsley compensated for the lat strain it could put more pressure on his elbow.

Clubhouse Comes Alive – The Phillies' clubhouse had not been a particularly fun place to be the first six weeks of the season. C-SPAN programming has been livelier. Then again, the Phillies were 11-23 last Tuesday. It was their worst start since 1971 and the worst record in Major League Baseball. But things have been much different lately. The Phillies beat the Rockies on Monday night at Coors Field, 4-3, to give them a six-game winning streak. It is their longest winning streak since they had a seven-game streak Sept. 5-12, 2012. "You keep grinding and hoping things will turn around and most of the time they do," Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "And if they don't, it starts to pile on and pile on, and I'm just glad it's not piling on right now. We're climbing out from underneath the pile right now, but we still have a long way to go. We still got a lot of baseball to play and lot of things we have to learn. The biggest is learning to win. It's an acquired thing -- come to the ballpark and learn to win, put yourself in a position to win every day. A lot of these guys haven't done that up here." It is true. Most of the players on this roster never played for a winning Phillies team, which is hard to believe considering the organization enjoyed winning seasons from 2003-11. "We're making less mistakes," Papelbon said. "Are we playing perfect baseball? No, but we're making less mistakes and I think that's a bright spot for us and hopefully we can make less and less mistakes and learn how to play big league baseball and learn how to win. "A lot of these guys in here don't know how to win. This is the first little taste of it." That first little taste has pumped a little life into the clubhouse. A baseball clubhouse is a sad place after a loss. It is engrained in players to almost be miserable afterward, despite the daily nature of the game. But after a win the music blares, players laugh easily and smiles are everywhere. "I think everybody is really enjoying themselves," said Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings. "You can see personalities a little bit more. When you win, there's that more positive environment and guys can be themselves a little bit more instead of trying to crack down and be all serious, 24-7." What does this streak mean? It is too early to tell, but for the moment, the Phillies at least see the possibilities, a light at the end of the tunnel. "Things turn around pretty quick here," Papelbon said. "You kind of get the monkey off your back, you know? We had that monkey on our back. That's not necessarily on our back anymore. I think, hopefully, we can just go out and continue to play the way we've been playing. We're not doing anything special right now. I think we're playing mistake-free ball. It makes a big, big difference."

Proving His Value – Contenders take note. There is no sense waiting any longer. If a top-of-the-rotation left-hander is on the wish list, Cole Hamels is alive and well, pitching for the Phillies. And the asking price isn't going down. If anything, it may nudge up a bit every time Hamels takes the mound the way he is pitching. Don't let the blips on the radar overshadow what he's doing. Hamels still has what it takes, even in the hitting friendly confines of Coors Field, where he allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings of the Phillies' 4-3 victory against the Rockies on Monday night. Impressed? That's six times in Hamels' past eight starts that he's allowed two runs or less, and now just four runs total in 21 1/3 innings over his last three starts. That's 11-0 for him in the past 17 starts he has made in which the Phils have scored at least three runs with him on the mound. That's what a contender is looking for, a pitcher with a big-game history who has the maturity to focus on the moment at hand, and not be distracted by the rumors and innuendos surrounding every move he makes. "He's just focused on the task at hand, the challenge on the field of getting hitters out and winning," said Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure. "He's so competitive. He just wants the ball every fifth day and wants to win." Never even a hiccup with the constant focus of opposing scouts and the media? "He has that attitude, he's not allowing anything like that to happen," said McClure. OK, Hamels is 31, and the last couple of years haven't been as kind to him as the first seven seasons he spent in the big leagues. But remember, the Phils haven't enjoyed the last couple of years as much as they did those first seven years that he was around. And what can't be ignored is that while Hamels is a combined 21-26 since the start of the 2013 season, he does have a 3.06 ERA in that spell despite pitching his home games at Citizens Bank Park, which may not be Coors Field in terms of the way the ball carries, but has those cozy dimensions that tend to enhance offensive efforts. Face it, Hamels has worked 190-plus innings each of the past seven seasons, surpassing the 200-inning mark six times in that stretch, and he's already worked 58 1/3 innings this year, easily on pace to extend that streak to eight years. And Hamels got better the deeper he got into the game on Monday. Aided by a double play following Carlos Gonzalez's leadoff single in the six, he faced the minimum 12 batters to get his final 12 outs, striking out five of them. In the midst of that stretch, the Phillies turned a two-out, nobody on situation in the sixth into a three-run rally and a 4-1 lead. "Cole with a lead, that's when he really turns it up a notch," said Phils manager Ryne Sandberg. Hamels also is under control in terms of his contract through at least 2018 at $23.5 million a year, and a $20 million option for 2019 that does carry a $6 million buyout. That's why teams like the Padres, Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers and Yankees are so often mentioned in connection with Hamels. The scouts in the stands taking notes of every moment, and the media in the clubhouse with cameras, notebooks and microphones ready to register any utterance have been known to make an impact on the mental stability of many a player over the years. Hamels, however, has remained immune to the hype. "That's a situation you understand," he said. "You have to be accessible to the fans and [media] around the club. You have to give them the best perspective you can to our lives on the field." Emphasis on the field. This isn't about Hamels' private time. It's about his time at the ballpark. Hamels is one of the game's most accommodating stars, politely (and then some) dealing with the ongoing questions about what's next in his career, even though it's the Phillies and any team that may trade for him that has control over that, not Hamels. It is, Hamels said, a product of having been with those Phils teams that won five consecutive National League East titles in Hamels' first five full big leagues seasons (2007-11), including a World Series championship in 2008 when he was the MVP of the NL Championship Series (2-0, 1.93 ERA against the Dodgers) and the World Series (1-0, 2.77 ERA in two starts against the Rays). There was a veteran nucleus that didn't let the rookie go astray. "It takes patience," Hamels said of dealing with the outside curiosity, "but it was what we are expected to do. You learn to bear down and develop that tunnel vision where what counts is that next pitch, and nothing else. "I was helped by being around veteran guys like Roy [Halladay], Pedro [Martinez], Cliff [Lee] and Jamie [Moyer]. They were guys who helped me gain a better perspective of what it means to be a big leaguer." It's a lesson Hamels learned well.

Finally Getting Some Support – Give Cole Hamels just a little bit of run support and he will handle the rest. Hamels dominated in 7 1/3 innings in Monday night's 4-3 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field, allowing six hits, one run, one walk and striking out seven to improve to 4-3 with a 3.24 ERA. Hamels is 11-0 with a 2.24 ERA in 17 starts over the past two seasons when the Phillies score three or more runs for him when he is in the game. "I had the utmost confidence -- just the way we've been playing -- that we were going to put up some runs," Hamels said. "I wasn't trying to be too fine, just really trying to challenge them." Hamels is in a groove after a slow start. He went 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA in his first three starts, allowing seven home runs in 18 innings. He is 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his last six, allowing just one home run in 40 1/3 innings. Hamels allowed his only run in the second inning when DJ LeMahieu singled to right field to scored Wilin Rosario with two outs. He worked out of his only other jam in the fourth, when he struck out LeMahieu and Jordan Lyles with runners on second and third. "That's when he really started to get after it and make quality pitches," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. Sandberg pulled Hamels with one out and nobody on base in the eighth inning. He had thrown 105 pitches, which was his limit. "Once again, it was key for him to get the support from the offense," Sandberg said.

Change Of Scenery – Kyle Kendrick had spent his entire professional baseball career with the Phillies, and he had hoped that relationship might continue beyond 2014. But a week after last season ended, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told Kendrick, 30, the organization wanted to go in a different direction. Amaro told him the Phillies wanted to get younger. "And then he signs Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams," said an amused Kendrick on Monday afternoon at Coors Field, where the Phillies opened a four-game series with the Rockies. "So I was like, [huh]. Honestly, I think it's just part of the game and they wanted some different faces. That's the way it goes." The Phillies selected Kendrick in the seventh round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, and he went 74-68 with a 4.42 ERA in 226 appearances (185 starts) for the Phillies from 2007-14. But with the Phillies out of the picture, he signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Rockies. Kendrick is 1-5 with a 6.70 ERA in eight starts with Colorado. His ERA is the highest in baseball, although he has a 1.93 ERA over his last two starts. The Rockies consider him a tremendous influence on the team's younger pitchers. "Just trying to give them some input, do anything I can do to help," Kendrick said. "Because I've been there. I'm trying to pass on some stuff I learned from guys in Philly, from Roy [Halladay] and Cliff [Lee] and [Roy] Oswalt. I'm just trying to be the best teammate I can be." Kendrick pitched Sunday, which means he will not face the Phillies in this series. He also is not in line to face the Phillies when the Rockies visit Philadelphia later this month. "I wanted to pitch against these guys here and in Philly," Kendrick said. "I definitely wanted to pitch against these guys because it's the old squad. "My time in Philly was good. I got used to Philly. I grew up there. So it was a little tough for me. It was a little tough for me for a change. I understand the business side of it. That's the way it goes. Would I have liked to come back? Yeah, why not? It's the only place I know. But I was also excited to go somewhere else. These guys were interested -- very interested. You always want to be somewhere you're wanted. That was the main thing. Philly didn't want me, and these guys wanted me. That's the way it worked out."

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 17-23. 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 42-50-0 on this day.

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