Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Billingsley Blasted In Rough Return To Majors

GAME RECAP: Braves Bash Phillies 9-0

Shelby Miller proved to be dominant and efficient as he tossed a three-hit shutout and led the Braves to Tuesday night's 9-0 win over the Phillies at Turner Field. Miller needed just 99 pitches (75 strikes) to pick up the third shutout of his young career. The 24-year-old right-hander notched two of his eight strikeouts during a perfect ninth inning. He totaled 31 pitches while facing the minimum over the first four innings and allowed the Phillies to advance past first base just once -- when Ryan Howard began the fifth with a double. "He had the ball darting around pretty good," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said of Miller. "We had some awkward swings and not too many good looks at him. He had pretty good stuff." Freddie Freeman provided Miller an early lead with his two-run home run and Kelly Johnson added to Phillies starter Chad Billingsley's woes when he highlighted a four-run fourth inning with his sixth homer of the season. But this night belonged to Miller, who has posted a 1.66 ERA through his first six starts. "Other than a perfect game or a no-hitter, this was pretty good," Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "Three hits and one was a bunt. [Miller] threw the ball and commanded every pitch. He was just in complete control of the game."

  • The Phillies suffered their fourth shutout of the season, which ties Pittsburgh and Milwaukee for the most in baseball. The Phillies entered the night averaging 2.85 runs per game, making them the only team in baseball averaging fewer than 3.12 runs per game.
  • Phillies left-hander Elvis Araujo made his big league debut in the sixth inning. He allowed hits to Johnson and Jace Peterson to put runners on second and third, with help from right fielder Ben Revere, who overthrew the cutoff man. But Araujo got a groundout and a pair of strikeouts to get out of the jam and pitch a scoreless inning. "Araujo did a nice job getting out of it," Sandberg said. "He pitched well. He threw some good quality pitches with the men on base. He showed a good fastball, a good breaking pitch."
  • Miller threw more than 10 pitches in just four innings and totaled 21 pitches from the start of the second inning through the end of the fourth inning. Cesar Hernandez's third-inning bunt single, Howard's double and Grady Sizemore's two-out single in the eighth accounted for Philadelphia's only hits.
  • Chad Billingsley will hope for better results in his next start. He allowed eight hits and six runs in five innings in his first big league start since April 2013. Billingsley had Tommy John surgery in April 2013 and right flexor tendon surgery in June 2014. "Obviously he didn't have the start he wanted," Miller said. "But just getting back to the Major Leagues after what he's gone through is special. You tip your cap to guys like that who battle for their career."
  • "Not the way I envisioned it going, but a couple of mistakes and I paid for it. It's part of being back out there again. But I felt good." -- Billingsley, on his first start since 2013.
  • Chase Utley is expected to be on the bench for the second consecutive game. He is getting a mental break after hitting .103 through his first 87 at-bats this season. Utley is available to pinch-hit, but the Phillies would like to stay away from him if possible.
  • Ben Revere played right field for the Phillies on Tuesday to give Darin Ruf more playing time in left field. Revere could be seeing more time in right in the future, especially if Cody Asche moves to left field whenever Triple-A Lehigh Valley third baseman Maikel Franco is promoted.

Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz hopes to build on his first big league start Wednesday night against the Phillies at Turner Field. He allowed six hits, three runs (two earned runs), three walks and struck out two in five innings in his debut Friday against the Reds. Cincinnati stole three bases against him in a 28-pitch first inning and five bases overall. Foltynewicz added a hip turn to his delivery, which has slowed his time to the plate. It has seemingly provided opponents an invitation to run on him. Phillies right-hander Jerome Williams has allowed three or fewer runs in four of his five starts, including three in 6 2/3 innings against the Braves on April 26.


Long Road Back – Chad Billingsley persevered through two elbow surgeries in 14 months to return to the big leagues Tuesday. The challenge of persevering through one rough start must seem minor by comparison. "Definitely not the way I envisioned it going but a couple of mistakes and I paid for it," Billingsley said following Tuesday's 9-0 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. "It's part of being back out there again, but I felt good." Billingsley allowed eight hits, six runs, one walk and two home runs in five innings in his first appearance in a big league game since April 2013. He had Tommy John surgery that same month and followed that procedure with right flexor tendon surgery in June 2014, making Tuesday's comeback the result of more than two years of rehab. "It really didn't kick in until about an hour before the game getting ready," Billingsley said about any nerves. "It was very exciting." But he allowed a two-run home run to Freddie Freeman in the first inning and a three-run home run to Kelly Johnson in the fourth inning as the Braves took a 6-0 lead. The fourth inning started with a couple hits, but unraveled when Phillies third baseman Cody Asche let a potential double-play ball roll past him. "Turn one more double play and that's two runs off," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "It's a closer game and it's a whole different feel to the game, I think. But it's also an outing that [Billingsley] can build on. I think he got some things behind him as far as how he felt. His velocity was pretty good and he showed some good curveballs and changeups." Billingsley will have the opportunity to make amends Sunday afternoon against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park. Of course, he will get his opportunities to pitch regardless. The Phillies are terribly thin in starting pitching and they need him. Cliff Lee is lost for the season with an elbow injury. David Buchanan has been optioned to Triple-A. Sean O'Sullivan, who opened the season as the team's No. 5 starter, is on the DL, although he is making a rehab start Thursday. Severino Gonzalez made a couple starts on the road trip, but he was just optioned back to Triple-A. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez had been signed in August 2013 to be a starter, but he is injured again and might never come close to living up to his $12 million contract. "I got a lot of ground balls today," said Billingsley, who got seven groundouts and two fly outs. "That's the positive thing I took away from today. Made some pitches, got some ground balls, double play there. Overall, not the results, but very encouraging. "Arm feels good and just going to keep getting better every time out there, feeling more comfortable and I'm looking forward to it." The Phillies signed Billingsley to a one-year, $1.5 million contract in January. They figured it was a low-risk move. If Billingsley comes close to the way he pitched for the Dodgers from 2008-12, when he posted a 3.70 ERA, they could have a nice rotation piece that contending teams might want before the July 31 Trade Deadline. If not, then it didn't cost them much. "It was two pitches I would like to have back. You can always say that after every start," Billingsley said. "Sometimes it goes the other way where they pop it up or something or swing through it. It's nice to be able to say that. I haven't been able to say that for the past couple of years."

Hoping For A Reboot – Maybe a rested body and a cleared mind will help Chase Utley at the plate. It cannot hurt to try. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg benched Utley for Tuesday night's game against the Braves at Turner Field. Utley is expected to sit in Wednesday night's series finale, too. The Phillies do not play Thursday, which means Utley could have three consecutive days away from the game. Utley is hitting .103, which is the lowest batting average among 183 qualified hitters in Major League Baseball. His .389 OPS is 182nd. "I've experienced that," Sandberg said about prolonged slumps. "Sometimes you take a little mental break, get away from the mental grind of things. As much mental work and effort and everything Chase puts into a daily routine of his and not having any luck along with it, that's the way that I'm leaning right now." But are Utley's struggles just a matter of bad luck? Utley has a .082 batting average on balls in play, which indicates some degree of poor luck. The average big league player has a .293 BABIP this season. Utley had a .295 BABIP last season and has a .301 BABIP in his career, so more than a 200-point differential in BABIP hints that something is afoot. But Utley, 36, also has hit .215 with a .610 OPS in 555 plate appearances since May 29, 2014, which indicates his struggles are more than just luck related. Utley's ground ball-to-fly ball ratio this season is 1.57, which is much higher than his career 0.97 average. In other words, Utley is hitting fewer line drives and fly balls than in the past. "It's hard to gauge that when you see him hitting the ball and hitting the ball to the gaps like he has that have gotten caught," Sandberg said. "Sometimes it's said about his lower half and using his legs and all that. But he's very healthy, the way that he runs the bases and slides all over the field and on defense. "So whether that's just a little mechanical thing in the box as far as really getting his legs underneath him and using the strength in his legs in his swing, I don't know. But he has hit the ball very hard right on the nose." Sandberg said Utley's knees and right ankle, which forced him to miss the first few weeks of Spring Training, are healthy. "He has no complains there," Sandberg said. Sandberg spoke with Utley on Tuesday at Turner Field about sitting him the final two games of the series. He said Utley was open-minded about it. Utley declined comment. "You really feel for the guy just because of everything that he does put into it," Sandberg said. "Just to see the results with the bat on the ball, but sometimes not get credited for hits. That's where it starts to get a little bit on the mental side of things. But he shows no signs of that. "Just take a little break. Start fresh and hopefully that'll change on the luck side of things."

Minor Report – Players of the Week: Player -- 1B Rhys Hoskins, Lakewood: Hoskins, a 22-year-old first baseman, was the epitome of offensive production this past week. In six games, he hit a lofty .480 with two doubles, a triple, a home run, seven RBIs and four runs scored. Hoskins reached base at a .536 clip and slugged .760 for a 1.296 OPS. After going 1-for-3 with a walk on April 28, Hoskins proceeded to record multi-hit games in his last five, and multi-RBI games in three of his last four, raising his average 55 points during the week and giving him 15 RBIs on the season. He is in the top five in the league in average (.345), hits (30), OBP (.436), slugging (.586), extra-base hits (12) and total bases (51). Hoskins was drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft and was signed by Joey Davis. Pitcher -- RHP Ben Lively, Reading: The 23-year-old Lively continued to stand out in Reading's rotation after two more superb starts last week. On April 27, Lively scattered six hits over seven shutout innings, striking out seven en route to his first win of the season. He followed up that performance with a six-inning, nine-strikeout start against Portland on May 3, giving him a 2.08 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 13 innings over those two starts. Lively now has quality starts in each of his first four starts this season, and has added two strikeouts to his game total each outing since he struck out three in his season debut. He holds a 2.16 ERA for the season and opponents are hitting just .231 against him. His two solid outings netted him Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors, making him the second Reading starter this season to win the award. Lively was acquired by the Phillies this past offseason in the trade that sent Marlon Byrd to the Cincinnati Reds. Lehigh Valley IronPigs -- International League North Division … 6-19, 6th place … It has not been the easiest week for Lehigh Valley, which lost all but one game between April 27 and May 3. Yet, despite the record, they have still been receiving quality contributions in a number of areas. Maikel Franco continues to rank among the league leaders in several offensive categories, and is one of five IronPigs' players hitting over .300. On the hill, Chad Billingsley turned in one of his best performances of the year to help the IronPigs to their one win this week -- a 4-2 victory over Durham. Top hitting performers -- OF Brian Bogusevic hit safely in all seven games he played in, posting a slash line of .346/.433/1.049 over that stretch with a pair of doubles, a triple, a home run, three RBIs and four walks … 1B Chris McGuinnes started his week with a 3-for-3 night against Durham, and has been hot ever since. McGuinnes hit .412 with three runs scored, two RBIs and two walks in five games, raising his average nearly 60 points … 3B Maikel Franco is tied for the league lead in doubles (10) and extra-base hits (12), and is second in hits (31). Top pitching performers -- RHP Chad Billingsley snapped a three-game losing streak for the IronPigs on April 30 with a solid 5 2/3-inning performance against the Durham Bulls, in which he allowed just two unearned runs on five hits, walked one and struck out a season-high six batters. It was his first professional win since April 10, 2013 against the San Diego Padres … LHP Cesar Jimenez appeared in three games -- all out of the bullpen -- and struck out five over 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Reading Fightin Phils -- Eastern League Eastern Division … 13-9, third place … Reading applied some pressure in the East Division standings, taking four of six games to keep them within 2 1/2 games of the torrid New Britain Rock Cats. The Fightins' key has been their starting pitching, which combined for 25 innings pitched, a 2.52 ERA, three walks and 24 hits (1.08 WHIP) and 24 strikeouts in games that Reading won this week. Overall, Reading's starters combined for a 2.57 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, keeping them in every game. Top hitting performers -- INF Gustavo Pierre hit .500 on the week with 10 total bases, a .533 OBP and a hearty 1.248 OPS … OF Roman Quinn recorded a pair of steals and a pair of runs, keeping him first or tied for first in the league in both categories (10 steals, 19 runs). Top pitching performers -- RHP Ben Lively made the most of his two starts, picking up the win in each while combining to toss 13 innings with just three earned runs allowed (2.08 ERA), 13 hits, two walks and 16 strikeouts. Lively's performances earned him Phillies Minor League Pitcher of the Week honors and Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors, making him the second Fightins' starter to win the league-wide award already this season … RHP Aaron Nola tossed seven innings in his only start last week, allowing just five hits and two runs (one earned) to help Reading to a 3-2 win over Richmond on April 28. Nola has now pitched a career-high seven innings in consecutive starts, and in those two starts has a 0.79 WHIP (11 hits, no walks) to go along with 11 strikeouts … RHP Nefi Ogando threw five scoreless innings over three games, recording six strikeouts while holding opponents to a .188 average. He was 1-for-1 in saves, converting his lone opportunity on April 29 against Richmond … LHP Elvis Araujo struck out four during a two-inning relief appearance on April 29 in what was his last outing before being called up to Philadelphia over the weekend. Clearwater Threshers -- Florida State League North Division … 12-12, 3rd place … The Threshers split their week with three wins and three losses, but it was the scores that stood out for the powerful Clearwater team. The Threshers scored eight runs in their first three games of the week, and added another one in an 8-2 victory over Dunedin on May 2. They are now second in the league in batting with a .260 average and are just one game out of the No. 2 spot in the division. Top hitting performers -- OF Dylan Cozens recorded three multi-hit games, including a four-hit effort on May 2, which tied a career high. Cozens hit .370 in six games, driving in a team-high seven runs with the help of two three-RBI games and a home run … C Willians Astudillo had yet another productive week, batting .346 with a .370 OBP, two doubles and five RBIs in six games. He had multiple hits in three straight games from April 30 to May 2 and has now hit safely in 19 of his last 21 contests … C Andrew Knapp produced quite a few runs last week, scoring nine and driving in another four in six games played. In fact, Knapp either scored or drove in 40 percent of all of the team's runs during the week. His productive week was made possible by a .370 average, .625 slugging percentage and a 1.108 OPS, which helped him to Florida State League Player of the Week honors … OF Andrew Pullin was 8-for-25 (.320) with three doubles, a home run and five RBIs. Top pitching performers -- LHP Brandon Leibrandt struck out a season-high nine batters in his start on May 2, holding Dunedin to just an earned run on two hits over six innings. Leibrandt now has back-to back six-inning, two-hit starts … RHP Colin Kleven's start last week was very similar to Leibrandt's. The righty tossed six strong innings, allowing just one run on three hits while also setting a season high in strikeouts with six … RHP Yacksel Rios dominated in his first outing since returning from the disabled list, yielding just a hit and a walk to Dunedin on May 3 over 3 1/3 scoreless innings. His five strikeouts in that game were the most he has had since July 25 of last year. Lakewood BlueClaws -- South Atlantic League North Division … 13-11, fourth place … All cylinders were clicking for the BlueClaws this past week, as the team rebounded from a couple of losses to Hagerstown to win five out of six contests and move within 3 1/2 games of first place. Lakewood was sturdy in all facets of the game, averaging four runs per game while holding opponents to an average of just 2.5. Top hitting performers -- 1B Rhys Hoskins had quite a week, batting .480 with a 1.296 OPS, a home run and a team-high seven RBIs in six games. He has multiple hits in five straight and multiple RBIs in three of four as he sits second in the league in OPS and total bases. Hoskins was the recipient of the Phillies Minor League Player of the Week award for his achievements … CF Carlos Tocci has been hot all season, but took his performance to another level last week. Tocci hit in all six games, recording multi-hit games in five of them (three three-hit games and two two-hit games). He recorded 14 hits in 25 at-bats -- good for a .560 batting average -- scored eight runs and reached base better than 60 percent of the time. Tocci is now the league leader in batting with an astounding .400 average, and also leads the league in hits (36) and OBP (.476). He also stole four bases, and is now 9-for-9 in stolen-base attempts … C Deivi Grullon went 7-for-20 (.350) with two doubles, two walks and four RBIs. Top pitching performers -- RHP Chris Oliver went seven shutout innings on May 2 against Savannah, scattering seven hits and walking none while recording a season-high six strikeouts … RHP Ricardo Pinto held Augusta to just one run on three hits over seven innings of work on April 28, lowering his ERA for the year to 2.42 … LHP Josh Taylor picked up his first win of the season with a dominant nine-strikeout, one-run performance over seven innings against Augusta … RHP Ranfi Casimiro logged five scoreless and allowed just two hits on May 1, giving him a 0.75 ERA over his last two starts … RHP Matt Hockenberry nailed down three saves in three chances last week, making him six-for-six in saves with a 0.75 ERA and just 10 baserunners in 12 innings this season.

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now near the bottom of the NL east at 10-18. 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 39-47-0 on this day.

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