Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Former Braves Lead Phillies In Win Over Atlanta

GAME RECAP: Phillies Beat Braves 5-2

Aaron Harang extended his mastery of the Braves and benefited from the three first-inning runs the Phillies tallied against Alex Wood during Monday night's 5-2 win at Turner Field. Harang, who rejuvenated his career with Atlanta last year, limited his former club to one run over six innings. The 36-year-old right-hander had completed 18 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings against the Braves until Andrelton Simmons tripled and scored on Freddie Freeman's single in the sixth inning. "He said he was a little bit pumped up," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said of Harang. "He was a little excited." After surrendering four hits during his 27-pitch first inning, Wood kept the Phillies scoreless over the remainder of his 4 1/3-inning stint. But the young southpaw labored throughout this 90-pitch effort and was lifted after surrendering consecutive one-out singles in the fifth inning. "It's tough to have that happen in the first inning," Wood said. "It takes a lot out of guys right out of the gate. It's hard to give up three in the first and expect guys to come back and score enough runs for us to win the ballgame."

  • Before Monday's outburst, the Phillies had scored just five runs in the first inning the entire season, tying the Brewers for the fewest in baseball. The Phillies did most of their damage with two outs, including hits from Darin Ruf, Jeff Francoeur and Carlos Ruiz and a Cesar Hernandez walk.
  • Francoeur entered the night hitless in his previous 19 at-bats, but he got going against his former team.The suburban Atlanta native, who played for the Braves from 2005-09, went 4-for-5, drove in two runs and raised his batting average from .169 to .214. This was his first four-hit game since May 20, 2012. This was Francoeur's fourth career four-hit game at Turner Field and first since he helped Mike Hampton and the Braves beat the Giants on Aug. 16, 2008.
  • As Harang has allowed just one run through the first 14 innings he has completed against Atlanta this year, he has given the Braves reason to second-guess their decision to not aggressively attempt to re-sign him this past winter. The Braves were hesitant to make a two-year offer to the rejuvenated veteran, who ended up signing a one-year, $5 million deal with Philadelphia.
  • "That was game-saving for me. You never know if that snowballs into something big. He gets to the right spot, most often, if not all the time. It was a great catch. Huge." -- Sandberg, on center fielder Odubel Herrera's catch at the wall in the sixth inning. Atlanta had a runner on first with two outs when Jonny Gomes almost hit it out.
  • The Phillies scored three runs in the first inning in Monday's series opener against the Braves. They had scored just five runs in the first inning in their first 28 games, which were tied with the Brewers for the fewest first-inning runs in baseball.
  • Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday. He sat Monday against Braves left-hander Alex Wood. Howard is 4-for-7 with three home runs, six RBIs and two walks in his career against Miller.

Phillies right-hander Chad Billingsley on Tuesday will make his first appearance in a big league game since April 2013. Chad Billingsley is excited to pitch in his first big league game in more than two years. Billingsley has had a difficult road back following a pair of right elbow surgeries that have limited him to just 12 innings since 2012. But Billingsley has been healthy since he joined the Phillies on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. The next step is seeing how he handles big league hitters again. Billingsley, 30, has finally finished rehabbing from a pair of right elbow surgeries that have limited him to just 12 innings since 2012. He threw 99 pitches in his final rehab start last week with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, so he is not expected to be limited. Right-hander Shelby Miller pitches for the Braves at Turner Field. He is 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA in five starts, allowing three hits and two runs in six innings in a 5-2 victory over the Phillies on April 25.


Fast Start – Everybody knows about the Phillies' offensive shortcomings this season. They entered Monday's 5-2 victory over the Braves at Turner Field averaging a mere 2.77 runs per game, making them the only team in baseball averaging fewer than 3.16 runs per game. So it came as no surprise that the Phillies entered the night having scored just five runs in the first inning this season, which tied the Brewers for the fewest in baseball. But the Phillies scored three runs in the first inning against Braves left-hander Alex Wood to give Aaron Harang some rare early support. "It's huge," said Harang, who allowed one run in six innings to improve to 3-2 with a 2.35 ERA. "To be able to come and jump on the opposing guy early makes me be able to go out and pitch how I want to and not try to be as fine." "Definitely went a long way," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. The rally started with two outs, too. Darin Ruf hit a single to center to put runners on first and third. Ruf got his first start at first base since April 23 and just his fourth start there this season. He finished the night 3-for-5 with one double, taking advantage of the opportunity and raising his batting average from .186 to .229. "[Ruf] swung a solid bat," Sandberg said. Jeff Francoeur followed with a double to left field to score Ben Revere to make it 1-0. Francoeur had been hitless in his last 19 at-bats. He had started 13 of his previous 17 games this season against right-handers, despite his career OPS being 101 points better against left-handed pitchers. Francoeur took advantage of the favorable matchup against Wood, going 2-for-3 against him. He went 4-for-5 with one double, one triple and two RBIs in the game. "On this team, I know I need to hit lefties," Francoeur said. "That's my No. 1 priority. When I'm in there on a night like tonight, I've got to get the job done." Cesar Hernandez then walked to load the bases. He made just his second start at third base, as Cody Asche has hit .180 (11-for-61) with a .482 OPS since April 15. Hernandez walked two more times before picking up an infield hit in the seventh. He finished 1-for-2 with three walks and one RBI. Carlos Ruiz capped the inning with a two-run single to center field.

Revenge – After helping Aaron Harang rejuvenate his career last year, the Braves were hesitant to give him a two-year deal this winter. But given what he has done to them over the past 10 days, they probably wish they would have at least tried to match the one-year, $5 million deal he signed with the Phillies. "It's one of those things," Harang said. "They had other priorities at hand. We did start talking [to the Braves] about the same time as the Phillies, but it's just one of those things. Sometimes things don't work out the way you had hoped or the team had hoped. The Phillies were more aggressive toward me." Harang gained a little more revenge as he surrendered just one run over six innings and helped the Phillies claim a 5-2 win on Monday night at Turner Field. The 36-year-old veteran also limited the Braves to two hits over eight scoreless innings on April 24 at Citizens Bank Park. "He's a quality starter," Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "He doesn't beat himself or walk guys. He keeps his defense in it and keeps going. He makes pitches. I remember last year he got off to a really good start, too. He's a veteran guy that knows how to pitch." Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is well aware of the abilities possessed by Harang, who surrendered three earned runs or fewer in 26 of the 33 starts he made for Atlanta last year. The veteran hurler has posted a 2.35 ERA through his first six starts this season. While Harang was silencing Atlanta's offense on Monday night, Jeff Francoeur, another former Braves player, was constructing a four-hit night that was sparked by his RBI single in the three-run first inning against Alex Wood. Harang and Francoeur produced this damage exactly six days after another Braves castoff, Dan Uggla, hit a three-run homer in the ninth to help the Nationals complete a comeback victory at Turner Field. Making matters worse, Uggla, who was released in July, stands as the highest-paid member of Atlanta payroll this year. "We should know Harang," Gonzalez said. "We should know Dan Uggla. We should know Jeff Francoeur. Some of these guys don't know who Jeff Francoeur is, but we should know. It seems like those guys in the past 10 days have done some damage against us."

Frenchy Rakes – Jeff Francoeur badly needed a night like the one he had Monday at Turner Field. He went 4-for-5 with one double, one triple and two RBIs in a 5-2 victory over the Braves. His two-out double in the first inning helped the Phillies score their first run. His two-out triple in the ninth provided insurance as the Phillies try to salvage a rough 10-game road trip with a series victory. Francoeur's first four-hit game since May 20, 2012, raised his batting average from .169 to .214. "Obviously to do it in Atlanta with all of my family and my little daughter here made it extra special," said Francoeur, who was born in Atlanta and played for the Braves from 2005-09. "I got a little good breakfast this morning from momma. I'll try to eat the same thing tomorrow." Francoeur had been hitless in his previous 19 at-bats before the first-inning single, which included an 0-for-13 skid last week in St. Louis. Francoeur said he had a good talk after Thursday's game in St. Louis with Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, which helped clear his mind. "In so many words, I'd like to say I was mentally [messed up] on Thursday," Francoeur said about the Cardinals series. "I was scuffling. To get some time off this weekend was a big deal for me, man. Anybody that knows me knows that I grind hard, I play hard. I put a lot of pressure on myself. To get that time to really rest and relax, I felt really comfortable coming into today." Francoeur has been a positive presence in the Phillies' clubhouse since his arrival, but the Phillies need him to keep hitting. They are expected to make at least a couple of roster moves in the coming weeks and months, including possible promotions for third baseman Maikel Franco and outfielder Domonic Brown, which would affect the Phillies' outfield. Asked if he has felt any pressure to hit after he worked so hard to get back to the big leagues after spending most of last season in Triple-A, Francoeur said, "Yeah, but the bigger pressure is to hit lefties. That's what I'm here to do. Obviously, I can hit righties, too. I can do it, but I think I'm at that part of my career where it's important to take care of that first." A platoon-type of situation for Francoeur would make sense. His career OPS against lefties is more than 100 points higher than against righties. Of course, that will play out in the coming weeks with Sandberg's lineups. Monday night, Francoeur simply enjoyed the moment. His grandmother from Massachusetts made the trip to see her grandson play in person for the first time in three years. "The ninth inning was neat," Francoeur added. "My little girl is 21 months. My mother-in-law brought her out to see me in the outfield. She started screaming 'daddy' at me. That's the kind of stuff that makes this game fun, and even more reason why you play when you've got little ones like that." Francoeur's week is going to get better, too. He and his wife learn Thursday if their second child is a boy or girl. "Big week here in Atlanta," he said.

Long Awaited Return – For the first time in over two years, Phillies right-hander Chad Billingsley will wake up Tuesday morning thinking about the way he plans to attack hitters, instead of attacking his rehab following a pair of right elbow surgeries. The thought of making his first big league start since April 15, 2013, brought a smile to Billingsley's face Monday at Turner Field. "It's going to be really fun," said Billingsley, who is set to pitch the second contest of a three-game series on Tuesday night against the Braves. "I've missed that part of the game, having my mind worry about [hitters] and not worrying about this [right elbow]. I'm just really happy and relieved. This is all in the past now. It's been two years since I've been out there every fifth day on a regular basis. It hasn't really sunk in yet." The Phillies signed Billingsley to a one-year, $1.5 million contract, betting he could successfully rehab from a pair of elbow surgeries and provide the organization much-needed starting pitching depth. Who knew they would need him this badly? The Phillies lost Cliff Lee for the season in March and just optioned right-hander David Buchanan to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Billingsley will be in the rotation for the foreseeable future, assuming he remains healthy and pitches relatively well. In fact, Billingsley will be part of a four-man rotation until May 12. Sean O'Sullivan will begin a rehab assignment Thursday with Class A Lakewood. O'Sullivan seems to be the most likely candidate to rejoin the rotation, considering his next turn to pitch would be May 12. In a perfect world for the Phillies, Billingsley will pitch like he pitched with the Dodgers from 2008-12, when his 3.70 ERA ranked 35th out of 95 qualified pitchers. His pitching WAR tied for 49th in that span. If he performs to that level, the Phillies could conceivably trade him to a contending team before the July 31 non-wavier Trade Deadline. Of course, that is the farthest thing from Billingsley's mind. He just wants to get on the mound and pitch in a big league game. He has had a long time to think about what it will be like. "You just sit back and you think about how much fun it was to be out there competing and pitching every fifth day," Billingsley said. "That's what kind of motivated me. So I had to think like that and continue -- to achieve this."

Return To Action – The Phillies are expected to get their top prospect back on the field Wednesday with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is ranked the No. 22 prospect in Major League Baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com. But he has not played this season because of a strained oblique. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Crawford is scheduled to play nine innings Monday and Tuesday in extended spring training games. If that goes well, Crawford will return to action with the Threshers. In other Minor League news, the Double-A Eastern League named Reading right-hander Ben Lively its Pitcher of the Week. Reading righty Zach Eflin got the nod earlier this season. Lively went 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 16 strikeouts in two starts last week.

Honorary Bat Girls – Mother's Day is Sunday, and for Melissa Rupert of Liberty Township, Ohio, it will be the first one to celebrate as the mother of a baby boy named Noah. "He's my entire world," Rupert said. "Every day, I hold my baby boy as tightly as he'll let me and remind myself that he is my rock and my joy, and I barely think about ... breast cancer." Her Mother's Day will be even more meaningful, because the 35-year-old Reds fan will be recognized on the field at Great American Ball Park as one of 30 winners who were named Monday afternoon by Major League Baseball in the 2015 Honorary Bat Girl contest. The annual contest recognizes baseball fans who have been affected by breast cancer and who demonstrate a commitment to eradicating the disease. Winners selected to represent each club will be recognized on the field at Major League ballparks this Sunday or on an alternative date in May for clubs that are away. Go to honorarybatgirl.com to see the winners and to read the inspiring stories of courage by all the nominees. "After being told that I have Stage 1 triple negative breast cancer, I remind myself every day that I am not a statistic. I am me," Rupert wrote in her submission entry. "My outcome will be my outcome. My story is mine, and I am not a number. So, here I am. A new mom, a business owner and an avid volunteer. I don't have time to think about the 'what-ifs.' There is no alternative. I'm in it to win it." During MLB's annual Mother's Day national day of recognition, the Honorary Bat Girl winners will take part in pregame activities, be honored during an on-field ceremony and receive pink MLB merchandise, with two tickets to the game. On Mother's Day, players and on-field personnel will wear the symbolic pink ribbon on their uniforms, along with pink wrist bands. Commemorative base jewels and dugout lineup cards also will be pink. The games will feature a pink-stitched Rawlings baseball. Many players also will use pink bats, and pink Louisville Slugger bats will be stamped with the MLB breast cancer awareness logo. Many authenticated, game-used Louisville Slugger pink bats from these games will be listed exclusively at the MLB.com Auction to help fight breast cancer. The Honorary Bat Girl program was introduced in 2009 to raise additional awareness and support for the annual "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative celebrated on Mother's Day. In six years, thousands of unique testimonials have been submitted, and more than two million fan votes have been cast. Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer is an MLB initiative supported by its charitable partners Stand Up To Cancer and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now near the bottom of the NL east at 10-17. 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 39-54-0 on this day.

No comments:

Post a Comment