Thursday, May 14, 2015

Frenchy Turns Pirates Into Cannon Fodder

GAME RECAP: Phillies Edge Pirates 3-2

Teams should know not to run on Jeff Francoeur. With pinch-runner Steve Lombardozzi on third and one out in the ninth inning on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer lifted a fly ball into foul territory down the right-field line. Francoeur caught the ball and came up throwing. Lombardozzi barrelled down the line, but the strong-armed Francoeur's throw beat the pinch-runner to the plate, ending the game and winning it for the Phillies, 3-2. "We're aware of the player. We're aware of the arm," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Francoeur. "It's an aggressive play, a play we have a chance to score a run on. He's going to the wall, has to come off the wall to make the throw … he made an excellent throw." Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels went seven innings, allowing just two runs and five hits while striking out nine. Jonathan Papelbon recorded his seventh save of the season after throwing a scoreless ninth inning. The save was his 113th with the Phillies, which set the franchise record for career saves. "As an outfielder who likes to throw, you live for that kind of moment," Francoeur said. "Especially for Paps, it was a big one if we got it." The loss ended the Pirates' four-game winning streak, knocking the team back down to .500 at 17-17. The losing pitcher for the Pirates was Francisco Liriano, who allowed three runs and struck out six in seven innings of seven-hit baseball.

·         The Phillies held a moment of silence prior to the game in honor of the at least seven passengers who were killed in the Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia Tuesday night. The accident happened during Tuesday's game about 10 miles north of Citizens Bank Park. Both the Pennsylvania state flag and the flag of the city of Philadelphia were flown at half-mast Wednesday.
·         After seeing leads evaporate half an inning after earning them multiple times in the last week, the Phillies managed to build a response of their own in the fifth inning Wednesday night. Hamels allowed two runs in the fifth inning, only to see his offense pick him up in the bottom half to the tune of three runs. Liriano had retired the previous 10 Phillies he had faced prior to the inning, but allowed two singles and a double to start the home half of the inning. Carlos Ruiz, Ben Revere and Freddy Galvis provided the RBIs. "That was big coming right back," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "We strung four hits together. The guys came up big getting the hits together and put the three spot up there. Once again I think that played big for the rest of Cole's outing."
·         The Pirates had a run taken off the board in the fifth inning after what appeared to be an infield single for Starling Marte was overturned by instant replay. The replay showed that third baseman Cesar Hernandez's throw made it into Ryan Howard's glove barely before Marte's foot landed on the bag. The replay took about 34 seconds and ended a two-run fifth for the Pirates.
·         Hamels had thrown 108 pitches through six innings, but Sandberg chose to keep stand by his starter and throw him one more inning. Hamels proved his manager's thinking correct, setting down the Pirates on seven pitches in the seventh, all either ending in the strike zone or in play.
·         Hamels is 10-0 with a 2.30 ERA in 16 starts when the Phillies have scored three or more runs for him the past two seasons.
·         "Yeah, you know if there's one way to do it, that's the way to do it. Go out in an exciting way." -- Papelbon, on Francoeur's catch and throw to end game, giving Papelbon the franchise's saves record.
·         The Phillies will be looking to end a 10-month streak of not winning a Thursday game, as the Phillies are winless in their last seven Thursday outings and haven't won since a 6-5 victory over the Houston Astros last Aug. 7. Before this streak, the Phillies had won their last eight Thursday contests.
·         Philadelphia's afternoon air will be a welcoming experience for Pedro Alvarez, the Major League's leader in day-game home runs dating back to 2012 with 38. Alvarez has hit five home runs in 2015, four of which have come in the daytime.
·         The Pirates have won 14 of their last 18 series finales, including seven of 10 this season, while the Phillies are just 2-8 this season in the last game of a series.


For the second time in three days, a former Phillies pitcher will return to Citizens Bank Park as the Pirates and Phillies round out their four-game set. Vance Worley will take the mound for the Pirates in just his second start back in Philadelphia after pitching 29 games at the ballpark in three years. Worley is 2-2 in 2015 with a 4.63 ERA in six starts for the Pirates and can attribute a lot of his struggles to his high batting average against, as he has allowed 41 hits in 35 innings. Going against Worley for the Phillies will be Aaron Harang, looking to continue his strong start to his Phillies career. Harang is just 3-3 on the season, but has been a hard-luck loser twice, having allowed one and two earned runs in two of those losses. Harang's 2.38 ERA and 1.015 WHIP are both best among Phillies starters.


Papelbon Sets Record In Dramatic Fashion – Jonathan Papelbon sure loves drama. The only thing that might have topped the way he finished Wednesday night's 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park would have been if he entered the game wearing the pink Ric Flair robe that normally hangs in his locker. "Aw, man," Papelbon said afterward. "I don't even know what just happened." Papelbon earned a Phillies record 113th save in dramatic fashion. The Pirates had the tying run on third base with one out -- Papelbon's errant throw on a pickoff attempt sent Steve Lombardozzi from first to third -- when Jordy Mercer hit a fly ball down the right-field line. Phillies right fielder Jeff Francoeur caught the ball in foul territory and threw out Lombardozzi at the plate to end the game. "Yeah, you know if there's one way to do it, that's the way to do it," said Papelbon, who bumped Jose Mesa to second place on the franchise's all-time saves list. "Go out in an exciting way." Francoeur is known for his strong arm, but the Pirates essentially forced him to make a perfect throw. He did. "The only thing that made that a little tougher is that the wind kind of kept blowing it toward the railing over there," Franceour said. "So, I was trying to make sure I was there, but when I caught it I felt pretty good about my chances. "It felt real good. A long time ago here I let one go and threw it in the stands. I'm usually good for one of those a year, and I'm glad it wasn't tonight." Papelbon stashed a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label in Francoeur's locker as a pretty fantastic thank you. "That's Blue Label," Francoeur said. "That's even better than a porterhouse." Francoeur earned it because Papelbon's accomplishment is pretty significant. He already is Boston's all-time saves leader (219), which makes him one of two pitchers in baseball history to lead two franchises in saves. Robb Nen is the other. He recorded 108 saves for the Marlins and 206 saves for the Giants. Papelbon is 12-10 with a 2.37 ERA and 113 saves in his Phillies career. He has performed as well as expected, but he also has had a rough go in Philadelphia. The Phillies have disappointed, and he has upset fans with some of his words off the field and some of his actions on it. But lately, Papelbon said he has been humbled by his pursuit of the saves record. "It means a lot to me, honestly it does," he said. "Like I've said before, I came here to try to win championships and you know, this organization, we're not in that realm of thinking, we're trying to do some other things. For me, it's an opportunity to keep on getting for work every day and trying to do the best I can in helping out these guys in the bullpen as much as I can. Just come in and have fun and despite the circumstances we're in, come here ready to work every day."

Replay Saves Lead – It took five innings Wednesday night for the Pirates to get on the scoreboard against Cole Hamels -- and only 34 seconds for their third run to be taken off the board. And that replay review decision will live forever in the National League standings, so to speak, because it presented the Phillies with their margin of victory in the 3-2 win over the Bucs. Philadelphia manager Ryne Sandberg's successful appeal of a fifth-inning play at first base resulted in a replay review reverting the Bucs' lead from 3-0 to 2-0. Seconds after Andrew McCutchen had given the Bucs a 2-0 lead with a bases-loaded single with two outs in the fifth inning, Starling Marte appeared to add to it with an infield hit. With Josh Harrison on third, Marte sent a dribbler to third baseman Cesar Hernandez, whose throw to first was ruled tardy by first-base umpire Dale Scott as Harrison scored. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle immediately braced for Sandberg's challenge. "He's going to challenge a call when a run is involved like that," Hurdle reasoned. "No, I didn't have a bad feeling. I just know they're going to get the call right," Hurdle added. "That's the nature of the game we're playing now. One way or another, they will get the call right." The review immediately was significant: The Phillies rallied in the bottom of the fifth for three runs against lefty Francisco Liriano, taking a 3-2 lead that held up.

Offense Comes Alive In Fifth – There was no doubt in Carlos Ruiz's mind. He was making it to second base. "I kind of hit it to the right side," Ruiz said. "The outfielder had to turn around to get to it and throw to second and I was like, 'I feel like I can make it.'" With Cesar Hernandez and Jeff Francoeur on first and second base, respectively, with no outs and the Phillies trailing by two in the fifth inning, Ruiz yanked a ball into left field, scoring Francoeur. From the way the ball was hit, it looked like a simple RBI single. But Ruiz put his head down and rounded first, making it to second after left fielder Starling Marte hesitated getting the ball in. The double was the last of three consecutive hits to start the fifth inning. The hits came at a particularly vital time as in the previous half-inning Phillies starter Cole Hamels had surrendered the first two runs of the game to put his team at a deficit. But the Phillies rallied behind their starter, scoring one run on those three hits and adding two more later in the inning off a Ben Revere groundout and a Freddy Galvis single. Those three runs turned out to be the difference in the Phillies' 3-2 win. "That was a big situation," Ruiz said. "I'm real happy that I made it to second and we came back and made that game." For the Phillies, Wednesday's win did more than snap a four-game losing streak. It ended a streak of four games where the Phillies scored runs in one inning to either seize or trim the lead, only to allow the other team to regain or expand its lead in the next half-inning. Not only did the Phillies not let this happen, they turned things around and did this to the Pirates, something of which Francoeur was cognizant. "Winning that game was big," Francoeur said. "The way we've been in games and been in games, to turn it around and do it to someone else was nice." Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said he thought the runs had another effect: spurring Hamels to rebound from his bad inning. In Sandberg's view, the run support helped Hamels "turn things up a notch." With that lead, Sandberg said Hamels was afforded the opportunity to be more aggressive with the strike zone. This led to Hamels attacking hitters inside more, which Sandberg said was one of the main reasons his starting pitcher was successful. But just as Sandberg thought his hitters made that win possible for Hamels, so too did the hitters believe the opposite to be true. "It was an outstanding game, to come back and get the W for Cole, who was pitching real well," Ruiz said. "He gave us the opportunity to keep the game close."

Rebounding From A Slow Start – Anybody that wondered about Cole Hamels' slow start in April can relax. Hamels is just fine. Contending teams with starting pitching problems are most certainly noticing. Hamels allowed five hits, two runs, one walk and struck out nine in seven innings Wednesday night in a 3-2 victory over the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park, which snapped the Phillies' four-game losing streak. "He was sharp all the way through," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. Hamels went 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA in his first three starts this season. He allowed an eye-popping seven home runs in 18 innings. But in his last five starts, Hamels is 3-1 with a 2.72 ERA. He has allowed just one home run in 33 innings. "It's just going out there and feeling confident with every pitch that I have," Hamels said. "I'm trying to establish strikes to both sides of the plate with whatever pitch. When you're able to do that you're able to command each inning." Hamels allowed two runs in the fifth inning to hand the Pirates a 2-0 lead, but the Phillies scored three runs for him in the bottom of the fifth to make it 3-2. Hamels had thrown 108 pitches through six innings, six fewer than his season high. But Sandberg figured he would keep his ace in the game with the way Hamels had been going. He said it did not matter that the Pirates' eighth and ninth hitters were starting the inning. Even if it were the heart of the order, Hamels was going to pitch. Hamels responded with a perfect, seven-pitch inning. "It's kind of what we train for, go deep in a ballgame," Hamels said. Hamels is 10-0 with a 2.30 ERA in 16 starts when the Phillies have scored three or more runs for him the past two seasons. It is remarkable what just a little bit of run support will do for an ace. "Once we got the three runs it looked like he turned it up a notch," Sandberg said. "Nice for him to have run support."

Working On A Comeback – If Triple-A Lehigh Valley right-hander Phillippe Aumont returns to the big leagues as an effective starter, it would be one heck of a story. Aumont's career as a Phillies relief pitcher had stalled because he could not throw strikes on a consistent basis. In fact, his Phillies career could have ended, but he cleared waivers in March and the Phillies sent him to Minor League camp. There, he slowly started to reinvented himself as a starter. The Phillies actually made him a starter when they acquired him in the December 2009 Cliff Lee trade. It lasted one season before they returned him to the bullpen. But Aumont threw seven scoreless innings Wednesday in a start against Columbus. He is 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA in four starts with the IronPigs, allowing 16 hits, three earned runs, five walks and striking out 16 in 21 innings. It is a remarkable turnaround. "Phillippe told me he's extremely happy to be back in the rotation," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said. "He looks like it. There's a tempo to what he's doing. He used to take forever between pitches. He's crisp. He has some big misses, but he gets right back in the zone. Seven strong innings today, really. He had an above-average, maybe well above-average fastball. Above-average breaking ball. Two Major League pitches. "He's just in a great frame of mind. Right-handed hitters had no chance on his breaking ball today. He locked up about five or six. He was 94-96 mph with his fastball. They just couldn't pull the trigger on the breaking ball." Could this really happen? Could Aumont, who is the only remaining piece from the Lee trade, really return and contribute in the future as a starter? "He didn't look out of place today at all," Jordan said. "We're staying with it. We're committed to it. We're going to try to find out. He looks the part."

Crowded Outfield – A baseball team can only play three players in the outfield at once. Soon, this number might be too small for Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies. When Cody Asche was sent down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley Monday night, a statement was made in the Phillies organization that he is a left fielder moving forward, no longer a third baseman. And if Asche is to move to the outfield upon his return to the Majors, there would seem to be a few odd men out between Minor League options Asche and Domonic Brown and Major Leaguers Ben Revere, Grady Sizemore, Darin Ruf and Jeff Francoeur. According to Sandberg, no decisions have been made yet as to who will occupy these positions if and when Asche and Brown are called back up. "I would say when all of the players are here, who will be here, that's when the wheels will turn," Sandberg said. "Until that point, it's all a little bit hypothetical of who will be here and who will be on the roster. So once that day comes, then I'll get the mind there on how to use guys and get them into games and lineups." The Phillies have one more outfielder on their active roster, center fielder Odubel Herrera. Herrera seems to be set in his position, as Sandberg said Monday that Herrera is his center fielder and Revere may be able to fill in when Herrera needs an off-day, but rarely more often than that. That leaves six men to fill two positions, and with Asche going down to learn left field, it would be safe to say that position will be his eventually. The corner-outfielder situation gets slightly more complicated considering that of those four options, only Francoeur and Ruf bat right-handed. With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard already plugged in as every day left-handed bats in the lineup and the switch-hitting Freddy Galvis swinging lefty against right-handed pitching, inserting two more left-handers into the lineup every day shifts away from the balance Sandberg prefers. Regardless of this fact, Sandberg still remains tight-lipped on what his decision will be once this positional saturation is actualized. "It is a lot of guys, a lot of left-handed hitters," Sandberg said. "We'll see. We'll see as moves are made down the road. We'll see who's actually on the roster and we'll go from there."

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 12-23. 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 44-48-0 on this day.

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