Sunday, May 10, 2015

Phillies Fail To Deliver Gift On Harang’s Birthday

GAME RECAP: Mets Edge Phillies 3-2

Mets center fielder Juan Lagares picked the perfect time to snap a slump in Saturday night's 3-2 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. He crushed a two-run home run in the seventh inning against Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang to give the Mets a one-run lead. It snapped an 0-for-16 skid for Lagares, who connected on his first home run of the season. "It was a little struggle the last couple games," Lagares said. "I went out there looking for a good pitch to hit, and I hit it out." The Mets' bullpen dodged a major bullet in the eighth inning when Carlos Torres and Alex Torres loaded the bases with one out. But right-hander Buddy Carlyle got Carlos Ruiz to ground into an inning-ending double play to end the threat. "We kept fighting," Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis said. "We couldn't win today. We'll go after it tomorrow."

  • Harang had been pitching efficiently and effectively through six innings when he allowed a leadoff single to Mets pitcher Jon Niese in the seventh. Two batters later, Lagares homered. Harang allowed eight hits, three runs (two earned), one walk, one home run and struck out two in seven innings.
  • Galvis started the eighth inning with a double against Carlos Torres. He advanced to third on a fielder's choice, then Alex Torres walked Grady Sizemore and Cesar Hernandez to load the bases. The Phillies needed a ball hit out of the infield to score the tying run. Instead, Carlyle entered and induced the rally-killing double play.
  • The Mets had runners at the corners with two outs in the fifth when Lucas Duda hit a routine ground ball to second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who was positioned in shallow right field. Hernandez got caught between hops and did not come up with the ball. The error allowed the Mets to take a 1-0 lead, which loomed large in a one-run outcome. Hernandez said the ball caught the lip of the outfield grass. "Unfortunate play on a routine ground ball bouncing like that," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "That's an out right there."
  • Chase Utley notched a pinch-hit single to right-center field in the ninth inning. It snapped an 0-for-19 slump and pushed his batting average to .109. Utley's average had dropped to .099 following Friday's series opener. "It's good to see Chase have a real good at-bat there," Sandberg said. "A nice line-drive stroke. Maybe that's something that'll get him started."
Right-hander Chad Billingsley makes his home debut in Philadelphia and hopes to see improvement from his first start in more than two years. On Monday in Atlanta, he allowed five runs in five innings. Expect to see Utley, Ryan Howard and Cody Asche back in the lineup. They sat Saturday with Niese, a left-hander, making the start for the Mets.


Too Many Gifts – Some birthday wishes don't come true. In the Phillies' 3-2 loss to the Mets on Saturday night, right-hander Aaron Harang left two pitches over the plate in the seventh inning. One was a 72-mph curveball to pitcher Jon Niese. The other was a 90-mph cutter left higher in the zone than intended to center fielder Juan Lagares. After the game, Harang, who turned 37 Saturday, said he wished he could've had those two pitches back. Harang worked Niese into a 1-2 count after throwing two fastballs and a changeup, none of which Niese even took a hack at. For the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Harang opted for a curveball, a pitch he had only thrown three times in the game. In his mind, the mistake was the pitch selection, not location. "I probably should've thrown a slider or just a fastball with him," Harang said. "Instead I threw my fourth-best pitch. I went back and watched it and it was down, and he just got it and was able to catch it out in front and hit it with the end of the bat and get it out of the infield." With the pitch to Lagares, Harang also harped briefly on pitch type but said he believed that mistake was more an issue of location. "It was supposed to be a cutter down and away, and I just totally missed my spot," Harang said. "You could tell by the swing he was looking fastball, he was looking something hard and straight. I think a straight four-seamer doesn't run out to the barrel and probably gets him to pop it up and he just wouldn't have hit it as well." Coming off a sixth inning when the Phillies took a 2-1 lead, Harang said he thought Lagares was looking to swing the lead back the other way. "Any other hitter in their lineup is probably taking that pitch," Harang said. "But playing down one, he was hunting a fastball and trying to do anything he could to change that game." Those pitches aside, Harang (3-3, 2.38 ERA) continued the script of his season. In seven innings, he allowed only two earned runs, both on the home run, striking out two. The outing was Harang's sixth quality start of the season, a mark that ties him for the Major League lead. In Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg's mind, one or two bad pitches shouldn't tarnish a strong outing. "Harang was outstanding," Sandberg said. "One high fastball he would like to have back. Everything else was down at the knees and quality."

Coming Up Empty – At the very least, the Phillies should have tied the game. Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis started the bottom of the eighth inning of Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Mets with a double. He advanced to third on Darin Ruf's groundout to first base, putting the potential tying run 90 feet from home. But after Mets left-hander Alex Torres walked Grady Sizemore and Cesar Hernandez to load the bases, Mets right-hander Buddy Carlyle got Carlos Ruiz to hit into an inning-ending double play. The Phillies came up empty. "I had a chance to turn around the game," Ruiz said. "I didn't get it done." Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg had Ryan Howard and Chase Utley at his disposal in the inning. They started the game on the bench with the Mets sending out left-hander Jon Niese. Sandberg said he considered them but stuck with Ruiz. "There was some thought there," Sandberg said. "We also knew we would like to have them in the ninth with the bottom of the order [coming up]. You know, [Ruiz] was already swinging the bat pretty well early in the game. He's also a contact-type of a guy with the whole field." The inning was setting up nicely with Ruiz at the plate. He hit a hard grounder to the right of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, who made a nice backhanded grab. He threw the ball to Mets second baseman Dilson Herrera, whose throw just beat Ruiz to first base. One wonders if Herrera would have made such a perfect throw if Hernandez had slid through the bag instead of popping up. "You're looking for a double-play ball there," Carlyle said. "Luckily, with [Ruiz] running down the line, he hit it pretty hard, so Ruben did a great job fielding it and Dillson turned it with someone right on him. You think double play off the bat because of the angle, but sometimes those are hits. This time it was a double play." "He hit it pretty hard, so I tried to keep the ball down," Tejada said. "When I saw my glove, it's in there, so I threw the double play. Good play, in a good situation." In the ninth, Utley snapped an 0-for-19 slump with a pinch-hit single to raise his batting average to .109. Howard, who has a 1.017 OPS in his last 16 games, flied out to center in the next at-bat.

Moving To The Outfield – Phillies infielder Cody Asche is not in the lineup Saturday for the second game of a three-game series against the Mets, but he still is seeing some time on the field. Asche is continuing to shag fly balls in the outfield during pregame warmups. It is anticipated that the third baseman will be asked to move to the outfield when highly touted prospect Maikel Franco is recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Before Saturday's game, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said Asche has been progressing well in learning to play the outfield. "He's looked fine," Sandberg said. "He seems to have the moves and the foot speed for it. He seems to be doing all right if that would ever be the case." Given Franco's Triple-A numbers this season, this change would be unsurprising. Franco, 22, is hitting .342 with an OPS of .904 in 27 games with three home runs and 12 doubles. That being said, Sandberg indicated that no timetable exists for when Asche might be ready to play in the outfield. "That's yet to be determined," Sandberg said.

No Comparison – Mike Schmidt wanted no part of the conversation, because he sees no similarities between May 1989 and May 2015. But this is the way sports works, fairly or not. Chase Utley sat on the bench Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park with a .099 batting average -- the lowest batting average among qualified hitters through his team's first 30 games since 1914, according to Baseball Reference -- and Phillies fans have been asking if his struggles are similar to Schmidt's before he abruptly retired in 1989. "I don't think it's time to start thinking about Chase Utley being at the end or anything like that," Schmidt said just inside the Phillies' dugout. "I put money on him being Player of the Month next [month]. It'll turnaround that fast. A couple of scratch hits, a couple of balls find holes, the whole aura of the game can turnaround for you like that. You have to have that feeling. "I've seen it happen. A broken-bat hit, I don't know, you do something and it just lets the air out of the balloon, you relieve the pressure and you go, 'How the heck did I ever do what I did?' You find yourself in a 15-for-30 streak or something like that with a couple game-winning home runs. All that stuff that happened in the early part of the year is over with." Schmidt hit .203 with seven doubles, six home runs, 28 RBIs and a .668 OPS in 42 games when he retired at age 39. He hit .088 with seven RBIs and a .316 OPS in his final 70 plate appearances. Utley entered the night hitting .099 with three home runs, 14 RBIs and a .373 OPS in 103 plate appearances. Schmidt said he still sees the same player, the same bat speed from Utley. "I don't see anything [different]," Schmidt said. "I don't see any difference in Ryan Howard, either. I really don't see it. "Chase is what, 36? I would say I would have never dreamed Chase could have the results he's had because of his hitting ability. I always figured Chase was, worst case, always going to get hits. I admire the way he seems to have handled it. Every day seems to be a new day to him. He's trying to figure out a way to help the team win a ball game every time. Ryne [Sandberg] keeps putting him in the two- and three-hole. A lot of respect, which he deserves. I had my share of slumps when I was a player. Not many guys could say they've gone through 9-for-100 or whatever it is. That's pretty tough. He's a mentally tough guy." Schmidt said Saturday is the first time anybody had mentioned any possible comparison between the two Phillies legends. "No, none," Schmidt said. "I don't think there are any parallels, actually. I don't see any reason to even think in those terms. Count me out of that conversation."

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 11-20. 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 35-54-0 on this day.

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