Saturday, May 16, 2015
Phillies Open Series With Winning Streak
GAME RECAP: Phils Edge D-Backs 4-3
It took more than five weeks, but the Phillies finally have their first three-game winning streak of 2015. They scored three runs in the seventh inning to take the lead Friday night in a 4-3 victory over the D-backs at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies were the last team in the National League to have a three-game winning streak, with their last coming on a four-game streak in late August. "I didn't realize that," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said about the nearly nine months between streaks. "It's good. It's something we can build on. Go for four tomorrow." The D-backs took a two-run lead in the seventh only to have the bullpen blow it in the bottom half of the inning. The Phillies' Freddy Galvis singled to score two runs to tie the game. He advanced to third on an error and scored the winning run on a single from Jeff Francoeur. "I made a mistake," D-backs reliever Oliver Perez said about his 1-2 slider to Galvis. "I was supposed to keep throwing fastballs because I know he's a contact guy and he was waiting for something soft, and I left it right there. Hits are part of the game, but when I don't [back up] home plate, he gets to third base. ... That's how they won with that run."
OTHER NOTES FROM THE DAY:
· The D-backs put the first two runners of the seventh on, but it looked like they would come up empty when Justin De Fratus retired the next two batters. However, A.J. Pollock delivered an RBI single to right and Paul Goldschmidt added a two-run double to center to give Arizona a 3-1 lead.
· A wild pitch from Perez in the seventh inning put runners on second and third with one out. After a Ben Revere strikeout, Galvis followed with a single to left-center field to score both Carlos Ruiz and Cesar Hernandez. Galvis advanced to second on the throw home and to third on an error, which set up Francoeur. He singled down the left-field line to score Galvis to give the Phillies the one-run lead.
· Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable to pitch after throwing three consecutive days, so right-hander Luis Garcia had to pick up the team's first save of two or more innings since Sept. 29, 2009, when Ryan Madson pitched two innings in a save against the Astros.
· The Phillies' bullpen had been billed as the team's strength entering the season, but it has allowed 51.4 percent (18 of 35) of its inherited runners to score, which is the highest mark in baseball. De Fratus allowed both of his inherited runners to score in the seventh inning when the D-backs took a 3-1 lead.
· The Phillies challenged a play in the sixth inning when Galvis was hit by a pitch from D-backs right-hander Chase Anderson. Plate umpire Todd Tichenor ruled the ball did not hit Galvis, but replay officials saw it struck Galvis' right leg. They overturned the call, and Galvis took first base. It ended up being a pivotal call because Galvis scored the game's first run on Ryan Howard's RBI double.
· "I've been out for two years. I'm not where I want to be. I've got plenty of room to improve and get better." -- Phillies right-hander Chad Billingsley, who allowed two runs in six-plus innings in just his third start since returning from a pair of right elbow surgeries.
Right-hander Jerome Williams hopes to get back on track Saturday night. He is 0-2 with a 7.53 ERA in three starts this month, after going 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA in four starts in April.
Welcome Back To The Majors – Maikel Franco was a little surprised to be in Citizens Bank Park on Friday. The previous night, Franco was still with the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate. He said he expected to be told he would be joining the Major League club after Thursday's game, but he had no such conversation. So he went to sleep a Lehigh Valley IronPig. Little did he know he would wake up a Philadelphia Phillie. "I was in Rochester," Franco said before his season debut Friday night, a 4-3 Phillies victory. "[IronPigs manager Dave Brundage] knocked on the door and I said, 'Who's this?' It was 7 a.m. It was a little early. I normally get up at 11, 11:30." The knock on the door from his former manager meant the end of Franco's time in Triple-A, as Brundage came bearing the news of Franco's callup. The callup seemed to be in the making for a few days, as Cody Asche was sent to Lehigh Valley on Monday night, vacating the regular third-base spot in the Phillies' lineup. Franco, who was hitting .355 with 12 doubles and 24 RBIs in 33 games at Triple-A this season, was his apparent replacement. Franco -- the No. 3-ranked prospect in Philadelphia's farm system and the No. 53-ranked prospect overall -- said he owes the way he's been hitting to his vision. "I was just seeing the ball, trying to take things day for day and game for game," said Franco, who was batting fifth in Friday's game against the D-backs. "I'm in a good spot right now." As well as Franco has been hitting, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg was quicker to focus on his newest player's defense rather than his offense. "From what I've seen in Spring Training and even in September, he just has a knack for playing defense," Sandberg said. "He's very instinctive, like [shortstop Freddy Galvis]. If you look at the combination of Franco and Freddy Galvis playing that side of the infield, you feel very good about that, with just the range and with ability, it's very positive." Franco said the familiarity he built playing alongside Galvis in the short time they spent together in September, the last time Franco was with the Phillies, makes the transition to a new team considerably more comfortable. That September callup did more than help Franco build a rapport with his fellow infielders. Because of that callup, Franco said he knows how to adjust his focus, now that he appears to be in the Majors for the long term. "It's a little bit different because last year I was only here for a month," Franco said. "I'd never been here in the big leagues. Now I can just be more patient because I know I need to slow down and everything." Franco finished his first game 0-for-4 with a strikeout, two groundouts and a flyout to center field. He also cleanly fielded grounders in the third and fifth innings for outs in what was a relatively uneventful season debut. Sandberg said he was proud of how the youngster played defensively and expects him to swing better in the coming days. "To get the first game out of his way for this year, I think there's something to be said about that," Sandberg said. "He played some good third base. I think he'll settle down a little bit after getting his first one out of the way." The Phillies made room for Franco on the 25-man roster by outrighting right-hander Dustin McGowan to Triple-A. He went 1-1 with a 5.79 ERA in 10 appearances, allowing 14 hits and 16 walks in 14 innings.
First Save – Luis Garcia considered the contributions from several Phillies in Friday night's 4-3 victory over Arizona at Citizens Bank Park. Freddy Galvis singled to score two runs to tie the game in the seventh inning. Cesar Hernandez singled and scored. Elvis Araujo earned the first win of his career for picking up a big out in the seventh. Odubel Herrera made a nice catch in center field in the eighth. Oh, and Garcia picked up a six-out save, the first save of his career and the first time a Phillies pitcher had pitched two or more innings to earn a save since Sept. 29, 2009, when Ryan Madson pitched two innings against Houston. "Yeah, Latino Night," Garcia said with a smile. The Phillies needed Garcia because closer Jonathan Papelbon and setup man Ken Giles were unavailable after pitching three consecutive days. Garcia had just pitched a scoreless eighth inning when Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure approached him in the dugout with two outs in the bottom half of the inning. "You got it, Luis," McClure said. "OK," Garcia replied. Garcia allowed a hit in the ninth, but struck out A.J. Pollock to end the game. Garcia is 1-1 with a 3.50 ERA in 18 appearances this season. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said he thought they might use some combination of Garcia and left-hander Jake Diekman if a save situation presented itself, but Sandberg stuck with Garcia because he liked the matchups with a few right-handed hitters. "It feels great," Garcia said about picking up his first big league save. "When you hear the fans with two outs, that pumps you up."
Moving Down – Chase Utley could not hit third forever, not at his current pace. So, manager Ryne Sandberg dropped his struggling second baseman to sixth in the Phillies' lineup for Friday night's 4-3 victory over Arizona at Citizens Bank Park. Utley went 1-for-3 with a double. Sandberg said he will consider Utley's lineup spot on a day-to-day basis. Translation: If he hits, he could return to the top third of the lineup. If he does not, he might remain there. It is the first time Utley has hit lower than fifth since June 30, 2005, and the first time he has hit lower than fourth since April 21, 2006. "Just a little change of scenery for him," Sandberg said. "Maybe change his mindset a little bit, change his luck. Change the whole surroundings of who's hitting in front of him and behind him. Just a change for Chase." Utley entered the series hitting .118 (13-for-110) with one double, three home runs, 15 RBIs and a .403 OPS. It is the lowest batting average and OPS out of 181 qualified hitters in baseball. Utley was not in the mood to share his thoughts before the game, but Sandberg said he had a good talk with his second baseman before posting the lineup. "He understands," Sandberg said. "It doesn't have to be a complete negative subject or topic to talk about. If he can get going there and get some hits, it's an RBI situation at times in the six spot, so if he can come up and connect on some balls and come up with some hits and help us win some games, that could go a long way with him right now." Utley's current spot in the lineup will give him fewer plate appearances over the course of a 162-game season, if he remains there. That is noteworthy because he needs 500 plate appearances to automatically vest a $15 million club option for 2016. Utley had 124 plate appearances entering Friday, meaning he is on pace for 558. It seems unlikely the Phillies would significantly reduce Utley's playing time in the near future, because they want to see if he can turn around his fortunes. If he can, great. Perhaps the Phillies can coax him into a trade in July. If he doesn't, then they could work Cesar Hernandez into a regular role later in the season.
Driving In A Few Runs – With the way his team has been hitting this year, manager Ryne Sandberg just wants to see the positives. That's why after his Phillies finished Friday night's 4-3 win over the D-backs 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position, Sandberg wanted to focus on the three successful plate appearances, not the 10 missed opportunities. When your team is batting .232, slugging .335 and averaging 2.89 runs per game, four runs and a win is something worth celebrating. In the second, third and fifth innings Friday, the Phillies had men on second and were unable to get them to third. In the sixth inning, the Phillies scored a run and had runners on second and third with no outs and followed that rally with a strikeout, a shallow flyout and a ground ball back to the pitcher. But in the seventh inning, the Phillies broke through, as both Freddy Galvis and Jeff Francoeur singled with men in scoring position, driving in three runs. To Sandberg, those at-bats were the ones that mattered. "We'll take what we've got up to this point," Sandberg said. "[Converting with runners on base is] something we'll get better at." The Phillies have rattled off three straight wins for the first time this season, and this streak has seen some much needed offensive consistency. It's the first stretch since April 26-28 that the Phillies have scored three or more runs in three straight games and just the third such stretch all season. In two of the wins on this streak, the Phillies have come back with big offensive innings after allowing runs to the other team. To Galvis, the display of resiliency is exactly what the Phillies need to continue these winning ways. "I think that's what we have to do," Galvis said. "We kept fighting today." Sandberg agreed that this responsive hitting is a good omen for the team moving forward. "It's good to see those at-bats," Sandberg said. "Some have come in the middle of the game and late in the game with clutch hitting. That's good for us."
What To Expect – The Phillies need some offensive help. They are last in the Major Leagues with a .621 OPS. The 19 home runs the team has hit is only four more than Mariners right fielder Nelson Cruz. Philadelphia's roster also needs an infusion of youth, with an average age just north of 29 years old. Enter Maikel Franco, who received a highly anticipated callup on Friday. The 22-year-old should be starting at third base on Friday -- and for the foreseeable future. Expecting the right-handed-hitting corner infielder to singlehandedly turn the offense around is both unfair and unrealistic, but it is clear that Franco is ready for a long-term shot. The No. 54 prospect on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect list was hitting a robust .355/.384/.539 at Triple-A Lehigh Valley at the time of his callup, picking up from the second half of 2014 at the same level, when he hit .309/.326/.551. Thinking Franco might hit better than .300 at the big league level isn't reasonable, but he's also not the guy who hit .179 in 56 big league at-bats last year. As is evident from his career numbers in the Minors, namely his .329 on-base percentage, Franco isn't exactly an on-base machine. At the same time, for a guy who gets a 65 grade for his power on the 20-80 scouting scale, he doesn't strike out a ton. Even in Franco's best year -- the 2013 season in which he hit 31 homers and drove in 103 runs -- he only struck out 70 times. His ability to make consistent contact should help him for the rest of this season. Seeing Franco hit around .250-.260 the rest of the way seems feasible, with good power and run production. Even though Franco has well-below-average speed, he actually is pretty solid at the hot corner defensively. He has a very strong arm and a good first step, with decent hands as well. At some point, Franco could slide over to first to replace Ryan Howard, but he has the skills to profile as a very good all-around third baseman for at least the immediate future.
Phillies Welcome Big Guest At BP – The Mountain might be the most feared man in Westeros, but he learned Friday at Citizens Bank Park that crushing skulls is easier than crushing baseballs. Hafpor Julius Bjornsson is an actor on the wildly popular TV show "Game of Thrones," where he plays Gregor Clegane (also known as The Mountain). The 6-foot-9, 425-pound Icelander had an unforgettable fight scene in Season 4, where he crushed the head of the character Oberyn Martell in a trial by combat. "Every day," said the good-natured Bjornsson, when asked how often he is asked to pretend to squish somebody's head in a photo opportunity. "Every day. A few times, maybe." Bjornsson showed up before the Phillies' series opener against Arizona because he is in town for the Philadelphia Renaissance Faire's "Preview Weekend" on Saturday and Sunday. He is playing King Thor of Laxardal. "I love to try new things," he said about taking batting practice with the Phillies. "It was a lot of fun." Bjornsson had never played baseball before, so Friday was literally the first time he had ever tried to swing a bat to hit a baseball. It was not easy. "Everything was the first time today," he said. That included a Philadelphia delicacy, too. "First time I had cheesesteak," he said.
The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 14-23. 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 48-46-0 on this day.