Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Phillies Start Another Series With A Loss

GAME RECAP: Pirates Edge Phillies 4-3

Just like Gerrit Cole, Mark Melancon just needed some time to calm down. Melancon, the Pirates' closer, allowed a home run to slumping Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera that narrowed the lead to one run, but Melancon induced three flyouts in the next four hitters to close out the win, 4-3. Similarly, Cole allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the first inning but was otherwise stellar Monday night, throwing seven innings of two-run, six-hit baseball and striking out six. The win lowered his ERA on the season to 2.32 and was secured by a three-run home run by Starling Marte in the third inning that proved to be the game's difference. "We can score runs in bunches, and that shows the importance of trying to limit the damage early," Cole said. "I had little trouble with my footing early, then I got comfortable." The loss dropped the Phillies' record to 11-22 on the season. This is the first time the Phillies have sunk 11 games below .500 in May since 2002, and in that season, it took the team until the last day of the month to reach the mark. "It's frustrating, but you just have to minimize [simple mistakes]," Phillies starting pitcher Jerome Williams said. "That's basically it. Just minimize those and play baseball."

  • Prior to the Marte home run, Williams doled out free passes to Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen. Although the home run was the only hit Williams allowed in the inning, the two walks he issued on 11 pitches ended up being the two go-ahead runs.
  • Herrera went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in his first three plate appearances, making him 2-for-23 with 14 strikeouts in his last six games. But he hit a solo home run to right field in the ninth inning to reduce Pittsburgh's lead to one. It was the first homer of his big league career.
  • "Herrera struggled right up to that at-bat," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He has a lot of body going forward. He seems to be in between the fastball and breaking pitches. Sometimes getting your first home run out of the way can make a difference."
  • The Phillies' clubhouse felt a little like a funeral home after the game, when the front office optioned Asche to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he will learn to play left field. Asche is extremely popular in the Phillies' clubhouse, but with Triple-A third baseman Maikel Franco's promotion coming as early as Friday, the Phillies wanted Asche to get ready to play the outfield on a full-time basis.
  • "There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to work at it and be a good left fielder. Obviously, we all know that his bat plays at this level. He's still learning, and that's what I like about him. He doesn't think he has it all figured out. He wants to continue to learn and get better. So obviously, we are all disappointed that he's not going to be around. And we will see him pretty soon." -- Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, on Cody Asche's demotion to Triple-A, where he will learn to play left field.
Phillies right-hander Sean O'Sullivan rejoins the rotation after spending time on the disabled list with left knee tendinitis. O'Sullivan is not completely stretched out, but the Phillies are hopeful he can provide them as many innings as possible to avoid taxing the bullpen.


Ready To Turn The Page – For the third straight game, Sandberg's Phillies left one bad pitch over the plate. Saturday, Aaron Harang covered a little bit too much of the zone versus Juan Lagares. Lagares took advantage. That home run was the difference. Sunday, Chad Billingsley grooved a ball to Curtis Granderson. Granderson took advantage. That home run was the difference. And Monday, Jerome Williams hung a curveball to Starling Marte with two men on base. Marte took advantage. The Phillies lost, 4-3. Each of the past three days, Sandberg has seen his team on the precipice of victory, only to have one poorly thrown pitch derail the chance of victory. Some people may find it comforting to know that one altered outcome could mean victory. Sandberg isn't one of those people. "It becomes more frustrating," Sandberg said. "Close games like that, little things add up. We just need to tighten it up and do the little things better." When asked about the pitch after the game, Williams said the outcome was a result of his aggression that inning. That aggression showed up on the stat page well before the home run. Williams had walked two of the three batters before Marte to put two men on base. Williams threw 11 pitches over those two walks. Seven of those pitches were hard sinkers. The batters, Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen, swung at zero of the 11. But when it came time for Williams to pitch to Marte, he threw just one sinker in six pitches. Again, Marte didn't swing at it. So on the final pitch of the at-bat, Williams pulled his curveball out of his back pocket, a pitch Sandberg described as his "third or fourth" best option. It didn't work. "I had Marte with two strikes, and I left a curveball up," Williams said. "He hit it out. It's one bad pitch." While Williams said he believed it was the curveball that was his one mistake that inning, Sandberg was quick to point out the walks, saying that those walks were the only free passes he surrendered all night and that those contributed heavily to that inning's downfall. But throwing one bad pitch in one bad inning is becoming a familiar trend in the Phillies' clubhouse. In situations like this, where the team appears to be so close but just can't quite minimize the mistakes, Williams said there is only one thing a team can do. "Turn the page," Williams said. "Come back tomorrow and play better."

Don’t Let The Door Hit You In The Asche – Cody Asche sat in the chair in front of his locker late Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, after the Pirates edged the Phillies, 4-3, still in shock that the Phillies had just optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Chase Utley stood up, put a hand on his shoulder and leaned in, offering solace to his friend. Teammates Jeff Francoeur and Darin Ruf offered a few words, too. Players are optioned, released, designated for assignment and traded with great frequency throughout a six-month season, but the fact the Phillies optioned their everyday third baseman and one of the more popular players in the clubhouse seemed to hit everybody hard. Of course, it hit nobody harder than Asche. "I'll never stop believing that I'm a big league baseball player," said an emotional Asche. "One hundred percent, whatever challenge comes my way, I'll handle it fine and be back in this uniform soon." The Phillies sent Asche to Triple-A because they believe Maikel Franco is their third baseman of the future. Franco is not expected to be promoted until Friday at the earliest because if the Phillies wait until then, they can delay Franco's free agency from 2020 to 2021. But the Phillies still like Asche, so they are trying to find a way for him to remain in the lineup. They think he could be their left fielder. He will try to learn that new position in Triple-A. "Cody's a big part of the future, and so this is something that's the best for Cody and the organization going forward," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "When he's ready to be back, he'll be back." The Phillies actually started Asche's work in left field before Spring Training but ended it once camp opened in February. "We didn't really pull the plug," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said earlier in the day. "We just put it on hold." Asche restarted that work in left field late last month in St. Louis, catching him by surprise. He was surprised once again Monday. Not with the fact they wanted him to play left field, but that they wanted him to learn in the Minor Leagues, where he has not played since 2013. "I'm surprised, but I understand," Asche said. Asche's ego might have taken a hit because he believes he can play third base on a daily basis. But there are examples of prominent big leaguers who made the move from infielder to outfielder with success. The list includes Craig Biggio, Robin Yount, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun and Alex Gordon. "He's a good kid," Utley said. "He's a hard worker. I think he understands the situation and is going to go down there and have a positive outlook and try to be the best left fielder he can be. There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to work at it and be a good left fielder. Obviously, we all know that his bat plays at this level. He's still learning, and that's what I like about him. He doesn't think he has it all figured out. He wants to continue to learn and get better. "So obviously, we are all disappointed that he's not going to be around. And we will see him pretty soon." Said Asche: "Going forward as an organization, it's better for me to play left fied. So I've got to go do that." Will he be a good left fielder? "The best I can be," Asche said. Asche has 72 hours to report to Lehigh Valley. It is not known when he will report. "Hope [he reports Tuesday]," Sandberg said. "The sooner he gets going, the sooner he can get some games under his belt and come back."

Roster Moves – Maikel Franco's wait to return to the big leagues is nearing its end. "He's getting closer and closer," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Monday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. "We just want to make sure he's ready to be a big leaguer for a long time when we bring him to the big leagues." But Franco's return is much closer than Amaro indicated. The Phillies optioned Cody Asche to Triple-A following Monday's 4-3 loss to the Pirates. Asche has been the team's everyday third baseman since last season, but in Triple-A, he will begin his transition into a full-time left fielder. Franco will not be promoted any earlier than Friday, which means Cesar Hernandez and Andres Blanco will man third base through Thursday. If Franco remains in the Minor Leagues 40 days -- the 40th day is Thursday -- the Phillies can push Franco's free agency from 2020 to 2021. That is a critical consideration for a rebuilding team. After all, it makes little sense to cost themselves one year of team control over Franco for a couple extra weeks in a rebuilding season. Franco, who is the No. 54 prospect in baseball and the Phillies' No. 3 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, is hitting .336 (42-for-125) with 12 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 17 RBIs and an .879 OPS with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, including a .394 average and a 1.019 OPS in his past eight games. Not only is Franco hitting well, but he also continues to play stellar defense at third base. Amaro said the Phillies expect Franco to get the "bulk" of his playing time at third base upon his arrival. Franco also can play first base. "The beauty of him is he can play the other position, so if we need him to do that too, he could do that," Amaro said. "But we don't want to bring him until we're sure it's time for him to come. He got his feet wet a little last year. I think that was good to get an understanding for what it's like to be in the big leagues and have a little bit of a precursor. The next time we bring him to the big leagues, it should be for good, we hope. That will be up to him. But that's the hope." Once Asche moves to left field, Ben Revere is expected to move to right. Of course, what happens if Triple-A outfielder Domonic Brown is promoted? The Phillies optioned him late last month, despite a $2.5 million salary. Brown is hitting .222 (18-for-81) with two doubles, 10 RBIs and a .528 OPS in Lehigh Valley. "Those are decisions we still have to make, and as always, those things have a way of working themselves out," Amaro said.

No Rush – The Phillies see no reason to rush Double-A Reading pitching prospect Aaron Nola to the big leagues, but that does not mean he will not be in the Majors before the end of the season. Nola is 4-2 with a 2.04 ERA in six starts. He has allowed 29 hits, nine earned runs, four walks and has struck out 29 in 39 2/3 innings. He has a fantastic 0.83 WHIP and an impressive 7.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has dominated his competition, but the Phillies are content with Nola, who is the No. 37 prospect in baseball and the Phillies' No. 2 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, pitching in Double-A. "He's right where he needs to be, right now," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Monday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. So no thoughts of pushing him? "None," Amaro said. "No. We want him to continue to have success where he is. We've had a lot of discussions on a lot of things over the last few weeks with our development people. We're trying to make sure we develop these guys for the future, not today. We try to maximize their development time so when they're ready to be in the big leagues, they'll be in the big leagues. So he's not coming any time soon." Amaro would not define how long "soon" means to him. But asked if he would be surprised to see Nola pitching for the Phillies before the end of the season, he said, "At some point this year he might."

Amaro Backs Sandberg – The losses continue to add up for the Phillies, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Monday afternoon he approves of manager Ryne Sandberg's job performance. "I'm happy with the way Ryno has gone about it," he said. "He's on the same page as we are. It's about giving young players opportunities and teaching them how to win. And that's what we're looking for from him, and that's all we can ask of him. Do whatever he can with his staff to put these players in a position to improve. And that's what he's been doing." The Phillies entered Monday's four-game series against the Pirates at 11-21, their worst start since they opened the 1997 season at 10-22. Amaro acknowledged the Phillies "might be a little challenged as far as overall talent at the Major League level right now," which plays the biggest role in the team's record. Sandberg seems to have kept his cool throughout the first 32 games, though he said he has held at least one team meeting. "We've had meetings," he said. "We've regrouped a number of different times, continue to work and instill some fundamentals that we need to do better. A lot of our games are close, it seems like. For five, six, seven innings, it seems close. It's one play here or there, one base hit away, those type of things. That's what myself and the staff continue to stress and work on and talk about. So that's what we will continue to do." Sandberg bristled when asked about his managerial style. "My style? I have to be patient," he said. "We have a lot of work to do. And that's what we've had the opportunity to stress, is working at the game."

Minor Report – Players of the Week… Player -- 1B Art Charles, Reading ... The 24-year-old power hitter rose among the league leaders in a number of offensive categories after a historic week for the Fightin Phils. Charles hit .632 (12-for-19) with four home runs (one every 4.75 at bats), eight RBIs, four doubles, a 1.474 slugging percentage and a 2.140 OPS. The left-handed-hitting Charles particularly liked hitting against the Erie Seawolves. In the first game of the series, he went 3-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs, and then homered two more times in the following game (another 3-for-5 night). Charles added his third straight three-hit game in the finale, going 3-for-3 with a double and a run. Charles currently leads the Eastern League in average (.378), slugging percentage (.757) and OPS (1.177), and he is third with 16 extra-base hits. In addition to his Phillies honors, he was also named Eastern League Player of the Week. Charles was acquired by the Phillies in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in February 2013, and he was originally signed by Toronto and Blake Crosby. Pitcher -- RHP Aaron Nola, Reading ... Nola continues to impress with Reading, heading a deep pitching staff filled with top prospects. Last week, the 22-year-old made two starts, both of which were among his best of the season. On May 4 against New Hampshire, Nola tossed seven strong innings, scattering five hits and yielding just one run. In his next start, he lasted a career-high eight innings, striking out eight while allowing a run on four hits. In those two outings, Nola combined for a 0.73 WHIP (nine hits, two walks in 15 innings) with 11 strikeouts. In 39 2/3 innings this season, Nola sports a tidy 2.04 ERA and 29 strikeouts to just four walks. His ERA is second in the league among pitchers with at least 35 innings, he is tied for second in innings pitched and ranks fifth with a 0.83 WHIP. Nola was selected by the Phillies in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 Draft and was signed by Mike Stauffer. Lehigh Valley IronPigs -- International League North Division ... 9-22, sixth place ... The past week yielded some positive results for the Phillies' top affiliate, as Lehigh Valley went 3-3 and put together its first three-game winning streak of the year. After dropping their game against Columbus on May 4, the IronPigs stormed to three consecutive victories, outscoring opponents 21-7 in those games. Two of those three wins came against Louisville, helping Lehigh Valley to their second series win of the season. Top hitting performers -- OF Brian Bogusevic hit .423 with four doubles, a home run, nine runs scored and six RBIs. He hit safely in his first five games of the week, extending his hitting streak to 12 games before going hitless on May 10. On May 5, Bogusevic went 4-for-6 with a double, a home run, four RBIs and three runs. ... 3B Maikel Franco continues to impress after going 11-or-25 (.440) with a pair of home runs, six RBIs, two doubles, a .760 slugging average and a 1.183 OPS. He is now hitting .336 and leads the league in total bases with 65, and doubles with 12. ... OF Domonic Brown had the best week of his season, batting .320 with a .370 OBP and four RBIs. He had two multi-hit games in his first three games of the week, and hit safely in all but one. Top pitching performers -- LHP Adam Morgan turned in one of his finest performances of the season on Saturday, holding the Gwinnett Braves to three runs (two earned) on three hits over 7 1/3 innings of work. ... RHP Phillippe Aumont also dominated Gwinnett, tossing six scoreless frames with just two hits allowed in his third start of the season on Friday. He is now 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA in those three starts (1.73 ERA for the season). Reading Fightin Phils -- Eastern League Eastern Division ... 16-12, third place ... Reading's story this season has been pitching, but this past week, it was the offense that kept the Fightin Phils just a game back of second place in the division. They exploded for 38 runs in six games (6.3 per game), led by the powerful bats of Charles and Aaron Altherr. Top hitting performers -- Charles slugged his way to a career week last week, crushing four home runs, including three in a two-game span. His batting average was .632 (12-for-19), and his four homers helped him to a 1.474 slugging average and a 2.140 OPS during the week. Charles' performance earned him Phillies Minor League Player of the Week and Eastern League Player of the Week honors. ... Altherr's power was also on display, as the 24-year-old outfielder hit a pair of home runs and drove in eight runs while batting a lofty .346. ... OF Roman Quinn produced in a different way for Reading, stealing a couple of bases and scoring six runs in six games for the Fightins. He is leading the league with 12 stolen bases and is tied for first with 25 runs scored. ... OF Cam Perkins was 7-for-21 (.333) with his first home run of the year, two doubles and four driven in. ... 3B Gustavo Pierre hit safely in all five of his games, extending his hitting streak to eight and raising his average to .295. Top pitching performers -- Nola made two starts last week, combining to go 15 innings with 11 strikeouts while allowing just two earned runs on nine hits. Nola's last five starts have all been quality starts, and he has a 2.04 ERA in 35 innings this year. Nola was selected as the Phillies Minor League Pitcher of the Week from May 4-10 ... RHP Stephen Shackleford recorded two more saves in two chances, making him 6-for-7 on the season. Clearwater Threshers -- Florida State League North Division ... 15-15, third place ... The Threshers ended their week on a strong note, winning three of their last four, including two of three over the Daytona Tortugas for a series win. Clearwater scored 14 runs to Daytona's four, and they are now second in the Florida State League with a .264 team average. Top hitting performers -- One day after OF Andrew Pullin's seven-game hit streak ended, he began a new streak, recording 11 hits in five games (four straight multi-hit games) from May 5-10. He hit .407 for the week, with six RBIs and a pair of doubles, and now is second in the league in two-base hits (9) and tied for second in hits (36) with teammate Willians Astudillo. ... Despite being sidelined for nearly a month to start the season, SS J.P. Crawford didn't miss a beat in his first week back. He homered and drove in three in his first game, and proceeded to record multiple hits in his next three, for a .533 average, five RBI and four runs in his first four games. … C Andrew Knapp hit .333 and got on base at a .448 clip, thanks in part to eight hits and four walks in 29 plate appearances. Top pitching performers -- RHP Mark Leiter earned his second win of the season after a 6 2/3-inning, no-run start on May 9 against Daytona. In two starts this week, he was 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. Over Leiter's last seven appearances (29 2/3 innings), he has allowed only three earned runs and struck out 29. … Fresh off an April Minor League Pitcher of the Month award, LHP Brandon Leibrandt has not let up in May. In his lone start last week, he pitched a season-high eight innings, surrendering just two runs on five hits while striking out seven batters. Leibrandt leads the league with 39 innings pitched. … RHP David Whitehead went 1-0, striking out seven in six innings on May 6 against Brevard County. … RHP Edubray Ramos appeared in three games out of the bullpen, combining to allow just a run on one hit in five innings. Lakewood BlueClaws -- South Atlantic League North Division … 13-16, sixth place … Lakewood's tough week consisted of five losses and an energy-sapping 17-inning affair on May 8 against Augusta, which ended up being suspended after the top of 17th due to fog. Because the two teams do not play again, all of the stats from the game will not count until after the first half of the season concludes. Top hitting performers - SS Malquin Canelo had eight hits in 25 at bats for a .320 average. On May 7, he had a season-high four hits against Augusta -- his 10th multihit game of the season. Top pitching performers - LHP Elniery Garcia put forward his third quality start of the season, limiting Asheville to a run on just three hits in seven innings on May 10 … RHP Jesen Therrien worked four innings in relief, and did not allow a run. He has allowed only one earned run in 15 1/3 innings this year -- good for a 0.53 ERA … RHP Matt Hockenberry lowered his season ERA to 0.60 after three scoreless innings in relief last week. He is also a perfect 6-for-6 in saves.

Chenoweth Visits Phillies – Emmy- and Tony Award-winning performer Kristin Chenoweth sang the national anthem before Monday night's 4-3 Pirates win over the Phillies. Chenoweth's rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner came with her support of Asthma Awareness Night at Citizens Bank Park. Chenoweth was diagnosed with asthma a decade ago and has become a spokesperson for the condition. This was the second consecutive year that Chenoweth sang the national anthem at Asthma Awareness Night and was the seventh annual time the Phillies have held such an event. She sported a No. 6 Phillies jersey with her name on the back instead of the customary "Howard" for Ryan Howard.

Hamels Supports Philly Schools – When it comes to pitching, Cole Hamels is used to seeing results quickly. But when it comes to education, the Phillies left-hander knows that results aren't always as fast as an umpire calling balls and strikes. Teaching takes time. That's why Hamels, his wife Heidi and their foundation donated more than $53,000 to Philadelphia-area schools Monday morning at Webster Elementary School in North Philadelphia. Webster Elementary was the beneficiary of the most generous donation from The Hamels Foundation, a grant worth $15,000 that will go toward buying the school and training teachers in a standardized math program -- something the school doesn't have at the moment. "This is going to affect [the students] for the rest of their lives -- not just for a period, and then they can move on to something else," Hamels said. "There are subjects that are life long. And you want to make sure they grasp a better understanding, because you're going to be able to see the difference right away." Hamels emphasized that this grant will be able to immediately change the way the faculty of Webster Elementary teaches its students. In Hamels' mind, as important as this is for the students, it actually might be more valuable to the teachers. "We're just really pleased to be able to see some of the teachers when they come in and how happy and excited they are," Hamels said. "Because I don't think some of the students really grasp it until they're learning it from the teachers. When you're able to go into a classroom where everybody is excited, it propels you to learn more and be better and go out and achieve your dreams more." Webster Elementary wasn't the only one to benefit from a grant. Eight schools received a donation from The Hamels Foundation, with values ranging from $3,500 to $15,000 for causes such as revamping of audio systems, buying kits for STEM learning -- which is the combined topics of science, technology, engineering and math -- and establishing an integrated robotics program. Speaking on behalf of all of the schools honored, Webster Elementary principal Shawn Wright thanked The Hamels Foundation for its charitable message. "Today really is a celebration of hope and possibility," Wright said. "The generosity and passion of organizations like The Hamels Foundation reminds us that we're not in it alone." With the children of Webster Elementary on hand for the ceremony, many of whom had drawn pictures for Hamels with inscriptions such as "Thank you for coming" and "We love you," Cole and Heidi Hamels presented these checks to much fanfare and approval, something Cole said he was extremely appreciative of. Heidi, on the other hand, was just happy she and her husband were able to do their part. "We cannot change a child's life without the community," Heidi said. "But to be able to see it really come to fruition is a totally different thing. I don't think many times in our lives we get to see the whole picture. We're just little cogs in the machine. But we stand here today and we get to see the whole machine. Thank you for letting us be that piece."

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 11-22. 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 43-49-0 on this day.

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