Sunday, June 21, 2015

Phillies Prove To Be Bird Food

GAME RECAP: Cards Clobber Phils 10-1

The Cardinals and Phillies have held true to form in the first two games of their three-game series this weekend at Citizens Bank Park. The Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball, beat the Phillies on Saturday night, 10-1, to take the first two games of the series. Randal Grichuk led the offense with two home runs, including a three-run, tie-breaking shot in the sixth and a solo homer in the ninth. "I'm seeing good at-bats," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That's characteristic of our club of the past, just grinding when we need at-bats and not giving anything away. That's something that we take a lot of pride in and the competition of each and every pitch." John Lackey made easy work of a Phillies offense that is last in Major League Baseball in scoring. The Phillies, who have the worst record in baseball, managed their only run in the second inning when Cody Asche homered. They have lost 11 of their last 12 games and 23 of their last 28. "We've got to do what we can do and not worry about what's going on around us," said Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang, asked if the frequent losing could result in changes. "We've just got to stick together. We don't want to start pointing fingers because then you get a clubhouse that just separates and you don't want that. Because that's when it gets really bad."

  • Harang carried a 1-1 tie into the sixth inning when he allowed back-to-back singles to Jason Heyward and Yadier Molina. But that 2-1 fastball over the heart of the plate to Grichuk sunk him. Harang has a 7.61 ERA in his last four starts.\
  • Asche hit his third home run of the season and his first since April 22, while Utley went 1-for-4, including fly outs in the fourth and sixth innings. Since Utley's batting average reached a season-high .207 on June 2, he has hit just .100 (5-for-50) with one double and three RBIs. "I would say so," Asche said, asked if the team feels beat up after being outscored 48-14 in their last five games. "A couple of our last losses, those hit you hard. They're not fun games to be a part of."
  • "That's why they're in first place. That's why they have the best record in the league. They do the little things. They do the hit-and-runs. They move runners over. The defense is there. The pitchers make pitches when they need to. They're going on all cylinders and they're all working at the same time." -- Harang, on the Cardinals outscoring the Phillies 22-5 in two games.
Left-hander Adam Morgan will make his big league debut in Sunday's series finale at 1:35 p.m. ET. The Phillies picked Morgan in the third round of the 2011 Draft, and he had been on a fast track to the big leagues before he suffered a left shoulder injury in May 2013. Morgan did not have great numbers in Triple-A Lehigh Valley (0-6, 4.74 ERA in 13 starts), but he had a 2.51 ERA in his last three outings. Michael Wacha will take the mound for the Cardinals on Sunday, putting his 9-2 record on the line in a 12:35 p.m. CT start. It will be the second time the right-hander faces the Phillies this year after a win he earned on April 28. Wacha has been stellar on the road this year as his ERA away from St. Louis is 2.02 and he is 6-1 in eight starts.


One Pitch – Aaron Harang still figures to be an intriguing trade chip come the July 31 Trade Deadline. He is 4-9 in 15 starts this season, but he has a solid 3.41 ERA following Saturday's 10-1 loss to the Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. He also has a little more than half of a one-year, $5 million contract on the books, which is a bargain for contending teams not looking to invest big money (and big risk) into a pitcher for a postseason push. Can't afford Cole Hamels? Harang could be the guy. Of course, Harang has a 7.61 ERA (20 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings) in his last four starts, which might alarm some teams. But Harang chalked up the struggles in the first two starts of this four-start stretch to facing a hot Reds lineup twice. The last two? Two pitches in two games that amounted to a pair of three-run home runs: a three-run homer to Baltimore's Matt Wieters on Monday and a three-run home run to St. Louis' Randal Grichuk on Saturday night. Before those homers, in his last two games Harang had allowed two runs in 10 innings. "I'm trying to make too perfect a pitch in that situation," Harang said about the at-bat against Grichuk. "Literally, it's two pitches. You have two pitches back or you have no runners on in that situation and it's totally different. It's frustrating, but it's part of the game." But teams will remain interested in Harang. There were plenty of scouts at the ballpark Saturday, many of them keeping their eyes on Harang. In fact, there is almost no reason to think Harang will not be traded before the Trade Deadline. Why wouldn't he? He has value and he can help the Phillies' rebuilding effort. He won't get a haul like Hamels, but he could net the Phillies something.

Up And Down Seasons Continue – The Phillies purposely put Cody Asche's locker next to Chase Utley's upon his big league arrival in 2013. They wanted Asche to soak up Utley's experience and knowledge like a sponge. But while they are kindred spirits in many ways, they both have had their share of struggles this season. Asche homered in the second inning in Saturday night's 10-1 loss to the Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. It was his third home run of the season and first since April 22. Asche is hitting .227 with seven doubles, one triple, three home runs, seven RBIs and a .593 OPS in 186 plate appearances. His season included a trip to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he learned to play left field. "It's not what I expect out of myself, not what I know that I have in me," Asche said. "That gets frustrating at times. I'm not a .230 hitter, I know that. I'm not going to be. It's just a thing you've got to keep working through. Hopefully they keep trusting me and trusting in my ability. Hopefully tonight is a step in the right direction." Utley went 1-for-4, flying out twice and singling to left field in the eighth inning. Since Utley's batting average reached a season-high .207 on June 2, he has hit .100 (5-for-50) with one double, three RBIs and a .306 OPS. Utley finished the night hitting .182. According to Stats Pass, only two hitters in baseball history have hit less than .182 with 500 or more plate appearances in a season: Rob Deer, who hit .179 with the 1991 Tigers; and Dan Uggla, who hit .179 with the 2013 Braves. More important, Utley finished the night with 244 plate appearances, meaning he needs only 256 more plate appearances in the season's final 92 games to automatically vest a $15 million club option for next season. "Just out in front of pitches, hitting fly balls," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said about Utley's night at the plate. "It wasn't the best night for a lot of our offensive guys. But for Chase, he was just in the air a lot tonight."

“Oh No” Sent Back Down – Phillippe Aumont is not sure if he has a future with the Phillies, but he sounded hopeful Saturday he will. He got designated for assignment Saturday, after he allowed five hits, six runs, seven walks, two home runs, one wild pitch and threw behind one batter in four innings in Friday's 12-4 loss to the Cardinals. He threw 104 pitches, but just 56 for strikes. The Phillies selected the contract of Triple-A right-hander Seth Rosin to take his place on the roster. "I have no objection to going back to [Triple-A] Lehigh Valley and staying with this organization," Aumont said. "If they feel they want to keep me and want to keep working with me, I don't see any [reason] to go anywhere else. A change of scenery can be an excuse, I think." Aumont, 26, is 1-6 with a 6.80 ERA in 46 appearances over four seasons with the Phillies. His inability to consistently throw strikes has been an issue, but Aumont said his struggles are a mental block more than anything else. "Am I ever going to figure it out?" he said. "Maybe. Sometimes it's there. Sometimes it's not there. It's more so figuring out why are there days when I can just dominate the world and the next day a Little Leaguer would absolutely beat my [butt.] It's between the ears, just making sure the confidence is still there and being able to work it out." If Aumont clears waivers, the Phillies could outright him to Triple-A. Lehigh Valley's game notes had Aumont listed as Thursday's starter. In the meantime, Aumont planned to drive seven hours to his home in Ottawa, Canada, to decompress, spend time with family and friends and await his fate. Aumont is the only remaining piece from the Phillies' Cliff Lee trade with Seattle in Dec. 2009, but he does not think a fresh start elsewhere would help him flip a switch and fulfill his potential. "It doesn't matter where you are or what team you're on," Aumont said. "You've just got to do it. These guys do it. I know the season isn't going so well, but they still go out there and battle. I think it's more so myself. The bottom line is you have to be mentally strong and physically strong."

Fatherly Intuition – Glenn Giles never played baseball, but he might make a pretty good scout. The father of Phillies relief pitcher Ken Giles, Glenn was the person who recognized his son's talent for baseball and encouraged him to pursue it. But here's the kicker: Glenn saw this talent before his son was even in preschool. "He never played baseball, so it was just one of those things like a freak of nature," Ken Giles said. "He saw talent and he was like 'This is what he's going to do.' I was probably like an infant and I was throwing a ball and stuff at almost like two years old." The elder Giles was correct in thinking baseball is what his son would end up doing, and Sunday he will get the chance to see this firsthand. The Phillies are flying Glenn into Philadelphia for the series finale against the Cardinals to represent all of the Phillies' fathers on Father's Day. Ken said this has been in the works for a few weeks. The Phillies asked him if he thought his father would be willing to be the liaison, and Ken said knowing his father that wouldn't even be a question. "My dad jumps all over those kind of opportunities, so of course he was going to say yes," Ken said. Ken went on to say that his father watches every Phillies game he can on television and even traveled to Denver to see him pitch in May. Despite this, he said his father doesn't brag about him so much as people brag to him about how proud he should be to have a son in the Major Leagues. Glenn will be staying with Ken this weekend and will be introduced before Sunday's game around the time of the first pitch. And though he has time to spend with his dad on Father's Day, Giles said the one thing he wants to do for his dad will come on the field. "Just pitch well in front of him," Giles said. "That's all I can ask for."

While The Phils Are Away… - For all eight of Saturday's Philadelphia-based MLB Pitch, Hit and Run presented by Scotts winners, getting to play on and being honored on the field at Citizens Bank Park is an achievement hard to quantify with words. But for one of the eight winners, 11-12-year-old boys' champion, Josh Nielsen, being able to be on the field was a culmination of the reason he fell in love with baseball. When Nielsen was 6 years old, his uncle took him to a game at Citizens Bank Park where the Phillies were hosting the Cardinals. He had no interest in the game at that time, but after that he decided baseball was the sport he wanted to play. So, just hours after beating out his competition in the 11-12-year-old age group, Nielsen was honored on the field. His uncle was in attendance again. And the Phillies are playing the Cardinals again. "Words can't describe this," he said. In addition to Nielsen, seven other children were honored before the game. They were, from youngest to oldest, Amelia Atkins, Ty Kaunas, Maysen Fisher, Bronson Kilmer, Abby Tobelmann, Anastasia Rodites and Mike Gorman. A majority of the winners picked the running portion of the event as their favorite part with two of the girls boasting their times. Atkins, the youngest of the female competitors, was able to complete the run in 9.82 seconds, while Rodites, the oldest, posted a time of 8.23 seconds. Two of the eight, however, listed hitting as their favorite part and just one picked pitching as their passion. Though neither of the offensively-inclined winners boasted they were able to hit a ball over the Citizens Bank Park fence, they both were secure in the fact that they can hit home runs in parks engineered with dimensions more fitting of their age. Tobelmann was one of the kids who favored hitting and one of the few who claimed she wasn't nervous to be out on the field where the big leaguers play since she had competed in this event a year ago. "I'm used to it," she said. The eight winners now await the scores from the other competitions to see whether or not they advance to the national finals in Cincinnati in advance of the All-Star Game in July. And though no individual kid was quick to predict themselves as the national favorite, they all used one word to describe their outlooks: confident. As for Nielsen, the ability to play on the field where his childhood idols Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins made their home for so long was even cooler than winning. As happy as he was to win, just stepping on the field was the real prize.

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 23-47. 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 44-51-0 on this day.

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