Monday, June 29, 2015

Shockingly Phillies Split Double Header

GAME RECAP (Game 1): Nats Edge Phils 3-2

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg looked like his old self on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed four hits, two runs, one walk and struck out nine over seven innings in a 3-2 victory over the Phillies in Game 1 of a doubleheader. Strasburg is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts since returning from the disabled list because of neck and back issues. He has allowed eight hits, two runs, two walks and struck out 15 over 12 innings in those starts. "He pitched great. No restrictions up to 110 pitches. Good fastball, even in the last inning. Made a good pitch to get out of it," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "It's nice that he's healthy. That's nice that he's going out there and had no issues. When he doesn't, that could be the result." Phillies right fielder Jeff Francoeur hit a solo homer and had an RBI single to account for Philadelphia's two runs, as Kevin Correia allowed three runs (one earned) over 5 1/3 innings. "Strasburg pitched about as well as I've seen him pitch in a couple years," said Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin. "He used his breaking stuff and threw it for strikes, and he still had his good velocity. He pitched better than we've seen him in the past -- especially this year."

GAME RECAP (Game 2): Phils Stun Nats 8-5

The Phillies used Game 2 of Sunday's doubleheader against the Nationals to salvage a long day and a long weekend. Philadelphia picked up 12 hits and scored eight runs in just 3 1/3 innings against Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark in the 8-5 victory at Citizens Bank Park to avoid a sweep. Eleven of those hits against Roark, who started after Saturday's game got cancelled because of rain, were singles. The Phillies tallied 16 hits overall, and just one went for extra bases. "We had a nice ending to a long day," said Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin, who won his first game since replacing Ryne Sandberg. "We started with a [coaches] clinic this morning at 9:30, then had the doubleheader. None of them are easy to win, but that one was nice to win. It's good to get a win under our belt." The Nationals picked away at the Phillies' lead with home runs from Ian Desmond and Jose Lobaton, but it was not enough to overcome the early deficit.

  • Phillies left-hander Jake Diekman replaced Jeanmar Gomez with two on and two out in the sixth, but he walked Span on four pitches to load the bases. His first pitch to Espinosa -- a slider -- sailed high and wide away from Cameron Rupp. The play, officially ruled a passed ball, allowed Dan Uggla to score to hand the Nats a 3-1 lead.
  • Francoeur hit a solo home run to left field in the second inning to hand the Phillies a 1-0 lead. He also singled to score a run in the sixth. But he twice mishandled a ball Span hit to the right-field wall in the fifth, which allowed the Nationals to tie the game. Francoeur first bobbled the ball trying to pick it up. He then threw the ball about three feet in front of him, which allowed Span to reach third. Span scored on Espinosa's sacrifice fly.
  • In the ninth inning, Ian Desmond hit into a force play, but the Nationals claimed that Uggla was safe at second base. After three minutes and three seconds, the play stood and the Nationals lost their challenge.
  • The top of the Phillies' lineup had a nice evening. Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez hit first and second, respectively. Herrera had three hits and Hernandez had four. Maikel Franco hit third, and he picked up two hits and three RBIs. Domonic Brown, who hit fourth, added two hits and drove in a run.
  • Phillies right-hander Severino Gonzalez, who got the start because of Saturday's rainout, had been unable to pitch more than five innings in his first five big league starts. He picked up an out in the sixth for a career high, but he could not finish the inning. The Phillies are hoping to see more from Gonzalez, who is the No. 14 prospect in the organization, according to "He's got the potential to be a starter at this level," Mackanin said. "He's not an ace. I don't think he's a top-of-the-order starter, but he's definitely capable of pitching at this level."
  • "Brown doesn't have numbers for me to justify playing him against a righty or a lefty." -- Mackanin, on why Francoeur started against Strasburg and not Domonic Brown, who hits left-handed.
  • "It will be addressed. We're going to talk about it, but I don't want to beat them up." -- Mackanin, asked if he had talked to his players about the team's sloppy play on defense in both games.
  • Tommy Joseph, whom the Phillies acquired in July 2012 from the Giants in the Hunter Pence trade, is changing positions. He will move from catcher to first base following numerous concussions.
  • Ryne Sandberg unexpectedly resigned as Phillies manager on Friday, and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Pete Mackanin would be the team's interim manager at least through the weekend. Mackanin is expected to continue that role for this week's series against the Brewers. The managerial position should become more concrete once the Phillies announce Andy MacPhail has joined the organization, which is expected to happen this week.
  • Nelson has been a model of inconsistency, which is perhaps to be expected in his first full Major League season. After setting career highs for hits allowed in consecutive starts against the Nationals and Royals, he held the Mets to one run on two hits in eight stellar innings at Miller Park on Wednesday.
  • Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, still seeking a hot streak after returning from a fractured big toe, is a career .462 hitter in 43 plate appearances at Citizens Bank Park. He has four doubles, a triple, four home runs, 10 RBIs and a 1.435 OPS there.

The teams with Major League Baseball's two poorest records will meet for a four-game series beginning Monday, when Jimmy Nelson leads the Brewers into Citizens Bank Park against Sean O'Sullivan and the Phillies. It's the first time all season that the Brewers will play a team with a lower winning percentage, but manager Craig Counsell insisted he hasn't had trouble keeping his team motivated. "That's not hard," Counsell said. "There's a challenge every night in front of a Major League Baseball player. The challenge is to perform every single night, no matter what the record is, and I think we've done a good job of responding to that challenge. That's the challenge that these guys live for. "So no matter what's going on, to have an opportunity to compete and get that challenge every day, that fire doesn't go out for guys. They've done a good job with that."


Two Headed Frenchie – Jeff Francoeur provided most of the Phillies' entertainment in Game 1 of Sunday's doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park. Francoeur hit a solo home run to left field against Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg in the second inning and singled to score a run in the sixth inning in a 3-2 loss. They were two of the four hits Strasburg allowed in seven innings. "You've got to like that," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said about Francoeur's offensive performance. But then Francoeur twice mishandled a ball in right field in the fifth inning, which set up the Nationals' game-tying run. Denard Span hit a one-out double to the wall, and Francoeur bobbled and dropped the ball when he reached it. He then threw the ball about three feet in front of him -- the ball slipped out of his hands -- which allowed Span to reach third. Span scored on Danny Espinosa's sacrifice fly to tie the game. "The error, the dropped ball in right field -- twice -- didn't help," Mackanin said. Mackanin chose to start Francoeur over Domonic Brown against Strasburg. Brown started Game 2 against Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark. Francoeur entered Sunday hitting .253 with nine doubles, one triple, four home runs and 21 RBIs and a .689 OPS in 57 games. Brown had hit .179 with three doubles, three RBIs and a .561 OPS in 11 games. Why not play the platoon in both games, starting Brown twice? "Brown doesn't have numbers for me to justify to playing him against a righty or a lefty," Mackanin said. "Francoeur has been a pretty good player for us. He split up the righties and lefties for us. Once again, with a doubleheader I wanted to get everybody in the games. It worked out pretty good, or so it seemed."

A Costly Inning – Managing two games at once isn't easy for anyone, especially not someone who's only been managing his team for three days. But with starter Kevin Correia on the mound in the sixth inning, that is what Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin found himself doing in the Phillies' eventual 3-2 loss to the Nationals on Sunday at Citizens Bank Park in Game 1 of a doubleheader. "Basically, it had to be stingy," Mackanin said. "We had a doubleheader. You've got to try to win the game, as well as be careful for the next one." This idea of double managing came into play in the sixth inning. Correia began the inning by walking Clint Robinson and giving up a single to Dan Uggla before forcing Ian Desmond to fly out to center field for the first out. The next batter, Michael Taylor, doubled to left field, plating Robinson and moving Uggla to third. Mackanin had seen enough of Correia and decided to bring in right-handed reliever Jeanmar Gomez to face Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who hasn't reached base since last Sept. 15. Strasburg didn't change that trend, grounding out to Cesar Hernandez for the second out -- not even hitting it hard enough to score Uggla from third. The decision to have Gomez pitch to Strasburg, according to Mackanin, was actually a delayed reaction. Mackanin said he wanted to throw Gomez against Taylor, but was afraid of using Gomez too much in the first game, leaving him unavailable for the second. Since Gomez did get the out, Correia said he was OK with Mackanin's decision to pull him. "[I think I could've gotten the out], but it's just the situation right now where obviously we know it's a close game -- so obviously I'm not going to argue with any of the management decisions," Correia said. "We're obviously trying to feel a lot of different things out, right now. At this point in my career, I just want to win the game." After that, Gomez's day was over -- as Mackanin called for left-hander Jake Diekman to face left-hander Denard Span. The problem was, Diekman didn't fare particularly well. He walked Span on four pitches and then allowed Uggla to score on an errant pitch that deflected off catcher Cameron Rupp's glove that was ruled a passed ball. But it was quite a bit out of the strike zone. That run ended up being the difference in the game. Mackanin said Diekman came into the game in that situation because he doesn't have the confidence in him to pitch him later in the game. Despite Diekman's less-than-stellar performance, Mackanin said the more disconcerting part of the game was the defense behind the pitcher. The Phillies made two errors, plus that passed ball that allowed the run to score. As "disappointed" as Mackanin said he was, Correia's reasoning for being dismayed by the errors proved more valuable. Correia pointed out that allowing extra baserunners provides the top of the order with more plate appearances, and the Nationals took full advantage of the situation. "I think it's more innings later where you're facing guys for the second, third time that you might not have been later in the game," Correia said. "It's huge for me, because they're going to see more of what you're featuring the third time around."

Showing Some Progress – The 2015 season is nearly halfway complete, which means the Phillies should be getting good reads on the players they have in their system. Severino Gonzalez is one of them. The Phillies named the right-hander their Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, and ranks him as the No. 14 prospect in the organization. He picked up the win in Sunday evening's 8-5 victory over the Nationals in Game 2 of a doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park, but the Phillies need to see more from him if he expects to be part of their future. "A lot of pitchers develop later in their 20s," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's in that process. I like the way he attacks the zone. I like the way he pitches quickly. For the most part, he throws strikes. He needs to work on his breaking ball more, and keep the ball down in the zone. "He's got the potential to be a starter at this level. He's not an ace. I don't think he's a top-of-the-order starter, but he's definitely capable of pitching at this level." Gonzalez, 22, allowed six hits, four runs, one walk and two home runs, and he struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings against the Nationals. It was the longest outing of his six-start career. Gonzalez (3-2, 8.28 ERA) had pitched five or more innings in just three of his six starts, which is something that must improve. A big reason why he has not seen the sixth inning is that opponents have hit .500 (30-for-60) against him after they see him for the first time in a game. They have just a .222 average (10-for-45) the first time through the lineup. "Unless you're a dominant power pitcher with great stuff, once the hitters see you, they start looking for certain pitches," Mackanin said. "They know what you can do and what you can't do. Seve is not a power pitcher, obviously. He's not a finesse pitcher. He's somewhere in the middle. He's got enough to be a good pitcher, but once again at this level, you've got to be pretty good. You've got to have command of your pitches." "I've been focusing on that down in Triple-A," Gonzalez said through translator Juan Samuel, when asked about his inability to pitch deep into games. "One thing I've started doing is playing long toss a little bit more to get more strength and stamina on the mound. I've been working on that. I'm aware of it. "I've learned I need to keep the ball down. The times I've been hurt, pitches have been up. So I need to concentrate more on pitching down and getting a good downward angle on my pitches." Gonzalez, who also picked up his first Major League hit and RBI, allowed four consecutive hits in the fourth inning to cut the Phillies lead to 4-3. He then allowed a home run with one out in the sixth inning to Jose Lobaton to cut the lead to 8-4. Mackanin pulled him after that. Gonzalez, who got the start because of Saturday's rainout, was optioned to Triple-A afterward. "It's a learning experience for him," Mackanin said. "He's got guts. He's not afraid."

Not A Power Offense – In the past week, the Phillies have juggled with the delicate balance between surviving and thriving. They survived a manager stepping down. They survived their ace, Cole Hamels, getting hit hard by the Yankees. They survived five innings without putting a runner on base against a pitcher coming off a no-hitter. But in other moments, some in their 8-5 victory over the Nats on Sunday, the Phillies thrived. Four times in the last seven games, the offense has posted eight or more runs, a feat it had achieved just once in the nearly three full months prior. To interim manager Pete Mackanin, this week's offensive output showed that continued survival can eventually break through to success. "I think these guys are trying to survive, and they're just trying to put to use what they talk about and what they work on in the batting cage," Mackanin said. "They're learning as they play, and unfortunately this is a tough level to learn at. But this is the only place to learn how you play Major League baseball. We've got work to do, but it's nice to see a lot of these guys doing what they could today." The Phillies finished Game 2 of Sunday's doubleheader with 15 singles and one extra-base hit, an Andres Blanco double in the second inning. Most of those singles were clustered in the second and fourth innings, where 12 hits brought in all eight of the team's runs. Cesar Hernandez stood out with a 4-for-4 showing, in which he stole a base and scored a run. Counting his performance in the first game of the doubleheader, Hernandez was 6-for-8 Sunday, all six of his hits singles, with three stolen bases. Mackanin said Hernandez, who has 13 hits in his last seven games and was one of two Phillies to start and complete both of Sunday's games, is streaking because of his increased exposure. "One of our concerns in Spring Training was it would behoove him to play and we'd like to see him play a lot but as a part time player, I don't think at this stage of his career he's really ready to be a part-time player," Mackanin said. "But he certainly looks like he's got a chance to be an everyday player. He's learning and gaining confidence." In those second and fourth innings, the Phillies twice strung together four singles in a row. In both situations, the first two men to single scored because of the singles that came after them. Maikel Franco and Domonic Brown were involved in both occasions, driving in the runs in the second inning and scoring the runs in the fourth.

TJ To 1B And Other Minor Updates – It seemed inevitable that Tommy Joseph would need to change positions to continue his baseball career. The change became official this week. The Phillies are moving Joseph from catcher to first base, following a string of concussions he sustained behind the plate since they acquired him in July 2012, when they traded Hunter Pence to the Giants. Joseph suffered his latest concussion this season, but he has also battled vision deficiencies, which could have been a result of the concussions. "He's been going through a lot of vision therapy," Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan said on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. "They said that what they've accomplished on that is encouraging." Joseph, 23, will work out at first base through the remainder of Triple-A Lehigh Valley's homestand, which runs through Friday. He will continue that work with Double-A Reading, before eventually heading to Clearwater, Fla. "He's positive, he's excited -- and I am, too," Jordan said. "He had to have the burden of, 'When is this going to happen again?' I've seen him play first base. He's just ready to get going." Other Minor League matters: Aaron Nola: Nola is 2-0 with a 1.33 ERA in his first two starts with Lehigh Valley. He threw five scoreless innings in his IronPigs debut on June 18, but he required 95 pitches to do it. Buffalo's hitters extended his pitch count by consistently fouling off pitches. Jordan sat behind the plate with Nola three days later, when Nola was charting pitches. Nola called his first Triple-A start a great learning experience. He applied that information to Wednesday's start, also against Buffalo. He allowed six hits, three runs, one walk and struck out seven in 7 2/3 innings. He needed just 96 pitches this time. "That's the thing about him," Jordan said. "Just a great feel. That was impressive. To see him apply it against the same lineup was impressive." Kelly Dugan: Dugan, like Joseph, is another oft-injured prospect in the system. But he is back playing with Reading, and playing well. Dugan, who had been sidelined most of the season with a foot injury, has hit .362 with four doubles, five RBIs and an .851 OPS in 12 games with Reading. "All he's done is perform and put up numbers since I've been here, when he's been healthy," Jordan said. "Kelly looks good. His timing isn't quite there, but he can hit. He's been good." Cornelius Randolph: The team's No. 1 pick in this year's Draft is adjusting well to left field. Minor League outfield coordinator Andy Abad told Jordan recently that Randolph, who was drafted as a shortstop, is going to be a good outfielder. "He's athletic enough, but we're just starting that process," Jordan said. Malquin Canelo: The Phillies just promoted the 20-year-old shortstop from Class A Lakewood to Clearwater. He hit .311 with 22 doubles, two triples, five home runs, 23 RBIs, 10 stolen bases, 21 walks and 39 strikeouts in 287 plate appearances with Lakewood. He homered in his first game last week with Clearwater. "There's more than one shortstop here," said Jordan, referring to the highly-touted J.P. Crawford, who is in Reading. Canelo, whom the organization signed as an amateur free agent in April 2012, is a plus defender who has started to hit. "He's an [Adeiny] Hechavarria kind of guy," Jordan said. "He's a good player. Nobody ever talks about him, but people will start talking about him very soon."

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 27-50. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and performance so far this season, this could end up being the worst team in franchise history! All time, the Phillies are 57-56-0 on this day.

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