Sunday, July 19, 2015

Billingsley Sinks Fish Before Getting The Hook

GAME RECAP: Phils Fluster Fish 3-1

The Phillies suffered more than their share of struggles the first half of the season, so they have warmly welcomed the results from their first two games after the All-Star break. They beat the Marlins on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park, 3-1, to take the first two games of the three-game series. Chad Billingsley pitched five scoreless innings before leaving with elbow tightness, and the Phillies' bullpen held the lead, putting the Phils in position to sweep their first series since May 15-17 against Arizona. "I think everybody felt better coming back [after the break]," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "Starting fresh. We talked about it as a team -- starting fresh and choosing that path to win more games. It certainly helps that guys are playing hard." Sloppy play hurt the Marlins, who had been solid defensively the first half of the season. It stood out in the second inning, when they committed two errors and allowed the Phillies' third run without the benefit of a hit. "It's uncharacteristic of what we've done," Miami manager Dan Jennings said. "We've been a good defensive team. Early we were sloppy. It bit us. We're not that kind of ballclub. We're a better ballclub than that. I don't know if it's coming off the break and we haven't handled the ball with the four days off. Early in the game, sloppy. It definitely put us in a hole a little bit."

  • The Phillies have been desperate for quality starting pitching this season, and Billingsley provided them such an effort Saturday. He allowed four hits, one walk and struck out two in five scoreless innings, although the Phils pulled him after he complained about elbow stiffness throughout the start. Billingsley, who had right elbow surgeries the last two years, said he will know more about the severity of the issue after seeing the team doctor. "Didn't want to push it too much more," Billingsley said.
  • The Phillies kept the Marlins at bay with several solid defensive plays. Ryan Howard caught a line drive and doubled up J.T. Realmuto in the third. Ben Revere made a great catch at the wall in the fourth and Galvis threw out the lead runner at third in the sixth. "Close games are more often lost than won, and it usually is due to mistakes by the opposition," Mackanin said. "And just like last night, we took advantage of their mistakes and we won that game. It's all about making the big play, getting big hits and making pitches when you have to."
  • Prior to Saturday's game, the Phillies' 65 team errors were the second most in the National League. According to's defensive standings, the Phillies have been the worst defensive team in the NL. But Saturday, the Phillies turned that idea on its head. They capitalized on two Miami errors and a botched double-play opportunity to score three early runs, and held that lead on the back of outstanding defensive plays by Howard, Galvis and Revere.
  • "Oh, [teammates] just told me. It was kind of like, 'Where were you in the beginning of the season?' and that kind of thing. They were joking around." -- Ken Giles, whose 100-mph fastball struck out Adeiny Hechavarria to end a threat in the eighth inning. It is believed to be the first time Giles officially hit 100 mph with a pitch this season.
  • Ichiro Suzuki singled, stole second and scored for Miami in the sixth inning. The hit was No. 2,893 for Ichiro, who is 107 shy of 3,000. The stolen base was his 495th as he closes in on 500.
Could Sunday be Cole Hamels' final start in a Phillies uniform at Citizens Bank Park? It certainly is possible. Hamels is expected to be traded before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, with continued interest from the Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers and Rangers. In Sunday's 1:35 p.m. ET series finale, Dan Haren (7-5, 3.24 ERA) makes his 19th start of the season. The right-hander is 1-1 (3.00) in two starts against the Phillies this year.


Billingsley Exits Early – The Phillies signed Chad Billingsley to a one-year contract in January because they considered it low risk, high reward. It was low risk because if Billingsley, who left Saturday night's 3-1 victory over the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park with elbow tightness after five scoreless innings, could not pitch effectively following a pair of right elbow surgeries, they had committed only $1.5 million. That is a pittance compared to the $37.5 million injured left-hander Cliff Lee will make this year, which includes his $25 million salary and a $12.5 million buyout on a 2016 club option. It had the potential for reward because if Billingsley pitched well, the Phillies hoped to trade him to a contender before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, or even the Aug. 31 waiver Trade Deadline. But neither seems likely after Saturday. "Throughout the game I was feeling it," Billingsley said of the elbow issue. "I don't really know the extent of it right now. I haven't seen the doctor or had him evaluate me. But I guess I'll know more once that happens." Billingsley had Tommy John surgery on April 24, 2013, and flexor tendon surgery June 24, 2014, before joining the Phillies' rotation in May. He lasted just three starts before suffering a strained right shoulder, which put him back on the disabled list. "Just something didn't look right," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "In his face you could see in his face that something was bugging him, so we wanted to make sure and take care of it. ... Stiffness, soreness ... he complained about it. We felt it was in the best interest of him, especially after what he's gone through, to take it easy." If Billingsley (2-3, 5.84 ERA) heads to the DL again, it seems right-hander Jerome Williams could take his place. Williams just made his third rehab start Friday with Double-A Reading. But clearly the Phillies are desperate for quality starting pitching right now, which made Billingsley's early hook stick out. "You know what's been going on here," Mackanin said. "We want our pitchers to go more than five innings, and I certainly didn't want to take him out. But we're not going to risk his health, if in fact there is anything of any serious nature. I'm hoping that he's going to be fine and it's just one of those things that's going on while he's getting back into his groove. Just being careful with him." Billingsley almost didn't know what to say Saturday. Asked if he feels he can't catch a break, he only said, "It's part of it. It's part of it."

Giles Ready To Take Over In 9thIf Ken Giles' future were a baseball game, he'd be warming up in the bullpen right about now. The Phillies' setup man of the last two seasons, who reached 100 mph in Saturday's 3-1 win over the Marlins, has been nothing short of dominant in his brief big league career, posting an ERA of 1.46 and striking out 12 batters per nine innings in his 86 1/3 career innings. More than 70 percent of those 259 outs he's recorded have come in the eighth inning, as he's been bridging the gap between the starters and long bullpen arms and closer Jonathan Papelbon. But Giles' status may soon change. Much like a closer watching a tie game in the eighth inning, anxious to see whether his team requires his services, Giles is waiting to see whether his team will need him in the eighth or ninth inning in the coming months. With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline less than two weeks away and Papelbon expected to be one of the Phillies' main trade chips, Giles may have to take over for the franchise's all-time saves leader within the next month. On Saturday night, Giles pitched in a high-leverage situation as a closer would, and once again proved his ability. He worked himself into an eighth-inning jam, allowing one-out singles to Martin Prado and Christian Yelich, but worked out of it by forcing Justin Bour to ground out to first base and striking out Adeiny Hechavarria with a 100-mph fastball, his first three-digit heater of the year. "That last one I just went and let it fly," Giles said. "If I walked him, I had an open base. It was just one of those things like, 'Full count, let it fly.'" Giles said that despite the high stakes of the situation, he didn't view it as an audition for the closer's role. That being said, pitching the ninth inning is ultimately what he is striving for. "It is my goal," he said. To Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin, Giles is doing what is necessary to move into the role, regardless of if he does or not. "I think he certainly has the ability to [close], he's got the stuff to do it," Mackanin said. "Pitching the eighth inning, although it isn't the final three outs, it's still a pressure cooker. And he's handled that relatively well. Actually, very well. And we're not going to know until he's put into that position if and when that happens." Despite the unknowns, Mackanin said he believes Giles will be a closer for the Phillies someday, even if it doesn't come this year. "[Pitching] is all a matter of mechanically being able to repeat your delivery and so there is some emotion involved and there's a lot of mechanics involved and there is temperament," Mackanin said. "Nobody can really tell how good a guy is going to be. He could be very good. I would think that he's going to be a closer at some point."

Williams Ready To Return – The question isn't whether Jerome Williams is ready to rejoin the Phillies. The question is whether the Phillies are ready for Williams. On Friday, Williams made his third rehab start since injuring his hamstring vs. the Orioles on June 16. The 33-year-old right-hander threw 90 pitches over eight innings, allowing two runs, only one of which was earned. Upon returning to Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, Williams said he feels healthy and doesn't think making another rehab start is necessary. "I think I'm good," Williams said before the Phillies' 3-1 win over the Marlins on Saturday. "But it's not my decision. It's up to the team. Whatever the decision is I'll take it in stride and make it my goal to get back here." Williams wasn't the only one to acknowledge that his future is in flux. Interim manager Pete Mackanin said that while he was impressed when he heard about Williams' outing Friday night, it's hard to know exactly where Williams will fit in on the Phillies' active roster moving forward. "We're going to have to make some decisions," Mackanin said. "We haven't made any conclusions yet. It's imminent. So we've got a few possibilities, but we're still in the process of ironing it out." Though Mackanin has plenty of possible options as to how to stack the Phillies' rotation for the rest of 2015, most of them hinge upon the question of whether the team wants to press onward with youth or with veterans. After rookie Adam Morgan continued the solid start to his career Friday night, and with the impending arrival of Phillies top pitching prospect Aaron Nola on Tuesday, youth seems to be infiltrating the Phils' starting five. That being said, Williams and fellow veteran Aaron Harang are expected to return from the disabled list soon, and Chad Billingsley may be headed there for a third time this season after he left his start Saturday after 70 pitches with elbow discomfort. If Billingsley is headed to the DL, it would make sense for Williams to occupy his spot in the rotation. But with Cole Hamels still on the team for the time being, Morgan, Nola and 25-year-old David Buchanan having the advantage of youth on their sides, and Sean O'Sullivan, Kevin Correia and Severino Gonzalez all in Triple-A with 25 combined starts for Philadelphia this year, Williams isn't the only option Mackanin has. With this mix of youngsters trying to make a name for themselves, a star in his prime expected to be traded and veterans trying to reinvent themselves, Mackanin's "imminent" decision relies upon many different factors. But to Williams, the variety of ages and experiences on the roster has actually been advantageous for the pitchers themselves. "[I try] being someone who is a veteran guy to pass on some knowledge on ups and downs and just to give the younger guys confidence too," Williams said. "Also, those younger guys give us confidence to step our game up because they're younger. We're more mature, but they have a future ahead of them."

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 31-62. 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 56-62-0 on this day.

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