Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Buchanan Makes Solid Start Before Demotion

GAME RECAP: Phils Sting Rays 5-3

The Rays' offensive struggles continued Monday night in a 5-3 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. "There's not a lot to say about today, it was not pretty," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We didn't pitch well. We didn't hit well. Our approach wasn't very good. Good thing we get to come back tomorrow and try to do it again." After the Rays loaded the bases and did not score in the first, Logan Forsythe's two-run double off David Buchanan in the second gave them a 2-0 lead. The Phillies answered with three in the bottom half of the inning, scoring their first run on a wild pitch by Rays starter Matt Moore coupled with Cesar Hernandez's two-run double. Maikel Franco and Darin Ruf had RBI singles off Alex Colome in the fifth to push the Phillies' lead to 5-2. The Rays cut the lead to 5-3 when Kevin Kiermaier tripled to lead off the seventh and scored on Brandon Guyer's single.

  • Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin hasn't hidden how displeased he's been with the inability of his starters to throw deep into games and the team's over-reliance on the bullpen. Monday night, Buchanan picked up the bullpen by tossing 98 pitches and allowing three runs over 6 1/3 innings. His 98 pitches tied a season high, as did his four strikeouts. This was the fifth time in 15 July games that a Phillies starter notched an out in the seventh inning or later. "He really made the adjustment to get the ball down in the zone and hit his spots," Mackanin said. "He was throwing quality pitches. It was nice to see us get into the seventh inning." Buchanan was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after the game.
  • With the Phillies trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the second, outfielder Jeff Francoeur drew a walk to lead off the inning. After another walk and a bunt single moved him to third, Francoeur darted toward home on a Moore wild pitch with two outs, aware that Buchanan was at the plate and wasn't likely to drive him in. Although the ball didn't bounce too far away from the catcher, Francoeur made it home safely, igniting the audience and keeping the inning alive for two more runs to score. "I was a little surprised he went," Mackanin said. "That's huge. He plays all out. In order to score on a play like that, you have to anticipate something like that. He anticipated it, and he scored. It was close, but we were real happy he did."
  • Mackanin challenged home-plate umpire Scott Barry's bottom-of-the-fifth-inning ruling that Francoeur was out trying to score from first on a Ruf single on the grounds that it appeared catcher Curt Casali may have blocked the plate. After an official review, the ruling on the field was upheld, and Francoeur was ruled out via a 9-6-3-2 relay putout. The review lasted an estimated time of 54 seconds.
  • "At this point, I'm not that concerned. It wasn't good news to hear, but we'll wait and see tomorrow what the trainers say" -- Mackanin, on Franco's elbow injury that made him exit the game early.

Phillies fans will get a sneak peek into the organization's future Tuesday when the Aaron Nola era in Philadelphia begins. The 22-year-old right-hander will make his MLB debut when he starts the game, tasked with living up to the expectations of being the No. 2 prospect in the organization and No. 28 in all of baseball. The Phillies used the seventh pick of the 2014 MLB Draft on Nola. Nathan Karns (4-5, 3.63 ERA) will make his first start since July 9 at Kansas City, when he yielded a career-high seven earned runs. He finished the first half with 99 strikeouts, which lead all Major League rookies before the All-Star break. He is 1-0 with a 5.02 ERA in three career Interleague starts. First pitch is set for Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET.


Buchanan Sent Down – The process is more important than the product. Based off the moves the Phillies made after Monday's 5-3 win against the Rays, the team's fourth consecutive win coming out of the All-Star break, this is interim manager Pete Mackanin, general manager Ruben Amaro and the rest of the team's outlook on 2015. Starting pitcher David Buchanan had one of his best outings of 2015 Monday night, throwing 6 1/3 innings and allowing three runs. The start was just the fifth time in July that a Phillies starter lasted into the seventh inning, was Buchanan's first win in his past 15 starts and lowered his ERA more than half a point. However, after the game, Mackanin announced that despite the strong showing, Buchanan will be optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. "We want to keep Buchanan on his program pitching every five days," Mackanin said. "With the two days off coming up, we don't need a fifth starter. We want to keep Buchanan on track." Buchanan's demotion wasn't the only roster move the Phillies made Monday night. The move was made to free up a roster spot to activate Jerome Williams from the disabled list. Also, to make space for Aaron Nola to join the roster and start Tuesday, Chad Billingsley was placed on the 15-day disabled list with mild structural tendinitis in his throwing elbow. No structural damage was found. This move, according to Mackanin, alleviates some of the stress on the bullpen and moves the team to a four-man pitching rotation. Mackanin confirmed that Nola, Cole Hamels and Adam Morgan will be three of the four, but he said that there is a chance Williams will begin from the bullpen, as pitching coach Bob McClure has not drawn up the exact plans yet. As Mackanin indicated, Buchanan said he understood the decision. That being said, Buchanan didn't seem to believe work in Triple-A is necessarily what he needs right now. "I know I've shown that I can pitch in the big leagues, and I have to tell myself that," Buchanan said. "Because down in Lehigh and even the coaches here, they've told me, 'You've shown us you can pitch here.' When I first got optioned earlier, they were like, 'We believe in you. You've got to believe in yourself.' So I think, actually I know now, I know I can pitch here, and I have to continue to have that confidence." Buchanan said he preferred to keep the conversation he and Mackanin had about his send-down between the pair. However, he did echo Mackanin's sentiment that at this point in his career, pitching every fifth day is more important than staying in the big leagues. "[Pete] just told me to go down there and keep doing what I'm doing and trust the process," Buchanan said.

Amaro Offers “Insights” – Injuries and the impending July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline are making it rather difficult for Pete Mackanin to map out the Phillies' immediate future. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Phillies' pitching rotation. With off-days preceding and following the team's weekend series in Chicago, interim manager Mackanin can't decide who will take the ball to begin games because he isn't sure who will be on his active roster. "We're going to make some adjustments," Mackanin said. "Everything is kind of day-to-day because of the Trade Deadline. It could change our whole plan, so it's a constant process of figuring it out, and we'll be making a decision tomorrow, obviously, with what to do." General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. provided a little bit of clarity Monday as to what Mackanin's options may be. Starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, who exited his start Saturday prematurely with elbow stiffness, will be headed to the disabled list for the third time this season. Amaro said the MRI data isn't conclusive yet, but Billingsley will not be able to pitch for at least 15 days, and at the most severe, his season may be over. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Amaro said Jerome Williams is ready to return from the disabled list and that Aaron Harang shouldn't be far behind after he threw 80 pitches in a simulated start Monday. In non-pitching-related injury news, Amaro said that Chase Utley has been resuming baseball activities and should be able to begin a rehab stint within the "next week or so." Injuries, however, haven't been Amaro's primary focus in recent weeks. With Amaro and the Phillies anticipated to be major sellers at the Deadline, he said he has been at work trying to make deals a reality. "Well, we have had a lot of active discussions the last few weeks, actually," Amaro said. "And I think they will continue to pick up. Just like every July 31 , there's activity. There will be more activity as you get closer and closer." Two of the Phillies' most prominent trade pieces, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, have been the subject of discussion as to whether their value has decreased recently -- Hamels because of consecutive ineffective starts and Papelbon because of his comments regarding his desire to be traded. However, Amaro said on both fronts that these events have not affected their standing in trade talks. With regards to Papelbon, Amaro said that even though his closer will be unhappy if he isn't traded, he believes he will continue to pitch. "He's a professional," Amaro said. "He'll go about his business. And when he gets on the mound, he'll be competing just as he normally does. I don't think that's going to change the guy who's on the mound. Whatever uniform he puts on, he'll be competing."

Looking Back On Combs’ Debut – The Phillies were playing out the string late in the 1989 season, on their way to 95 losses. The announced crowd for the game against the Pirates on Sept. 5 at Veterans Stadium -- 12,484 -- reflected that reality. Something noteworthy happened, though. Left-hander Pat Combs, who just a year earlier had been the franchise's No. 1 Draft pick out of Baylor, made his Major League debut. "It was just a tremendous night," Combs, now a 48-year-old investment manager at Morgan Stanley in Texas, said by phone Monday. "It was a lot of fun." That long-ago evening came into sharper focus with the announcement that right-hander Aaron Nola will make his first big league start Tuesday night against the Rays at Citizens Bank Park. In doing so, the Phillies' top selection out of LSU from last June will become the organization's first pitcher to graduate to the bigs the following season since Combs did it nearly 26 years ago. Phillies fans have been clamoring to see Nola ever since he got off to a fast start at Double-A Reading this year. He becomes the latest hot Phillies pitching prospect whose arrival was highly anticipated by the paying customers, including Brett Myers in 2002 and Cole Hamels in 2006. Since Myers and Hamels were drafted out of high school, it is Combs' experience most closely approximates what Nola will experience Tuesday night. If anything, his rise was even faster since he tried out for the U.S. Olympic team after signing and didn't make his pro debut until he started for Class A Clearwater the following April. Asked what advice he would give Nola, Combs laughed. "I think I would tell Aaron just to keep doing what he's doing and not try to change anything just because it's a big league start. The same pitches that got Double-A and Triple-A hitters out will get big league hitters out. And he's got great stuff. So I would just tell him to trust his stuff and try to keep his nerves in check and focus on each pitch and each hitter and not worry about the results," he said. "I think that's always the key, but especially when you're making that first big league start, you go in thinking you've got to be better because you're at the Major League level. There's really no difference. The only difference is that the big league hitters will hit the mistakes more often. But great pitches get great hitters out, and that's what I think he has to keep in mind. Just continue to make good pitches and not worry about the results." Obviously, whether Nola pitches well or not, it's just one start that will not determine what happens for the rest of his career. For what it's worth, though, the Phillies' No. 1s have tended to make a great first impression. The first batter Combs faced, Pirates left fielder Albert Hall, reached second on a double error by shortstop Dickie Thon and first baseman Ricky Jordan. The second, shortstop Jay Bell, hit a grounder to the right side that rolled through to drive in the unearned run. That was all the Pirates would get, though. Combs ended up pitching six innings, allowing three hits. He walked three and struck out four. "All I could think about was trying to keep my thoughts right on the game and just do what I had done the previous four or five starts. I had such a great run at Triple-A [3-0, 0.37 in three starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after being promoted from Double-A Reading] that I just wanted to continue pitching the way I had. So I was very confident. But also very nervous, obviously, to get that first big league start." Combs left with a 2-1 lead but settled for a no-decision when the Pirates tied the game against Jeff Parrett. The Phillies scored with two outs in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 walk-off win. Myers was still only 21, but in his fourth pro season, when he made his first big league start against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 24, 2002. He was dominant that day, allowing just two hits and one earned run in eight innings. Hamels, then 22, was also in his fourth pro season, but, due to injuries, had made a total of just 36 starts before he faced the Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 12, 2006. He pitched five shutout innings and allowed one hit while striking out seven; he also walked five. Myers went on to have a productive 12-year career. Hamels has developed into one of the best starters in baseball. Combs went 4-0, 2.09 in six starts that September, but he soon came down with elbow and shoulder problems. He made his last Major League appearance in July 1992. He was 25 years old. Still, he has nothing but good memories, especially of that first start. "We ended up coming back to win. It was a quality start. It was a blast," he said.

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 33-62. 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 57-54-0 on this day.

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