Friday, October 2, 2015

Phillies Rookie Wrinkles Mets Playoff Plans

GAME RECAP: Phillies Sweep Mets 3-0

Hanging onto home-field advantage for the National League Division Series is proving difficult for the Mets, who dropped a 3-0 game to the Phillies on Thursday as many of their regulars looked on from the dugout. It was the Mets' third straight defeat in Philadelphia, which pulled them into a tie with the Dodgers, their NLDS opponent. The Mets do own the tiebreaker as a result of their 4-3 victory in the season series. "Nice to sweep these guys," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "As much as they beat up on us the whole season, it feels good to sweep them." Starting in place of rookie Steven Matz, who has been nursing a bout of back stiffness, Sean Gilmartin pitched five strong innings for the Mets in his first career start. But he allowed a two-run homer to Darin Ruf that wound up being the difference. With David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and plenty of others resting after Wednesday night's three-hour, 59-minute loss at Citizens Bank Park, the Mets were unable to muster a counterattack off Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff. "It's easy to say, 'Let's just gear up for the playoffs,'" Wright said. "But home-field advantage would be nice, so I think that's something that we really need to bear down these last three games and try to attain. And it would be nice to go into the playoffs with some sort of momentum." "We brought that up here, the importance of coming in here and winning games," Mets manager Terry Collins added. "We didn't win any. But we're going to go back home and ... we'll see where we are." Eickhoff struck out 10 Mets over seven innings to highlight the Phillies' sweep, allowing four hits and a walk. Originally scheduled for Thursday evening, the game became a matinee due to concern over poor weather moving into the area. Not that the daylight hours were pristine; many players wore long sleeves with temperatures topping out in the upper 50s and a consistent wind blowing out to left field.

  • Eickhoff (3-3, 2.65 ERA) was considered the fourth-best prospect among the five the Phillies acquired from Texas for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman in July. But he has been better than advertised. Eickhoff has allowed just three earned runs in his last 30 innings, and he has struck out 10 batters in each of his last two starts. "I've got a man crush," Phillies right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. "If none of the other guys [in the Hamels trade] ever pan out, he's worth it alone."
  • Ruf has been pressed into everyday duty since Ryan Howard bruised his left knee on Sept. 14. He hit a two-run homer to left field in the fourth. It was Ruf's fifth homer since Sept. 15, helping him post an .896 OPS in his last 14 games. If Howard and Ruf both return next season, Ruf is expected to get more playing time, especially considering his success against left-handed pitching. "I hope so," said Ruf, when asked if he has made a strong case for himself for next season. "I don't know how my play is evaluated. I just go out there and try to do the best I can every day. If that impresses people, that's great. If it doesn't, I can continue to just do my thing."
  • "Nobody wants to lose 100 games. These last three [victories] were really good for everybody's mental health." -- Mackanin, whose team needs to win just one of the season's final three games to avoid its first 100-loss season since 1961.
  • Eickhoff and Hamels are the only two Phillies rookies since 1964 to have back-to-back double-digit strikeout games. Before that? Ray Culp in 1963.
  • The Mets are fighting for home-field advantage in the NLDS, but the Phillies could get the No. 1 pick in the 2016 Draft. Their sweep of the Mets has put that at risk. They are 62-97, while the Reds have lost 12 consecutive games to fall to 63-96 going into the final three games of the season. But the Phillies hold the tiebreaker, which is their records the previous season. The Phillies finished with a worse record in 2014.

The Phillies open their final series of the season Friday night at 7:05 p.m. ET against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Right-hander Aaron Harang (6-15, 4.86 ERA) makes his final start, weather permitting. A possible hurricane is headed up the East Coast, which could make play difficult.


Impressive Finish To The Season – It is too early to be certain about the future, but if rookie Jerad Eickhoff pitches like this next season, the Phillies will feel even better about the trade that shipped Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman to Texas in July. Some already love it. "I've got a man crush," Phillies right fielder Jeff Francoeur said about Eickhoff following Thursday afternoon's 3-0 victory over the Mets at Citizens Bank Park. "If none of the other guys [in the Hamels trade] ever pan out, he's worth it alone." Eickhoff arrived as arguably the fourth-best prospect in the five-prospect trade, but he has pitched much better than that since he joined the Phillies' rotation on Aug. 21. He pitched seven scoreless innings Thursday against the Mets, allowing just four hits, one walk and striking out 10. He went 3-3 with a 2.65 ERA in eight starts. "He can be an outstanding pitcher here," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. Eickhoff's final pitch of the 2015 season should be a good memory for him. He had runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh inning when Mackanin visited the mound to give him a breather before facing Juan Lagares. "This is your game," Mackanin said. "I want it," Eickhoff replied. Eickhoff fell behind, 2-1, but he evened the count as Lagares fouled off three consecutive pitches. Eickhoff's seventh pitch of the at-bat hit the dirt to push Lagares to 3-2. Lagares fouled off a 93-mph fastball to stay alive, but Eickhoff struck out Lagares swinging on a curveball to end the inning. "I had pretty good command of my curveball and I had thrown him some curveballs earlier in the game," Eickhoff said about his choice to throw a breaking ball. "I know he had seen it, so I was trying to wait for the right time. It just so happened to be 3-2. I let it rip and got him out." The rookie punched his right fist into his glove as he walked off the mound. He was pumped. "It's the culmination of the season," Eickhoff said. "Experiences, learning, it all just comes together. It was a great, great feeling. It's hard to describe, just everything bottled up into one pitch. It felt great. Before he stepped to the plate, I looked down at the mound thinking that I'm getting down towards the end of the rope here. Just make good pitches." Eickhoff and fellow rookie Aaron Nola will enter Spring Training as heavy favorites to make the 2016 rotation. Everybody seemed to know Nola would enjoy success as the seventh overall pick in the 2014 Draft. Eickhoff? He has shown the pitches the Phillies saw when they scouted him this summer. But they did not expect him to pitch as well as he has so soon, although they certainly believed he would be a solid big league starter. Maybe Eickhoff will be better than solid. Maybe everybody in the Phillies' clubhouse will have a man crush on him next season.

Phils Honor Top Minor League Players – Andrew Knapp sported one of the Eastern League's best mustaches this season. But he also played about as well as anybody, especially behind the plate. The Phillies honored Knapp and Ricardo Pinto on Thursday as Paul Owens Award winners for being the organization's Minor League Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, respectively. "There's a ton of guys in this origination that could have been here, so I'm just really blessed to be here," Knapp said. Knapp, 23, hit .308 with 35 doubles, 13 home runs, 84 RBIs and an .876 OPS in 118 games with Class A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading. Pinto, 21, went 15-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 24 starts with Class A Lakewood and Clearwater. Both are rising stars in the Philllies' farm system, which ranked No. 7 in baseball. Knapp, the Phils' No. 17 prospect, is headed to the Arizona Fall League. Pinto, their No. 11 prospect, is headed to Venezuela for the winter. But Knapp could open next season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If that happens and if he continues to play well, it is not unrealistic to think he could be with the Phiillies at this point next season. "I think it's realistic if I go out and do what I want to do," Knapp said. "There shouldn't be any reason it's not an option. I think it's just up to me to go out and prove it." The Phillies are feeling fortunate these days because two of their best prospects are catchers. Jorge Alfaro is the other. The Phillies acquired him in July from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade. Knapp is aware of Alfaro's arrival, and there is a chance both could be catching side by side in Spring Training. "If we're going to be teammates, then you can't wish for anyone to do bad," Knapp said. "I hope the best for him. But for me, I just have to worry about myself and do what I do. The cards will fall where they may." Knapp played some outfield and first base in college, so already there is speculation that if both progress as hoped, one could move to a different position. "I think I'm athletic enough to be out there," Knapp said about the outfield. "I mean, I'm definitely a catcher. I'll try to stay there as long as I can, but whatever it takes to get to the big leagues. ... I've just got to go into spring and play the way I can play. I think this offseason is going to be huge for me, trying to get my body into better shape. But it's going to be the defensive side. I like where my bat is, but I think people need to be able to trust me behind the plate." If Knapp is going to reach the big leagues, he is going to have to continue to hit and improve defensively. He has caught only 157 games professionally because he had Tommy John surgery in 2013 after the Phillies drafted him. He said he has improved the most defensively on the running game, but he also is learning how to call a game and earn a pitcher's trust. "I think every catcher sees a little bit more than a pitcher does," Knapp said. "They're really focused on executing a pitch and sometimes they're wanting to do something that maybe isn't the best idea, so you've really got to get that trust from those guys and be able to work together." Pinto signed with the Phillies for $15,000 in December 2011. He has quietly, but impressively, moved through the system. Most of the attention has been on pitching prospects like Aaron Nola, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin and others. But Pinto could be as good as any of them. Pinto has a reputation for being a good competitor and being unafraid to pitch inside. Not too many young pitchers are comfortable doing that. "There's a fire inside of me that has been there since I was a little kid," Pinto said through translator Jorge Velandia. "I don't like to lose. I've always been that way. I love the game and I don't like to lose. I'm a winner and I want to win. "Ever since I was a kid hanging around and playing Little League and stuff, growing up in Venezuela, the key to pitching is pitching inside. I took that into consideration and started working on that. When I came to the States, I started to refine the inside corner. I have heard that whomever dominates inside is going to be somebody in this game."

The Phillies have returned to their lackluster ways and regained their grip on last place in the NL East with a record of 62-97. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and bipolar performances this season, this could still end up being the worst team in franchise history… at least that is something to hope for this year! All time, the Phillies are 26-28-1 on this day.

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