Sunday, March 6, 2016

Phils Fall Short Behind Nola’s Shaky Start


Michael Saunders hit a pair of home runs and Troy Tulowitzki added one of his own in the Blue Jays' 9-6 victory over the Phillies on Saturday afternoon at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Saunders hit a three-run shot in the first inning off Philadelphia starter Aaron Nola and later added a two-run shot in the third off reliever Elvis Araujo. Toronto's veteran outfielder also added a single in the fifth to finish his day 3-for-3 with five RBIs. "To tell you the truth, I was happier with my third at-bat," Saunders said. "I was able to hit the ball hard the other day, and I think that's when I start going good, when I start driving the ball the other way, letting the ball travel and staying on it. I'm just getting more and more comfortable with every at-bat." Tulowitzki, who started the game out of the leadoff spot to get extra at-bats, recorded his first home run of the spring with a solo shot deep over the wall in left. It was his first hit of the spring, and he finished the afternoon 1-for-3. The other standout on offense included Chris Colabello, who went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored. Nola was charged with four runs on four hits and a walk over his two innings of work. Araujo allowed two runs on two hits and a walk in one inning, while right-hander Reinier Roibal surrendered three runs -- none earned -- on four hits and a strikeout in two innings. "I wasn't really commanding the baseball. My pitches were pretty much over the plate, and they made me pay for them. I was getting behind in the count," Nola said. "My first-pitch strikes [4 of 10] weren't too good today." Right-hander Drew Hutchison got the start for Toronto, and he pitched a clean first inning before loading the bases in the second. He allowed one run, which scored on a hit batter, while also walking one and allowing one hit over his two innings. Catcher Logan Moore doubled in the fourth inning for Philadelphia, and third baseman Taylor Featherston hit a solo shot in the fifth. The Phillies also added back-to-back two-out doubles in the ninth to bring the final score to 9-6. With the win, Toronto improved to 4-0-1 in the Grapefruit League season, while the Phillies dropped to 2-3-1.

Charlie Morton will make his first appearance of the spring -- and first in a Phillies uniform -- when he takes the ball at Bright House Field on Sunday in a 1:05 p.m. ET matchup with the Yankees, live on MLB.TV. The veteran right-hander, whom the Phillies obtained from the Pirates in December for Minor League righty David Whitehead, went 9-9 with a 4.81 ERA in 23 starts for Pittsburgh last year. The Yankees will counter with Masahiro Tanaka.


A Bipolar Outing – Aaron Nola's 29-pitch effort in Saturday's 9-6 loss to the Blue Jays proved to be a tale of two outings, with the young right-hander recovering from a rocky first inning to record an easy 1-2-3 second. Blue Jays designated hitter Troy Tulowitzki lined a 2-1 fastball into the pine trees beyond the left-field wall to lead things off, and after a walk to Josh Donaldson and a swinging bunt single by Chris Colabello, Michael Saunders launched a towering drive into the Toronto bullpen in right-center to make the score 4-0. Junior Lake followed with a groundout to short, and after an infield single by Darwin Barney, Nola got Josh Thole to ground into an inning-ending double play. "I wasn't really commanding the baseball. I was getting behind on the count. My pitches were pretty much over the plate, and they made me pay for them," said Nola. Nola settled down nicely in the second inning, sandwiching groundouts to short by Ezequiel Carrera and Tulowitzki around a soft comebacker by Jio Mier to retire the Blue Jays in order. "It went a little smoother. I made adjustments, and I got a feel for my pitches a little more," said Nola, whose fastball topped out at 93 mph while sitting consistently in the 90-91 range. Nola reported that there was nothing in his pregame preparation to suggest he would struggle in the early going. "My arm felt good, and my body felt good all day and then in warmups, and I felt good on the field. It's just about executing pitches. I missed a couple of spots over the plate that were supposed to be away," said Nola, who is projected to be the Phillies' Opening Day starter on April 4 in Cincinnati. It was Nola's powerful command of his entire pitching repertoire that helped convince the Phillies to make him the seventh overall pick of the 2014 Draft, so is it difficult for him to struggle with location, as he did on Saturday? "I run into outings like that every now and then, but I'm going to continue to work on those areas and try not to make those mistakes as much -- try not to make them again," said Nola, who went 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts for the Phillies last year after being called up in late July. And that big league experience has proved invaluable to the 22-year-old Nola as he navigates through his first Grapefruit League competition. "Getting the callup in July, I know how it is, and I know what I have to do. It involves a lot of work, and I'm going to continue trying to compete and work through everything on my side sessions and during my throwing sessions," said Nola.

Altherr Out Of The Lineup – Phillies right fielder Aaron Altherr, who injured his left wrist in the first inning of Friday's 12-11 win over the Braves, was held out of Saturday's 9-6 loss to the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla. Altherr is day to day, according to Phillies skipper Pete Mackanin. He has yet to undergo X-rays, but he is wearing a splint on the wrist. Altherr described the injury, which he sustained while diving for a line drive off the bat of Braves leadoff hitter Ender Inciarte, as "not even close" to the right wrist injury that he sustained in the Arizona Fall League two years ago that required surgery. Despite feeling sore, Altherr remained in Friday's game for the balance of the first inning -- he was forced to chase down a double by Erick Aybar on the following at-bat -- but he exited after the Phillies returned to the dugout. "I wasn't real comfortable playing on it, and it's still early in Spring Training. I didn't want to risk anything," said Altherr.

Today In Phils History - Former Pittsburgh catcher Charles "Chief" Zimmer finally got a chance to manage when the Phillies hired him on this day in 1903. 7 years later, the Phillies got quite the scare when lightening ripped through the team hotel in Southern Pines, NC causing significant damage to many of the player's rooms including a 3 foot hole in the ceiling. Thankfully no one was injured. In 1938, the Phillies parted ways with Dolph Camilli and received Eddie Morgan and $45,000 in return from Brooklyn. 20 years later, first baseman Ed Bouchee was sentenced after pleading guilty to two counts of indecent exposure involving minors. In a turning point for the franchise (and for baseball), Ruly Carpenter announced that he would entertain offers on the franchise following the recent trend in spending practices spearheaded by owners such as George Steinbrenner and Ted Turner. 10 years ago, what a difference a decade makes, a record crowd of nearly 10,000 fans packed into Bright House Networks Field to see the Phillie and Red Sox face off (and they were subsequently treated to a brawl following a confrontation between Ryan Howard and Josh Beckett). Today is also the birthday of old timer John Coleman (1863), middle infielder Cookie Rojas (1939), and injury prone Terry Adams (1973). 

The Phillies have begun the spring with a 2-3-1 record (3-3-1 if you include the exhibition game against the University of Tampa). With the Phillies having finished the 2015 season with a spectacularly awful record of 63-99 it will be interesting to see what kind of team new President Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak put on the field. At the same time I am definitely looking forward to the games against Boston with former GM Ruben Amaro on the field. Given the departures, lingering contracts, a history of injuries, bipolar performances, and unproven talent, it should, at the very least, be an interesting season for the Phillies. Who knows, maybe they can avoid 100 losses... hopefully by more than one game!

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