Saturday, April 30, 2016

Howard Wins It For The Phillies In The 11th

GAME RECAP: Phillies Stun Indians 4-3

If you blinked, you might have missed it. After 10 1/2 innings of play and nearly 3 1/2 hours, Ryan Howard ended Friday night's game at Citizens Bank Park on one pitch. The veteran first baseman lined a 3-2 pitch from Cody Allen over the right-field wall to give the Phillies a 4-3, 11-inning win over the Indians. "It felt good," Howard said. "I put the fat part of the bat on the ball, and the rest took care of itself." At only two points were the Indians and Phillies anything but tied. The two clubs matched zeros for the first four innings of play, before they each scored three runs in the fifth. But while Adam Morgan unraveled the third time through the Cleveland order and exited after allowing three runs, Corey Kluber bounced back from his three-run fifth to retire the final six Phillies he faced. Only two of the runs Kluber allowed in the fifth were earned. Both teams' bullpens put forth impressive efforts, combining to allow only one run, but the Phillies' outlasted the Indians'. Philadelphia's 'pen struck out 11 over six scoreless frames. The Indians' relievers matched their opponent's impressive efforts through their first three, but Howard put the winning run over the wall to lead off the 11th inning. "When you're on the road, you're always kind of playing with fire," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Because they get to hit last." It was the Phillies' fourth straight win and seventh in their last eight games. At 13-10, they're three games above .500 for the first time since Sept. 21, 2012. "It's a lot of fun. This is the most excited I've seen these guys in two years with the team," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.

  • It looked as though the Phillies were going to get a run in 10th. Facing Jeff Manship, Philadelphia loaded the bases with one out. But Francona went to his closer, Allen, with the circumstances dire. Allen struck out Freddy Galvis to end the Phillies' rally before getting Maikel Franco to ground out to end the frame. "Cody came in and did such a good job to get out of that and give us another chance," Francona said. The next batter he faced -- Howard, the next inning -- ended the game, though. "He caught too much of the plate to Howard," Francona continued. "That's not the first time [Howard] has done that."
  • Morgan was cruising in his first Major League start of the season and had sat down nine straight when Kluber came up with two outs in the fifth. After Kluber's double and Davis' following RBI single, Jason Kipnis lifted a 1-2 Morgan offering over the right-field wall to make it a three-run inning. Morgan struck out the next batter, Francisco Lindor, his seventh strikeout on the last batter he faced. "It was a slider that wasn't low enough," Morgan said of the pitch Kipnis hit over the fence.
  • Phillies pitchers combined for 18 strikeouts on Friday night, setting a new season high. Eleven of those punchouts came from their bullpen, which threw six scoreless innings in relief of Morgan, who notched a career-best seven strikeouts. The Phillies now have 240 strikeouts on the season, the most in the Majors. 
  • When Davis drove Kluber home from second in the fifth inning, it snapped the Phillies' 26-inning scoreless streak. The last time Philadelphia had a streak that long was Sept. 13-16, 2009. The Phillies own two of the three longest scoreless streaks of the 2016 season: the aforementioned 26 innings and a 19-inning run from April 11-13. The Dodgers' 31-inning streak to begin the season leads baseball.
Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies on Saturday in the second game of their Interleague series with Cleveland. Eickhoff has a 4.07 ERA through four starts this season, but his last start saw him give up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Brewers. Eickhoff is hoping to look more like the pitcher he was in his first three games, during which he had a 1.89 ERA.


What Year Is This? – Ryan Howard hit a walk-off home run as the Phillies continued their winning ways on Friday night. It felt like the good old days at Citizens Bank Park. Howard, the longest-tenured member of a young Phillies roster, was reminiscent of his former MVP self in a 4-3, 11-inning win over the Indians, the Phillies' seventh victory in their last eight and their fourth straight overall. He went 3-for-5 with a double and a line-drive homer off Cleveland closer Cody Allen. "I think you savor it at any moment in your career, whether you're a rookie, whether you're a veteran, and those are always great situations to be in and come through for your team," Howard said. And this current team is playing better than any team Howard -- in his 13th Major League season -- has been on in the last few seasons. At 13-10, the Phillies are three games over the .500 mark for the first time since Sept. 21, 2012, when they were 77-74. Only Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Freddy Galvis and Darin Ruf remain from that roster. "I'm having a blast. The team itself is having a good time," Howard said. "… There's a different energy, and you could feel that at the end in Spring Training. And the way everything's been going, it's great." Friday's three-hit performance was also Howard's best showing so far in the 2016 season. In what was just his second multi-hit game of the year, Howard cranked his fifth home run and first double. He upped his average from .185 to .214, and that double was the first hit in what turned into a three-run fifth inning. "He hasn't been swinging the bat very well, and he got a couple hits earlier in the game," Phillies manager Pete Makanin said of Howard. "Any time you hit a walk-off home run, it's exciting for everybody, and I'd like to see Howard do it another 25 times -- not necessarily a walk-off." Ruiz, who is next behind Howard in terms of service time in Philadelphia, drove Howard in with a double in the fifth. Ruiz is now hitting .297 this season, and though the Phillies' season will be mostly about their younger talent, their veterans are showing they can still make a difference.

Morgan Bolsters K Total – Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said before Friday's game that Adam Morgan was not guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation moving forward. For the first 14 outs of his start, Morgan looked like a pitcher deserving of it in the Phillies' 4-3, 11-inning win. Morgan, a 26-year-old lefty, cruised through the first 4 2/3 innings of his first Major League start of the season, even retiring nine consecutive batters before Indians pitcher Corey Kluber stepped in to the batter's box with two outs in the fifth. What looked to likely be an innocent end to the inning turned into trouble. Kluber -- in just his 15th Major League at-bat -- hit a double down the left-field line and scored the game's first run when leadoff man Rajai Davis singled him home. Jason Kipnis followed that up with a home run, hitting a 1-2 slider from Morgan over the right-field fence to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead. Morgan's night ended on a sour note, but the pitcher was picked up. First by the Phillies offense, then by their bullpen. Philadelphia got Morgan off the hook with three runs in the bottom of the fifth and then a group of four relievers put together six scoreless innings, setting up Ryan Howard's walk-off home run in the 11th. "The energy is high and everyone is picking each other up, the way the bullpen did for me and those guys came out in the fifth inning and scored runs," said Morgan, who made 15 starts for the Phillies last season. Morgan was called up to replace Charlie Morton, the veteran sinkerballer who was recently lost for the season with a left hamstring injury. It looked like the southpaw did enough to earn himself another shot in the Phillies rotation, striking out a career-best seven batters over five innings. "I realized the mistakes that I made, and I can go forward from there," he said. Meanwhile, the Phillies' bullpen turned in another solid performance. Andrew Bailey, Elvis Araujo, Hector Neris and David Hernandez allowed just one hit and struck out 11 in six innings. Bailey and Hernandez each had four punchouts, while Neris had the other three. Phillies pitchers lead the Majors with 240 strikeouts on the season. The 18 strikeouts by the Phillies were the most they've had as a team since May 30, 2014, against the Mets, a game that went 14 innings. Morgan also helped the Phillies pitching staff run its scoreless streak to 26 innings, the franchise's longest since Sept. 13-16, 2009. While the streak was snapped in the fifth, the bullpen got another one underway in a hurry. "We were confident that the guys we had were capable pitchers, and we felt they were capable of doing what they're doing," Mackanin said. "To see them doing what we thought they were capable of doing is a good feeling. We have guys in the Minors that we're excited about, also, but these guys out here, are we leading the league in strikeouts? It's outstanding."

Today In Phils History – In addition to some unique names appearing on Phillies lineup cards on this day including Spud Davis (1928) and Delmon Young (2013) as well as some nice additions made to the team when they traded for Pinky Whitney in 1936 and acquired Andy Seminick and Jim Greengrass (for a package that included Smoky Burgess) in 1955, there have been some unique games in the history of the franchise on this day. The first of such games came in 1887 when the Phillies beat New York in the first game at what would later be known as the Baker Bowl. In 1919, the Phillies played Brooklyn to 9-9 tie in 20 innings after each team scored three runs in the 19th. In 1961 manager Gene Mauch, in an unusual move, used a team record 5 pinch hitters in the 8th inning to score 7 runs. The Phillies would go on to beat St. Louis in 10 innings. A year later, in 1962, the Phillies finally defeated Warren Spahn ending an 11 game losing streak against the Milwaukee ace that dated back to May of 1959.  

The Phillies are currently 13-10 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 41-49-3 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Phillies Shock Nationals By Completing Sweep

GAME RECAP: Phillies Sweep Nationals 3-0

The Nationals and Phillies found themselves in a pitchers' duel on Thursday afternoon, but thanks to some clutch ninth-inning hitting, the Phillies completed their three-game sweep, winning 3-0 at Nationals Park. It was the Phillies' first sweep at Nationals Park since 2009. Scoreless heading into the ninth inning, the Phillies loaded the bases with one out and Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. On a 2-2 pitch, Cameron Rupp doubled over Bryce Harper's head in right field to score Odubel Herrera and Freddy Galvis. Two batters later, David Lough reached base on an infield single, scoring Maikel Franco. All three runs were charged to Nationals reliever Felipe Rivero, who allowed two hits and an intentional walk to start the inning. Rivero started the inning because manager Dusty Baker didn't like the matchup between Papelbon and the top of the Phillies' batting order. "Sometimes, those things don't work. It's just one of those days where nothing worked," manager Dusty Baker said. "We'll get it fixed. It's not easy while you're in it, and it doesn't take long to get in a funk like that. You don't have any choice. You just gotta keep playing, keep grinding." The upstart Phillies finished their road trip at 5-1. "When we started 0-4, that obviously wasn't a good start, but the guys just hung in there," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "This is huge to get our confidence back. The guys scrape and scratch, but you've got to hand it to the pitching. The pitching is the reason we're able to win games." The Nationals collected four hits in the game against four Phillies pitchers and scored only three runs during the three-game series.

  • After walking Harper five times in the first two games, the Phillies wound up pitching to Harper in two key situations on Thursday. Harper grounded out to second with a runner on third to end the sixth inning and struck out swinging on three pitches with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the eighth.
  • With Hernandez on second and two out in the fifth, Peter Bourjos hit a hot smash down the third-base line that Stephen Drew drove to grab. As the ball slithered behind him, the seasoned veteran lunged to pick it up, and with a spinning move, he tagged out the sliding Hernandez.
  • The Phillies held the Nationals scoreless for 22 consecutive innings. In Thursday's game, the Nationals went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. "It was one of those days where nothing worked our way -- offensively or defensively," Baker said.
  • After walking to lead off the game against Roark, it appeared Herrera had stolen second base. But after a 45-second review, the call was reversed, and Herrera was thrown out by Nationals catcher Pedro Severino.
They open a three-game Interleague series against the Indians on Friday at Citizens Bank Park at 7:05 p.m. ET. With the season-ending hamstring injury to Charlie Morton, Mackanin has yet to announce a starter for the opener. Corey Kluber is expected to start for Cleveland.


No Trouble With The Curve – Phillies starter Aaron Nola was on a mission to find himself on Thursday against the Nationals. And what he found at Nationals Park was the right combination of a split-finger fastball with a devastating curve. "I felt better about that pitch," Nola said, when asked about the curve. "I felt like I had a much better feel for it than the last few games." It was certainly enough for him to stymie the Nationals, as he allowed just two hits during seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 win. The win gave the Phillies their first sweep at Nationals Park since May 2009. It was also enough for Nola to match Nationals starter Tanner Roark, who also worked seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball. Neither pitcher was around when the Phillies scored three times in the ninth inning to end their road trip 5-1. "Nola was pretty darn good today," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He had a low pitch count. I even thought about letting him go back out for the eighth inning and not hitting for him. But we had to try to score some runs." Mackanin saw a pitcher who has now made a pair of stellar starts since allowing seven runs on seven hits in the first five innings of an 8-1 loss to the Nationals at home on April 16. Nola threw seven innings of one-run, four-hit ball in a 5-2 win over the Brewers in Milwaukee on April 22 and followed it up on Thursday with this gem. The Phillies' manager had so much confidence in Nola that he let him pitch to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper with a runner on third and two out in the sixth inning. In the previous two games, Mackanin had walked Harper five times, twice intentionally. Not this time, though. "Why not? We can't walk the guy every time," Mackanin said. "Somebody has to get him out. Eighth inning I might have done it. But not in that situation. I'm not going to do it." Harper bounced the ball to the right of second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who made a fine play by just beating Harper to first base with an impressive throw. Harper, 2-for-8 in the series with no extra-base hits or RBIs, slammed his helmet to the turf in frustration. "I felt like I could get him out right there," Nola said. "I knew he was going to be aggressive with guys on. All I needed to do was execute a pitch. I did it and got a ground ball out of it." It was a learning experience, too, for the 22-year old right-hander, Mackanin said. The manager wanted to show that he believes in Nola. "I like that," Nola said. "I like that he does have the confidence in me."

Hinojosa Exits Early – Phillies right-hander Dalier Hinojosa suffered a bruise on the palm of his pitching hand when he was struck by a line drive off the bat of Washington center fielder Matt den Dekker in the eighth inning of Philadelphia's 3-0 win at Nationals Park on Thursday. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said X-rays were negative, but he intends to watch the reliever closely. "We're just going to go day to day and see how swollen it gets," Mackanin said. "Let's see what happens. Did he get hit hard? It sure looked like it." Hinojosa came in to relieve starter Aaron Nola in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, he walked Pedro Severino. The next batter, pinch-hitter Chris Heisey, lined a shot off Hinojosa's glove that second baseman Cesar Hernandez turned into a forceout. Lightening then struck twice as den Dekker's shot deflected off Hinojosa's hand for an infield single, putting runners on first and third. Mackanin and the trainers went to the mound to examine Hinojosa. "At that point, I was going to make a change anyway," Mackanin said. Left-hander Elvis Araujo came in, and Washington manager Dusty Baker countered with pinch-hitter Anthony Rendon, who walked on a full count pitch to load the bases. But Bryce Harper whiffed swinging on three pitches to end the Nationals' last threat of the evening.

Pitching To The Lineup – When the Phillies faced the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month, Bryce Harper pummeled Philadelphia pitching. So prior to this week's three-game sweep that ended on Thursday with a 3-0 win at Nationals Park, the Phillies' baseball brain trust decided on a different strategy: pitch around the left-handed power hitter, who is again tearing up the National League to the tune of a .314 batting average, nine homers and 24 RBIs. "When [the Nationals] were at our place, he was hitting everything. I don't care if the pitch was a foot off the ground or over his head, he crushed it," Phils bench coach Larry Bowa said of Harper, who was 7-for-11 in that series, with three homers, six RBIs, 16 total bases and one walk. "I mean he wore us out." Harper's OPS of 1.252 entering Thursday's game is impressive, and it compares favorably to the all-time leaders for a single season in that category. Barry Bonds holds three of the top four and has the best ever of 1.422 in 2004. A guy name Babe Ruth has the third best and three of the top six. Now, the Phillies are giving Harper the Ruth and Bonds treatment. They walked Harper five times in the first two games of the series -- both Philadelphia victories -- including two intentionally. And then suddenly on Thursday, they didn't. Mackanin allowed 22-year-old starter Aaron Nola to go right at Harper in the sixth inning with two out and a runner on third. Harper grounded out to second. Why did the manager decide to deviate from the plan? "Why not? We can't walk the guy every time," Mackanin said. "Somebody has to get him out. Eighth inning, I might have done it. But not in that situation. I'm not going to do it." In the eighth inning, Mackanin didn't have any choice. The bases were loaded when Harper came up to face young left-hander Elvis Araujo. He whiffed on three pitches, swinging at strike three toward the inner part of the plate. It's a game of constant adjustment, as other great players before Harper have found. Bonds walked 2,558 times in 22 years, 688 of them intentionally, both of them all-time records. Ruth is third with 2,062 walks. Harper has only 294 (27 intentional) during the first four-plus years of his career. But other teams are just getting started. "Let somebody else beat you," Bowa said. "They've got a good club over there, but [Ryan] Zimmerman is not swinging too well right now. Obviously, when he starts swinging, you've got to think a little bit. But when they left our place, Harper just kept hitting. "We'll have to pitch to him eventually, but if you have a base open or something right now, you'd be dumb not to walk him." To Bowa's point, Zimmerman -- the cleanup hitter behind Harper -- is 6-for-29 with no homers and four RBIs in his past six games, which gave the Phils the option of pitching around the reigning NL MVP Award winner. It worked. Harper was 2-for-8 in the series, and despite the five walks, he didn't score once. Zimmerman hasn't hit a homer since April 19 and hasn't had an extra-base hit since April 20. Consequently, Harper has scored only five times during that period. And the Nats' once five-game NL East lead over the defending league champion Mets has shrunk to a half-game. "Yeah, they're going to walk him," said Dusty Baker, Harper's third manager in his short career. "He's learning a lot in the process. He's learning about patience. He's taking his walks. It's just a matter of whether they can play on his emotions and patience, so he loses his concentration and stays in the strike zone. "Zimm has a track record where he can handle it, I think. It's just a matter of him not taking it personal, either. I batted behind Hank Aaron. I was a good hitter, but, dang, I was 23 years old. His advice to me was not to try to do too much." Harper seemingly has been part of baseball's fabric for so long, one can forget he's just 23 years old. He was brought up from Triple-A Syracuse exactly four years ago Thursday at the tender young age of 19. Harper has had transgressions like most young players, but from the Phillies' point of view, they're not worried about getting inside either Harper or Zimmerman's head. They're just trying to keep the MVP off base. Bowa said he, Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure sit on the bench and discuss strategy when Harper comes up. "I mean, we talk about it, but Pete has to implement it," Bowa said. "McClure, he'll sit there and he may say, 'Hey, I don't want to pitch to him right here.' Pete asks, but he has to make the decision. Before a series, we go over the team, and if there's one guy where we say, 'We don't want him to beat us,' we try not to let that happen." In this series, that guy was Harper, and thus far what the Phils are doing has altered the game more than a bit. Advance scouts from other teams are watching, and that's the way trends emerge.

Today In Phils History – On the day that we celebrate the first legal Sunday home game in Phillies history (1934), we also celebrate Steve Carlton for becoming the first left handed pitcher (and 6th overall) in major league history to reach 3000 strikeouts in 1981. Robin Roberts also had a notable pitching performance when he threw a one-hit shutout against Milwaukee in 1954. The longest game in Phillies history also took place on this day in 1989… the Phillies won the rain shortened matchup 8-0 against the Reds after waiting out rain delays of 151 and 92 minutes respectively. One of the players waiting through the rain that day was Juan Samuel whom the Phillies signed exactly 9 years earlier in 1980. Most recently, this is the day when two franchise records for the month of April were eclipsed when, in 2011, Ryan Howard drove in his 27th RBI and Placido Polanco recorded his 39th hit breaking Chase Utley’s record set three years prior.  

The Phillies are currently 12-10 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 46-47-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hellickson And Phillies Shut Down Nationals

GAME RECAP: Phillies Blank Nationals 3-0

What a difference nearly two weeks makes for Jeremy Hellickson. On April 15, the Nationals hit him hard, scoring six runs over three innings in Philadelphia. Hellickson was virtually unhittable in a 3-0 victory Wednesday at Nationals Park. The Phillies have won four of their last five games in the nation's capital. "[Hellickson] was sharp tonight," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "Some of the guys were complaining about some of the calls. Hellickson was painting tonight, changing speeds. He had a very good night. I don't want to say it was us because you don't want to discredit what he did tonight." Hellickson went seven innings, allowing just two hits with eight strikeouts. The Nationals had runners in scoring position twice in the game. Their biggest chance to score off Hellickson came in the second inning. With runners on first and second and one out, Jose Lobaton hit into a double play to end the threat. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez, meanwhile, lost his first game of the season. He gave up two runs -- one earned -- in 6 1/3 innings. The Phillies took the lead in the sixth, when Odubel Herrera scored on a sacrifice fly by Darin Ruf. An inning later, Philadelphia added a run on an error by third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose high throw home permitted Cesar Hernandez to score. In the eighth, Carlos Ruiz knocked a solo homer off left-hander Sammy Solis. "People have asked me what my goal is for this year with the type of team we have," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "My goal is to play .500 and then we'll go from there depending on what transpires. But the thing I'm real happy about, especially after starting 0-4 … I've got a pretty good selection of pitchers that I feel comfortable with. That's the reason we're 11-10. The pitching has been outstanding."

  • The Phillies lost one of their only two veteran starters for the season this week, when Charlie Morton tore his left hamstring. Hellickson was the other. He stepped up against the Nationals, posting his best start of the season following two starts in which he allowed 10 runs in just 7 1/3 innings. "It [stinks] losing Charlie," Hellickson said. "He was a great pitcher and even better in here. Everyone loved him, so that's a tough loss for us. We'll all continue battling. But, yeah, the last two starts were all I really needed for motivation tonight."
  • Herrera singled to center field in the sixth inning to reach base safely in 18 consecutive games, which ties a career high. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sac fly by Ruf to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. "I'm the first one facing the starting pitcher," Herrera said through the Phillies' interpreter. "That gives me a sense of responsibility. The more pitches I see, the more pitches whoever is batting behind me sees. It is great to feel I am doing a good job. Things are working out for me. I really like that."
  • Carlos Ruiz has three home runs in 34 at-bats this season. He had two homers in 284 at-bats in 2015.
  • "[Jeanmar] Gomez is 6-for-6 in saves, and he looks like he's been doing it his whole career. If he maintains what he's doing right now … he might be our closer next year." – Mackanin.
  • The Phillies have won four out of their last five games against the Nationals at Nationals Park.

Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (1-2, 4.50 ERA) starts in the series finale against the Nationals at 4:05 p.m. ET Thursday at Nationals Park. Nola surrendered a career-high seven runs in just five innings April 16 in a loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park, but Nola rebounded in his last start, allowing one run in seven frames last weekend in Milwaukee.


Hellickson Returns To Form – The Phillies acquired Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton in the offseason because they believed they needed a couple veterans to stabilize a rotation of talented, but inexperienced starters. The Phillies learned on Wednesday they lost Morton for the season with a torn left hamstring. It seemed fitting that Hellickson turned in his best effort of the season a few hours later in a3-0 victory over the Nationals at Nationals Park, where he allowed two hits, three walks and struck out eight batters in seven scoreless innings to improve to 2-1 with a 3.81 ERA. "It [stinks] losing Charlie," Hellickson said. "He was a great pitcher and even better in here. Everyone loved him, so that's a tough loss for us. We'll all continue battling. But, yeah, the last two starts were all I really needed for motivation tonight." Hellickson permitted 17 hits and 10 runs in 7 1/3 innings over his last two starts, which included an outing April 15 against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. Hellickson surrendered six runs in just three innings that night. "I think I was 0-1 a lot more than I have been," Hellickson said about Wednesday's success. "Then just going after guys in general. The last couple games, I've been working way too hard in the early innings and pretty much throwing everything I had. So I was just getting ahead and getting some early outs in the early innings." The victory improved the Phillies to 11-10. It is the first time the Phillies have had a winning record this late in a season since May 4, 2014, when they were 15-14. "We all believe in each other," Hellickson said. "I felt like we were going to compete from Game 1. I don't think this really surprised any of us." The Phillies will need Hellickson to keep pitching well moving forward. They still need a veteran in that rotation to show these young pitchers the way. "He really bounced back, especially after the news about Morton," manager Pete Mackanin said. "It's good to see him pitch that well. He was outstanding."

Thriving At The Top – Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a couple noticeable changes to his lineup a week ago. Mackanin put Odubel Herrera in the leadoff spot and placed his pitcher eighth. The former has received less attention than the latter because hitting the pitcher eighth is unusual and its effectiveness is debatable, but moving Herrera to the top spot might have sparked the Phillies' offense. Herrera singled and scored the Phillies' first run Wednesday night in a 3-0 victory over the Nationals at Nationals Park. The Phillies can sweep the first-place Nationals with a victory in the series finale Thursday. "I do like leading off," Herrera said through the Phillies' interpreter. "I don't mind hitting first, second or third. But I really like to lead off." The Phillies are 5-1 and averaging 5.33 runs per game since Herrera moved to the top spot in the Phillies' lineup. They were 6-9 and averaging 2.47 runs per game when they tried Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Emmanuel Burriss there. "I'm the first one facing the starting pitcher," Herrera said. "That gives me a sense of responsibility. The more pitches I see, the more pitches whoever is batting behind me sees. It is great to feel I am doing a good job. Things are working out for me. I really like that." Added Mackanin: "He's been a catalyst." Herrera is batting .364 (8-for-22) with one home run, three RBIs, seven walks, two stolen bases, eight runs scored and a 1.000 OPS over his last six games. He has reached base safely in 18 consecutive games, which ties a career high. Herrera worked a one-out walk to load the bases in the seventh and walked again in the ninth. They were his 20th and 21st free passes, which ranks second in the Majors. "He knows how to hit," Mackanin said. "He decided he was going to stop expanding the strike zone. I think he does occasionally, but he's a smart hitter, and he really enjoys the fact that he's walking. You don't see many guys clap and get excited when they walk, but this guy, he's fun to be around."

Morton Is Mortal – Phillies right-hander Charlie Morton's season is finished. The Phillies announced Wednesday that he will have surgery on his torn left hamstring Monday in Philadelphia. Morton, 32, will need six-to-eight months to recover, which means he will miss the remainder of the year. "I feel bad for him and for us because he was starting to throw really well," manager Pete Mackanin said before Wednesday's game against the Nationals at Nationals Park. "It's a shame." Triple-A Lehigh Valley left-hander Adam Morgan will take Morton's spot in the Phillies' rotation on Friday against the Indians at Citizens Bank Park, although the team has made no official announcement. Morton's season-ending injury leaves the Phillies without one of the two veterans they acquired in the offseason to stabilize the rotation, making everybody in the rotation 29 years old or younger. But the Phillies think they have enough arms to cover themselves the rest of the season. They know they will need more starters. They already are monitoring Vince Velasquez's workload. "One of the big goals of the offseason was building more pitching depth in the organization beyond the five guys we had here," assistant general manager Ned Rice said. "We have guys with Major League experience in Lehigh and Reading. We have prospects who are younger, working their way up and doing well, so I think we feel good about being able to get through the year. We have a lot of guys who could be pretty exciting. We just feel bad for Charlie." Morton's injury leaves Jeremy Hellickson (29), Aaron Nola (23), Jerad Eickhoff (25), Velasquez (24) and Morgan (26) in the rotation. The Phillies have not had a 29-or-under rotation since 2004, when they had Eric Milton (28), Brett Myers (23), Kevin Millwood (29), Randy Wolf (27) and Vicente Padilla (26). "I think we're covered," Mackanin said. "As the season goes along, you'll see more guys who are maybe beginning their Triple-A careers now. They'll be 70, 80, 100 innings in and you'll feel better about them," Rice said. "We even have a couple of guys in Double-A with Major League experience in [Alec] Asher and Severino Gonzalez. I don't think we're starved for experience. We feel OK depth wise." Morton injured himself Saturday running to first base on a sacrifice bunt attempt. The Phillies placed him on the 15-day disabled list Sunday, and he received a MRI exam on Monday in Philadelphia. Mackanin said on Tuesday the MRI results were worse than anticipated. The injury is a blow for a few reasons. First, Morton pitched relatively well. He went 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings in four starts. Second, they hoped he would eat up plenty of innings, allowing the team's pitching prospects more developmental time in the Minor Leagues. Third, Morton would have been a trade chip before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. That will not happen now, and it seems likely Morton will be elsewhere next season. The Phillies and Morton have a $9.5 million mutual option for 2017, which includes a $1 million buyout. Morton forfeits the buyout if he declines his half of the option. Phillies physician Steven Cohen will perform the surgery.

A Unique Deal For Franco – Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco has been heating up the past few days. Entering Wednesday's 3-0 win over the Nationals, Franco had hit .444 (8-for-18) with one double, three home runs and nine RBIs in his last four games. He went 1-for-3 with a walk from the third spot in the lineup. There could be many reasons for that, but one reason might be that he is more relaxed on the field. Franco recently signed a $4.35 million brand contract with Fantex, which will receive 10 percent of Franco's future earnings on and off the field. In the future, Fantex expects to sell shares of Franco "stock" to public investors. In this case, those investors will see a profit if Franco earns more than $43.5 million in his career. MLB and the MLBPA each have approved agreements like this in the past. Notably, Angels pitcher Andrew Heaney agreed to a $3.34 million deal with Fantex last year. "It feels great," Franco said through the Phillies' interpreter. "I'm able to play baseball in a calmer way now. I'm more relaxed now when I take the field because it brings stability." "Maikel is really excited about working with Fantex," Franco's agent Ryan Royster wrote in a text message. "This deal allows him to invest in himself and his future and frees him to focus on his performance and helping his team win ballgames. … Maikel, his family and myself (BTI Sports ) are all on board with this decision." Essentially, Franco is taking a payday before he is eligible for salary arbitration and free agency in exchange for a potential windfall in the future. It is possible that the deal could affect the way Franco approaches future contract talks. In other words, if Franco already has $4.35 million in earnings, he might be less apt to take a contract extension that would guarantee security but could limit his earnings potential if he becomes a star. Clearly, Franco values the financial security the Fantex deal could bring. "It was definitely part of it," Franco said. "It's an important factor that I took into account. My lawyer and I decided that it would be a good deal for us, and we agreed to do [it]. Obviously, I feel comfortable. Now, I can take care of my family. Everything is good. Now, I just can play baseball."

Today In Phils History – What most phans will remember about this day is when Randy Ready turned a triple play off the Padres Tony Gwynn in 1991. However, there are a few other moments worth remembering including the debut of Del Ennis in 1946, Shortstop Ralph Miller and pitcher Lee Meadows providing the franchise with the first multi-slam game in team history in 1921, and the Phillies having their game protest granted in 1917 which they would later win in on September 12th against Boston. Okay, so maybe nothing tops the triple play.

The Phillies are currently 11-10 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 39-49-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Phillies Return The Favor Against Nationals

GAME RECAP: Phils Swat Nats 4-3

The Nationals' bullpen had been virtually unhittable entering Tuesday, but it proved it could be scored upon as the Phillies claimed a 4-3 win at Nationals Park on Tuesday night. It's Philadelphia's second straight victory over Washington. The score was tied at 3, when the Phillies took the lead in the seventh inning off left-hander Oliver Perez. With one out, Andres Blanco doubled to left field. Maikel Franco followed and doubled over the head of center fielder Michael Taylor to send Blanco home to take the one-run lead. "That certainly had a lot of drama to it, that game with that guy," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said, referring to Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper, who grounded out with the tying run on first in the ninth to end the game. Right-hander Max Scherzer started for Washington and he lasted six innings, allowed three runs with seven strikeouts, but did not figure in the decision. Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez went six innings and allowed three runs for his third win. Blanco got the Phillies on the board with a two-run home run in the first inning and fell a triple short of the cycle.

  • Blanco engaged Scherzer in a little cat-and-mouse game early. He called time out twice before Scherzer delivered a 0-1 pitch in the first, which Blanco hit for a two-run home run. Blanco called time out three more times in a nine-pitch at-bat in the third. It resulted in a double play, but Blanco came back, singling against Scherzer in the fifth and doubling and scoring the go-ahead run against Perez in the seventh. "He feels comfortable on the mound and I want to feel comfortable at the plate, too," Blanco said. "It's baseball. It's not something I'm just doing because I'm Blanco. Buddy, I'm not playing every day. Let me get comfortable, too." 
  • Mackanin said he had a plan to handle Harper and it appeared to be intentionally walking him. It paid off as Zimmerman fouled out and struck out looking to end the third and seventh innings, respectively. The Phillies didn't intentionally walk Harper in the fifth, and he singled to score a run. Harper then came up with two outs and one on in the ninth and Jeanmar Gomez retired the slugger on a grounder to third after an eight-pitch at-bat. "Harper is a tough guy to get out," Velasquez said. "His approach is just ridiculous." Harper said he doesn't mind being walked intentionally by the Phillies because he has faith in the hitters behind him like Zimmerman and Jayson Werth. "I don't mind getting on base. If it's a walk or intentional walk or a hit, I would rather get on base as best I can for the guys behind me. We just take it one day at a time," Harper said.
  • "I'm not comparing him to [Roy] Halladay, but I didn't like the way he pitched and he only gave up three runs. I remember sitting with [former Phillies coach] Sam Perlozzo after a game and I'd say, 'Boy, [Halladay] was terrible tonight and he only gave up three runs.' That's how good he was." -- Mackanin, on Velasquez's outing.
  • Franco is hitting .444 (8-for-18) with three home runs, eight RBIs and four runs scored in his last four games.
  • Franco said he is OK after turning his ankle rounding first base on a double in the seventh. An athletic trainer checked him out on the field, but he remained in the game.
Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson hopes to get back on track Wednesday night against the Nationals in a 7:05 p.m. ET start. After he allowed just two earned runs in 11 1/3 innings in his first two starts, Hellickson has allowed nine earned runs in 7 1/3 innings in his last two starts. That includes an April 15 start against the Nationals, when he allowed five earned runs in just three innings at Citizens Bank Park.


Good Game Plan – Give Andres Blanco a break. He just wants to get comfortable, too. He had a big night Tuesday in a 4-3 victory over the Nationals at Nationals Park. He hit a two-run home run against Nationals ace Max Scherzer in the first inning and made Scherzer work hard in a nine-pitch at-bat in the third. Blanco then hit a first-pitch fastball for a single against Scherzer in the fifth and doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the seventh against Oliver Perez. "It's not approach," Blanco said. "It's just getting a chance to play and just having your best swing. He attacks the zone and he found my bat right away." Blanco truly shined in those first two at-bats. Scherzer issued a leadoff walk to Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera in the first. Scherzer got a first-pitch strike on Blanco, but Scherzer got preoccupied with Herrera at first base and held the ball an inordinate amount of time out of the stretch. Blanco called time once. He called time twice. He then smacked a two-run homer to right-center. "I thought he was holding Herrera," Blanco said. "I was wondering if he was holding him or messing around with my high kick. He got mad. You can tell in his face he wanted to say something to me, but he can't. Come on, it's the game. It's baseball." "I'm going to hold the ball," Scherzer said. "I know how to shut down the running game. Herrera's a good runner. He can steal a base at will. I don't get frustrated when the hitter calls time. He can call time all he wants. I don't get frustrated by that. I understand he probably doesn't want to sit there. If he calls time, that's on him. It's up to the umpire." Blanco called time three more times in his third-inning at-bat against Scherzer, who was visibly annoyed on at least one occasion. Blanco then smashed a ball to Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy for a double play. But the point is Blanco made Scherzer work. "He feels comfortable on the mound and I want to feel comfortable at the plate, too," Blanco said. "It's baseball. It's not something I'm just doing because I'm Blanco. Buddy, I'm not playing every day. Let me get comfortable, too. Yeah, take time out. I have a big high kick." Blanco is hitting .346 (9-for-26) with three doubles, one home run, five RBIs and a 1.010 OPS in 14 games. One wonders if Phillies manager Pete Mackanin could find more places for him to play. Left field, maybe? The Phillies have had the lowest production in baseball in left field. "[Bench coach Larry] Bowa asked that during the game," Mackanin said. "[Blanco] is who he is, and I think if he played every day he might not be the same player, but it's hard to find a player who can do what he does. He's the best utility man I've ever seen."

Solid Strategy – Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday afternoon he had some ideas for handling Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper. He said he conveyed those ideas to Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure. "Just throw him fastballs down the middle of the plate," Mackanin joked before Tuesday night's 4-3 victory at Nationals Park. In reality, the Phillies walked Harper in the first, intentionally walked him with a runner on second and two outs in the third and intentionally walked him with a runner on second and two outs in the seventh. It paid off each time as Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman flied out, fouled out and struck out looking to end those innings. But the Phillies also pitched to Harper twice. He singled with runners on first and second and two outs in the fifth to cut the Phillies' lead to 3-2. He then grounded out to end the game with the tying runner on first base in the ninth inning following an eight-pitch at-bat against Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez, who had allowed two hits in two at-bats in his career against Harper, including a go-ahead homer in the 10th inning April 17 at Citizens Bank Park. "That certainly had a lot of drama to it, that game with that guy," Mackanin said of Harper. Gomez's first seven pitches to Harper were a mixture of sinkers and splitters. He made his eighth pitch a changeup. "The last out was a really good battle," Gomez said. Mackanin said he had no plans to intentionally walk Harper there, even with Stephen Drew standing in the on-deck circle. "I wasn't going to walk him and put the tying run at second base where a single could tie up the game," Mackanin said. But they were cautious earlier. Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez, who allowed three runs in six innings, once played on a travel team with Harper, so they know each other. He discreetly pointed to the Phillies' dugout when he intentionally walked Harper in the third, letting his former teammate know it wasn't his call. But the Phillies' cautious nature against Harper makes sense. Harper got Velasquez in the fifth. "His approach is just flat out ridiculous," Velasquez said. But it is tough to hold down Harper for long. He gets another crack at the Phillies on Wednesday night.

Today In Phils History – In 1988 Mike Schmidt broke up another potential no hitter in the 9th inning by Nolan Ryan (as if he didn’t already have enough at that point)… the game was later tied on a double by Lance Parrish but the Phillies couldn’t hold on and lost in the 10th. A big part of the championship team 20 years later was newcomer Pedro Feliz who was born on this day in 1975.

The Phillies are currently 10-10 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 39-49-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!