Saturday, April 16, 2016

An Ugly Night For The Phillies

GAME RECAP: Nats Swat Phils 9-1

The Nationals showed plenty of firepower Friday night in a 9-1 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park as Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson. Michael Taylor hit a leadoff home run and Jayson Werth added a three-run double in the Nationals' five-run first inning. The Nationals scored a run in both the third and fifth innings before Bryce Harper hit a towering two-run home run to right field in the sixth -- the 101st of his career -- to give the Nationals a nine-run lead. "We are battling every day. We are having a lot of fun," Harper said. "I think [manager] Dusty [Baker] raises a lot of emotion in the game, a lot of opportunity for all of us. It's a lot fun coming in here every single day playing the game of baseball." The offense backed a strong start from the Nationals' Joe Ross, who allowed three hits over 7 2/3 shutout innings. The Phillies' rotation had been the best in baseball through 10 games with a 2.14 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, but right-hander Jeremy Hellickson allowed seven hits, six runs (five earned runs) in just three innings. "It wasn't a lot of fun," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "It seemed like we were out of it from the beginning." Ryan Howard tied Joe DiMaggio for 81st on the all-time home run list with his 361st career homer in the ninth for the Phillies' only run. "It's surreal," Howard said. "Sometimes it's hard to think of your name being in the same breath as some of these guys that have played the game before. So it's a very humbling situation. I don't know. Words really can't describe that kind of feeling."

  • The five-run first proved to be insurmountable for a Phillies offense that is expected to struggle to score runs all year. In its first 10 games, Philadelphia had skirted by on the tails of excellent starting pitching and typically one breakout offensive performance to win a ballgame. The Phillies got only two men in scoring position all night before Howard's ninth-inning homer, and that was when Franco stranded all three men on base in the third. Through 11 games, Philadelphia is averaging 2.72 runs. "Obviously we're not hitting the ball very well right now," Mackanin said. "But anytime you get beat up like that early and you've gotta climb out of that hole early, it's tough."
  • "Over the course of a season you're going to have games like this. These aren't really the guys you want to have it against." -- Howard, on the team's offensive struggles.
  • Darin Ruf lined out to Werth in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter. Ruf had not played since Monday after he jammed his left shoulder diving for a ball. Ruf is expected to be in the starting lineup Sunday afternoon against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez.
The Phillies will be looking to rebound from Friday's one-sided loss. They send Aaron Nola to the mound Saturday night, hoping Hellickson's outing was merely a blip on the radar, rather than a serious interruption to the momentum Philadelphia's rotation had prior to Friday.


Honoring Robinson – The Phillies celebrated Jackie Robinson Day before and during Friday night's game against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. Some of the festivities included: Members of the Phillies and Nationals wore No. 42 in honor of Robinson's Major League debut. Fans watched highlights of the Ken Burns documentary, "Jackie Robinson," on Phanavision. The Negro Leagues' Philadelphia Stars also were honored. Dr. Mahlene Duckett-Lee, daughter of former Philadelphia Stars player Mahlon Duckett, took part in an on-field tribute. Members of the Tuskegee Airmen served as honor guard. Zion Spearman and Scott Bandura of the Anderson Monarchs threw out ceremonial first pitches. The Phillies also recognized Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholar John Bernagene, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, and Phillies' RBI Jackie Robinson Scholar Skyler Glover, a freshman at Rutgers-Camden. Berachah Baptist Church, Bright Hope Baptist Church, Deliverance Evangelistic Church, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, Mount Airy Church of God in Christ and Sharon Baptist Church sang the national anthem.

Impressive Company – Maybe the Phillies need more Sarge in their lives. Former Phillies slugger, broadcaster and fedora aficionado Gary Matthews made an appearance in the Phillies' dugout before Friday night's 9-1 loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. He ran into Ryan Howard and asked him a small favor. "Hit one for Jackie," Matthews said, referring to the Jackie Robinson Day festivities. "Believe it," Howard replied. Well, Howard fulfilled his promise and hit a solo home run to right field in the ninth inning. It not only was Howard's fourth homer of the season, it was the 361st homer of his career. It tied Howard with Joe DiMaggio for 81st on the all-time home run list. "It's surreal," Howard said. "Sometimes it's hard to think of your name being in the same breath as some of these guys that have played the game before. So it's a very humbling situation. I don't know. Words really can't describe that kind of feeling." Howard has hit 23 homers in each of his previous two seasons. If he matches that total this season he will finish 2016 with 380 homers, which would put him in sole possession of 70th place on the all-time homer list. He would pass Hall of Famers Ralph Kiner (369), Carlton Fisk (376), Tony Perez (379) and Orlando Cepeda (379) along the way. Howard is hitting .219 with four home runs, seven RBIs and an .883 OPS through 11 games. He did not hit his fourth homer until his 22nd game last season and his 18th game in 2015. "I'm feeling pretty good," Howard said. "Just trying to find some green out there."

Just A Blip – Jeremy Hellickson's second pitch Friday night sailed over the left-field wall, and the Phillies quickly found themselves in trouble from there. It took their Opening Day starter 43 more pitches to get through the first inning of Friday's 9-1 loss to the Nationals. When the Phillies returned to the dugout after the first inning, the Nats already led 5-0. "I just didn't command like I needed to," Hellickson said after the game. The Phillies played their first 10 games against the Reds, Mets and Padres, but they saw their best lineup in the 11th game of the season against the Nationals. Washington ranked 10th in baseball last season with 703 runs scored. Its lineup has a 2-3-4 of Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. "It's an aggressive lineup," Hellickson said after the game. "It's a good lineup. But I just wasn't good today. That's what it comes down to." Phillies manager Pete Mackanin agreed. "I think it boils down to that our starting pitcher wasn't at his best," he said. "If you make good pitches, you're going to get Nationals out." Hellickson's poor outing ended what had been a string of strong starts. Phillies starters had thrown 22 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings entering Friday night. That streak didn't get any longer. After his seven shutout innings on Wednesday, Jerad Eickhoff said the rotation was feeding off one another. Catcher Cameron Rupp told Charlie Morton it was like each was trying to top the last. The Phillies, who aren't expected to contend in 2016, led the league in ERA (2.14) entering Friday night's action, offering fans a potential glimpse into the future -- the light at the end of the tunnel of the rebuild. On Wednesday, Mackanin said he doesn't see why the Phillies won't continue their starting pitching success. It's possible the rotation could still be near the top of the league by the end of the month, but they will need to make better pitches than Hellickson made Friday night.

Being Careful Moving Forward – Vince Velasquez had one of the best starts in Phillies history on Thursday. He struck out 16 and walked none in a shutout victory over the Padres at Citizens Bank Park. He earned a Game Score of 97, which is tied for the eighth-highest score in the regular season in franchise history. But while the Phillies' front office loved Velasquez's performance, it is being mindful of his workload moving forward. "Organizationally, the health of our pitchers is going to be very important to us," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said before Friday night's game against the Nationals. "We're not going to come out in mid-April and start announcing certain innings limits or pitch limits or things of that nature. But it is something we're keenly aware of and it's extremely important to the future of this franchise, so we're going to be certainly monitoring it all season long." Pitchers like Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom found themselves under microscopes in recent seasons because of their respective organizations' desires to limit their workloads, despite the potential impacts on their postseasons. The Phillies are unlikely to be in the postseason hunt in August and September, so their decision will not be nearly as scrutinized, but a young pitcher's workload is an interesting topic. Velasquez, 23, pitched a career-high 124 2/3 innings in 2013, which he split between Class A Quad Cities and Double-A Lancaster, so it is highly unlikely he is pitching seven to nine innings every five days until the end of the season. But how the Phillies handle it remains to be seen. "It's about workload and we can define workload in a lot of different ways," Klentak said. "But it's about managing that." A University of Waterloo study published last year in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness determined that innings limits had no positive effect on preventing the recurrence of elbow ligament injuries. "We're trying to be as cognizant of all the research that has been done," Klentak said. "And in addition we're applying some of our own research and findings to it. We're going to talk to our medical people, our doctors. We're applying some objective data to it. And ultimately we're going to make the best collective decisions that we can to make sure these guys stay healthy. It's not as simple as looking at an innings total or looking at it the raw number of pitches. There is a lot more that goes into it." Young pitchers like Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff seem better suited to finish the 2016 season in the Phillies' rotation. Nola, who got shut down in the final week of 2015 because of the Phillies' concern about his workload, threw a combined 187 innings last season. Eickhoff threw 184. But Velasquez had Tommy John surgery in Sept. 2010, and again he has never pitched more than 124 2/3 innings in a season. Sources also told in December that the Phillies had some concerns about Velasquez's health, which is why the trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston got delayed a couple of days and ultimately changed to include pitching prospect Mark Appel. "Vince pitched a full healthy season a year ago," Klentak said. "He's been a horse for us so far this year. At this stage, there's no story there." The Phillies hope they never have a story there. They hope to improve their chances by closely watching how much Velasquez works. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure that we're keeping the pitchers -- and all of our players -- as healthy as we can," Klentak said.

From High School To MLB – Off the top of his head, Tyler Goeddel can still recall his batting line from a game his senior year of high school. Why? It was his first time facing longtime travel ball teammate and childhood friend Joe Ross. "I was 2-for-3 that game," Goeddel said Friday, five years later. "I guess I got him pretty good." With the Nationals' Ross on the mound Friday night for his first start against the Phillies, the right-handed-hitting Goeddel, because of his platoon arrangement with Cedric Hunter in left field, was not in the starting lineup. However, Goeddel faced Ross as a pinch-hitter in the third inning of the Nationals' 9-1 win and reached on a throwing error by Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa. The two Northern California natives still get together in the offseason, and Ross texted Goeddel on Thursday asking if he'd be in the lineup Friday. Although he didn't know Thursday night, Goeddel was disappointed when he had to tell Ross that he wasn't. After playing together since they were in grade school, the pair committed together to play college ball at UCLA. Goeddel said they decided independently, but took their official visits and went through orientation together. Both, however, had to rescind their commitments when each was a first-round Draft pick in 2011. The Padres took Ross with the 26th pick, while the Rays selected Goeddel with the 41st, in the supplemental round. "I remember, sophomore year of high school, [Ross] was throwing 78 mph," Goeddel said. "Then the next year, he came back throwing 94. We were just like, 'What happened?'" That velocity increase helped Ross post a 0.92 ERA in his senior season and led to him becoming a first-round Draft pick. Last season, Ross' heater averaged 93.4 mph and in his first start of 2016 averaged 92.7. Goeddel now trains in the offseason with Ross and his older brother, Tyson, who started on Opening Day for the Padres. San Diego visited Philadelphia for the past four games, but Tyson landed on the DL just days prior and Goeddel didn't get a chance to see him.

Today In Phils History – This is not a particularly good day to remember for the Phillies as they have been the victim of two no hitters the first coming in 1972 at the hand of Burt Hooton (the same day that former reliever Antonio Alfonseca was born) and the second occurring 6 years later when Bob Forch blanked a promising roster. Prior to those inept performances, Mel Ott hit the final homerun of his Hall of Fame career in 1946, the Phils lost the first night opener in New York City in 1952, and, despite 6 consecutive hits by Connie Ryan the following year (exactly one year after his Phillies debut alongside Smoky Burgess), they still couldn’t pull out the victory. Even back-to-back homeruns by Lenny Dykstra and Mickey Morandini weren’t enough in 1996 to give the Phillies the win. Other notable debuts on this day include Bert Humphries in 1910 and Irish Meusel in 1918. Jim Lonborg was also born on this day in 1942. However, recent Phillies history has been much more kind to the franchise as Brett Myers dominted the Rockies in a 1-0 shutout in the first victory of its kind by a visiting team at Coors Field.  

The Phillies are currently 5-6 this season putting them on pace to meet 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 35-27-1 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!

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