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!

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