Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Morton Bounces Back To Shutout Padres

GAME RECAP: Phillies Blank Padres 3-0

Phillies right-hander Charlie Morton had his sinker sinking beautifully Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. Morton allowed just three hits in 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory over the Padres. The first eight games of the season have been a struggle for the Phillies' offense and bullpen, but the rotation continues to pitch well. It entered the night with the best WAR (1.2) of any rotation in baseball. "I feel like we're going to be in every game with our starting pitching," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "And the way the bullpen seems to be shaping up, we're pretty pleased with the way it looks." Padres left-hander Robbie Erlin allowed just three hits and one run in six innings to take the loss. He allowed the only run in the sixth, when Odubel Herrera hit a two-out triple to score Tyler Goeddel. Other than that, Erlin was extremely effective working ahead in counts, as he threw 16 first-pitch strikes to the 21 hitters he faced, including 11 straight at one point. "You always want to start off, be the aggressor per se -- work ahead, stay ahead," Erlin said. "When you can do that, it makes things a little bit easier." A throwing error from second baseman Cory Spangenberg with one out in the eighth inning allowed the Phillies to score two insurance runs.

  • The Phillies' bullpen had a 12.66 ERA (15 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings) through its first four games, but it has pitched 10 2/3 scoreless innings in its last four. That includes 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Morton as Jeanmar Gomez picked up his third save in three opportunities. Mackanin said he is not ready to officially name Gomez the closer, saying he doesn't want to jinx him. "I think the uncertainty of roles had something to do with it," he said about the bullpen's early struggles. "Nobody stepped up during Spring Training and rose above the pack. I think everybody felt a lot of pressure to impress. Now they've kind of got their confidence back."
  • Goeddel, whom the Phillies selected with the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft, picked up the first hit of his big league career in the sixth inning, when he singled to left field. It led to the first run of the game, when Goeddel scored on Herrera's two-out triple into the right-field corner. "It felt like it had been a year since my last hit, so to finally do it, I'm happy about it," Goeddel said.
  • "Not yet, not yet. I'll think about it, if they tell me to pick a song, maybe I'll try one." -- Gomez, on picking a closer's song. (The Phillies played House of Pain's "Jump Around" as he entered the game in the ninth.)
  • Carlos Ruiz caught Upton Jr. stealing in the seventh inning. Ruiz threw out just six runners attempting to steal in 52 attempts last season. His 88.5 stolen-base percentage ranked 27th out of 28 qualified catchers last season. Ruiz has thrown out 1-of-2 base stealers this year.
  • With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco hit into what appeared to be an inning-ending double play. But Spangenberg sailed his throw wide of first, and the ball was jarred loose out of the glove of Brett Wallace, allowing two runs to score. Padres manager Andy Green challenged the play, saying Herrera had slid illegally into second base, but replay confirmed the call on the field. After the game, Spangenberg was quick to note that the slide had no effect on his poor throw, saying, "I just messed up." Green himself acknowledged that he was taking a chance, given the situation in the game and the uncertainty around how the new slide rule will be called. "Until we get a handle on how it's being enforced fully, it doesn't hurt to ask for it in that situation," Green said. "We have to get a full understanding of how it's going to be enforced. When our team has the opportunity to challenge in that instance, I think it's wise to take that opportunity."

Neither Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff nor his Padres counterpart, Colin Rea, has had the luxury of starting in front of his home crowd so far this season. For Eickhoff, that chance comes Wednesday in the third game of a four-game set at Citizens Bank Park. Rea will have to tough it out at least one more start. Although the Padres have found more success on the road -- 3-2 compared to 0-3 at Petco Park -- Rea was roughed up in his first start of the season at hitter-friendly Coors Field. He lasted just 3 2/3 innings and allowed five runs, though the offense picked up the slack en route to a 13-6 slugfest win.


Adjusting The Lineup – Pete Mackanin's options are severely limited, but he knew he had to make a move. He dropped Freddy Galvis out of the leadoff spot for Tuesday night's game against the Padres at Citizens Bank Park. Mackanin replaced Galvis with Cesar Hernandez, who is probably Mackanin's only legitimate option to hit there anyway.

Ruf Start To The Season – One game after Phillies manager Pete Mackanin firmed his commitment to the platoon of Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf at first base, Howard's name was penciled in against Padres left-hander Robbie Erlin. That's not Mackanin wavering. Ruf injured his left shoulder diving for a ball on Monday against the Padres after he pinch-hit for Howard in the sixth and replaced him at first base. Ruf didn't start Tuesday while he awaits a medical opinion, but Mackanin doesn't believe it's anything serious. He said Ruf is available to pinch-hit, but he wasn't needed in the Phillies' 3-0 victory. Ruf is day to day. Ruf and Howard's strong platoon splits give the Phillies hope for production at first base. Ruf posted a 1.107 OPS against left-handers last season, while Howard had similar success against righties, with an .802 mark. Howard against left-handers is a different story, though, with just a .418 OPS in 100 at-bats against them in 2015. He entered the game hitless in three at-bats vs. Erlin.

Morton Bounces Back – Charlie Morton's sinker has always been his moneymaker, but he needed to change his look against left-handed hitters. So he showed his curveball a bit more Tuesday in a 3-0 victory over the Padres at Citizens Bank Park, where he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings. "I didn't know we were divulging secrets," Morton said. Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure recommended Morton throw his curveball more against lefties because Morton had become too predictable against them with his sinker. Left-handed hitters hit .394 against the pitch last season, according to Baseball Savant. "That's absurd," Morton said. The curveball worked well as Morton allowed three hits, four walks and struck out seven. He struck out Cory Spangenberg on a curveball in the first and got Alexi Amarista and Jon Jay to ground out on curveballs in the fifth. "It kind of gives me some wiggle room if I throw my curveball," Morton said. "If I can throw it for strikes, that gets them off my fastball." Morton is the latest Phillies starter to pitch well. The Phillies' rotation entered the night with a 1.2 WAR, which was the best in baseball. It ranked first in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.38) and second in strikeouts (43), opponent batting average (.195), opponent on-base percentage (.241) and WHIP (0.92). "I feel like we're going to be in every game with our starting pitching," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. Yes, it is just eight games. True, it is a very small sample size. Nevertheless, the rotation's 2.87 ERA is an encouraging beginning. Remember the Phillies' rotation from last season? It finished with a 5.23 ERA, which was 29th in baseball. Ten pitchers not named Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Adam Morgan had a combined 6.19 ERA in 106 starts. "I'm really excited, not just for the team, but for the organization as a whole," Morton said. "There are some guys in Triple-A that are great. I think the future is really bright for the Phillies, but also just going forward for this year, having a starting rotation that can go out there and have some really effective innings. "Granted, we're not very deep into the season at all, but it's a really exciting group for me to sit there and watch."

The First Of How Many? – Sometimes life has a way of working itself out. Other times, it can be bittersweet. In the case of Tyler Goeddel's first Major League hit, it falls closer to the latter. Goeddel's family traveled with him through the Phillies' opening road trip, six games in Cincinnati and New York. They saw his first five Major League at-bats. His first Major League start. But no first hit. That came in the sixth inning of Tuesday's 3-0 victory over the San Diego Padres -- without his family on hand. It was Goeddel's hard single into left field and subsequent baserunning on Odubel Herrera's triple that gave the Phillies their first run of the game -- all they would need on the back of the shutout effort led by Charlie Morton. "I'm glad I got it out of the way," Goeddel said. "[Alexei] Ramirez had a good effort on it. I thought he might snag it, so I was definitely happy when it got through." Although there was no one but teammates in the ballpark to celebrate the milestone with, that didn't stop others miles away from congratulating Goeddel. "I'm sure they wish they were here," he said. "I peeked at [my phone]. I haven't checked everything yet, but a lot of texts, a lot of calls." It was somewhat fitting that Herrera, last year's Rule 5 selection, was the man to drive home this year's Rule 5 choice. Herrera, like Goeddel, started his first Major League season 0-for-5. But after he got that first hit out of the way, Herrera went 27 for his next 76 (.355) and entrenched himself as the Phillies' starting center fielder. "I felt amazing to get that off my shoulders," Herrera said through a translator. "When I hit my first single, my first home run, it felt awesome because you're in the big leagues and that's what you hope for." While Herrera quickly became the Phillies' everyday center fielder, manager Pete Mackanin said there are no plans -- at least presently -- for Goeddel to follow directly in his footsteps. "We're gonna bring [Goeddel] along easy," Mackanin said. "He played Double-A last year." That, however, doesn't mean the 23-year-old outfielder can't play himself into a starting job. Because of his superb defense, Mackanin said, he can stomach having Goeddel in the lineup more often, even while his bat continues to come along. As for the ball he got his first hit with? "I don't have it yet," Goeddel said, hoping his teammates haven't put a ransom on it.

Injury Update – Mackanin said he expects outfielder Cody Asche to soon resume baseball activities. "According to what I've read, he thinks he's turned the corner," Mackanin said. Asche is flying to Philadelphia on Wednesday to be re-evaluated. The 25-year-old outfielder missed most of Spring Training with a strained oblique. The Phillies placed him on the 15-day DL to start the season. Asche's return should be highly anticipated by a Phillies team struggling to find offensive production from the corner-outfield spots. In six games before Tuesday, Tyler Goeddel, Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos have combined to go 6-for-47 (.128) with just 12 total bases.

Today In Phils History – Today marks the debut of a number of Phillies players including a trio in 1966 that went on to have long careers in baseball after their playing days were done. Those three are Dick Groat, Roger Craig, and Bob Uecker all stayed in baseball while Larry Christenson left the game long after his complete game debut on this day in 1973. However, Bo Diaz never got the opportunity but lives on in his walk off grand slam from 1983. And while he never donned the uniform, no one can deny the impact that Harry Kalas had on the Phillies from the broadcast booth prior to his death on this day in 2009. However, today is also a time to celebrate beginnings (and not just the birthdays of Wes Chamberlain (Happy 50th) and Hunter Pence (the big double 3)) as this was the day that the Phillies received their World Series rings in 1981 (also the day of Steve Carlton’s 250th career victory) and when we finally started putting the strike behind us with the first matchup of the spring in 1995. I guess you could technically say that the Phillies held the title of National League Champions for 2 years!

The Phillies are currently 3-5 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 26-25-0 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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