Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Phillies Fall In Season Opener

GAME RECAP: Reds Route Phillies 6-2

Zack Cozart went 3-for-3 and delivered the tying run in the eighth before Joey Votto's two-run single in the five-run inning lifted the Reds to a 6-2 Opening Day victory over the Phillies at Great American Ball Park. Philadelphia carried a 2-1 lead into the eighth when reliever David Hernandez loaded the bases with no outs on two walks and Scott Schebler's pinch-hit double. Lefty James Russell took over, and Cozart skied a sacrifice fly to short right field. Pinch-runner Tyler Holt scored on a headfirst slide just ahead of Peter Bourjos' throw. Russell walked Eugenio Suarez to load the bases for Votto. Taking a 0-for-3, three-strikeout day into the at-bat, Votto made that a fleeting memory by lining Russell's 1-1 pitch into center field for the game-winner. Jay Bruce blew it open with a bases-loaded single that added two more runs, as nine men batted in the bottom of the eighth. "Everybody makes this big deal about Opening Day. In the standings, it could be the least important day of the year," Bruce said. "But it's awesome to get that win and get the momentum going the right way. Especially coming back, the way we won was great. I think it shows everyone we're capable of coming back and stealing a game from guys." Cozart had all three of his hits vs. Jeremy Hellickson, while the rest of the Reds' lineup went hitless vs. the Phillies' starter. But the Philadelphia bullpen could not maintain that success in the late innings, while the Reds' three scoreless innings of relief made it possible for Cincinnati to battle back and win. "It was embarrassing," Hernandez said after loading the bases to start the eighth. "I wasn't able to throw anything over the plate, quality pitches. It's unfortunate."

  • The Phillies acquired Hellickson from the D-backs in November because they thought he could stabilize the rotation and return to form in a free agent year. He looked like that guy, allowing three hits, one unearned run and striking out six in six innings in his Phils debut. "Hellickson pitched really, really well, then the wheels fell off in that eighth inning," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.
  • The pressure is on Galvis, who has top Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford breathing down his neck. Galvis will need to play well this season to keep a job. He got started the right way. He hit a two-run home run to right field in the second inning to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. He also turned an inning-ending double play in the third inning.
  • Votto struck out three times in his first three at-bats. It was the first time he struck out in each of his first three plate appearances since May 15, 2014, against the Padres' Tyson Ross. Hellickson became just the ninth pitcher to strike out Votto three times in one game, according to Stats Inc.
  • "I hope that the right guys are here right now. I'm not going to condemn Hernandez because he didn't pitch that well tonight. He's going to get more opportunities. We'll continue through the season and we'll see who rises to the occasion." -- Mackanin, on the Phillies' bullpen woes
  • The Phillies have five rookies on the 25-man roster: outfielder Tyler Goeddel, right-hander Dalier Hinojosa, outfielder Cedric Hunter, left-hander Daniel Stumpf and right-hander Vince Velasquez. The five rookies are tied with the Brewers, Dodgers, Padres and Rockies for the most on any roster in the National League. Only the Orioles have more with six.
  • Expect Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton to bat ninth behind the pitcher until he earns his way back to the top of order with a better on-base percentage. Reds manager Bryan Price likes Hamilton batting ninth rather than eighth, because if he is caught stealing with two outs, the pitcher will not lead off the following inning.
  • Expect Cameron Rupp to catch for the Phillies on Wednesday. He will receive the bulk of playing time this season, but Carlos Ruiz started Opening Day because he is a veteran, and this is expected to be his final season with the team.

The Phillies considered Aaron Nola as a potential Opening Day starter, but they opted to pitch him Wednesday night against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Having arguably their best starter pitch the second game of the season allows the Phillies to pitch him in next Monday's home opener against the Padres. But make no mistake: the Phillies are high on Nola, who was their first-round pick in the 2014 Draft. Nola went 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts last season as a rookie, giving the rebuilding Phillies some hope for the future. Wednesday's start will be Nola's first against the Reds. Cincinnati will start left-hander Brandon Finnegan, who started four games late last season after being acquired in the trade that sent Johnny Cueto to Kansas City. Finnegan, who struggled his last few starts in Spring Training, went 2-2 with a 4.71 ERA in those four starts -- all on the road. This will be the first home start at Great American Ball Park for Finnegan, who made two relief appearances there last year. He has never faced the Phillies.


Good First Impression – Jeremy Hellickson pitched so well Monday that many wondered why he did not pitch a little longer. They wondered even more after the Phillies' bullpen allowed five runs in the eighth inning in a 6-2 loss to the Reds on Opening Day at Great American Ball Park. Of course, the reality is even if Hellickson had pitched an extra inning, the Phillies said they planned to have David Hernandez open the eighth. Hernandez started the Reds' five-run rally by loading the bases with a pair of walks and a double. "I absolutely would have loved to be out there again, but the bullpen is going to be better than they were today, that's for sure," Hellickson said afterward. But the Phillies left the ballpark encouraged with the way Hellickson threw in his debut. He allowed just three hits and one unearned run in six innings. He struck out six, including Reds slugger Joey Votto three times. Votto is one of the best hitters on the planet, but he looked lost against Hellickson. He awkwardly waved his bat at third strikes in the first, fourth and sixth innings like a man trying to swat mosquitoes in the dark. It was the first time Votto struck out three times in his first three plate appearances since May 15, 2014, against the Padres' Tyson Ross. Hellickson became just the ninth pitcher to strike out Votto three times in one game, according to Stats Inc. "I was just mixing it up as much as I can," Hellickson said about Votto's at-bats against him. "He's one of the best hitters we've got in the game, so you just don't want to give him the same pitch twice. You try to mix it up as best as you can." Hellickson threw just 79 pitches. He had thrown more in a Spring Training start, so he could have pitched at least another inning, but Phillies manager Pete Mackanin had seen enough. "It's his first outing and he pitched very well," Mackanin said. "We thought about letting him back out there. But you bring in [Jeanmar] Gomez [in the seventh], and he does his job. We figured we have got to try to find the formula for winning games when the pitcher can't go into the seventh or eighth. Gomez was the seventh, we went to Hernandez for the eighth and it didn't work." Hellickson gets another opportunity Sunday afternoon against the Mets at Citi Field. He hopes to carry a strong spring and a solid Opening Day start through the rest of the season. It would be good for both himself and the Phillies. Hellickson is a free agent following the season, while Philadelphia could trade him to a contender in July, if he is pitching well. "It definitely helped that I felt really good this spring, and then to get a good one in the first start, and now I'll try to keep it going throughout April," Hellickson said.

Question Marks On The Mound – Nobody in the Phillies' clubhouse tried to sugarcoat what happened in the eighth inning Monday at Great American Ball Park. "The wheels fell off," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said after a 6-2 loss to the Reds. "It was embarrassing," right-hander David Hernandez said. "For us to just kind of [throw] it away a little bit stings," left-hander James Russell said. The Phillies entered the season concerned about their bullpen, and those concerns came to a head when three relievers allowed five runs in the eighth inning in the loss on Opening Day. Last season, the Phils seldom had one-run leads in the eighth, but when they did, Ken Giles and Jake Diekman pitched the eighth while Jonathan Papelbon pitched the ninth. But those three are gone, and the Phillies still do not know who will replace them. "We're still searching," Mackanin said. After Jeremy Hellickson pitched six solid innings and Jeanmar Gomez pitched a perfect seventh, the Phillies had Hernandez start the eighth. The Phils signed Hernandez to a one-year, $3.9 million contract in December, making him the only free agent they signed to a Major League contract. Hernandez walked Adam Duvall, allowed a double to Devin Mesoraco and walked Billy Hamilton to load the bases with no outs. "I wasn't able to throw anything over the plate, quality pitches," Hernandez said. "It's unfortunate. It [stinks], but it's a long season." Hernandez missed some time in Spring Training because of a sore right elbow. He said he is healthy. Russell replaced Hernandez and allowed a sacrifice fly to Zack Cozart to tie the game before he walked Eugenio Suarez to reload the bases. Russell then allowed a two-run single to Joey Votto to make it 4-2. Right-hander Hector Neris entered. He hit Brandon Phillips with a pitch before allowing a single to Jay Bruce to allow two more runs to score. Mackanin and Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure met with relievers on Sunday to discuss their roles. The message seemed to be that everybody should be ready to pitch in any type of situation. That said, Mackanin chose Dalier Hinojosa to pitch the ninth if the Phillies had the lead. "We just have to keep mixing and see what we've got and go from there," Mackanin said. Could Gomez pitch the eighth? The Phillies don't think so. Not right now, anyway. "Last year we tried Gomez in the eighth inning," Mackanin said. "That lasted three or four outings and it didn't work out. It's a different animal in the eighth and ninth inning. That doesn't mean we won't do it. "It's a touchy situation. ... I hope that the right guys are here right now. I'm not going to condemn Hernandez because he didn't pitch that well tonight. He's going to get more opportunities. We'll continue through the season and we'll see who rises to the occasion."

What Position Will Sentimental Play?Phillies manager Pete Mackanin revealed plans for a few of his players hours before the team's Opening Day game on Monday at Great American Ball Park. Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz were in the starting lineup, and they are expected to be in the lineup next Monday against the Padres in the home opener at Citizens Bank Park. Howard and Ruiz are in the final season of their contracts, and they are not expected to return next season. "I wanted to make sure that Chooch started Opening Day, and the same thing with Ryan," Mackanin said. "We'll just go from there. I'd like them to start, if possible, on Opening Day at home, and I'll try to do that for sentimental reasons." Mackanin declined to name a closer. David Hernandez and Dalier Hinojosa are considered the top two candidates. "I'm thinking about it as we speak," he said, asked who will pitch Monday if the Phillies have a ninth-inning lead. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure had a meeting Sunday with the bullpen. They discussed the possibilities for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. "There's going to be a mix of a lot of different guys," Mackanin said. "We'll just see how it plays out. Eventually somebody will be that last pitcher. It's almost like an audition. It might be any one of five guys that will end up as our closer. And if not, we'll close by committee -- even though I don't want to do that. If that's what we have to work with, that's what we're going to do." Cameron Rupp will get the bulk of playing time behind the plate, which is not a surprise. "Chooch is moving up in age," Mackanin said. "He's still capable. I think if we keep him healthy and he plays less, I think we're going to get more out of him." Cedric Hunter started in left field Monday. He entered Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, but he impressed the coaching staff with the quality of his plate appearances. Mackanin said Hunter and Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel will start the season as a platoon in left field. "We'll give Goeddel a chance, even though he didn't have that good of a spring," Mackanin said. "He showed a few things that I think he's going to be OK. We'll work it in to start the season and we'll go from there." The Phillies have two Rule 5 Draft picks on the roster in Goeddel and left-hander Daniel Stumpf. According to Baseball America, only three teams in the past decade have had two Rule 5 Draft selections on their roster: the Braves in 2015, the Astros in '11 and the Reds in '06. Mackanin said he thinks Goeddel and Stumpf can stick the entire season. "They've both shown enough ability where they can be part of the future," Mackanin said. "Starting last year, we went into this rebuilding phase. Might call it an experiment last year. This year, a year further, we're going to find out what we have going into next year. While we're doing that, we're hoping to win more games. We think Stumpf and Goeddel could add to that. If not, they're both young enough where we have something down the road, whether it's later this year or next year. It's hard to turn away young talent, and that's what our goal is, to keep them."
Phils History: Today is one marked by Phillies debuts as wheez kids Joe Morgan and Tony Perez took the field in 1983, Jim Eisenreich and Pete Incaviglia began the improbable journey in 1993, Raul Ibanez stepped on the field to take the place of Pat Burrell in 2009, Roy Halladay started a magical season in 2010 following the first pitch by President Obama, and Ty Wigginton, Jonathan Papelbon, and Freddy Galvis all began the year with high hopes in 2012. It is also a day when we remember Sherry Magee being taken out by his own pitcher in 1912, the Twitch pitch coming to town in 1971, and John Vukovich becoming the longest serving coach in Phillies history in 2004. We still miss you Vuk!

The Phillies are currently 0-1 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 9-12-0 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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