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!

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