Friday, April 29, 2016

Phillies Shock Nationals By Completing Sweep

GAME RECAP: Phillies Sweep Nationals 3-0

The Nationals and Phillies found themselves in a pitchers' duel on Thursday afternoon, but thanks to some clutch ninth-inning hitting, the Phillies completed their three-game sweep, winning 3-0 at Nationals Park. It was the Phillies' first sweep at Nationals Park since 2009. Scoreless heading into the ninth inning, the Phillies loaded the bases with one out and Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. On a 2-2 pitch, Cameron Rupp doubled over Bryce Harper's head in right field to score Odubel Herrera and Freddy Galvis. Two batters later, David Lough reached base on an infield single, scoring Maikel Franco. All three runs were charged to Nationals reliever Felipe Rivero, who allowed two hits and an intentional walk to start the inning. Rivero started the inning because manager Dusty Baker didn't like the matchup between Papelbon and the top of the Phillies' batting order. "Sometimes, those things don't work. It's just one of those days where nothing worked," manager Dusty Baker said. "We'll get it fixed. It's not easy while you're in it, and it doesn't take long to get in a funk like that. You don't have any choice. You just gotta keep playing, keep grinding." The upstart Phillies finished their road trip at 5-1. "When we started 0-4, that obviously wasn't a good start, but the guys just hung in there," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "This is huge to get our confidence back. The guys scrape and scratch, but you've got to hand it to the pitching. The pitching is the reason we're able to win games." The Nationals collected four hits in the game against four Phillies pitchers and scored only three runs during the three-game series.

  • After walking Harper five times in the first two games, the Phillies wound up pitching to Harper in two key situations on Thursday. Harper grounded out to second with a runner on third to end the sixth inning and struck out swinging on three pitches with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the eighth.
  • With Hernandez on second and two out in the fifth, Peter Bourjos hit a hot smash down the third-base line that Stephen Drew drove to grab. As the ball slithered behind him, the seasoned veteran lunged to pick it up, and with a spinning move, he tagged out the sliding Hernandez.
  • The Phillies held the Nationals scoreless for 22 consecutive innings. In Thursday's game, the Nationals went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. "It was one of those days where nothing worked our way -- offensively or defensively," Baker said.
  • After walking to lead off the game against Roark, it appeared Herrera had stolen second base. But after a 45-second review, the call was reversed, and Herrera was thrown out by Nationals catcher Pedro Severino.
They open a three-game Interleague series against the Indians on Friday at Citizens Bank Park at 7:05 p.m. ET. With the season-ending hamstring injury to Charlie Morton, Mackanin has yet to announce a starter for the opener. Corey Kluber is expected to start for Cleveland.


No Trouble With The Curve – Phillies starter Aaron Nola was on a mission to find himself on Thursday against the Nationals. And what he found at Nationals Park was the right combination of a split-finger fastball with a devastating curve. "I felt better about that pitch," Nola said, when asked about the curve. "I felt like I had a much better feel for it than the last few games." It was certainly enough for him to stymie the Nationals, as he allowed just two hits during seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 win. The win gave the Phillies their first sweep at Nationals Park since May 2009. It was also enough for Nola to match Nationals starter Tanner Roark, who also worked seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball. Neither pitcher was around when the Phillies scored three times in the ninth inning to end their road trip 5-1. "Nola was pretty darn good today," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He had a low pitch count. I even thought about letting him go back out for the eighth inning and not hitting for him. But we had to try to score some runs." Mackanin saw a pitcher who has now made a pair of stellar starts since allowing seven runs on seven hits in the first five innings of an 8-1 loss to the Nationals at home on April 16. Nola threw seven innings of one-run, four-hit ball in a 5-2 win over the Brewers in Milwaukee on April 22 and followed it up on Thursday with this gem. The Phillies' manager had so much confidence in Nola that he let him pitch to Nationals slugger Bryce Harper with a runner on third and two out in the sixth inning. In the previous two games, Mackanin had walked Harper five times, twice intentionally. Not this time, though. "Why not? We can't walk the guy every time," Mackanin said. "Somebody has to get him out. Eighth inning I might have done it. But not in that situation. I'm not going to do it." Harper bounced the ball to the right of second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who made a fine play by just beating Harper to first base with an impressive throw. Harper, 2-for-8 in the series with no extra-base hits or RBIs, slammed his helmet to the turf in frustration. "I felt like I could get him out right there," Nola said. "I knew he was going to be aggressive with guys on. All I needed to do was execute a pitch. I did it and got a ground ball out of it." It was a learning experience, too, for the 22-year old right-hander, Mackanin said. The manager wanted to show that he believes in Nola. "I like that," Nola said. "I like that he does have the confidence in me."

Hinojosa Exits Early – Phillies right-hander Dalier Hinojosa suffered a bruise on the palm of his pitching hand when he was struck by a line drive off the bat of Washington center fielder Matt den Dekker in the eighth inning of Philadelphia's 3-0 win at Nationals Park on Thursday. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said X-rays were negative, but he intends to watch the reliever closely. "We're just going to go day to day and see how swollen it gets," Mackanin said. "Let's see what happens. Did he get hit hard? It sure looked like it." Hinojosa came in to relieve starter Aaron Nola in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, he walked Pedro Severino. The next batter, pinch-hitter Chris Heisey, lined a shot off Hinojosa's glove that second baseman Cesar Hernandez turned into a forceout. Lightening then struck twice as den Dekker's shot deflected off Hinojosa's hand for an infield single, putting runners on first and third. Mackanin and the trainers went to the mound to examine Hinojosa. "At that point, I was going to make a change anyway," Mackanin said. Left-hander Elvis Araujo came in, and Washington manager Dusty Baker countered with pinch-hitter Anthony Rendon, who walked on a full count pitch to load the bases. But Bryce Harper whiffed swinging on three pitches to end the Nationals' last threat of the evening.

Pitching To The Lineup – When the Phillies faced the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month, Bryce Harper pummeled Philadelphia pitching. So prior to this week's three-game sweep that ended on Thursday with a 3-0 win at Nationals Park, the Phillies' baseball brain trust decided on a different strategy: pitch around the left-handed power hitter, who is again tearing up the National League to the tune of a .314 batting average, nine homers and 24 RBIs. "When [the Nationals] were at our place, he was hitting everything. I don't care if the pitch was a foot off the ground or over his head, he crushed it," Phils bench coach Larry Bowa said of Harper, who was 7-for-11 in that series, with three homers, six RBIs, 16 total bases and one walk. "I mean he wore us out." Harper's OPS of 1.252 entering Thursday's game is impressive, and it compares favorably to the all-time leaders for a single season in that category. Barry Bonds holds three of the top four and has the best ever of 1.422 in 2004. A guy name Babe Ruth has the third best and three of the top six. Now, the Phillies are giving Harper the Ruth and Bonds treatment. They walked Harper five times in the first two games of the series -- both Philadelphia victories -- including two intentionally. And then suddenly on Thursday, they didn't. Mackanin allowed 22-year-old starter Aaron Nola to go right at Harper in the sixth inning with two out and a runner on third. Harper grounded out to second. Why did the manager decide to deviate from the plan? "Why not? We can't walk the guy every time," Mackanin said. "Somebody has to get him out. Eighth inning, I might have done it. But not in that situation. I'm not going to do it." In the eighth inning, Mackanin didn't have any choice. The bases were loaded when Harper came up to face young left-hander Elvis Araujo. He whiffed on three pitches, swinging at strike three toward the inner part of the plate. It's a game of constant adjustment, as other great players before Harper have found. Bonds walked 2,558 times in 22 years, 688 of them intentionally, both of them all-time records. Ruth is third with 2,062 walks. Harper has only 294 (27 intentional) during the first four-plus years of his career. But other teams are just getting started. "Let somebody else beat you," Bowa said. "They've got a good club over there, but [Ryan] Zimmerman is not swinging too well right now. Obviously, when he starts swinging, you've got to think a little bit. But when they left our place, Harper just kept hitting. "We'll have to pitch to him eventually, but if you have a base open or something right now, you'd be dumb not to walk him." To Bowa's point, Zimmerman -- the cleanup hitter behind Harper -- is 6-for-29 with no homers and four RBIs in his past six games, which gave the Phils the option of pitching around the reigning NL MVP Award winner. It worked. Harper was 2-for-8 in the series, and despite the five walks, he didn't score once. Zimmerman hasn't hit a homer since April 19 and hasn't had an extra-base hit since April 20. Consequently, Harper has scored only five times during that period. And the Nats' once five-game NL East lead over the defending league champion Mets has shrunk to a half-game. "Yeah, they're going to walk him," said Dusty Baker, Harper's third manager in his short career. "He's learning a lot in the process. He's learning about patience. He's taking his walks. It's just a matter of whether they can play on his emotions and patience, so he loses his concentration and stays in the strike zone. "Zimm has a track record where he can handle it, I think. It's just a matter of him not taking it personal, either. I batted behind Hank Aaron. I was a good hitter, but, dang, I was 23 years old. His advice to me was not to try to do too much." Harper seemingly has been part of baseball's fabric for so long, one can forget he's just 23 years old. He was brought up from Triple-A Syracuse exactly four years ago Thursday at the tender young age of 19. Harper has had transgressions like most young players, but from the Phillies' point of view, they're not worried about getting inside either Harper or Zimmerman's head. They're just trying to keep the MVP off base. Bowa said he, Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure sit on the bench and discuss strategy when Harper comes up. "I mean, we talk about it, but Pete has to implement it," Bowa said. "McClure, he'll sit there and he may say, 'Hey, I don't want to pitch to him right here.' Pete asks, but he has to make the decision. Before a series, we go over the team, and if there's one guy where we say, 'We don't want him to beat us,' we try not to let that happen." In this series, that guy was Harper, and thus far what the Phils are doing has altered the game more than a bit. Advance scouts from other teams are watching, and that's the way trends emerge.

Today In Phils History – On the day that we celebrate the first legal Sunday home game in Phillies history (1934), we also celebrate Steve Carlton for becoming the first left handed pitcher (and 6th overall) in major league history to reach 3000 strikeouts in 1981. Robin Roberts also had a notable pitching performance when he threw a one-hit shutout against Milwaukee in 1954. The longest game in Phillies history also took place on this day in 1989… the Phillies won the rain shortened matchup 8-0 against the Reds after waiting out rain delays of 151 and 92 minutes respectively. One of the players waiting through the rain that day was Juan Samuel whom the Phillies signed exactly 9 years earlier in 1980. Most recently, this is the day when two franchise records for the month of April were eclipsed when, in 2011, Ryan Howard drove in his 27th RBI and Placido Polanco recorded his 39th hit breaking Chase Utley’s record set three years prior.  

The Phillies are currently 12-10 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 46-47-0 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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