Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Bullpen Blows Another Lead For Phillies

GAME RECAP: Reds Rally, Beat Phillies 3-2

That's two late-inning comeback wins for the Reds in two games of 2016. Scott Schebler delivered a walk-off double with the bases loaded to give the Reds a 3-2 victory over the Phillies and the first two games of the season-opening series. Once again, the Phillies bullpen did not get the job done. As Cincinnati was trailing, 2-1, in the ninth against reliever Dalier Hinojosa, Eugenio Suarez hit a leadoff single and Devin Mesoraco squibbed a one-out infield hit between the mound and third base. Jay Bruce loaded the bases with an opposite-field single that rolled into left field. Schebler, who was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts on the night entering his last plate appearance, drove Hinojosa's 2-2 fastball to the wall in left field, easily scoring Suarez and pinch-runner Tyler Holt with the go-ahead run. "We really didn't get things going until the eighth inning in the opener and the ninth inning tonight," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "But, I think the guys feel like we have that ability. It's not going to be like this all year. I think we have a really nice offensive ballclub, but in the games like this, I don't think anyone in our lineup feels that we're going to be behind, even with the tough setup guys coming in and closers, that we can't still beat them. It's a good sign. It's a great way to start the season." Phillies starter Aaron Nola gave his team seven innings of one-run baseball with one earned run, four hits no walks and eight strikeouts. Brandon Finnegan also had a strong night with two earned runs on three hits. Finnegan walked one and tied a career-high with nine strikeouts. Caleb Cotham worked two scoreless innings in relief for the Reds and Blake Wood's scoreless top of the ninth earned him the victory.

  • If the Phillies want to speed up their rebuild they will need pitchers like Nola to take another step forward this season. He opened his 2016 season the right way, pitching well against the Reds. He allowed four hits and one run and struck out a career-high eight in seven innings. "I kept thinking he threw too many strikes, but he just pinpoints that fastball and it is tough to square up," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.
  • Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco had a fantastic spring, hitting a Major League-best nine home runs in Florida. He hit his first of the regular season in the first inning, when he ripped a two-run home run through the wind to right field to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead. "Franco hit the crap out of that ball," Mackanin said. "[Finnegan] was throwing fastballs up in the zone to the previous hitters and it was like Franco was looking for a high fastball and he got it."
  • "These things happen. We're going to have more opportunities to do the right things. We're just getting started here." -- Hinojosa, who blew the Phillies' one-run lead in the ninth.
  • "It's unfortunate that we let one get away again. Over the course of the season, it will even out. We definitely have the arms in the bullpen to get guys out. It's just early. We'll bounce back and be all right. If starting pitching keeps going like that, we'll be just fine." -- Phillies right-hander David Hernandez.
Right-hander Charlie Morton makes his Phillies debut in Thursday afternoon's series finale against the Reds. Morton is 4-2 with a 3.83 ERA in nine career starts against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.


Nola Lives Up To Expectations – It is easier to trust the process with the way Aaron Nola pitched Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2014 Draft. He moved quickly to the big leagues and once he arrived he impressed, posting a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts last season. He entered 2016 expected to take another step forward and cement his status as a key piece of the Phillies' rotation. Nola did not disappoint Wednesday night in a 3-2 loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park. He allowed four hits and one run and struck out a career-high eight in seven innings. "I kept thinking he threw too many strikes, but he just pinpoints that fastball and it is tough to square up," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. Nola, who would have been 1-0 if Dalier Hinojosa had not blown a one-run lead in the ninth, allowed a solo home run to Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez with one out in the first inning, but retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced. "I felt like I had command of all of my pitches," Nola said. "I was getting ahead of a lot of guys, which really made a difference." Nola's effectiveness against left-handers also made a difference. They were 2-for-13 with six strikeouts against him, which is a nice turnaround for him. Left-handers hit .310 with an .834 OPS against Nola last season, while right-handers hit .212 with a .618 OPS. "I was commanding the ball inside," he said about his success against the lefties. "I feel like that was a big part of having success tonight against lefties." The Phillies hope for more starts like this from Nola and fellow youngsters Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. If those three develop as hoped, they could become the core of a rotation they hope one day rivals the Mets' starters.

A Very Weak Link – Pete Mackanin is not ready to pull out his hair, but a few more games like this and maybe he will be. The Phillies have played two games this season and twice they carried 2-1 leads into the eighth inning. David Hernandez blew the lead in the eighth inning Monday in a loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Dalier Hinojosa blew the lead in the ninth inning Wednesday in a 3-2 loss. "Boy, these close ones are killing me already," Mackanin said. "It's a shame because we wasted two good starting pitching performances and couldn't close it out. We need to score more runs, make it a little easier." True, the Phillies have scored just four runs in two games. But a lead is a lead and the Phillies need to hold them. "It's going to take time," Mackanin said. "We knew going in we might lose some games not having that guy to close it out at the end. I'm convinced we're going to find the guy, or a couple of guys on this team that are capable. But as of right now, we don't have that guy." Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola allowed one run in seven innings as Hernandez redeemed himself with a perfect eighth. Hinojosa then tried to convert the first save of his career, but nothing went right for him. He allowed a leadoff single to Eugenio Suarez. Devin Mesoraco then hit a slow roller up the third-base line. Hinojosa fielded the ball, but he had no throw. Jay Bruce singled to left to load the bases with one out and Scott Schebler ripped a 2-2 fastball to left-center field to score Suarez and pinch-runner Tyler Holt to end the game. Hinojosa struggled in two ninth-inning appearances late in Spring Training so this could be considered his third consecutive time struggling in the ninth. "I am very confident in my abilities to close the game," Hinojosa said through the Phillies' translator. "I know I can do the job. These things happen. I just have to make the right adjustments to make sure it doesn't happen again." But Mackanin would not commit to Hinojosa pitching the ninth inning should they find themselves in another save situation Thursday afternoon. "We'll talk about it," Mackanin said. Hernandez could get a look. After his fastball sat in the 91- to 92-mph range Monday, it sat in the 94- to 95-mph range Wednesday. He credited a slight change in his mechanics for the boost in velocity. He probably would have been the closer entering the season except he was slowed earlier this spring because of a sore right elbow. "I wanted to get out there as soon as possible," Hernandez said. "It's unfortunate that we let one get away again. Over the course of the season, it will even out. We definitely have the arms in the bullpen to get guys out. It's just early. We'll bounce back and be all right. If starting pitching keeps going like that, we'll be just fine."

A Very Bright Future – With the 2016 season getting started, here's a look at where the Phillies' Top 30 prospects are projected to start the season: 1. J.P. Crawford -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 2. Jake Thompson -- Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA); 3. Nick Williams -- Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA); 4. Mark Appel -- Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA); 5. Cornelius Randolph -- Lakewood BlueClaws (A); 6. Jorge Alfaro -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 7. Roman Quinn -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 8. Franklyn Kilome -- Lakewood BlueClaws (A); 9. Andrew Knapp -- Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA); 10. Ricardo Pinto -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 11. Scott Kingery -- Clearwater Threshers (A Adv); 12. Malquin Canelo -- Clearwater Threshers (A Adv); 13. Zach Eflin -- Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA); 14. Carlos Tocci -- Clearwater Threshers (A Adv); 15. Thomas Eshelman -- Clearwater Threshers (A Adv); 16. Adonis Medina -- Extended spring camp; 17. Jimmy Cordero -- Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA) – DL; 18. Tyler Goeddel -- Philadelphia Phillies (MLB); 19. Nick Pivetta -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 20. Rhys Hoskins -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 21. Alberto Tirado -- Lakewood BlueClaws (A); 22. Elniery Garcia -- Clearwater Threshers (A Adv); 23. Dylan Cozens -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 24. Darnell Sweeney -- Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA); 25. Jose Pujols -- Lakewood BlueClaws (A); 26. Jhailyn Ortiz -- Extended spring camp; 27. Alec Asher -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 28. Aaron Brown -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 29. Edubray Ramos -- Reading Fightin Phils (AA); 30. Deivi Grullon -- Lakewood BlueClaws (A). Team to watch: The Reading Fightin Phils have 10 members of the Phillies' Top 30 on their roster, starting with top prospect, and No. 4 overall, J.P. Crawford. But the shortstop phenom is far from alone. Jorge Alfaro and Roman Quinn are also in the overall Top 100 and No. 10 prospect Ricardo Pinto will also be there. If that doesn't do it for you, head about an hour northeast to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, which will be home to another seven Top 30 prospects. Prospects two through four -- Jake Thompson, Nick Williams and Mark Appel -- will all be there. Teams on MiLB.TV: Lehigh Valley IronPigs; Reading Fightin Phils. New faces: The offseason Ken Giles trade brought in several young players, two of whom are in the Top 30. The big name, of course is former No. 1 pick Mark Appel, also on the overall Top 100at No. 70. Thomas Eshelman, the Astros' 2015 second-rounder, also came in that deal with Houston. Both right-handers will make their organizational debuts the first time they take the mound this season. On the shelf: Right-hander Jimmy Cordero, who came last summer via the Ben Revere trade with the Blue Jays, has closer-type stuff. He'll be delayed in showing it on that stacked Lehigh Valley team as he recovers from right shoulder tendinitis.

Knowing His Place On The Roster – Ryan Howard noshed on a burrito bowl as he stood in front of his locker and discussed his future on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. He knows this is likely his final season with the Phillies, and he knows he is likely to spend it as a platoon player. He seems at peace with the situation. "You understand that this is the game, this is the business," Howard said before a game against the Reds. "You understand the team has talked about going in a different direction and stuff like that. You understand that." Phillies manager Pete Mackanin started Darin Ruf at first base Wednesday against Reds left-hander Brandon Finnegan, two days after Mackanin had Ruf pinch-hit for Howard in the eighth inning against left-hander Paul Cingrani. Howard as a platoon player has been a topic of conversation for some time, but the Phillies have waffled in the past. Not anymore. "Yeah, without question I'm going to continue to do it," Mackanin said. "Like I told Howie, you know, Darin Ruf did so well against lefties [last season] I think he deserves an opportunity to see if he can make a little bit of money, too. I think if [Howard] keeps his head on straight and settles into it, I think he's going to hit righties better. I'm looking for a big year from him because of it." Howard did not bristle as reporters questioned him about it Wednesday. He coolly discussed his situation. He would have been far less willing to talk about it last year. "I just don't let things bother me anymore," Howard said. "Last year I let things, I let a lot of things kind of surprise me. And now it's like, it is what it is. You just continue to stay positive. The situation is what the situation is. You can get down about it, you can get upset about it or what not. Or you can try to make the best of the situation, when the opportunity comes." Howard is entering the final season of a five-year, $125 million contract. The Phillies have a club option for 2017, but they are expected to exercise a $10 million buyout instead. They have tried to trade him, but have found no takers. So in the meantime, they hope Howard and Ruf can be a productive platoon at first base. There is reason to think they should be. Howard hit .256 with 20 home runs, 67 RBIs and an .802 OPS in 396 plate appearance against righties last season, while Ruf hit .371 with eight homers, 22 RBIs and a 1.107 OPS in 114 plate appearances against lefties. "Could be dangerous," Howard said of the platoon. "That's what they're banking on." Conversely, Howard posted a .418 OPS in 107 plate appearances against lefties, while Ruf posted a .483 OPS in 183 plate appearances against righties. "Obviously it's something that's been talked about for however many years," Howard said. "So it's not really a surprise. You know, I guess Pete had his mind made up that this is what he was going to do. But it's the situation we're in right now. And I want Ruff to be able to go out there and tear it up. And when I get my opportunities, be able to go out there and tear it up. And just see what happens from there." Howard was one of the best power hitters in baseball from 2005-11. He helped the Phillies win one World Series, two NL pennants and five NL East titles. He won the 2006 NL MVP and the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year Award. He is the greatest first baseman in franchise history. But after injuries and a drop in production since 2011, this is probably it. "I wouldn't say this is probably it," Howard said. "I mean, it'll probably be it in Philadelphia. There's always that realization. There is no hiding that. But, like I said, you just try to enjoy it. Just really want to try and enjoy it, whether it's here, whether it's somewhere else, just, for however long it is that you get to play, take time to be able to reflect at times on what I've been able to do, what I've been able to accomplish. But, you know, right now I'm just staying in the here and now. It's game 2. Be ready today when my name is called and go out there any other time it's called."
Arrivals And Debuts - Today is best know for the acquisitions of Dick Sisler in 1948 and Mitch Williams in 1991, both of whom played significant roles on playoff teams. The long list of debuts spans four decades beginning with Larry Bowa beginning his career in 1970 (Tim McCarver also saw his first Phillies action that day), including former Miracle Mets Bud harrelson in 1978 and Jerry Koosman in 1984, free agent signings like Lance parrish in 1987, Mariano Duncan 5 years later (on the same day as future GM Ruben Amaro), Danny Jackson the year after that, Billy Wagner in 2004, and the recently retired Juan Pierre just 4 years ago. This day also marks the end of a tradition with Steve Carlton's final opening day start (14th overall) for the Phillies in 1986 and the beginning of spring training in 1995 which cost fans so much the previous season. 

The Phillies are currently 0-2 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 11-17-0 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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