Saturday, May 14, 2016

Hellickson Has All Around Good Night

GAME RECAP: Phillies Edge Reds 3-2

Jeremy Hellickson struck out more batters than he has in nearly three years and drove in the decisive run with a squeeze bunt in the Phillies' 3-2 win over the Reds on Friday night. Hellickson struck out nine -- his most since July 5, 2013 -- and allowed only three Reds to reach base after the second inning, in which two came around to score on a sure third out that Tyler Goeddel dropped in the left-field corner. Jeanmar Gomez pitched a scoreless ninth for his Major League-leading 14th save. "My fastball command was a lot better than it's been," Hellickson said. "That was probably the best changeup I've had this year, too." The Reds went hitless following Adam Duvall's second hit -- a two-out single -- in the top of the fourth inning. "I think Hellickson really did a good job," Reds acting manager Jim Riggleman said. "As the game went on, he got his changeup really working. We were swinging at it out of the zone. That's the way the pitch is supposed to work. He really got sharp and he just held us down." Brandon Finnegan walked five over four innings, allowing three runs on four hits -- the last of which was a Goeddel two-run triple that erased the deficit caused by his earlier error. The next batter, Hellickson, laid down a perfect safety squeeze to plate Goeddel to give the Phillies the lead for good.

  • The Phillies finally capitalized on the erratic Finnegan in the fourth. Finnegan threw one combined strike to Carlos Ruiz and Tommy Joseph -- both of whom struck out two innings prior -- to put runners on first and second for Goeddel, who sliced a 1-1 pitch just fair down the right-field line for his first Major League triple, scoring Ruiz and Joseph to tie the game at two. 
  • The long-awaited debut of Joseph, the Phillies' promising first-base prospect, came Friday. The 24-year-old got the call and was in the lineup, hitting sixth. Although he struck out twice and was replaced defensively in the eighth by Andres Blanco, he put together Major League at-bats. Between his two strikeouts was a walk and a run scored on Goeddel's triple. Joseph saw 14 pitches on three trips to the plate. "I think he's going to be fine," Mackanin said. "He just had a couple pitches to hit that he swung through and missed but I like his approach." 
Aaron Nola takes the ball for the Phillies in the middle game of the three-game set. He'll look to repeat his results, but change the outcome from the first time he faced the Reds this season. In the second game of 2016, Nola fired seven innings, allowing one run, but Philadelphia lost 3-2.


One Run Is All You Need –  Freddy Galvis flipped the ball hit by Brandon Phillips to Cesar Hernandez, who fired it to Andres Blanco to close out the Phillies' 13th one-run victory of the season, a 3-2 win over the Reds on Friday night. The Phillies improved to 13-3 in one-run games on Friday. Two of the teams with the next most one-run games played, Cincinnati and Cleveland, have both played 13. The Reds have played two of theirs against the Phillies, while the Indians lost all three games of their series in Philadelphia by one run. "I can't quantify it," manager Pete Mackanin said. Excellent pitching, however, helps. The Phillies' staff ranks 10th in baseball with a 3.78 ERA. But in games decided by one run, they've posted a 2.37 mark. While the main benefit is securing hard-to-come-by victories, it is not singular. With such a young team, Mackanin appreciates the experience his players are getting in close games. "It's a good learning experience for the young guys," Mackanin said. "It's fun to win those games because it teaches them how to win those close games, which is a bonus for us." History says that an .813 winning percentage in one-run games is unsustainable. But Tyler Goeddel, who drove home the tying run with a two-run triple and scored the go-ahead run on Jeremy Hellickson's squeeze bunt in the fourth inning, says not so fast. "I think we're as mentally tough as any team I've been on," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we can keep this going throughout the year." If the trend continues, Mackanin is going to need to curb the use of his bullpen -- at least his late-inning relievers like Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris, both of whom pitched a scoreless inning in Friday's win. Neris leads National League relievers with 23 innings pitched, while Gomez isn't far behind. He's pitched 21 2/3 innings while compiling a league-leading 14 saves. David Hernandez is the only other Phillies reliever (who's not a long man) to pitch more than 11. "If we continue to play so many one-run games, I'm going to have to make an adjustment," Mackanin said. "But right now, it's too early in the season to worry about." For now, Mackanin will take improving on the team's minus-26 run differential one run at a time.

Sweet Redemption – As soon as the second-inning flyball off Tucker Barnhart's bat hit off Tyler Goeddel's glove in the left-field corner, the outfielder was searching for redemption in the Phillies' 3-2 win over the Reds. Goeddel could have ended the second inning and left two runners stranded, but the ball hit off his glove and allowed two runs to score to give the Reds a 2-0 lead in the second inning. "The play in the second inning is one I should make all the time," Goeddel said. "I was running toward the wall at first and then I looked up and it was more toward the line than I thought. I changed direction a little bit, kind of took my eye off the ball when I reached for it, I guess, and it hit off my glove." Goeddel felt horrible about potentially costing Jeremy Hellickson a win in what was otherwise a stellar outing. He knew his chance to make up for it would come, though. And two innings later, it did. Goeddel stepped to the plate after Brandon Finnegan walked Carlos Ruiz and Tommy Joseph. He laced a 1-1 pitch down the right-field line -- fair by an inch -- and legged out his first Major League triple, clearing the bases and tying the game. With one swing of the bat, he completely erased his earlier defensive mishap. The next batter to the plate, Hellickson, then drove Goeddel home on a safety squeeze to give the Phillies the third and decisive run. "I knew I was going to have a chance to redeem myself, whether it be in the field or at the plate," he said. "I took some deep breaths and got my chance." Hellickson recovered from the two-run second to go seven innings without allowing an earned run and striking out nine. The right-hander allowed only three more Reds to reach base after Goeddel's error.

Better Than Expected – With 36 games in the rearview mirror, the Phillies are quickly approaching baseball's quarter mark. And, at 21-15 following Friday's 3-2 win over the Reds, they're doing so with force. Game by game, first-year general manager Matt Klentak continues to get more material to evaluate. As the sample size grows, so does the accuracy with which he's able to judge his young team. And so far, the verdict has been pretty good. "A lot of really good baseball people will talk about 'the quarter pole,' somewhere in the 40-game neighborhood," Klentak said prior to Friday's game against the Reds. "We're able to see some things that have taken place in the first six weeks that are positive. And some things that are not. But I think we have a pretty good sense in the way this team is shaping up." This is a roster built on the foundation of young talent, with a mix of veterans, non-roster invites and waiver claims. On one corner of the infield is a 23-year-old budding star in Maikel Franco. On the other is a player in the final year of a 5-year, $125 million contract, Ryan Howard, who has come to terms with a platoon role. And on most nights, they bat third and fourth in the Phillies' lineup. As the season progresses, names like J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams – the Phillies' No. 1 and No. 3 prospects, respectively -- are expected to begin taking the place of those like Cesar Hernandez and Peter Bourjos on the lineup card. The first sign of an eminent future came before Friday's game, when the Phillies called up 24-year-old first baseman Tommy Joseph and optioned 29-year-old Darin Ruf to Triple-A. But Mackanin and his coaching staff have propelled a team that has four semi-regular players hitting below the Mendoza line to achieve more than anyone expected through its first 36 games. "Strong organizations, really in any sport, adjust to the style of their personnel," Klentak said. "And I think that's something that Pete and our coaching staff have done remarkably well. "We are not blind to the lack of production that we're getting at certain spots on the field. … What I credit Pete for doing is recognizing it and continuing to put out the best lineup and the best team that he can, on the field, based on the strengths of this club." The last time the Phillies reached 20 wins with as few losses as they have this season was in 2011. That team consisted of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, to name a few. They won 102 games. This team is winning on the backs of Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Odubel Herrera. It is compensating for a lineup that's hitting a combined .227 with remarkable pitching and defense. How long is it sustainable? "Hopefully all year long," Klentak said. "We'll see. The seasons ebb and flow. Even teams that win the World Series, they're going to go through stretches where they're pitching better, where they're hitting better, struggling defensively, whatever the case might be. I don't know why the 2016 Phillies would be any different than that." Whether the success continues or if the Phillies current minus-27 run differential comes back to bite them, one thing is certain: this is a team with an average age of 26 and only getting younger and growing together. Mackanin has an open line of communication with his players, and they bring the energy from the clubhouse onto the field. "I think that all kind of has to do with building a culture," Klentak said. "And that's what's happening right now. It's a young team, they're playing hard, they believe every night that they can compete - most nights we do compete. And the players are being allowed some freedom to go out and play confidently and play loose, and that was part of our goal for this year."

A Young Boost – The Phillies selected the contract of first baseman Tommy Joseph from Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to Friday's 3-2 win over the Reds. In a corresponding move, Darin Ruf was optioned to Triple-A. Joseph was hitting .347 with six home runs in 27 games for Lehigh Valley. The 24-year-old is leading the International League in OPS with a .981 mark. In his Major League debut on Friday, Joseph went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. "I like his approach. For his first game in the big leagues, I think he got that out of the way, he got his feet wet," said Phillies manager Pete Mackanin. "I think he's going to be fine. He's got a good approach. He's relaxed at the plate. He just had a couple pitches to hit that he swung through and missed but I like his approach." Philadelphia's first basemen are hitting .174 with eight home runs (eight from Ryan Howard) and a .624 OPS. Ruf was hitting .158 with no homers and three RBIs in 31 games. "That's one of the reasons that we're making the move," Mackanin said before Friday's game. "This is the start of ways to improve the offense, and we're hoping he can do it." Mackanin isn't sure of how the young first baseman will be used. When he delivered the news to Ruf that he'd been sent down, Mackanin gave him an excuse for his struggles: the Phillies hadn't faced many lefties. If the trend continues, it will be equally difficult for Joseph to get at-bats if he takes over Ruf's role in the first-base platoon. Mackanin, however, didn't rule out Joseph growing into a bigger role. "We might mix him in with some right-handers." Mackanin said. "It'll depend on how well he's swinging the bat. In close to 100 at-bats he was hitting .370 or something like that and [Triple-A manager] Dave Brundage told me that most at-bats were quality at-bats. If he could do the same here, there's no telling what could happen." Brundage gave Joseph the news after Thursday's IronPigs game in Columbus. They played at 11 a.m., though, so Joseph could only tell friends and family for almost a whole day after he found out -- with one rule: it can't get posted on social media. "That was the thing I had to end every conversation with, 'Hey don't let it get out,'" Joseph said. The Phillies acquired Joseph in 2012, when they dealt Hunter Pence to the Giants. At the time, Joseph was a catcher, but injury problems -- namely concussions -- forced him from behind home plate to first base. After Joseph recovered, he was unable to regain his form at the plate, so the Phils removed him from the 40-man roster in October. He passed through waivers unclaimed. "When I got taken off the roster, it just lit a fire," Joseph said. "Knowing I still had a job and the Phillies were going to invite me back to Spring Training. It just gave me that much more motivation." Joseph, however, got contacts for his astigmatism in the offseason. He showed up to camp 25 pounds lighter. And it was there, in Spring Training, Joseph found an approach that worked for him and stuck to it. "I took an approach I had in Spring Training and took it into the season," Joseph said. "My routine for the last two weeks [of Spring Training] was pretty much the same every day and through the entire season, every day. I've found a comfort zone and was able to capitalize on pitches in the zone." When the Phillies acquired Joseph in 2012, ranked him as Philadelphia's No. 3 prospect. He didn't rank in the Top 30 on this season's list. But after the first month of the season, Joseph is looking more like the centerpiece the Phils thought they were getting from the Giants nearly four years ago.

Today In Phils History – It is astounding to think that the last time the franchise win loss record was at .500 was on this day in 1922. No wonder why John Rawlings refused to report to the Phillies after being sold by the Giants the following year. Despite the struggles, phans still show up and in fact too many showed up at the Baker Bowl in 1927 as one of the sections of stands collapsed on this day injuring 50. Six year later, and those same phans were disappointed to see Hack Wilson hit a walk off grand slam against the Phillies. Many year later in 1980, Steve Carlton set a record with ten consecutive quality starts to begin the season. And, finally, today we would like to wish Tony Perez a happy 74th birthday and Roy “Doc” Halladay a happy, healthy, and a bit mischievous 39th birthday!

The Phillies are currently 21-15 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 44-48-0 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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