Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Phillies Bullpen Can’t Hold Off Nationals

GAME RECAP: Nats Edge Phils 4-3

Daniel Murphy continued his scorching-hot month of May by collecting three hits, including the go-ahead two-run single in the eighth to lead the Nationals to a 4-3 comeback victory against the Phillies on Monday at Citizens Bank Park. Murphy also hit a solo home run in the fourth to collect three RBIs on the night, while raising his Major League-leading batting average to .395 as the Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak to the Phillies. "It's been incredible. He's carrying our team," Nationals right-fielder Bryce Harper said. "He's doing everything possible in our lineup to keep us going. It's something fun to watch. It's definitely special." Philadelphia right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who tossed seven shutout innings on April 27 at Nationals Park, had shut the Nationals down again through seven innings of one-run ball. He only allowed three hits -- two of which were to Murphy -- with eight strikeouts, and even drove in a run on a sacrifice bunt in the second. "Hellickson pitched a hell of a game, and we just couldn't hang on," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis hit a solo homer in the sixth to give Philadelphia a 2-1 advantage. The Nationals then rallied for a three-run eighth inning off Phillies reliever Hector Neris, handing him his first blown save of the year after a run-scoring double from Jayson Werth and the go-ahead hit by Murphy. Jonathan Papelbon allowed a run on back-to-back doubles from Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard to open the bottom of the ninth, but the right-hander retired the next three batters to secure his 14th save and close out his former team.

  • Just three starts after he approached his personal best of 10 strikeouts in a game, Hellickson again got within striking distance of that number. But Phillies manager Pete Mackanin pulled Hellickson two K's away from getting there. Emmanuel Burriss pinch-hit for the veteran righty in the seventh after Hellickson had tossed 79 pitches. Through 11 starts, Hellickson has rung up at least eight batters in three of them. He has more eight-plus strikeout games in 2016 than any other season but 2013, when he had five in 31 starts. "When things are going good, you just have a lot of confidence with all your pitches," Hellickson said. "I feel like I've got good life on my fastball right now. I'm not afraid to throw that in hitter's counts. And in this 4-5 game span, it's probably the best my changeup has been in a long time."
  • If Hellickson throwing over to first twice before making another pitch after he hit Harper in the knee wasn't cruel enough, Tyler Goeddel only added insult to injury the next play. Murphy lined a ball to Goeddel in left field. By the time the ball was in Goeddel's glove, Harper had made it to second. Big mistake. Goeddel secured the fly ball before firing a rocket to first base to double up Harper for the second out of the seventh. The Nats' phenom almost stuck his foot out to reach the bag in time, but after review, the out call stood. "I couldn't believe it," Mackanin said. "That was a great play. It's a shame to waste a great play like that and not come out with a win."
  • "We thought about doing that, but we've had such a good combination of Neris and [Jeanmar] Gomez. We thought it was a good idea to get him out and go with the combination that's been working so well for us." -- Mackanin, on possibly leaving Hellickson in after the seventh.
Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) gets the ball in Game 2 against the Nationals. He's allowed 14 runs in 33 May innings, but only eight have been earned. Washington tagged him for seven runs in five innings on April 16, but Nola responded with seven shutout innings against the Nats two starts later. First pitch on Tuesday is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.


Welcome Home! – Before he served in the Iraq War, ran for Congress or became Under Secretary of the Army, Patrick Murphy worked in the Phillies marketing department. Before even that, Murphy worked security in the raucous 700 Level of Veterans Stadium during Temple University and Philadelphia Eagles football games. Not even at the Vet did Murphy picture himself standing on the field, the center of attention. But he did just that prior to Monday's Nationals-Phillies game, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Citizens Bank Park in celebration of Memorial Day. "It's pretty special," Murphy said. His accent says he grew up in a Northeast Philly rowhouse before Murphy can spit the words out himself. Neither that nor his passion for Philadelphia sports have vanished under the guise of Washington politics. After returning from Iraq, Murphy in 2006 ran for and won the Congressional seat in Pennsylvania's 8th District. He became the first Iraq veteran elected to Congress and served two terms. In 2015, President Barack Obama tapped Murphy to be Under Secretary of the Army, for which he was sworn in for this year on Jan. 4. Murphy has become a Washington insider, but he still spends his weekends in Bucks County. More importantly, he's taken what he learned growing up in Northeast Philly and applied it among all of his service. "That rowhouse mentality of taking care of the person on your left and your right is something the Phillies believe in," Murphy said. "It's the same way we are in the Army to make sure we all come home." As part of Memorial Day celebrations across baseball on Monday, the Phillies recognized veterans with pregame ceremonies, between-innings honors and official U.S. Marine camouflage on their hats and jerseys. And the Phillies saved their best for one particularly decorated vet. After all, it was the least they could do for an apparent good-luck charm. "They were cursed when I left," Murphy joked. "But since I came back from Iraq, they've been winning again."

Rocket Man – It took a replay review to confirm the call, but no video evidence was necessary to prove Tyler Goeddel has a cannon for an arm. Just ask Bryce Harper. In the seventh inning of a 4-3 Nationals win, Daniel Murphy had curved a would-be home run just foul of the right-field pole. Jeremy Hellickson threw over to first. Harper was back safely for a third time. Then Hellickson delivered home and Murphy ripped a liner to left, quickly landing in Goeddel's glove. The rookie outfielder made the transfer, crow-hopped and launched. By about this time, Harper was just turning back from second base. As Harper was making his way back to first, the ball went from the leather of Goeddel's glove to his right hand and into the muggy Philadelphia air. The ball landed, bouncing on one hop, in Ryan Howard's glove just as Harper attempted to sneak his foot onto the bag. Harper was too late, first-base umpire Mike Estabrook ruled. The Nationals challenged, but to no avail. The loudest and longest cheers of the game from the Citizens Bank Park crowd rained onto the field as Phillies fans witnessed Goeddel's assist hold up on a baserunning gaffe by the reigning National League MVP. "I couldn't believe it," manager Pete Mackanin said. "It's a shame to waste a great play like that and not come out with a win."

Blown By The Bullpen – Jeremy Hellickson was cruising. He'd flown through seven innings with a solo home run the only damage. He'd struck out the side the inning prior. But Hector Neris, with his mid-90s heater and bottom-dropping splitfinger, was too tempting an option for Pete Mackanin. The Phillies skipper lifted Hellickson for a pinch-hitter in the bottom half of the seventh. By the end of the next half inning, the Nationals had taken a lead they would not lose, beating the Phillies 4-3 on Monday. Mackanin afterward still called Neris among the best in the game. And for his first 26 appearances, he had been. But he wasn't Monday. Neris faced seven batters in the eighth inning. He retired only two of them, gave up two hits and walked three more. Three Nationals runs had scored by the time Jeanmar Gomez had recorded the final out of the inning. "I can't remember the last time a team got three runs off of Neris," Mackanin said. "Two outs, man on first and he just couldn't control that split." To answer Mackanin's inquiry, Neris had a particularly rough series against the Mets last August when he gave up four runs twice in three games and 10 runs in five innings of relief. Before that? Never. And since? Not until Monday. The backend combo of Neris and Gomez had been effective. But no bullpen can go a season without allowing runs, and for it to only allow runs when it doesn't cost its team a game is next to impossible. The Phillies bullpen hadn't hit many bumps after its rough start to the season, though. Gomez, Neris and David Hernandez had combined for a 2.09 ERA before Monday. Neris had been the best of the bunch, averaging almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings and allowing just four runs in 28 innings. Then, in two-thirds of one, the Nationals nearly matched Neris' season total. Hellickson, who had been brilliant though seven, was surprised to get the hook so early. "I obviously would have loved to have a chance to finish that game," he said. "I felt like it was my game to win or lose. "But at the same time you don't really question going to Hector in that situation. He's been one of the probably best eighth-inning men in the game so far this year. So, you don't really question that move." Neris has a closer's mindset, though -- something that's required of any effective relief pitcher. "I know I'm better than that," Neris said. "Everybody has a bad night in their career in baseball. Ready for tomorrow."

Daily Decision – Is Pete Mackanin facing one of his toughest managerial challenges to date? "Hell yes," the 64-year-old baseball lifer said, as he let out a hearty laugh prior to Monday's game against the Nationals. Mackanin, in his first season at the helm of the Phillies, has been tasked with transitioning the past into the future. Many changes are already taking shape. A good manager handles the situation without the product on the field taking a hit. A great manager does so while keeping the clubhouse in order. It is Mackanin's prerogative -- or at least his belief -- to let the lineup do the talking. When Tommy Joseph was penciled in at first base, batting fourth against Cubs right-hander John Lackey on Sunday, neither the 24-year-old Joseph nor the 36-year-old Ryan Howard were notified in person of the change. "I haven't been called into the office and talked to about it, so you guys apparently have breaking news before I do," Howard told the media after Sunday's 7-2 loss. Mackanin hasn't communicated anything to his first basemen because he doesn't believe there's anything to communicate. Simply, he has a young player up from Triple-A whom he and the front office want to get a look at. On a day-to-day basis, Mackanin is top dog when it comes to lineups, playing time and the like. From upper management, Mackanin said "pretty much all I go by right now" is to make sure Joseph doesn't stagnate against right-handers, whom he had success against in Triple-A this season. Mackanin had similar orders at the beginning of the season regarding Tyler Goeddel. Since Mackanin started playing him nearly every day in left field at the start of May, he's hitting .313 and slugging .493, compared with .160 marks for both prior. Joseph, who's hitting .286 (10-for-35) with three home runs since being called up, isn't going to start every day at first, according to Mackanin. "Howie's still in the picture, he's not being benched," Mackanin said. "If I was going to sit him on the bench and he wasn't going to play anymore, I'd have to have a conversation." Instead, Mackanin will lean on splits when deciding who to start between Howard and Joseph. He said the platoon role Darin Ruf played was more due to Ruf's success against lefties than Howard's struggles versus righties. With Tanner Roark on the mound for the Nationals in Monday's series opener, Mackanin gave the nod to Howard, who is 4-for-12 (.333) against right-hander. Mackanin wouldn't speculate as to who would start even a game in advance. He's handling it day by day. Want to know who's the Phillies' starting first baseman? Look at the lineup, just like Howard and Joseph.

Today In Phils History – Despite Gene Freese’s 5th pinch hit homerun of the season, 1 short of the MLB record, the Phillies lost to Milwaukee in 1959. Those loses continued to pile up as the Phillies fell to 1,243 games below .500 with a loss to the Expos in 2003… following a win the next day, the franchise has never fallen that far from even since then. One of those wins came in 2009 when Jamie Moyer collected the 250th win of his career. 5 years later, Ryan Howard became the fastest player in MLB history to reach 1,000 RBI which he accomplished in only 1,230 games. This came in the second of two consecutive 14 inning games, a first for the franchise. And, finally, happy birthday to Kenny Lofton who was born on this day in 1967.  

The Phillies are currently 26-25 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 40-61-0 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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