Thursday, June 16, 2016

Phillies Continue To Fall From .500

GAME RECAP: Blue Jays Pound Phillies 7-2 

The Blue Jays continue to roll, beating the Phillies, 7-2, on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park. The Blue Jays are 15-6 since May 24, which is the second-best record in the American League and the third-best record in Major League Baseball in that span. Edward Encarnacion got things going with a long solo homer in the second, and Marco Estrada took care of the rest, allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings to improve to 5-2. "We're kind of putting everything together," Estrada said. "We're hitting, we're pitching. I've said it all year, we've a very dangerous team, and when we start putting things together, we're one of the best, if not the best. That's what you're seeing right now, and it shows." Meanwhile, the Phillies continue their slide. They are 6-19 since May 18, which is the worst record in baseball. Jeremy Hellickson allowed four runs in six innings to fall to 0-2 with a 7.41 ERA (14 earned runs in 17 innings) in his last three starts. He walked the first two batters he faced in the fourth, which led to three runs. "You walk the first two guys in an inning, you're just asking for trouble," Hellickson said.

  • Cody Asche has not provided much offense since he rejoined the Phillies late last month, but perhaps he started something positive Wednesday. He crushed a solo home run into the second deck in right field in the second inning to tie the game, and doubled to score a run in the fourth and doubled into the right-field corner in the ninth. Asche needs to continue to hit as the Phillies are evaluating his future in the organization. Asche began working on ways to get quicker to the ball after he noticed that he was fouling off pitches he should be squaring up. Wednesday night's results could be an indicator that those adjustments paying off. "It's good, confidence-wise, just to feel like you're providing something to the lineup," Asche said. "No one wants to just be there eating at-bats. When you're in the lineup, you want to bring something to the table."
  • Phillies setup man Hector Neris had been a surprising and key reason for the Phillies' 24-17 start, but he has struggled mightily lately. After posting a 1.29 ERA through 26 appearances through May 29, he is 0-1 with an 11.37 ERA in his last eight appearances. That included the three runs he allowed in two-thirds of an inning in the eighth. "Everybody has bad times," Neris said. "The point is be back. Like, be focused and come back the next day, because this day has passed."
  • "We're starving for offense, and hopefully Cody can get it going. That's the best he's looked in a while." -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, on Asche.
  • Encarnacion has homered in four consecutive games at Citizens Bank Park. He has 11 home runs in just 19 games at the stadium during his career.
  • The Phillies' Maikel Franco did not start the past three games with a sprained right knee. He said Wednesday that he was feeling better and going through normal drills, and struck out as a pinch-hitter to the end that night's game.
  • Jose Bautista returned to right field on Wednesday after DHing the last two games against the Phillies in Toronto. He had been battling a right thigh injury.
  • Russell Martin drove in a run Wednesday for his sixth straight game with an RBI, tying a career high. Over those six games, Martin is 6-for-13. He'll look to break his personal best in Thursday's series finale. He went hitless in two at-bats the only time he previously faced Nola.

The finale of a four-game, home-and-home matchup between the Phillies and Blue Jays comes to a close Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, pitting Aaron Nola (5-5, 2.98 ERA ) against J.A. Happ (7-3, 3.70). While Happ has gradually regressed after a piping hot start -- his ERA sat at 2.05 on May 10 -- Nola's fall was more dramatic. And short-lived, the Phillies hope. The 23-year-old Nola turned in the shortest outing of his young career in his last start, against the Nationals. He lasted only 3 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits in an 8-0 loss to the Nats. Happ's regression started on a similar note. Since allowing eight runs in two innings on May 16, Happ's ERA has risen closer to career norms (4.18). The Blue Jays present Nola a tough test. They had scored 10 or more runs in three of their last four games entering Wednesday's contest and have hit 91 home runs, fourth most in baseball.


A Kick In The Ache – Pete Mackanin spent the first six weeks of the season longing for an offensive infusion. With Cody Asche's return from an oblique injury, the Phillies manager had hopes help was on its way. But 39 plate appearances into Asche's season, he was hitting .200 with only two extra-base knocks. In plate appearances 40 and 41, though, Asche doubled his season total of extra-base hits, home runs, doubles and RBIs. Asche sparked the Phillies' offense in the club's 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Wednesday night, with a second-inning blast to the second deck in right field and a fourth-inning RBI double. "It's good, confidence-wise, just to feel like you're providing something to the lineup," Asche said. "No one wants to just be there eating at-bats. When you're in the lineup, you want to bring something to the table." In plate appearance No. 42, Asche added another two-bagger. But the energy didn't carry through the lineup, as the remaining Phillies combined for three more hits. There's hope, beyond Asche's track record, that Wednesday could be a sign of things to come. Recently, he begun working on shortening his swing to get to the ball faster. "I've been trying to do some things that help me be on time more," Asche said. "I think my first five or six games I had some pitches to do some damage on and foul-tipped them." Asche's three hits marked the first time since he was activated that he recorded a multi-hit effort. He did so 22 times in 2015, 25 times in 2014 and 10 more in 2013. He'll need to continue to do so to stick in the Phillies' lineup. Mackanin has the difficult task of injecting offense into the Phillies' outfield without obliterating its defense. Peter Bourjos has the strongest glove, but his bat is hitting .211 and he struck out two more times in a now-rare start Wednesday. The Phillies traded for Jimmy Paredes because of his power potential, but he's never posted a positive ultimate zone rating (UZR) in the outfield. Mackanin knows Asche's limits defensively. Asche already is exclusively a left fielder. He usurped Tyler Goeddel's starting spot there, sliding Goeddel over to right, where he has struggled at times to track balls but has said he is comfortable. "Paredes isn't the best defender and Asche is limited in his range," Mackanin said before Wednesday's game. "So it's going to be a juggling act from here on out. Goeddel is probably the priority, just to keep him playing as much as possible." Goeddel can hit from either side. His bat didn't contribute much the first month of the season, but it has come around of late. His defense isn't spectacular, but rarely is it a negative. When Mackanin says Goeddel is a priority, he's looking toward the future. With prospects Nick Williams and Roman Quinn looming, it's just as important for the 23-year-old Goeddel to develop as it is for the 25-year-old Asche to earn his role in left field. "I think it's time for him to get on track," Mackanin said of Asche. "And hopefully this is the start of him providing some offense for us."

Can He Bounce Back? – Hector Neris' jovial nature is being tested. Neris had been a surprising and key piece to the Phillies' unexpected 24-17 start, posting a 1.29 ERA in 26 appearances through May 29. But Neris, who is perhaps the most upbeat player in the Phillies' clubhouse, is 0-2 with an 11.37 ERA in his last eight appearances, which includes three runs allowed in two-thirds of an inning Wednesday night in the Phillies' 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park. "Everybody has bad times," Neris said afterward. "The point is be back. Like, be focused and come back the next day, because this day has passed." But Neris' ineffectiveness has been particularly drastic. He allowed 13 hits, four runs, seven walks and struck out 37 in 28 innings through May 29. Opponents hit just .138 with a .470 OPS against him. In 6 1/3 innings since, he has allowed 11 hits, nine runs, eight walks and struck out just five. Opponents have hit .393 with a 1.219 OPS against him. "We've got to get Neris back on track," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. Neris' splitter keyed his early success, but he has lost command of the pitch. No longer able to throw the pitch for a strike, he is getting behind in the count early and often. It got to the point Wednesday that he threw four sliders (none for a strike) to try to change things up. Neris has thrown a few sliders in his last three appearances after throwing none since late April -- again, because his splitter had been so incredibly effective. "We're looking at his arm angle, if he's changed that," Mackanin said. "It might be something in his delivery. We're looking into it. I'm sure he's thinking about it. He needs to have a real good outing, a real good 1-2-3 inning where he's throwing that splitter for strikes."

Injury Updates – A hobbled Maikel Franco homered after he sprained his right knee Sunday in Washington. He has not started since, but Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said following Wednesday night's 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays that he expects Franco to start Thursday night. The Phillies certainly could use Franco. He has hit .270 (10-for-37) with three home runs and five RBIs this month. "I feel better," Franco said Wednesday. "I hit in the cage today and I felt fine." Franco pinch-hit in the ninth inning. He struck out on three pitches. Mackanin also offered injury updates on right-handers Vince Velasquez and Dalier Hinojosa: Velasquez, who is on the DL with a strained right elbow, played catch in Toronto and felt OK. Obviously, because of his importance to the team's future, the nature of his injury and Velasquez's own health history -- he had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and the Phillies had questions about his physical before acquiring him in December -- the Phillies have no plans to rush him back. Hinojosa has been on the DL since April 29 because of a bruised right hand. He is scheduled to throw a 30-pitch live-batting-practice session on Friday. "He's been progressing gradually," Mackanin said. "I'd like to get him back."

From Octagon To Batting Cage – Eddie Alvarez traded in the comfort of the octagon for the batting cage at Citizens Bank Park before the Phillies faced the Blue Jays on Wednesday night. Alvarez, who will fight for the UFC lightweight belt on July 7, grew up playing stickball in Northeast Philadelphia. He and his friends would use a zone painted on a wall or fence to call balls and strikes. Alvarez even made a 16-and-under select team. But the sport didn't stick with him. "I played the outfield, but after three games, I waved the white flag," Alvarez said. "It wasn't fast enough for me." Alvarez fashioned himself more of a soccer fan -- he attended Team USA's Copa America match against Paraguay across the street at Lincoln Financial Field -- but doesn't watch much sports on television. For the two-time Bellator champion, though, just being on a Major League field was enough to enthrall him. Alvarez was on hand Wednesday to take batting practice with the Phillies and throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Alvarez toured the Phillies' clubhouse and met the team before heading out onto the field. He bantered back and forth with players while going through the team's whole stretching routine. Then, he stepped in the cage. "I hit a couple good balls," Alvarez said. "I didn't have too high of expectations." While players such as Tommy Joseph, Cody Asche and Ryan Howard -- whom he'd previously met at Dan Uggla's wedding -- gave Alvarez some hitting tips, they were more interested in getting diet and exercise advice from Alvarez. "It's no different than anything they were already successful at," Alvarez said. "You need to seek out the best resources, and they have that as well. It's the same formula to any success: Just being consistent, having the knowledge behind you, and just doing it." There wasn't much the Phillies could offer in exchange that could translate to the UFC ring. The best Alvarez got was to drive with his hips in his swing, similar to attacking his opponent in an MMA fight -- like he'll try to do July 7 to Rafael dos Anjos for the UFC lightweight belt.

Today In Phils History – Ed Delahanty get the day started in 1894 when he went 6-for-6 as the Phils beat Cincinnati 19-9. In 1963, the Phillies signed Rick Wise who would eventually bring Steve Carlton to the team in 1972. In his first season with the club in 1979, Pete Rose worked a walk off walk against the Cubs. In what would be his only significant appearance in the history books, on this day in 1991 Andy Ashby became the 12th NL pitcher to strike out the side on 9 pitches. 6 years ago, Jamie Moyer gave up a homerun at the New Yankee Stadium to Robinson Cano setting the new major league record having surrendered a long ball in 42 different ballparks. And, finally, 2 years ago today Aaron Altherr made his MLB debut… hopefully he returns to the lineup soon.  

The Phillies are currently 30-36 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 46-55-0 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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