Aaron Nola proves human as Phillies reach new low — a season-high 33 games under .500

Aaron Nola proves human as Phillies reach new low — a season-high 33 games under .500


SAN FRANCISCO — Before each game, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and his coaching staff decide who will take the lineup card to home plate. If the Phillies win that game, the same person takes the lineup card out the next day to see if he can keep the ball rolling.

The Phillies entered Thursday night's game against the San Francisco Giants having lost four in a row. Mackanin needed someone to break the skid.

At first, there were no volunteers. Then it dawned on hitting coach Matt Stairs: It was Aaron Nola's turn to pitch.

"I'll take it!" Stairs offered.

Who wouldn't want to hitch their wagon to Nola the way the right-hander had pitched lately? In his previous 10 starts, he'd delivered at least six innings and allowed no more than two runs while racking up a glistening 1.71 ERA, the best in the majors over the span.

Stairs won't be taking out the lineup card Friday night. Nola's run of brilliance ended in a 5-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants to AT&T Park (see Instant Replay).

Nola went just five innings, his shortest outing since June 11. He gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks.

"I was just falling behind in counts, getting in good hitter's counts," Nola said. "I made some mistakes and they hit the ball well."

Command down in the zone and movement is Nola's calling card. But on this night …

"He didn’t have his good command," Mackanin said. "You never want [a run like Nola had been on] to stop. But, once again, he was just a little bit off. He didn't pitch poorly. He just didn't pitch as well as he usually does.

"He got hurt in that fifth inning."

In that inning, the Giants turned a 2-1 lead into a 5-1 lead. Nola allowed four straight batters to reach base with one out. Jarrett Parker had the big hit, a two-run double on a hanging, first-pitch changeup.

Nola blamed himself for pitching behind in the count often.

Catcher Cameron Rupp thought home plate umpire Stu Scheurwater had a tight strike zone, especially on pitches down. But Nola had no qualms with balls and strikes.

"It could have gone both ways, but the umpire was pretty consistent in that area," Nola said. "I was still getting behind in the count. I didn’t think I was missing too bad, but I was missing. I was 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 a lot. I left some balls up and they used all parts of the field."

Nola's velocity was a tick down, but he said he felt fine. He added that, for matchup reasons, he threw a lot of two-seam fastballs. That pitch is not as firm as his four-seamer.

Nick Williams started a three-run rally with a leadoff homer against Giants starter Jeff Samardzija in the top of the sixth as the Phils made it a one-run game. Lefty reliever Hoby Milner got five big outs to keep the deficit at one run, but the Phils did nothing against the Giants' bullpen.

Samardzija went six innings for the win. He gave up four runs and eight hits, two of which were homers. One of the homers was a long, opposite field drive by Rupp. It cleared the high right-field wall. Not too many right-handed hitters take it up there, but Rupp did.

"It was good to see Rupp hit that opposite-field home run," Mackanin said. "That's a long poke. Williams hit a bomb. That had to be 420 feet, something like that. (Rhys) Hoskins with a couple of hits. Freddy (Galvis) with a double and a triple. We hung in there. We got behind and came back. We just couldn't convert."

The loss dropped the Phillies to a majors-worst 43-76. They are a season-high 33 games under .500. They are a dreadful 19-45 on the road and 6-20 against the NL West. They were swept three games in San Diego before coming up the coast to San Francisco.

"This California weather," Mackanin said. "I don't know. We don't seem to really handle pitchers that we don't see [often] well. That may have something to do with it. They're not accustomed to seeing these pitchers. When you're in your own division, it's a lot easier to know what's coming."

Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

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Phillies add 4 pitching prospects to 40-man roster

The Phillies added four promising pitching prospects to their 40-man roster on Monday. In a corresponding move, they subtracted a notable name.

Right-handers Franklyn Kilome, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Taveras and lefty Ranger Suarez were all added to the roster, protecting them from being selected by another club in next month's Rule 5 draft.

The Phillies also added an infielder, Engelb Vielma, to the roster. He was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants.

To make room for these additions, the team needed to clear three spots on its roster, which had been at 38. Left-handed pitcher Elniery Garcia cleared waivers and was sent outright to the minor leagues while right-handers Alberto Tirado and Mark Appel were designated for assignment. The Phillies will try to trade Tirado and Appel before placing them on waivers. If they clear waivers, they could stay in the system.

The Phillies cut Appel loose after he'd struggled with injury and ineffectiveness during two seasons in the organization. The 26-year-old right-hander from Stanford University had twice been a first-round draft pick, by Pittsburgh in 2012 and by Houston — No. 1 overall — in 2013. The Phillies acquired him from the Astros as part of the package for Ken Giles in December 2015, but he never lived up to his huge potential.

"A lot of the tools that Mark showed as an amateur that led to him being the No. 1 overall pick are still there," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "He has simply struggled with performance. It's certainly not for lack of effort on his part. We think the world of the kid and wish him well. It was a tough decision."

Tirado, 22, was acquired from Toronto in July 2015 as part of the return for Ben Revere. He arrived with a fastball that could reach triple digits on the radar gun and that promise earned him a spot on the 40-man a year ago. Tirado suffered a shoulder injury early last season and struggled in the minors.

All four of the pitchers that the Phillies protected are products of the team's international scouting department. Taveras, 24, was a standout at three levels in the minors last season and could be in the picture in Philadelphia in 2018. He led the system in strikeouts in 2016 and 2017.

"He knows how to get guys out and often times that comes via the strikeout," Klentak said. "No matter where he pitches, he rises to the occasion and puts up a strong performance."

Kilome, 22, and Dominguez, 22, are both power arms who project to see significant time at Double A in 2018. Suarez, 22, should also get to Double A at some point in 2018. He had a 2.27 ERA in 22 starts at two levels of Single A ball in 2017.

"He may have been the breakout pitcher of the year for the Phillies," Klentak said. "We'd always heard a lot about him and this year he took his performance to another level.

"We're really excited for all four of these guys. All have worked extremely hard and they are all deserving of being added to our roster. Our international scouting operation, Sal Agostinelli and his group, continues to crank out players. They've done a great job. These four pitchers have earned this through their work ethic and performance. By no means is this the ultimate goal for them, but it's one step closer. We believe really strongly in the futures of these four pitchers."

Vielma, 23, is a top defensive shortstop who can also play second and third base. He was waived by Minnesota in September and claimed by the Giants, who let him go in a roster crunch.

"He's an intriguing claim," Klentak said. "He adds depth to our infield."

The Phillies’ roster is at 40. The team will have to clear space if it wants to add a player in next month's Rule 5 draft. Last November, the Phils added 11 players to the 40-man roster and still lost lefty reliever Hoby Milner to Cleveland. Milner failed to make the Indians' opening-day roster, returned to the organization in March and ended up making 37 appearances for the big club after coming up in late June. He was one of 12 rookies to make their big-league debut with the Phillies in 2017.

Notable players who were not protected include outfielders Carlos Tocci and Andrew Pullin and pitcher Brandon Leibrandt.

"One of the byproducts of a strong system is every year there are some tough omissions," Klentak said. "There are always tough calls. But we look at that as a good problem to have."

New details emerge in investigation into Roy Halladay's death

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New details emerge in investigation into Roy Halladay's death

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Retired star pitcher Roy Halladay sped his small sports plane low over the Gulf of Mexico minutes before his fatal crash two weeks ago, climbing sharply in the final seconds before diving into the water, federal investigators said in a preliminary report released Monday.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Noreen Price placed no blame for the Nov. 7 accident near Tampa, simply laying out the facts as gleaned from the plane's data recorder and eyewitnesses. A final report with conclusions could take one to two years.

Price says Halladay, 40, had taken off from a lake near his Tampa-area home about 17 minutes before the crash, taking his ICON A5 to 1,900 feet (580 meters) before dropping to 600 feet (180 meters) as he neared the coastline. He then dropped to 36 feet (11 meters) when he reached the water. While flying at about 105 mph (170 kph), Halladay skimmed the water at 11 feet (3.3 meters), flying in a circle before climbing to 100 feet (30 meters), the plane's data showed.

A witness told investigators the plane climbed to between 300 and 500 feet (95 to 150 meters) when it turned and went into a 45-degree dive. It slammed into the water and flipped.

Halladay's body was found with the plane, which was severely damaged. The plane itself was equipped with a parachute, but it was not deployed.

The former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies star had received the plane from ICON on Oct. 10, and was one of the first to receive the model. In one of many enthusiastic tweets about the plane, Halladay said it felt "like flying a fighter jet." He had about 700 hours of flight time after getting his license in 2013, the report says. He had 51 hours in ICON A5s, including 14 in the plane that crashed.

Rolled out in 2014, the A5 is an amphibious aircraft meant to be treated like an ATV, a piece of weekend recreational gear with folding wings that can easily be towed on a trailer to a lake where it can take off from the water.

The man who led the plane's design, 55-year-old John Murray Karkow, died while flying an A5 over California's Lake Berryessa on May 8, a crash the NTSB attributed to pilot error.

Another A5 crashed in April, making a hard landing in the water off Key Largo, Florida, injuring the pilot and his passenger. The pilot told investigators the plane descended faster than he expected.

Halladay, an eight-time All-Star, pitched a perfect game and a playoff no-hitter in 2010. He played for the Blue Jays from 1998 to 2009 and for the Phillies from 2009-13, going 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA.