Adam Morgan finally falters in Phillies' loss but remains confident in bullpen role

Adam Morgan finally falters in Phillies' loss but remains confident in bullpen role


Adam Morgan went to his favorite pitch, the one that has done the most damage in his remarkable second-half run. 

The changeup was slightly misplaced this time, however, and it cost the Phillies the game. 

Asdrubal Cabrera hit a three-run shot in the 11th inning, the first homer allowed by Morgan since July 31, and the New York Mets outlasted the Phils, 7-4, in a four-hour, 10-minute marathon on a brisk and blustery Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“Tough loss on a cold night,” Pete Mackanin said after his second-to-last game as Phillies manager.

The season ends Sunday, after which Mackanin will move into a front office role (see story)

The Phillies’ late-season success — they dropped to 15-13 in September — has come thanks to plenty of help from Morgan. After nearly being released in spring training and losing his job as a starter, Morgan has become a valuable lefty out of the bullpen that can get righties out, too. 

He came in Saturday night having given up two runs over his past 26 innings with 32 strikeouts. And he was the victim of some tough luck this time. 

Morgan gave up a single to Phillip Evans with one out and then saw two pitches that were clear strikes by the computerized strike zone system called balls before walking Nori Aoki. Morgan then struck out Jose Reyes before the switch-hitting Cabrera came to the plate. 

The 0-1 changeup rode up in the strike zone, and Cabrera pounced for his 14th home run. Unlike Rhys Hoskins’ towering fly in the 10th that died at the warning track thanks to the stiff wind blowing in, Cabrera’s line drive made it just far enough to clear the wall in left-center. 

“He’s had such a great run. He’s been very impressive,” Mackanin said of Morgan. “He just got a changeup up. I was surprised the ball went out because Hoskins hit that ball probably harder than Cabrera did. But he probably got it up in the air too much and the wind got a hold of it.”

Hoskins had tied the game with a two-out, run-scoring single to left in a two-run seventh for his 48th RBI in 49 games. 

Maikel Franco’s third home run in four games, a solo shot in a two-run second, put the Phillies up 2-0 against Mets starter Seth Lugo. 

But Hoskins was the only player to have a hit after the third inning. And this time the bullpen wasn’t perfect. 

“I’m still going to use it. It’s one of my strengths,” Morgan said of his changeup. “Moving forward, I’m just going to try to erase that from my memory and keep going.”

The Phillies rallied after a rough outing by right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who was making his third start in an audition for a 2018 job. Alvarez, the former NL All-Star with the Marlins who had been out of the majors for two years because of shoulder surgeries, walked six in 4 2/3 innings. 

Alvarez, who declined to speak to reporters after the game, was charged with three runs and three hits with no strikeouts. He had a 4.30 ERA in his three starts. 

Mackanin removed catcher Jorge Alfaro after he got banged up tagging out Juan Lagares following a great throw by rightfielder Nick Williams in the fifth. 

“Alfaro made a great tag, but he hit the back of his head on the ground,” Mackanin said. “I just took him out for precautionary reasons. I think he’s going to be fine. The doctor checked him.”

Alfaro was likely to sit Sunday anyway when Mackanin manages the Phillies for a final time and Morgan hopes to get one more chance. 

“I’m real proud, but It’s just reality, nobody’s perfect,” he said. “It was just kind of a bad hit that happened at a bad time. But it’s been fun.”

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?

Aaron Nola another Zack Greinke? A quick call-up for Scott Kingery?


BRADENTON, Fla. — Gabe Kapler played most of what figures to be his opening day lineup on Friday and the Phillies responded with one of their best games of the Grapefruit League schedule in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-2.

The only regular not in the starting lineup was shortstop J.P. Crawford. Bench candidate Jesmuel Valentin played there (see story).

Opening day starter Aaron Nola pitched four shutout innings, gave up four hits, a walk and struck out five. He threw 64 pitches and 45 were strikes.

Maikel Franco belted two homers, both bombs to left. One was a two-run shot on a 3-0 fastball, the other a grand slam.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a good showing by the Phils without another impressive performance from the man who has been the best player in camp, Scott Kingery. He came off the bench, played center field, right field and third base, and stroked a hard single to right.

It is doubtful that Kingery will be on the opening day roster, but it’s looking more and more like he could be up with the big club as soon as April 13. If Kingery stays in the minors until then, the Phillies will control his rights through 2024. If he makes the opening day roster, he could be eligible for free agency after 2023. Keeping Kingery down for a few weeks won’t sit well with some fans, but it makes good baseball sense, especially for a team that does not project as a slam-dunk contender.

Kapler raved about a play Kingery made at third.

“Wow, wow,” the manager said. “His ability to go to his left and make that strong throw. He showed off that incredible arm and that versatility.”

Kapler also liked Franco’s power. The third baseman, entering a make-or-break season with the Phillies, is hitting just .192 on the spring, but he leads the club with five homers. Franco has closed his stance by bringing his front foot closer to the plate. He is getting more comfortable with the stance, which the Phillies hope will prompt him to use the middle of the field and stop pulling off balls.

“He attacked that 3-0 pitch,” Kapler said. “That was pretty impressive.”

Nola said he was “ready to go” for the opener.

Kapler concurred and compared Nola to a former Cy Young winner.

“Perfect tune-up for opening day, got him right where we wanted him with pitches — and he got to that pitch count by throwing strikes, a lot of them, and really attacking with pitches," Kapler said of Nola.

“He’s starting to look to me a lot like — I saw Zack Greinke in the American League when he was with Kansas City — kind of a familiar look to the way that he uses the gas pedal and the brake effectively and fills up the strike zone with all his pitches. His calm, easy, collected demeanor is really reminiscent of some of the best pitchers in baseball.”

The Phillies play the Tigers in Lakeland on Saturday.

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

Questions Phillies face as spring training nears its end

BRADENTON, Fla. — Less than a week before opening day, there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the Phillies.

About the only thing known for sure is that Aaron Nola will start Thursday in Atlanta. The right-hander made his final spring tune-up Friday afternoon against the Pirates.

Some of the questions that need to be answered before the Phillies pack up and leave Florida on Tuesday include:

• When will Jake Arrieta join the rotation? Will it be April 2, 3 or 4 in New York? Will it be during the team’s first homestand, possibly April 7? Arrieta threw 31 pitches in his first spring start Thursday. A bullpen session over the weekend and his next start, likely 50 or so pitches on Tuesday, will offer team officials a better idea on when he’ll be ready.

• Who else will be in the rotation? Nothing has been announced, but Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta appear to be locks with Nola and eventually Arrieta. Zach Eflin could be the fifth starter, if the Phils use one the first time through the rotation. He could also piggyback with Arrieta in New York if the Phils wanted to get Arrieta going that early. Ben Lively and Drew Hutchison remain candidates to make the club as the fifth starter, should the Phils use one during the first 10 days of the season.

• Who's in the bullpen? Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan are locks. That likely leaves three openings. One spot will likely go to a lefty, Hoby Milner or Zac Curtis. Right-handers Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano seem to be vying for one spot and the final one could go to Lively or Hutchison. They are both stretched out and could provide the bullpen length that injured Mark Leiter Jr. would have.

• How about bullpen roles? Manager Gabe Kapler is not one to speak in absolutes. He is loath to define roles in his bullpen or batting order. He’s keeping options open and could assign roles on a nightly basis based on matchups and research that the team’s growing analytics department digs up. Neris went 20 for 20 in save chances while giving up just three runs in 19⅔ innings after June 27 last season. Logic would dictate that he'd be the closer. But will he be every night? Will Kapler use him in a matchup situation in the seventh inning some night? Time will tell. Same for batting order construction.

• Who will be on the bench? Infielder/outfielder Pedro Florimon has played well and looks like a lock. That leaves one or two openings, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. Veterans Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales were both granted their release. That leaves Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn, both 40-man roster guys, as the two lead candidates. There might be room for both, depending on how many pitchers the Phils open with. It also would not be shocking to see the team send Quinn to Triple A to get more playing time. The Phils appear to be leaning toward carrying Andrew Knapp as their second catcher over Cameron Rupp, who has a minor-league option remaining.