Phillies

Always known for his defense, Peter Bourjos turning heads with hitting streak

Always known for his defense, Peter Bourjos turning heads with hitting streak

Peter Bourjos has never really been known for his hitting.

It's always been his fielding that has set him apart, as he’s been considered one of the best defensive centerfielders in MLB. While he’s played mostly right field for the Phillies, his fielding has remained top notch.

Yet, that’s not what has gotten him recent praise. His hitting has finally come alive, helping to fuel a recent four-game win streak.

Bourjos was batting a measly .199 coming into the month of June, but then his performance completely changed. He hit .410 (25 for 61) in June, which was the second-highest average in the majors and first in the National League. He’s pushed his season batting average up to .262, recording at least one hit in his last 10 games.

At home on Friday against the defending champion Kansas City Royals, Bourjos stretched his hit streak to double digits with a single in the bottom of the fifth. He scored on the next at-bat when Cody Asche drove him in on an RBI double to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. The Phillies went on to an eventual 4-3 win at Citizens Bank Park (see game recap).

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said the difference in Bourjos' hitting was to just not swing the bat so hard.

“According to what I read, he just decided that he didn’t have to swing as hard, which makes a lot of sense,” Mackanin said. “It takes a lot of tension out of your body. You just go out there and react to the ball instead of trying to drive the ball.”

Mackanin mentioned how Pete Rose, who holds the record for most hits in MLB history, didn’t worry about trying to hit a home run each time, which resulted in a lot of groundball hits. He added that so few of a player’s at-bats are going to result in extra-base-hits, so just focusing on getting on base is most important.

Even though Bourjos' defense is what sets him apart, this isn’t the first time in his career he’s found himself hitting the ball well. In 2011 with the Angels, Bourjos hit .271 with 26 doubles, 11 triples and 12 home runs in 147 games. Mackanin said he’s definitely capable of replicating those numbers.

“You see when he takes batting practice he has power,” Mackanin said. “I think what happened to him over the years was he never really knew what kind of hitter he was. He has the power to hit a home run to the opposite field. He can hit 15, 20 home runs.”

Bourjos said it’s never really bothered him that he’s been branded mostly as a defensive player.

“I’ve had that label since I’ve probably signed,” Bourjos said. “It didn’t matter how well I hit in the minor leagues, it was always glove first. You can’t shake that label, it’s just there. You start going and having good at-bats, and hopefully they recognize that you’re an all-around good player.”

If his hot streak continues, Bourjos could find himself as an attractive trade piece to a playoff contender.

The non-wavier trade deadline is just one month away, and with the All-Star break even closer, teams will soon begin to determine if they need a boost in talent to make a playoff run. With the Phillies still rebuilding, they may want to capitalize on an opportunity to continue to build their farm system and deal a veteran.

The situation would be even more favorable for the Phillies considering Bourjos, 29, is playing on just a one-year deal. And taking advantage of this red-hot streak could be something to consider.

However, Bourjos says he’s unsure if that’ll happen.

“I’m not too sure about that, that’s a question for other general managers,” he said. “Obviously, I just want to go out and play as well as I can for this team, and hopefully I’m here the whole year.”

Jake Arrieta looks like a $75 million man in domination of Pirates

Jake Arrieta looks like a $75 million man in domination of Pirates

BOX SCORE

Jorge Alfaro looked and sounded like a kid who had just visited an amusement park for the first time. Wide eyes. Big smile. Let’s-do-it-again amazement in his voice.

“That was fun,” he said. “Just put a finger down and he hit the glove.”

Alfaro, the Phillies’ 24-year-old rookie catcher, was on the receiving end of a vintage Jake Arrieta performance Thursday night. In his third start with the Phillies, Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner, dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates, the NL’s highest-scoring team coming in, with seven innings of one-hit, 10-strikeout ball to lead the Phillies to a 7-0 win at wintery Citizens Bank Park (see first take).

Arrieta’s fastball had sink, tail, run, whatever you want to call that Greg Madduxian downward, left-to-right darting action that makes it so tough to hit when it moves like that. He got 11 swing and misses on the pitch, 14 in all. In his previous outing Saturday at Tampa Bay, he struck out just one in 6 2/3 innings and got only four swing and misses.

Arrieta’s improvement might be as simple as this: He signed with the Phillies (for three years and $75 million) just five weeks ago. Though he’s made three starts with the Phillies, he’s really just finishing his spring training.

“I’m caught up now,” he said. “Other than being able to locate the changeup a little better, this was about as good as I’ve been.

“I knew I was going to be pretty crisp today in the bullpen when I had my sinker, glove side, going early. My timing was pretty much right where it needs to be. When I’m on time, when I get my foot down and I’m able to drive the ball downhill to my glove side, I know it’s going to be a pretty good day. Three starts in, to be able to do that as well as I did tonight is a good sign.”

Manager Gabe Kapler loved Arrieta’s sinker.

“It was moving all over the place,” he said. “Very impressive outing for him and a big emotional lift for our team.”

Arrieta came out in attack mode, striking out the first two batters of the game on fastballs that registered 94 and 93 mph, respectively. He kept on attacking after the Phils lit up Jameson Taillon for five runs in the second inning. Rhys Hoskins homered and Cesar Hernandez cleared the bases with a three-run single. Trailing runner J.P. Crawford got a great jump from first on a 3-2 pitch and followed third base coach Dusty Wathan’s wave home.

Kapler said it took “big stones,” on Wathan’s part to send Crawford and that the dugout was “fired up” after Hernandez cleared the bases.

With the way Arrieta was dealing, it was game over after that.

“Any time I get a multiple-run lead, I’m going to be aggressive,” he said.

The Phillies are 11-7 thanks largely to their starting pitchers. They’ve recorded a 2.40 ERA in their last nine starts. At home, the Phils are 6-1 and have outscored opposing clubs by 35 runs. There are nine more games to play on this homestand. It's off to a good start.

Jake Arrieta delivers gem as Phillies roll Pirates to kick off homestand

Jake Arrieta delivers gem as Phillies roll Pirates to kick off homestand

BOX SCORE

This was the Jake Arrieta that the Phillies expected when they shelled out $75 million for his services five weeks ago.

Arrieta was dominant over seven innings and enjoyed the best of his three starts with his new club as he backboned a 7-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday night.

The 32-year-old right-hander gave up just one hit. He walked two and struck out 10.

The win improved the Phillies to 11-7 overall and 6-1 at home. The Phils have a plus-35 run differential at home with nine more games to play on this homestand.

Pittsburgh is 12-7, tops in the National League Central. The Pirates entered the game leading the NL in runs scored and OPS, but Arrieta and relievers Yacksel Rios and Victor Arano cooled them off on just two hits.

The Pirates and Arrieta know each other well. This was Arrieta’s 21st career regular-season start against them. Things had not gone that well for Arrieta against the Pirates recently. He was 2-6 with a 6.48 ERA and 11 homers allowed in his previous eight regular-season starts against Pittsburgh, dating to July 2016.

But Arrieta (2-0) owned the Pirates in this one. He had excellent movement on his sinking fastball. The pitch produced 11 swinging strikes. Overall, Arrieta had 14 swinging strikes, notable because he had just nine in his previous two starts. Arrieta struck out just one batter in 6 2/3 innings Saturday at Tampa Bay. His first two outs of this game were strikeouts and he had three in the third inning. So, clearly his stuff was a lot better. His average fastball was 92.7 mph and he touched 95.

The Phillies gave Arrieta all the run support he needed in the second inning when they erupted for five runs.

Rhys Hoskins started the rally with a line-drive solo homer into the left-field seats. Cesar Hernandez smacked a bases-loaded single on a full-count pitch with two outs and the runners moving. All three runners scored. Odubel Herrera capped the rally with the first of his two RBI singles.

All of the runs came against Pittsburgh starter Jameson Taillon, who needed 40 pitches to get just two outs in the second inning.

Taillon had been off to a terrific start. He gave up just two runs in 20 1/3 innings over his first three starts.

Notes
• Carlos Santana returned to the Phillies’ starting lineup. He walked twice, singled and struck out.

• Herrera has reached base safely in 20 straight games, dating to last season.

• Reliever Tommy Hunter will get some work in a minor-league game at Reading on Friday night. Hunter is recovering from a hamstring strain. If all continues to go well, he should be activated sometime during this homestand.

• Right-hander Ben Lively (0-1, 5.87) pitches against right-hander Ivan Nova (2-1, 4.88) on Friday night.