Phillies

Behind grand slam, Aaron Altherr, Phillies take down Clayton Kershaw, MLB-best Dodgers

Behind grand slam, Aaron Altherr, Phillies take down Clayton Kershaw, MLB-best Dodgers

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There was no way the Phillies were winning this game, right? Seriously, best team in the majors against one of the worst. Nick Pivetta carried a 6.75 ERA into his start — that's the fifth-highest ever by a Phillies pitcher in a season in which he'd pitched at least 110 innings — and he was facing one of the best pitchers in the game in Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

Kershaw, a three-time National League Cy Young award winner, entered with the best ERA in the majors — 2.12 — and he'd allowed just one run in 31 innings in his previous four starts against the Phillies.

What's more, five players in the Phillies' lineup had never faced Kershaw, and usually, the advantage goes to the pitcher in those situations.

So what happens?

The Phillies win the game, 4-3, and one of those players who'd never faced Kershaw accounts for all the runs with a grand slam, the first one that Kershaw has allowed in his career (see observations).

"That's obviously pretty special to be the first one to do that," said Aaron Altherr, who provided the grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning. It turned a 2-0 Phillies' deficit into a 4-2 lead.

"I definitely don't take it for granted. He's obviously a really good pitcher. I just thank God I was able to get a pitch to hit."

"You try to make it just another game when you face him, but deep down you know it's really not because of how good he is and how good he's been over the years. He's a future Hall of Famer. So it's definitely awesome to be able to play against a guy like that."

And beat him.

"Boy, that was fun, any time you beat Kershaw, it’s really nice to see," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Kershaw is now 17-4 with a 2.26 ERA.

While Altherr's grand slam was the big blow, it wasn't the only important contribution from the Phillies' side.

Pivetta (6-10) allowed a pair of solo homers on the first five pitches of the game — one was a leadoff, inside-the-park homer to Chris Taylor — but settled down nicely and followed with five scoreless innings to give his team a chance.

Pivetta, who'd allowed 13 runs in 10 innings in his previous two starts, gave up just two hits (both singles) and a walk after the first inning. He finished with eight strikeouts. His stingy work over his final five innings kept the Phillies in the game until Altherr's heroics with two outs in the sixth.

"The thing I like about him is he really thinks he’s good, he really believes in himself," Mackanin said of Pivetta. "He didn’t quit and he keeps battling, that’s the thing I like about him the most, along with his stuff."

The Phillies' decisive sixth inning against Kershaw started with a pinch-hit walk by Ty Kelly and included a one-out single by Freddy Galvis and a two-out, full-count walk by Rhys Hoskins. Altherr followed with his grand slam.

"It was nice to do something like that but it honestly wasn't all me," Pivetta said. "I wouldn't have gotten that win if Altherr hadn't hit that grand slam and it wouldn't even have started if Ty didn't get that walk and Freddy didn't get that hit and we didn't get another walk, so the guys putting up good ABs in that situation was really nice to see. This win goes out to the team around me and not just me. I mean, yes, I put in five shutout innings after that, but just having those guys pick me up at the end, I think that's what really contributed to this win. It was a nice little boost because I haven't been doing the best lately."

Altherr's grand slam came on a hanging, 1-1 slider. It came off the bat at 107 mph and landed 418 feet from home plate in the second deck above left field.

"I was just telling myself not to get beat," Altherr said. "The first two at-bats, I got jammed. I just wanted to make sure I got the head out. I think he threw me a slider again. I was finally able to get the barrel to it."

The bullpen made the lead stand up, though Hector Neris allowed a solo homer to Curtis Granderson in the ninth to make it a one-run game. Back on April 29, Neris allowed three ninth-inning homers to blow a lead at Dodger Stadium. It was one of the Phillies' worst losses of the season.

"I thought about that right at the start of the inning," Mackanin admitted. "I’m sure he was thinking about it. But the thing I liked about him is he looked like he was eager to go right after the hitters, even when he gave up the home run, he didn’t back off. He went right after them, which was nice to see."

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

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Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — For a gazillion years, pitchers have been told to keep the ball down. That is still valuable advice, but with more and more hitters looking to launch the ball with an upward swing path these days, power pitchers are striking back with a high fastball above the bat head.

Nick Pivetta has a power fastball and he’s working on this technique. He consciously threw some fastballs above the belt in his two-inning spring debut Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We're telling all of our pitchers, we're asking them to do some new things,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “And there's going to be some times in spring training games when you get hit a little bit.”

That’s OK. The new-school Phillies want their players to be open to new ideas. Pivetta, who struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings in 26 starts last season, is open learning to ride a high fastball by a hitter looking to launch. He watched on television as Justin Verlander did that for Houston in the postseason last year and he’s watched more video of Verlander and interacted with Phillies coaches about the strategy this spring.

“A key point that they brought to me was how Verlander pitched in the playoffs,” Pivetta said. “I think that’s something I can learn from a lot of the time, how he did it when he came over to Houston.

“It’s part of pitching. You’ve got to be able to command the zone, both the top and bottom. It’s not to say we’re going to only throw up. It’s just something else to work on.”

Pivetta pitched two innings and struck out three in the 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays. He allowed three hits, a walk and two runs in the first inning. One of the hits was a solo homer by Curtis Granderson on a hanging breaking ball.

Kapler was pleased with Pivetta’s performace and his reponse to trying new things.

“He executed his game plan today,” Kapler said. “He executed some pretty nasty sliders at the bottom of the zone. He executed some fastballs at the top of the zone. He missed some bats, which is really encouraging.

“One of the things we’re working on with him is elevating a little bit. He has velocity and strong pitch characteristics to pitch up in the zone. But he also has the ability to pitch down in the zone with his slider and his curveball.

“He kicked ass today. He did everything we asked him to do.”

The Phillies host the Orioles on Saturday. Zach Eflin will be the starting pitcher.

Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

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Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — Francisco Rodriguez navigated the narrow streets of this friendly, little, old-school spring training burg looking for a place to park his Mercedes late Friday morning.

Finally, after asking several people for directions, he found a spot near the grounds crew shed at Dunedin Stadium.

The episode was a bit of a metaphor for Rodriguez’s workday with the Phillies. Back on the mound in a game situation for the first time since last summer, Rodriguez allowed a walk to the first batter he faced and later a single, but stayed composed and left two runners on base in notching a scoreless inning in his first action of the spring in a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I felt kind of lost the first couple of batters,” Rodriguez said. “But once I got a ground ball, I started locating. It had been a while since I was on the mound in a game.”

Rodriguez, 36, is the most decorated player in Phillies camp. He is a six-time All-Star and baseball’s active leader in saves (437) and appearances (948). Released twice last season, he is trying to win a spot in the Phillies’ bullpen as a non-roster invite to camp.

He opened last season as Detroit’s closer, but was released in June after recording a 7.82 ERA in 28 games. The Nationals took a peek at him in the minors a few weeks later and also let him go.

Rodriguez said he was not healthy last season. He said he had issues with his groin and hamstring.

“I couldn’t be 100 percent,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse. I should have found a way to get the job done in Detroit and I couldn’t. That’s one of the reasons that I’m in this situation now.”

Rodriguez ranks fourth all time in saves behind Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith. He does not have the power fastball that once earned him the nickname K-Rod — he topped out at 89 mph Friday — but location, a good changeup and old-fashioned savvy are still strengths. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz was influential in bringing in Rodriguez for a look. The two were together in Milwaukee, where Rodriguez was an All-Star in 2014 and 2015.

“He’s a great reliever,” Kranitz said.

Does he have anything left?

“I believe so, yes,” Kranitz said.

Kranitz went on to say that Rodriguez was a high-character guy who would help the Phillies’ young pitchers.

Rodriguez was asked what pushed him to continue his career and come to camp essentially on a tryout.

“I love the game,” he said. “I don’t think I have to prove anything. I don’t think I went to Walmart and bought 900 appearances and 437 saves. I did that with a lot of pride and hard work. This is the only thing I know how to do, play baseball. God gave me the opportunity to throw a baseball and I’m going to continue to do it.”

The Phillies may go with an eight-man bullpen. That could help Rodriguez’s chances of sticking. But he will have to pitch well.

“I’m looking forward to having a great spring,” he said.