Ben Lively hits 1st rough patch as Phillies downed in desert by D-backs

Ben Lively hits 1st rough patch as Phillies downed in desert by D-backs


PHOENIX -- Entering Saturday night's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Phillies had won two straight games on the strength of a pair of good starts by Aaron Nola and Mark Leiter Jr.
Those two outings affirmed the age-old reality that even a bad team has a shot to win if it gets good pitching.
Ben Lively couldn't keep the streak of good starts going. He was tagged for seven hits and five runs over 5 1/3 innings in a 9-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks (see Instant Replay).
The bullpen work was also spotty. Hoby Milner, Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan allowed a combined eight baserunners and four runs over 2 2/3 innings.
"You pitch better," manager Pete Mackanin said when asked if there could have been a way to hold down the Diamondbacks' powerful offense. "That's basically it. Our guy pitched great yesterday. We had some good pitching in that game. Today, not so much."
The Diamondbacks improved to 27-10 at home while the Phillies fell to 10-29 on the road and 24-49 overall.
Arizona lefty Robbie Ray and three relievers held the Phillies to two runs on the night. Both of them came on one swing by Lively. Yes, the pitcher provided all of the Phillies' offense. Lively clubbed his first career homer, a two-run shot, on a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball from Ray with two outs in the fourth inning.
"My first at-bat, he threw fastballs right by me and I was like, 'Dang, that's pretty firm,' " Lively said. "The next at-bat they gave me the go-ahead on the first pitch and it was right there."
Lively lined the pitch over the wall in right-center to give the Phils a 2-1 lead.
As it turned out, the homer may have hurt Lively as much as it helped him.
"I was pretty pumped up about that and I kind of stayed a little too pumped up," he said.
He lost the lead in the fourth, giving up a run after allowing two straight hits to open the inning. He allowed two more hits and a run in the fifth then was tagged for two more in the sixth, one on a leadoff homer by Jake Lamb.
"I just kind of let it get away from me," Lively said. "I was squeezed down in the zone. That kind of got me a little more, I wouldn't say frustrated, but I just got going, going, going and kind of let the speed of the game get to me. I usually don't let that happen. I made some bad pitches.
"I can't pitch like that. I was making terrible pitches. I was grabbing the ball and going. I wasn’t even thinking. You can't do that up here."
Lively had begun his major-league career with four straight quality starts before this outing.
"Arizona has a good hitting team," Mackanin said. "He made a few mistakes. He'd been doing well for us. But today wasn't his best outing."
Ray pitched 6 1/3 innings for his eighth win. He is 6-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his last seven starts.
The game featured some good and bad Phillies' defense. Third baseman Maikel Franco made two fielding gems, but centerfielder Odubel Herrera was charged with an error when he dropped a ball at the warning track in the second. It led to an unearned run behind Lively.
"The only thing I can think about talking about was Lively's two-run homer run and two great plays by Franco," Mackanin said.
Mackanin was right. There wasn't much worth talking about after this one. That has been the case too many times in this long, losing season. Maybe Sunday will offer something more.

Even with eye on top talent like Manny Machado, Phillies will give core more time

Even with eye on top talent like Manny Machado, Phillies will give core more time

ORLANDO, Fla. — On Day 1 of the winter meetings Monday, the Phillies' longstanding interest in Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado bubbled to the surface once again. The subject will continue to percolate all winter and beyond as the Orioles mull whether to trade the star player or let him play out the 2018 season, his final one before free agency.

It makes much more sense for the Phillies to try to sign Machado as a free agent next winter rather than surrender prospects — and ultimately big cash in the form of an extension — for him this winter. But if the Orioles create a market for Machado this winter, the Phillies will be in on it. At the moment, all is quiet.

It's no secret that the Phillies have deep pockets and no secret that they will spend big on top talent like Machado once their rebuild gets into the red zone. Klentak confirmed that again on Monday.

"There will come a time when we are one piece away and that one piece is a fill in the blank — starting pitcher, closer, cleanup hitter — and in that moment, when we feel that we are one piece away, or two pieces away, that's when we open up the wallet and we go do what we need to do," he said.

"But for right now, we are on the cusp of getting to where we want to go, to developing this next young core. This is what happened with (Jimmy) Rollins and (Chase) Utley and (Ryan) Howard and (Cole) Hamels. We need to give these guys a chance to become that next group."

The Phillies showed improvement in the second half of last season. They went 38-38 over the final 76 games. Klentak wants to give the team's core the chance to continue its improvement in 2018.

"The most important thing we can do next year is let this young core develop and get the reps that they need to continue their improvement," Klentak said.

"We scored almost a full run more per game in the second half than we did in the first half. That was driven by (Nick) Williams, (Rhys) Hoskins, (J.P.) Crawford and (Jorge) Alfaro joining Cesar (Hernandez), Freddy (Galvis), (Maikel) Franco, Odubel (Herrera), (Aaron) Altherr, (Andrew) Knapp. That's exciting to me. Not only do we need to let that play out, we want to let that play out. 

"We want to see what that group can do now that they're more than three months into their major-league careers. What can they do in their first full season? Or their second full season? Baseball aging curves tell us that these players are likely to get better. How much better? We don't know. But we're only going to find out if we let them play." 

Phillies to upgrade bullpen with impending return of Pat Neshek

Phillies to upgrade bullpen with impending return of Pat Neshek

ORLANDO, Fla. — On the day he was traded from the Phillies to the Colorado Rockies in July, Pat Neshek stood in front of his locker and talked about how much he liked his time in Philadelphia. He gazed into his crystal ball and envisioned himself returning to the Phillies as a free agent over the winter.

The image in Neshek's crystal ball is about to come to life. The Phillies are on the verge of re-signing the 37-year-old right-hander, multiple sources said on Monday, the first day of baseball's winter meetings. When the deal is wrapped up in the next few days, it will be worth $16.25 million for two years with a club option for a third.

"We've been talking with the agents of a bunch of relief pitchers and we're on the goal line with one," said Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, who initially acquired Neshek in a trade with Houston 14 months ago then watched the pitcher deliver four outstanding months that landed him on the National League All-Star team.

There is not a no-trade clause in Neshek's new deal, so the Phillies could peddle him once again if they are not in contention. The Phillies got three prospects for Neshek in July — infielder Jose Gomez and right-handed pitchers J.D. Hammer and Alejandro Requena. Hammer was recently named to the Arizona Fall League's All-Prospect team.

Neshek pitched in 43 games (40 1/3 innings) for the Phillies in 2017 and gave up just five runs while walking five and striking out 45. In Colorado, Neshek continued to shine. He finished the season with a 1.59 ERA in 71 games. Overall, he pitched 62 1/3 innings and gave up just 11 earned runs while walking six and striking out 69.

Neshek is expected to help set up for Hector Neris and complement Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos and Hoby Milner, all relatively young relievers who showed breakthrough signs in 2017. The Phillies could continue to add to their bullpen before the winter is complete. Sources say they have shown interest in free-agent lefty Jake McGee.

"I think we’re open-minded to bringing in multiple bullpen reinforcements," Klentak said. "One of the goals leading into next season is to improve our run prevention. Obviously, there are a lot of ways we can do that. One way — and this is sort of the simple narrative — is to address our starting pitching. We will continue to explore ways to improve our starting pitching, but I also think we need to be prepared to improve our run prevention in other areas. Improving our bullpen is one way to do that.

"I think if we can run out a bullpen of seven or eight guys that are all high-leverage type arms, then we can start matching up in the fifth or sixth inning. If there are days when our young starters throw 100 pitches to get us through five or six innings, we shouldn't be in a position where that’s taxing our bullpen because we have the ability to carry an eighth bullpen member next year. We shouldn’t be in a position where we lose our competitiveness in the sixth inning because we should have a deep bullpen where we start throwing really good players out there early in the game. If it turns out that’s the best way for us to improve our run prevention, then that’s the way to do."

The Phillies will continue to look for starting pitching at these winter meetings and beyond. They are open to trading Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez and would look to get starting pitching in a deal for one of them. The Angels, according to sources, covet Hernandez as both a second baseman and leadoff man, but the Phillies' asking price is high.

Also on Day 1 of the winter meetings ...

The Phillies lost outfielder Cameron Perkins and infielder Engelb Vielma on waivers to Seattle and Pittsburgh, respectively. With two openings on the 40-man roster, the Phils can add a player in Thursday's Rule 5 draft. They have the third overall pick.

"I would expect that we would take advantage of the third pick in some form or fashion," Klentak said. "Whether we draft a player and retain that player or draft a player and make a trade, I think we’ll look to do something with it. That was a big part of why we put the two guys on waivers that we did. It was just to free us up to be able to participate on Thursday."