Phillies

Daniel Nava's power trumped by Clay Buchholz's struggles in Phillies' loss to Reds

Daniel Nava's power trumped by Clay Buchholz's struggles in Phillies' loss to Reds

BOX SCORE

CINCINNATI -- Well, at least they didn't get swept.

A year ago, the Phillies opened their season in this very same Great American Ball Park against these very same Cincinnati Reds and were swept in a three-game series. The Phillies' bullpen imploded in a couple of those games.

This year, the Phillies won their season opener on the strength of seven extra-base hits, a good start from Jeremy Hellickson and some tidy bullpen work from Joaquin Benoit, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris.

The Phils had a great chance to win the second game of the series on Wednesday, but came up losers when Jerad Eickhoff pitched well only to receive zero run support.

And that brings us to Thursday's series finale.

The Phils jumped out to an early three-run lead on the strength of a pair of homers by Daniel Nava. There's nothing wrong with two out of three, right? Only one problem. It didn't happen. Starter Clay Buchholz could not protect that early lead and reliever Adam Morgan could not keep the game close (see Instant Replay).

The result: A dispiriting 7-4 loss to the Reds, a team that tied for the worst record in the National League last year and one that might make a run at that distinction again this season, and a 1-2 record heading home to take on the Washington Nationals, a team built to make a run at the World Series this season. If that's not enough, the Phils will face last year's NL Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, on Friday. He is 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 career starts against the Phillies and 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA in five starts at Citizens Bank Park.

Happy home opener, gang!

"I'm glad to be going back home to Philly to see if we can stir it up over there," manager Pete Mackanin said after Thursday's loss. "I think about last year, starting the season 0-4 and getting swept here. At least we managed to salvage one here. We could have won three. We're going to go home and start all over."

Scherzer led the majors with 284 strikeouts last season. Phillies hitters struck out 25 times in losing the final two games of the series to Cincinnati.

The math doesn't look good.

"We're striking out too much," Mackanin said. "And I don't think we're striking out because of that third strike. I think we're getting pitches to hit early in the count and we're fouling them off for whatever reason. We just don't seem to be making good contact on the pitches we should be hitting. So, you know, it's early in the season. We just have to go home and do a little better."

Buchholz joined the Phillies in a December salary-dump trade with the Red Sox. The Phils were happy to take on the veteran right-hander's $13 million salary with the hope that he'd pitch well for a few months and they'd be able to get value for him at the trade deadline.

Buchholz's first start with the Phils didn't help his value. Featuring a fastball that averaged just 90 mph, he allowed nine base runners in five innings. He gave up a run in the second and three in the fourth as an early 4-1 lead evaporated. In that fourth inning, he allowed four straight batters to reach base on three singles and a walk.

"They hit a couple of good pitches," Buchholz said. "I missed with a couple of pitches that got hit as well. That's part of it. You have to minimize the damage when it comes to that and not give up three runs."

Mackanin removed Buchholz after five innings and 77 pitches with the score tied at 4-4.

"I didn't want him to go out there for another inning because it looked like they were sitting on pitches," the manager said.

Morgan made his season debut in the sixth and surrendered a tie-breaking homer to pinch-hitter Michael Lorenzen, who the night before came out of the Reds' bullpen and got three big outs for his team. Lorenzen was a pitcher/outfielder at Cal State Fullerton and offers the Reds a dangerous pinch-hitter on days he's not available to throw.

Lorenzen's two-out homer in the sixth came on a 3-1 fastball.

"We knew he was a good hitter," Mackanin said. "[Morgan] got behind and had to throw a strike. We knew the guy could hit."

Said Morgan: "It never sits well when you give up a home run. I kind of did it to myself by falling behind."

An inning after Lorenzen broke the tie, Adam Duvall put the game out of reach with a two-run homer against Morgan.

The Phils drove Cincinnati starter Rookie Davis from the game after three innings and had a chance to make hay when they got the first two men on base in both the fifth and sixth innings. Both times the threats ended quickly with a pair of double plays and a base-running mistake short-circuiting things.

"The fifth and sixth innings, we should have scored," Mackanin said with a sigh.

He mentioned Nava's two home runs, a solo shot in the first and a two-run blow in the third.

"What a performance he had," Mackanin said. "It's a shame we couldn't have won that game."

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Let the record show that on a snowy Friday afternoon 10 days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies ramped up their rebuild.

Dramatically.

What other conclusion can be drawn after the club went out and signed Carlos Santana, one of the best offensive players on the free-agent market? With the signing, confirmed by multiple baseball sources, general manager Matt Klentak has attached a new level of importance to the 2018 season.

Just a couple of days ago at the winter meetings in Orlando, Klentak spoke of how 2018 was going to be a time to "find out" more about the team's young core of players. Who would continue to take a step forward? Who would fall by the wayside?

But now that Santana is here, 2018 doesn't feel like it's just a find-out season. It feels like a season in which the Phillies can continue to find out about players — separate the studs from the duds — and also start nibbling around that second National League wild-card spot.

Sure, a lot has to go right for that to happen.

And one of the things that has to go right is Klentak has to land a starting pitcher to slot in around Aaron Nola and the rest of the staff, which has the look of a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters — until someone steps forward.

Santana's deal is for three years and $60 million, according to sources. Three years is a nice get — i.e., it's not cripplingly long — for a 32-year-old (in April) who hits for power, produces runs and does what Klentak likes best: controls the strike zone. (You could say that Klentak added two players who control the strike zone to his lineup Friday as the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego for strike-throwing pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos cleared the way for J.P. Crawford to be the regular shortstop.)

The Phillies need to do everything within reason to make sure that the first of Santana's three seasons with the club isn't about simply inching the rebuild forward. The Nationals are the class of the NL East, but the rest of the division ranges from ordinary to awful. The Phils, with an improved offense and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), can play with the Braves and Mets and clean up on the Marlins, the jewelry store that became a pawnshop, in agent Scott Boras' words.

It's just up to Klentak to get more starting pitching, and he's on the case. He admitted that at the winter meetings. He is particularly fond of young starters with years of control remaining on their contracts. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer fit this description. It takes talent to get pitchers like that. The Phillies have enough depth of prospects to get one of these guys and their reserves of expendable talent just grew with the Santana signing.

Santana, a switch-hitter who has averaged 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .810 OPS in eight seasons, is going to be the team's primary first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is going to be the primary leftfielder. That means the Phillies suddenly have a young outfielder that they could deal. Maybe they try to capitalize on Nick Williams' strong half-season in the majors and package him for an arm. Or maybe it's Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr.

However it plays out, you can be sure that Klentak will be creative. You can rule nothing out with this guy. The other day, we poo-pooed the Phillies signing Jake Arrieta, who is looking for a long-term deal approaching $200 million. But if Arrieta lingers out there until February and is looking for a two-year landing spot, hey, maybe.

We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved? Hernandez is still a trade chip, but he doesn't need to be cashed in until July and by that time Scott Kingery should be here.

There are a lot of ways this thing can go. And with the signing of Carlos Santana — which won't become official until he passes a physical next week — the Phillies have guaranteed that the remainder of this offseason will be a busy one.

It has to be.

The stakes have changed for 2018. The rebuild is still in place, but it has been ramped up. Matt Klentak has improved the bullpen and the offense. Now he has to attack that starting pitching and he has the trade weapons to do it.

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

The Phillies' busy Friday continued with a pricey free-agent signing.

The Phils have agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with former Cleveland Indian Carlos Santana, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury.

It is by far the most expensive contract the Phillies have given out under the Matt Klentak-Andy MacPhail regime.

They had the money. When the offseason began, the only player the Phillies had signed to a multi-million dollar deal was Odubel Herrera.

Santana, 31, has always been a high-walk power hitter. From 2011 through 2017, he walked between 88 and 113 times each season, all while maintaining relatively low strikeout totals for a man with such power and plate selection.

In 2016, Santana set a career high with 34 home runs. Last season, he hit .259/.363/.455 with 37 doubles, 23 homers and 79 RBIs.

This addition provides the Phillies with much-needed pop to protect Rhys Hoskins and also gives the Phils added versatility. Santana is a switch-hitter who came up as a catcher, but he hasn't caught since 2014. The last three seasons, he has played primarily first base. In his eight seasons, Santana has also started 26 games at third base and seven in right field.

The move likely means Hoskins will play left field, and it could facilitate another Phillies trade of an outfielder such as Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera.