Hoby Milner's scoreless streak highlighting Philliies' improving bullpen

Hoby Milner's scoreless streak highlighting Philliies' improving bullpen

Hoby Milner didn’t know he was accumulating the Phillies’ longest streak of scoreless appearances in a decade until his girlfriend sent him a screen grab from a recent television broadcast.

“I didn’t notice because I’ve had some shaky outings in there where I’ve had bases-loaded, one out, two outs and it just doesn’t feel like I had a good outing,” the lefty sidearmer said Sunday prior to the series finale vs. the Athletics. “I just got out of it without giving up a run. There’s some luck involved.”

Milner’s steak reached 20 appearances when he got two outs and walked one while pitching the sixth inning of Saturday night’s 5-3 win over Oakland. Milner last allowed a run when he was charged with two against Atlanta on July 29, spanning 16 1/3 innings entering Sunday’s game.

It’s the longest streak since J.C. Romero had 35 straight scoreless outings in 2007.

“A lot of the times, though, I come in and maybe get the first two outs and, like (Saturday) night, and it’s up to someone else to make sure he doesn’t score,” Milner said. “I’ve been lucky that most of my outings have been late and close and we’ve got Luis (Garcia) or (Hector) Neris coming after me and they just shut it down and I get off the hook.”

The skinny 26-year-old was a seventh-round pick of the Phillies in 2012 after playing college ball at Texas. The team decided his deceptive delivery was better for the bullpen and he became a full-time reliever in 2015.

Milner made his major-league debut June 24. Far from a finished product, he’s allowed 28 hits, including two home runs, while walking 11 and hitting four batters over his first 26 innings. But he’s struck out 16 in 30 appearances and held a 1.73 ERA.

His most impressive stat: lefties were batting .081 (3 for 37) during the scoreless streak.

Milner’s emergence is part of a trend. A group of mostly young Phillies relievers has impressed in the second half of the season.

“(Adam) Morgan has improved immensely and Hoby Milner has really established himself as a pretty good situational lefty. And he gets righties out for the most part,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “Garcia, huge step forward and outstanding. (Edubray) Ramos is pitching well. (Victor) Arano looks good and (Kevin) Siegrist, they’re all contributing. They’re all pitching very well and that’s the reason we’re improving."

The Phillies had a streak of 18 2/3 scoreless innings pitched by relievers snapped in the ninth inning Saturday when Neris gave up a solo homer to Jed Lowrie. But Neris has converted 25 straight saves, and since Aug. 27, Phillies relievers have a 2.04 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings.

“Once we got rid of (Joaquin) Benoit and (Pat) Neshek and those guys, I’m assuming the Phillies had no clue how the bullpen was going to shape up the rest of the year,” Milner said. “But if we can show we can get outs and we can put up zeros now, that’s less than they have to go out and get in the offseason. They can focus on bigger roles and not bullpen guys.”

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.