Phillies

Jorge Alfaro impresses again, powers Phillies past Athletics in rain-soaked win

Jorge Alfaro impresses again, powers Phillies past Athletics in rain-soaked win

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Jorge Alfaro didn’t hesitate when asked what’s more important to him. 

“Defense, clean games. That’s all I’m thinking about,” the young catcher said early Sunday morning. “If I hit, thank God.”

Alfaro provided the Phillies with a needed bonus at the plate Saturday night, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run homer into the center field bushes in the sixth inning. He also guided seven pitchers to a 5-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics in what turned into a bullpen game thanks to a 1-hour, 46-minute rain delay (see observations)

“The thing I like the most is not so much the hitting — that’s a bonus as far as I’m concerned — because he hit .240 in Triple A,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “The thing I’m most pleased about is game calling. I like the way he calls a game. You want a good defensive catcher.”

The 24-year-old Colombian, acquired from Texas in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade, wasn’t called up until August. But in 21 games, he’s made an impression that puts him in the running with Andrew Knapp and Cameron Rupp to be the team’s No. 1 receiver in 2018. 

"To me, we’ve got three guys competing,” Mackanin said. 

Alfaro, now hitting .317, had a lot on his plate on a dreary evening. Ben Lively allowed two runs and two hits, including Matt Olson’s screeching solo homer, in three innings but didn’t return after the lengthy delay in the bottom of the third. 

But the bullpen continued to shine. Five pitchers combined to throw five hitless innings until Hector Neris (21st save) allowed a solo homer to Jed Lowrie in the ninth. It ended a streak of 18 2/3 scoreless innings by the bullpen. 

“When (Joaquin) Benoit and (Pat) Neshek left, everybody thought our bullpen was going to scuffle,” Mackanin said. “But they’ve been outstanding.” 

Victor Arano struck out two in two innings to get his first major league win, while Holby Milner got two outs and extended his streak of scoreless appearances to 20. It’s the longest streak for a Phillies reliever since J.C. Romero’s 35 in a row in 2007.

“I’ve had two years with the organization and I’ve had the opportunity to learn how they like to pitch,” Alfaro said of the many relievers he also caught at Triple A Lehigh Valley. “I try to make them feel comfortable.”

The Phillies got a run in the third on Ty Kelly’s double and Cesar Hernandez’s single, then tied it an inning later on J.P. Crawford’s RBI single. 

Crawford, starting at third, added a sacrifice fly in the eighth. 

Before Alfaro connected on Simon Castro (1-3), the Phillies wasted a chance in the fifth after Freddy Galvis drew a one-out walk and raced to third on Simon Castro’s wide pickoff throw. 

Nick Williams, who had his 12-game hitting streak snapped Friday, struck out on a chin-high fastball and Rhys Hoskins flew out to left. Hoskins went 0 for 3 with a walk and is 0 for 6 in the series after homering in six straight games. 

“Hoskins hasn’t looked good at the plate the past couple games," Mackanin said, "but I know one thing, that’s not what he’s going to look like. He’s a better hitter than that.” 

Alfaro has homered four times in 21 games. It gives the Phillies something to think about heading into next spring, although September performances can sometimes be deceiving. 

“I’ll take it any way I can get it,” said Mackanin, who has overseen 181 losses over the past two seasons “The test of a player’s ability is stretched out over six months and you have to take that into consideration. We’ve all heard that. You’ve got to take with a grain of salt a spring training performance as well as a September performance, but we’re getting a good idea on the quality of the at-bats we’re seeing.” 

Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Larry Bowa is still here, hitting ground balls, working with the infielders, pitching batting practice and offering opinions.

"This team should play .500," he said walking off the field after a workout this week. 

"At least .500."

Bowa might be 72, but his energy level is that of a man 50 years younger. Really. This is his 53rd year in pro ball and his 34th in a Phillies uniform. He was a Gold Glove shortstop and a World Series winner in his playing days, he helped win a National League pennant as third base coach in 1993. He managed the club for four years and spent the last four seasons as bench coach.

The front office made sweeping changes after last season. Pete Mackanin was let go as manager — he remains with the club as an adviser and will scout spring training in Arizona — and Bowa relinquished his bench coaching duties. But Bowa's affiliation with the Phillies, which began in 1966, continues. He is now a senior adviser to general manager Matt Klentak. He will spend the season watching all of the Phillies' clubs from top to bottom. He will work with minor-league infielders. So there will be plenty to keep him busy.

Though the Phillies' win total slipped by five, from 71 to 66, last season, strides were made in the rebuild. The team played .500 ball over the final 76 games and a number of young players, some who could be difference-makers for a long time, arrived in the majors.

That's one of the reasons Bowa thinks this Phillies team can surprise people.

"The experience they gained last year, the way they played the second half, the way they played in the division, they played Washington tough," Bowa said. "Our division is not what you'd call super strong, and you're playing all those teams 18 times.

"I think our lineup is going to score runs. They're going to catch the ball. We caught the ball in the infield last year. And I think they're going to catch it in the outfield.

"In a perfect world, you'd like to have more pitching depth, but you know what? There aren't many perfect teams. They should play .500. The bullpen is strong. You hear they might go with eight relievers. Mix and match."

In his heart, Bowa was sad to see shortstop Freddy Galvis go. The two were close after working together for years. But Bowa thinks rookie J.P. Crawford is going to be just fine.

"I think Crawford is a very good shortstop, I really do," Bowa said. "With Freddy, you're talking about a guy who in my opinion should have won two Gold Gloves. Not one. Two. He should have won the last two years, but he didn't. The thing that J.P. brings is, even when he didn't hit good the last month last season, he gets on base. That's big."

Bowa loved what he saw of Aaron Nola last season and believes Jerad Eickhoff will bounce back big.

"He cemented himself with the way he pitched," Bowa said of Nola, who ranked 20th among big-league starters with a 3.54 ERA last season. "And you didn't even see the real Eickhoff. I think there was something bothering him and he tried to pitch through it. I don't think it was anything major. He's a bulldog, man. I'd fight for Eickhoff and Nola every day of the week. I like their demeanor, their attitude, their intensity."

Bowa didn't mince words when talking about third baseman Maikel Franco and starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, two big talents that need to do more.

"It's time," Bowa said, plainly. "It's just time. These are two guys that mean a lot to this team. Stuff-wise, Vinny should pitch good this year."

Bowa loves the addition of first baseman Carlos Santana, a selective hitter who produces runs. He was impressed with the late-season work of relievers Adam Morgan and Luis Garcia and thinks the confidence they gained will fuel strong seasons. He believes the team will respond well to new manager Gabe Kapler's energy.

"If you play .500 baseball going into the middle of August," Bowa said. "There's so much parity in baseball, you catch lightning in a bottom, watch out."

Bowa is happy to still be around the game and the Phillies. The change in role agrees with him.

"I've had a charmed life," he said. "And to be honest, I wasn't in love with the travel anymore."

He remains proud of the Phillies' second half last year. The team went 38-38 in its final 76 games.

"People sort of dismiss that," Bowa said. "But the fact is, it's very easy to fold up shop when you're buried at the All-Star break. It's a credit to Pete and the guys that played, they never quit. They played hard.

"I think this organization, if you look at the second half when Pete left, it's a lot better than when he took over.

"The stars are aligning. Things are really looking up."

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even though the Grapefruit League schedule starts on Friday and opening day is less than six weeks away, the Phillies are still hungry to improve their pitching.

In an interview with John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia on Tuesday, Phillies owner John Middleton said the team was “very” active in pursuing potential upgrades. Middleton went on to say that he would “love” to do something on that front.

Middleton made the comments as a number of attractive free-agent pitchers, including Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, remain unsigned.

“We’re having talks every single day with different people,” Middleton said. 

Middleton gets updates on those talks regularly from general manager Matt Klentak.

“Matt kind of now knows me, when we walk in the office and see each other for the first time he basically says [since] the last time I talked to you, John, at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon nothing happened or this has happened,” Middleton said with a laugh. “Then I’ll see him at lunch time and still nothing has happened or this has happened. We have a lot of conversations about that.”

Middleton is eager to win, but he remains committed to seeing the rebuild through. Klentak has often said he won’t make a shortsighted move that would jeopardize the future. He has said his goal is to play in October for a decade, not just one year. That’s Middleton’s goal, too.

If the Phillies were to make an upgrade on the pitching side in the coming days or weeks, it would have to be on their terms. They have been in continuous contact with Arrieta’s representatives all winter, but won’t go to five or more years to sign the right-hander who turns 32 in March. If Arrieta were willing to sign a deal in the two- to four-year range, the Phillies would definitely have interest (more on all that here).

Stay tuned on that one. Camps are open. Free agents Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez have signed in recent days. Like Arrieta, they are represented by Scott Boras. The pitching logjam looks ready to break and could have an impact in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are methodically striving to become playoff relevant again.

“We wouldn’t be out talking to people the way we are if we didn’t think that we could get that little extra push,” Middleton said. “I think we all feel this way. [It] just has to be done in an intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable way.

“But, yeah, I’d love to do something."