Luis Garcia dominates heart of Nationals' order in Phillies' win

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Luis Garcia dominates heart of Nationals' order in Phillies' win


WASHINGTON -- Admit it, there have been times over the last couple of seasons when you've looked at Luis Garcia said, "OK, enough of this. It's time to move on."
Some folks in the Phillies organization have even felt this way. The power-armed reliever has had a lot of chances, but never completely put it together because of an inability to throw strikes consistently.
But every time the Phillies seriously think of giving up on Garcia they take another look at that tantalizing arm and decide to give him just a little more time.
The Phils' patience with Garcia might pay off, after all. It sure did Saturday night when he mowed down the heart of the Washington Nationals' batting order in the bottom of the eighth inning to help preserve a 5-4 Phillies' win at Nationals Park (see observations).
The 30-year-old right-hander struck out Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon — three studs who carried .300 or better batting averages into the game — with a mix of splitters, sliders and fastballs. One of the fastballs to Rendon registered 100 mph on the stadium gun.
"I showed him a little mechanical thing to add a little extra," manager Pete Mackanin said jokingly after the game. "He just cut through the middle of their lineup. Outstanding performance."
Mark Leiter Jr. got the pitching victory with six gutsy innings of four-run ball and Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco hit home runs. Hoskins also walked three times, including once with the bases loaded in the fourth inning to plate the Phillies' fifth run.

"He's just a smart hitter," Mackanin said. 
But this game was won with the bullpen. Edubray Ramos protected a one-run lead in the seventh. Garcia did the same in the eighth and Hector Neris survived some ninth-inning turbulence — with a big assist from Freddy Galvis and his game-ending fielding gem — to close it out and earn his 20th save.
"Ramos and Garcia were huge," Mackanin said.
"They came in and did their jobs," Leiter said. "We don't win the game if they don't. It was a great job by them."
Garcia, 30, knows every mile marker on the Northeast Extension as he's gone back and forth between Triple A Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia numerous times in 2014, 2016 and this season, as well. But since June 14, he's been outstanding — in the big leagues. He's pitched 39 innings in 37 games since then and allowed just eight earned runs for an ERA of 1.85. Opposing batters have hit just .200 (28 for 140) over that span.
"I think it's just part of the process of getting more confident and mature," Garcia said.
Mackanin agreed.
"He's getting ahead with strike one more often," Mackanin said. "And his pitch count is under 15 most innings. He's been efficient with his pitches rather than getting behind 1-0, 2-0, and with that comes confidence. He's built himself some confidence."
If Garcia can continue to pitch with confidence and handle his nerves, he could one day be a candidate to close. He certainly has the stuff to do it and adding a splitter to his fastball-slider repertoire has only helped. It wasn't that long ago that Garcia's stuff was compared to Ken Giles'. Giles simply combined his stuff with a fearless assassin's mentality. If Garcia ever gets that, well, the Phillies' patience with him will really pay off.
The bullpen's work preserved a one-run win one night after the Phillies lost their major-league-high 34th one-run game. Six of those defeats have come against the Nationals. For the season, the Phils are 6-9 against the Nationals.
"Those guys across the field have to be thinking, 'How come these guys don't have a better record than that?' because we always play them so tough," Mackanin said. "It's always a close game, it seems."
Regardless of how close the games have been, the Phillies will still be going home in a few weeks, quite possibly with the worst record in the majors, while the Nationals head to the postseason. The Nats' magic number for winning the NL East is two.
But in the rubble of this losing season, the Phils may have found a hitter in Hoskins, and maybe another in Nick Williams. And after all these years of waiting for it to click with Luis Garcia, that might be happening, too.

Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

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Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Spectrum Field was sold out, filled with fans clad in green and smeared with sunblock for a game against the Atlanta Braves on a festive St. Paddy’s Day.
But the main event Saturday took place several hundred yards away at the minor-league complex, two hours before the big-league game even began.
Five days after signing a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies, Jake Arrieta climbed atop a mound and threw a 31-pitch (two-inning) simulated game. Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Logan Moore and Andrew Pullin were the hitters. Andrew Knapp was the catcher. Players, coaches, minor-league instructors and manager Gabe Kapler all peeked in. Dozens of fans hugged the chain-link fence to get a look at the newest Phillie. They applauded when Arrieta took the mound and again when he finished.
“It was great,” the 32-year-old pitcher said moments after the workout ended. “There’s a lot of people out here. A lot of people are excited for the Phillies in 2018. We’ve got a lot of good things going on here. A lot of guys are healthy and competing, there’s a lot of youth. It’s a really fun time to be in this organization.”
Arrieta said he felt “really good physically,” not a surprise because he came into camp in terrific shape and had gotten to over 60 pitches in bullpen sessions back home in Austin, Texas. He threw all his pitches, including a couple of knee-buckling curveballs. He broke two of Alfaro’s bats, one with a sinker, one with a cutter.
“My goal was to throw everything in the arsenal for strikes and throw my off-speed pitches in and out of the zone where I could get some chases,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta did allow some contact, mostly ground balls.
Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award with the Cubs. He won 22 games and had a 1.77 ERA that season.
A deceptive delivery is one of Arrieta’s strengths. He throws across his body and that crossfire action makes it difficult for a hitter to pick up the ball.
“It’s extremely deceptive,” Kingery said. “Every pitch is extremely deceptive. That’s what hit me. His curveball looks like it’s coming at your head then it drops.”
Arrieta is still hoping to be ready for the first week of the regular season, but the Phillies have not formulated a firm game plan. One thing is certain: They won’t rush him. They want him for the long haul. They could hold him back 10 days or so, allowing him to build more arm strength, and he’d still make 30 starts.
Arrieta expects to throw a bullpen session in the next day or two and try to get up around 60 pitches in his next outing. That could be in a minor-league game or in another simulated game.
“As long as we continue to get my pitch count up, I think I’ll be fine going into the season,” he said.

Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

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Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies signed free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta earlier this week.

That's probably going to be the extent of their pitching additions for now.

Jerad Eickhoff is out until at least May with a strained right lat muscle and that creates a sizable hole in the Phillies rotation.

The hole is likely to be filled internally, according to general manager Matt Klentak. The team is not likely to make a run at Alex Cobb, who remains on the free-agent market.

"I doubt it," Klentak said when asked if he would look outside the organization to fill Eickhoff's spot. "I don't think we have to. I think a lot of our guys have shown very well in camp. They have gotten their pitch counts up, they're getting to the point of being fully stretched out.

"More than anything, I think we're going to have some tough decisions on figuring out who is in the rotation, who is in the bullpen, who goes into the Triple-A rotation, who goes into the Double-A rotation. We've got a lot of tough decisions to make on that front, but I don't think we're in a position where we have to go outside. We have a lot of candidates to take the ball at the big league level so we'll be fine."

Aaron Nola will start on opening day. Arrieta will be in the rotation, though he might need an extra week or so to get ready. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are likely to hold down spots. That leaves Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr., Jake Thompson, Drew Hutchison and Tom Eshelman in the running for the final spot in the five-man rotation. Eshelman, strike-thrower extraordinaire, was the Phillies' minor-league pitcher of the year last year and projects to be in Philadelphia before long. However, it might not be at the outset of the season because he is not on the 40-man roster. Neither is Hutchison.

The Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 11 so they could employ some creative roster construction until then. They could go with four starters and an extra reliever or bench man. Or they could bring an extra starter and "piggyback" him with Arrieta, a move that would allow Arrieta to make an abbreviated start during the first week of the season.

"There's a decent chance we open the season with somewhat of a non-traditional 25-man roster, not because we're trying to be cute but because we don't need the fifth starter until the 11th," Klentak said. "We're going to do whatever puts us in the best position to win those first 10 days of the season."

The Phillies made one transaction on Friday. They added utility man Pedro Florimon to the 40-man roster. He had a provision in his minor-league contract that allowed him to become a free agent if he wasn't on the 40-man roster by March 15. Florimon is a candidate for a spot on the Phillies' bench. The move doesn't guarantee that Florimon will win a spot, but it gives the team more time to evaluate him. To make room for Florimon, the Phillies designated infielder Eliezer Alvarez for assignment.

Florimon homered in the Phillies' 6-4 loss to Toronto in Clearwater Friday. Cam Rupp and Cesar Hernandez also homered. Velasquez gave up five hits and a run in 2⅔ innings. He struck out five.

In Lakeland, Pivetta allowed two runs over five innings as the Phils and Tigers played to a 6-6 tie. J.P. Crawford and Ryan Flaherty both homered.