Mark Leiter Jr. turns in historic relief outing in Phillies' 5th straight loss

Mark Leiter Jr. turns in historic relief outing in Phillies' 5th straight loss


DENVER — When he took over in the third inning, relieving Phillies starter Nick Pivetta, Mark Leiter Jr. had a simple task: Save the bullpen.

He did that Saturday night with a performance that was historic, spellbinding and nearly defied belief, a long-relief outing for the ages, really.

“He put on a clinic on how to pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said after the Phillies suffered their fifth straight loss on this road trip with an 8-5 loss to the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

“He threw all his pitches for strikes. Threw strikes with all his secondary pitches and he’s got quite a few of them. He made a lot of good hitters look bad tonight.”

Pivetta gave up five runs in the first and three more in the third when Pat Valaika hit a two-run homer to end Pivetta’s outing. On came Leiter, a 26-year-old rookie with good bloodlines, the son of a former major league pitcher. Leiter’s finger-in-the-dike mission was to go as long and as far as possible, so the bullpen would not be in tatters.

Leiter pitched 4⅓ scoreless innings. He allowed two singles, didn’t issue a walk and piled up nine strikeouts, eight of them swinging. Leiter threw 40 of 52 pitches for strikes. The Rockies swung and missed 13 of his pitches, most of those misses futile swings on splitters.

Leiter’s nine strikeouts are tied for the fifth-most by a reliever in Phillies history and the most since Lowell Palmer struck out 10 against San Francisco on May 3, 1970. Leiter became the sixth reliever in MLB history to record nine strikeouts without allowing a run or walk. The last was Bruce Ruffin, who began his career with the Phillies, on Sept. 14, 1993, when he was pitching for the Rockies against Houston.

Leiter was in his fifth season in the minors this year when the Phillies promoted him. He made his major league debut April 28. Leiter is now in his third stint with the Phillies, this one beginning last Sunday when they recalled him from Triple A Lehigh Valley two days after trading Jeremy Hellickson to Baltimore.

When he took over for Pivetta, Leiter’s big league experience consisted of 17 games, including three starts, with a 1-2 record and a 4.86 ERA with 19 walks and 29 strikeouts in 37 innings and 32 hits allowed.

There were some moments, like May 2 at Wrigley Field where Leiter became the first Phillies reliever since Ryan Madson in 2005 to throw at least three innings and allow one or no hits. But there were never moments like Saturday night at Coors Field against a potent Rockies lineup.

“Just try and throw strikes and get ahead and not let your pitch count get away from you,” Leiter said. “Just try to stick to the game plan and also executing pitches.”

A graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Leiter was drafted by the Phillies in the 22nd round in 2013. By then, obviously, he had shown profession promise, armed with six pitches and a knack for when and how to use them.

“I wasn’t a guy that threw 90-plus in high school,” Leiter said. “Didn’t really start throwing 90 (mph) until college. My sophomore year is when I started throwing a little harder. I learned how to pitch and each year kind of got a little better with one pitch and maybe adding a pitch and kind of using one more here and one there. Just kind of evolving to being 26 years old now. I played a long time in the minor leagues, just each year trying to get better. That’s really what it comes down to."

In the midst of another Phillies loss, Leiter was spectacular. He said it was disappointing to lose but everybody has a job and helping the team in whatever way possible is paramount.

“Can’t say enough about his performance,” Mackanin said. “He’s a rookie. He’s getting his feet wet. But he pitched like a 10-year veteran tonight. He put on a clinic for every pitcher in baseball. It was really a lot of fun to watch.” 

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.


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.