Phillies-Braves observations: Henderson Alvarez solid, but bullpen bends in loss

Phillies-Braves observations: Henderson Alvarez solid, but bullpen bends in loss


ATLANTA — The Phillies' bullpen could not hold a late lead Saturday night. The result was a 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park.

The Phils have lost three in a row.
The Phillies led 2-0 through five innings and Henderson Alvarez, signed out of the Independent Atlantic League a month ago, was in line for his first big-league win in exactly three years when the Braves struck for a solo homer off reliever Kevin Siegrist in the sixth and three runs against Luis Garcia in the eighth.
Pinch-hitter Johan Camargo had the big hit, a two-run pinch-hit double for the Braves with two outs in the eighth, breaking a 2-2 tie.
Rhys Hoskins doubled home Nick Williams with the Phillies' first run with two outs in the first inning. Maikel Franco scored the Phils' second run on a passed ball in the fifth inning.
Both starters were good. Julio Teheran pitched seven innings of two-run ball for Atlanta. Only one of the runs he gave up was earned. Alvarez pitched five shutout innings.
• The Phillies signed Alvarez for organizational depth, to help them get through the season with other pitchers having gone down with injury. He's looking at the opportunity as a chance to show teams he can still pitch in the majors after missing 2016 and much of 2017 recovering from a shoulder injury. It's difficult to envision the Phillies keeping the 27-year-old right-hander on the 40-man roster all winter, but signing Alvarez to a minor-league deal for 2017 with an invite to big-league camp would make sense. He could provide depth at Triple A and if he pitched well a chance in the majors would surely arise. However, if the Phillies removed Alvarez from the 40-man roster after the season, there's no guarantee he would re-sign with the club.
• It's unclear if Alvarez will get another start over the final week of the season. The Phillies initially planned to use him as a sixth starter for the remainder of the month, but manager Pete Mackanin suggested he could be used out of the bullpen the rest of the way. More will be known on that in a few days.
• Noted Braves killer Odubel Herrera remained hitless in the series. He grounded to second on the first pitch he saw with two outs and the bases loaded to end the top of the seventh. The Phillies had Braves starter Teheran on the ropes and manager Brian Snitker visited the mound as Herrera came up. Teheran wanted to stay in the game and he quickly dispatched Herrera.

• Hoskins' RBI in the first inning was his 46th in 43 games. Hoskins has 21 RBIs in September and Nick Williams has 22. They are the first pair of Phillies rookies to collect 20 or more RBIs in the same calendar month since RBIs became an official statistic in 1920.
• Hoskins is just 5 for his last 35.
• Garcia took the loss. He allowed three runs. He had not allowed an earned run in his previous 12 1/3 innings.

• Pinch-runner Micah Johnson scored the tying run for the Braves in the eighth inning on a hit to right by Dansby Swanson. Johnson set up the run with a key stolen base that did not even draw a throw from catcher Cameron Rupp.
• Lefty reliever Adam Morgan, pitching in his hometown, delivered a scoreless seventh inning to protect a 2-1 lead. He has given up just two runs over 23 innings since Aug. 2. Nearly waived off the 40-man roster at the end of spring training, Morgan has pitched himself firmly into the team's bullpen plans for next season. His velocity is better — up to 97 mph — and his slider is much improved. He is pitching with confidence.
• J.P. Crawford started at second base for the fourth time. Mackanin said he would start at shortstop Sunday. That will be his fourth time starting at shortstop. Crawford has started 16 of the team's 18 games since arriving from Triple A on Sept 5. Clearly, team officials are trying to gauge his readiness for a spot on the opening day roster. The 22-year-old infielder does not look overmatched. He has played well defensively and has a .385 on-base percentage. If Crawford opens the 2018 season with the Phillies, the question is where: The Phillies are likely to dangle shortstop Freddy Galvis as a trade possibility. If Galvis were moved, Crawford would play his natural shortstop. Third base remains a possibility if the team moves Franco. There have been indications that the Phillies aren't ready to give up on Franco, but they certainly wouldn't say no to the right deal. Second base is more of a long shot for Crawford as Scott Kingery appears to be the man of the future at that position. He could arrive in May. Regardless of what happens early next season, Crawford appears to be the shortstop of the future.
• Phillie killer Freddie Freeman was not in the lineup. In fact, he was told to stay home because he has a stomach bug and the Braves didn't want it sweeping through their clubhouse. No word on his availability for Sunday.
• For the second time in three games, it will be an all-rookie matchup in the series finale in Sunday afternoon. Nick Pivetta (6-10, 6.57) will pitch for the Phillies against Braves lefty Luiz Gohara (1-2. 6.06).

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

Jim Salisbury/NBCSP

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

DUNEDIN, Fla. – It’s not hard to find Charlie Manuel in spring training. In late mornings, he’s perched behind the batting cage watching Phillies hitters take their swings. During the game, he’s on the top step of the dugout, taking it all in and offering advice where needed.

Manuel didn’t stay for the game Saturday. He watched batting practice, showered and drove out of the parking lot 30 minutes before the first pitch.

Manuel, you see, had a promise to keep.

Back in November, Manuel was one of nine people to speak at Roy Halladay’s memorial service at Spectrum Field, the Phillies’ spring training home. Manuel stood at a podium near the very mound that Halladay trained on and spoke from the heart about what an honor it was to manage such a great talent and competitor. Manuel had jotted his words down on a paper, but he didn’t stick completely to his script that day. At one point, he looked down at Halladay’s two grieving sons, Braden and Ryan, and told them he’d be keeping tabs on their progress as young ballplayers. Manuel promised to attend their games. And that’s just what he did Saturday afternoon.

Braden Halladay, a lanky 17-year-old right-hander who bears a striking resemblance to his dad, on and off the mound, is a member of the Canadian Junior Team’s spring training roster. He was born in Toronto when his dad played for the Blue Jays, hence his eligibility to pitch for Canada.

On Saturday, Braden pitched a scoreless eighth inning against a Jays’ split-squad team on the very Dunedin Stadium mound where his dad began his career.

“I’m so glad I came over,” Manuel said after Braden’s perfect inning of work. “He did good. I’m glad he got ‘em out.”

This wasn’t the first time Manuel had seen Braden pitch. Braden pitches for Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater, where he is a junior. Manuel watched him pitch five shutout innings earlier in the week. And on Wednesday night, Manuel attended young brother Ryan’s practice in Clearwater.

Manuel has a warm spot for the boys for a lot of reasons. Obviously, there was the respect he had for their dad. “When I think of Roy, I think of the perfect game and playoff no-hitter first,” Manuel said. “Right after that, I think of his work ethic. It was the best I’ve ever seen.” 

But Manuel’s affection for the boys goes beyond the respect he had for their dad. Manuel was 18, the oldest son in a family of 11 children, when he lost his dad.

“I feel for those boys,” Manuel said. “I know what they’re going through and it isn’t easy. Not easy at all.”

It takes a lot of love to get through a tragedy like the one the Halladay family has gone through. The boys get it from their mom, Brandy, who is at all of their games. And they get it from people like Charlie Manuel.

Saturday’s first pitch at Dunedin Stadium, just a few miles from the Phillies’ ballpark, was scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Manuel wanted to hustle over so he could wish Braden luck before the game. Manuel made his way down to the bullpen area and spotted one of his former Phillies players, Pete Orr, who is a coach with the Canadian team. Orr called over to Braden. A huge smile crossed the kid’s face when he saw Manuel. He sprinted over and gave Manuel a hug. Orr, who grew up near Toronto, slapped Braden on the back of his Team Canada jersey and said, “He looks good in red and white.”

He sure did.

Braden chatted with Manuel for a minute or two, and Manuel wished him luck. A reporter from Philadelphia asked Braden what it felt like to have Manuel keep tabs on his baseball career.

“It’s pretty sweet,” Braden said with a big smile. “It means a lot to me.”

The reporter wished him luck and told him that all of Philadelphia was rooting for him.

“I appreciate that,” the young pitcher said before trotting off to join his teammates.

Braden Halladay is 6-3 and 150 pounds. He entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning with his team down, 11-3, at first to a smattering of applause. That grew into a big, beautiful round of applause after the PA man announced his name and everyone in the crowd realized the magnitude of the moment. Braden knelt behind the mound and wrote his dad’s initials in the dirt before delivering his first pitch. His pitching delivery is smooth and fundamentally pure.

“You can tell Roy worked with him,” Manuel said.

Braden mixed his pitches nicely in getting two pop-ups and a ground ball. He hit 83 mph on the stadium radar gun. A few months ago, Braden announced that he had committed to Penn State. Manuel sees a lot of promise in the kid.

“When he’s 21, he’ll pitch at 205 pounds,” Manuel said. “He’ll get stronger. You watch, he’s got a chance to be real good. He has a good, quick arm, command of the ball and mechanics.”

Where the game will eventually take Braden Halladay is a story for another day. Back in November, he sat in the middle of a baseball field and listened to people eulogize his dad. It was an excruciatingly difficult experience and the look on his face that day said as much.

So on Saturday, it was just great to see Braden Halladay back on a baseball field with a smile on his face. And it was great to see Charlie Manuel there, taking it all in, just as he had promised.

Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

AP Images

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.