Phillies

Phillies-D-backs 5 things: Timely test for Nick Pivetta

Phillies-D-backs 5 things: Timely test for Nick Pivetta

Phillies (24-50) at Diamondbacks (48-28)
3:40 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Looking for a split in their four-game, wraparound series with the Diamondbacks, the Phillies send out Nick Pivetta, their hottest starting pitcher.

1. Pivetta on a roll
Pivetta's struck out 19 batters in 13 innings his last two starts, nine Red Sox then 10 Cardinals, both at home.

He pounded the strike zone in both starts better than he had before, trusting his 95 mph-plus fastball and potentially plus breaking ball and improving his sequencing. Against the Red Sox, Pivetta tested a good lineup with upper-90s heat and missed bats. Against the Cardinals, he froze hitters and got them to swing over the top of two-strike breaking balls.

He's induced 15 swinging strikes in each of the last two starts.

Pivetta joined Jerad Eickhoff (2015) as the only Phillies rookie pitchers since Dick Ruthven in 1973 to strike out nine or more in consecutive starts.

This is a bigger challenge. He's facing one of the NL's best lineups in its ideal setting. The D-backs are 28-10 at home and have their ace going.

2. Greinke settling in at Chase
Greinke has fared much better in his second season in the desert. He signed that enormous contract prior to 2016 — six years, $206.5 million — and disappointed in Year 1, going 13-7 with a 4.37 ERA and his lowest strikeout rate in seven seasons.

He enters this start 8-4 with a 3.14 ERA. He's struck out 103 in 97⅓ innings and walked just 19. His opponents have hit .228, including .206 at home. Safe to say he's adjusted to Chase Field.

The Phillies faced Greinke twice last July. He held them to three hits and a run (an Odubel Herrera homer) over eight innings in the first start and exited in the second inning of the other with an oblique strain.

Greinke is always a difficult matchup. Four-seam fastball (90 to 92 mph), slider, changeup, curve, two-seamer and the occasional sloooow curveball in the upper-60s. 

His slider's held hitters to a .168 batting average in 1,845 at-bats over the last decade.

Current Phils are 12 for 58 (.207) off Greinke with just Herrera's homer, two walks and 15 strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 1 for 12 with 7 K's.

3. Walk-off observers
The Phillies are going to be an opponent featured often in the highlight tapes of other teams in 2017. 

They've been on the losing end of a major-league high eight walk-offs after Sunday's 2-1 loss. It was their MLB-worst 19th loss in a one-run game. The Phils also have the most extra-inning losses with eight. They had just six walk-off losses all of last season.

This is what happens when a comparative lack of talent meets a lack of timely hits meets a lack of first-pitch strikes meets a lack of luck and breaks meets a lack of gopher ball avoidance.

4. At least there's Altherr
Aaron Altherr refuses to let a few bad days turn into a slump. He's no longer in that .330 or even .310 range, but he's settled in between .280 and .290 the last month and if he can do that with power, speed and good defense … that's a valuable player.

Altherr had a three-hit day Sunday with his second triple, to go along with 15 doubles, 12 homers and 39 RBIs. 

He's hitting .284/.352/.524 on the season. His .876 OPS is 40th in baseball. No, doesn't sound like much. But here are the some of the players behind him: Mookie Betts, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Upton, Adam Duvall, Xander Bogaerts, Jose Abreu, Starlin Castro, Matt Carpenter, Andrew McCutchen, Eric Hosmer, on and on.

Altherr is a longshot to make the NL All-Star team but he's the most worthy Phillie after Pat Neshek.

5. This and that
• Edubray Ramos is 0-7 after taking the loss Sunday. Over the last 17 seasons, the only Phillies reliever to lose more games in a season was Brad Lidge (8) during his horrific 2009.

• How many NL players would you take over Paul Goldschmidt the next three to five seasons? Obvious guys like Corey Seager and Bryce Harper. After that? For me, it'd be between Nolan Arenado, Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman. 

• Cameron Perkins has gotten his at-bats — all but one out of the leadoff spot — but hasn't yet done much with them, going 2 for 22 with no walks and eight strikeouts.

• Here's today's lineup that will face Greinke:

1. Daniel Nava, LF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Andres Blanco, 2B
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Nick Pivetta, P

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.

Dramatically.

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.