Phillies hurt by base-running blunders, pitching mistakes in loss to Pirates

Phillies hurt by base-running blunders, pitching mistakes in loss to Pirates


Phillies manager Pete Mackanin disclosed that he and his coaching staff will have a meeting with general manager Matt Klentak on Friday to go over the team's disappointing first half and discuss an approach for the second half.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that one.

No one expected these Phillies to contend this season, but no one expected them to be this hellaciously bad either. The Phillies' 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates (the Bucs took three of four in the series) on Thursday night dropped them to a majors-worst 28-56 (see Instant Replay). They are the only team in the majors with less than 30 wins. The Houston Astros have 31 wins — on the road.

As an icebreaker to Friday's meeting, the Phillies’ braintrust can talk about the club's latest loss and the series of self-inflicted wounds that led to it.

Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson hung a pair of changeups in the fourth inning and they led to a pair of Pittsburgh home runs and three runs.

The Phillies, who scored the game's first run on a bizarre three-base throwing error by Pittsburgh catcher Elias Diaz that allowed Andrew Knapp to score from first base, forged back to tie the game on a two-run single by Aaron Altherr in the bottom of the seventh inning only to see reliever Joaquin Benoit give up four hits and three runs in the top of the eighth as the Pirates surged ahead by three runs. Josh Bell broke the tie with a double down the first-base line and Mackanin didn't mince words after the game.

"I thought he should have caught it," Mackanin said of first baseman Tommy Joseph.

The wounds that cost the Phillies most were three — count 'em, three — base runners that were cut down at second base trying to stretch singles into doubles. Pirates leftfielder Jose Osuna got them all — Altherr twice and Odubel Herrera once. And the plays weren't close. Osuna entered the game with just one assist and ended it with four.

Having three runners wiped off the bases in a close game is a killer.

"You know what's interesting about those plays is I encourage the guys to be aggressive, to try to turn a single into a double," Mackanin said. "However, when you take that hard turn going to second base you should have time to decide whether or not to go, and I think those guys, if they had to do it all over again, would have stopped and went out back to first.

"If they were closer plays it wouldn't have been a big deal, but when you're out by that much, I think they should have shut it down."

Altherr got nailed in the second inning on a scorcher off the left-field wall. Herrera got nailed on the next play, a blooper to left. Altherr was cut down again on a ball to left-center on his game-tying single in the seventh.

"I thought I had both of those, easy doubles, and then all of a sudden he makes a perfect throw and got me out," Altherr said. "I'm going to have to think twice next time on that guy. He made good plays.

"There's not too much I can do about that, just read it a little better and stay at first next time."

Altherr said the Phillies went over Osuna's arm before the series.

"We know all the guys," he said. "It's just matter of I'm trying to make something happen and I didn't make it happen. It's all good, though. Just keep battling and come back tomorrow."

With only three runs of support, Hellickson could not afford any mistakes. He made two of them in the fourth. Bell hit a 1-0 changeup for a two-run homer. Gregory Polanco hit a full-count changeup for a solo homer.

"I'd definitely like to have those two back," Hellickson said. "I more aimed them and babied them. I made sure I threw a strike and it hung up. Those pitches both hurt me."

Hellickson is one of a handful of trade candidates on the Phillies’ roster. This was his final start before the All-Star break. He is 5-5 with a 4.49 ERA in 18 starts.

"Inconsistent is the best word to describe it," Hellickson said of his first half.

Tim Tebow's chances of actually playing in majors

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Tim Tebow's chances of actually playing in majors

Could "Tim Tebow in the major leagues" actually be a thing in 2018?

The mere suggestion that Tebow could one day rise to baseball's highest level sounded crazy in the summer of 2016 when he signed with the Mets.

One former Phillie referred to it as a "slap in the face."

Longtime baseball man Larry Bowa said this in August 2016:

"Whosever idea it is, they don't respect the game of baseball. It's a hard game. You don't come in at age 28 or 29. I'm not saying he's not a good athlete, but this is a hard game and there are a lot of good athletes in pro ball that never get to the big leagues. 

"I don't think it can happen. There are guys 28 or 29 that are getting released everyday. How can you take 10 years off and all of the sudden be facing guys throwing 95, guys throwing sliders?"

Yet here we are in spring training 2018 and Mets GM Sandy Alderson has said he expects to see Tebow play in The Show.

"Somebody asked me whether I think he'll be a major league player at some point," Alderson told reporters Sunday. "I think he will play in the major leagues. That's my guess. That's my hope, and to some extent now after a year and a half, a modest expectation."

Bovada has set Tebow's odds of playing in the majors in the 2018 or 2019 regular season at 6/1. If you bet against him, it's 1/10, meaning a $100 bet would win you $10.

Tebow played at two levels in 2017: Class A and Class A Advanced. He hit .226/.309/.347 with 24 doubles, eight homers and 52 RBIs in 486 plate appearances. He walked 43 times and struck out 126.

Nearly all of Tebow's minor-league innings have come in left field, where he had 10 errors and two outfield assists in 2017.

Tebow last appeared in the NFL in the 2015 preseason with the Eagles. He went 21 for 36 for 286 yards with two TDs and an interception, adding 82 yards on 14 carries with a TD on the ground but failing to make Chip Kelly's 53-man roster.

Bombs away! Nick Williams takes aim on manager's car in batting practice

Bombs away! Nick Williams takes aim on manager's car in batting practice

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A week into camp, Nick Williams looks primed to build on last year’s impressive rookie season.

Williams has been launching balls in batting practice and manager Gabe Kapler loves it — even if it means he’ll be charged for a little damage to his rental car.

On Tuesday, Williams clubbed a ball far over the fence at Mike Schmidt Field. It landed on the roof of Kapler’s rented Ford Explorer, leaving a dent that would hold a couple of servings of creamed spinach.

“I would trade a Nick Williams home run for a dent in a rental car any day of the week,” Kapler said Tuesday.

“I’m glad he said that,” Williams said Wednesday morning, “because it felt kind of good to hit it.”

Later on Wednesday, Williams put on another power display at Schmidt Field. It was so impressive that Cesar Hernandez considered leaving the field, grabbing his keys and moving his car.

“I just missed Cesar’s car,” Williams said with a laugh.

Kapler was again impressed with Williams’ round of BP.

“Today we had a nice little breeze coming in from right field,” Kapler said. “The breeze did not stop Nick Williams from destroying the baseball and almost hitting my car for a second day straight.

“If he is destroying cars and it happens to be mine, no problem.”

Kapler has no intention of parking elsewhere in coming days. In fact, he likes the idea of Williams using his car for target practice.

“We’re going to make it a bull’s-eye for him,” Kapler said. “That’ll be a running joke. It’s a great way to build relationships. It’s part of the whole scientific plan to make this work.”

Williams, 24, arrived in the majors in June of last season. He played in 83 games and hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS. Like a number of players on the roster, he would benefit from fewer strikeouts and more walks (97/20 in 343 plate appearances last season), but a week into camp, Kapler likes the hitting potential he sees in the young outfielder.

“He’s really shining,” Kapler said. “He really is. He walks around with a perpetual smile on his face.

“Our hitting coaches are enthused about the bat path. The way he sort of lofts the ball to the middle of the field. Some hitters, when they strike their best ball, it’s on the ground. But Nick, when he makes his most solid contract, it has a nice loft to his swing. And in the middle of the field, there aren’t many guys who can drive the ball like he can.”

The Phillies have four outfielders worthy of regular playing time. Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera line up to play left field and center field, respectively. Williams will get time in right. Aaron Altherr can play any outfield position.

Kapler is reluctant to assign roles at this point in camp. But he is confident he can find all four playing time.

“I’m not concerned about that,” he said. “Between pinch-hitting, interleague, someone getting a tweak and missing a week, the occasional rep at first base [for Hoskins], they’re all going to get a ton of reps. I envision plenty of at-bats to keep everybody satisfied, healthy and performing well.”