Phillies

Phillies-Marlins observations: Aaron Nola dominates, Rhys Hoskins homers again in win

Phillies-Marlins observations: Aaron Nola dominates, Rhys Hoskins homers again in win

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It has gotten to the point where it's a surprise if Rhys Hoskins doesn't do something special in a game.

The rookie sensation hit another home run — his third in two games and 17th in 33 games — to help the Phillies beat the Miami Marlins, 8-1, on Wednesday night.
 
Aaron Nola wasn't too shabby, either. He struck out a career-high 11 in finally beating Miami. He had been 0-3 with a 10.67 ERA in three previous starts against Miami this season.
 
• Hoskins' 17th homer, a two-run shot in the fifth, left him just four shy of Tommy Joseph's team-leading 21. With 17 games left, and at his current pace, Hoskins has a good chance to lead this team in homers, a feat that is both remarkable and sad. It would be remarkable because he did not come up until Aug. 10 and will play in no more than 50 games; sad because none of the full-season Phillies showed more power.
 
• In 33 games, Hoskins is hitting .310 with a .434 on-base percentage and a .784 slugging percentage. His three RBIs left him with 37.
 
• Nola was outstanding in holding a lineup that had given him a lot of problems this season to just four hits and a run over seven innings. Nola walked two. His sinker and breaking ball both had excellent movement down in the zone. Three of Nola's 11 strikeouts came against Marcell Ozuna, who had entered the game 6 for 16 with two homers and six RBIs lifetime against him.
 
• The Phillies' bullpen delivered 10 innings of one-run ball in Tuesday night's 15-inning win. This time the workload was a modest two innings, but Adam Morgan and Victor Arano made them scoreless.
 
• J.P. Crawford got his second straight start at second base while Cesar Hernandez was out of the starting lineup for the second straight game. Hernandez likely will be back in the starting lineup Thursday night. With Hernandez out of the lineup, Pete Mackanin used Odubel Herrera in the leadoff hole for the second straight game. Herrera had three hits and scored two runs on Tuesday night. In this game, he doubled and homered. Herrera likes leading off and it shows in his energy the last two games. It's not clear how the Phillies' lineup will shake out in the future, but it's not difficult to imagine Herrera and Crawford at the top. That's some serious on-base percentage and it could offer Hoskins and Williams the chance to collect a lot of RBIs as the Phillies' lineup comes together.
 
• Herrera's home run, a two-run shot in the sixth, was an absolute bomb to right field against Dan Straily. It came off the bat at 104 mph and traveled 424 feet. You could have had your eyes closed and known it was gone by the impressive sound with which it came off the bat.
 
• The Phillies made a roster move before the game, adding pitcher Henderson Alvarez and placing outfielder Daniel Nava on the 60-day disabled list with a back strain. The Phillies will finish the season with a six-man pitching rotation. Alvarez is expected to start on Sunday against Oakland.
 
• Jake Thompson (1-2, 5.23) pitches against Miami right-hander Jose Urena (13-6, 3.61) in the series finale on Thursday night.

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

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Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — For a gazillion years, pitchers have been told to keep the ball down. That is still valuable advice, but with more and more hitters looking to launch the ball with an upward swing path these days, power pitchers are striking back with a high fastball above the bat head.

Nick Pivetta has a power fastball and he’s working on this technique. He consciously threw some fastballs above the belt in his two-inning spring debut Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We're telling all of our pitchers, we're asking them to do some new things,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “And there's going to be some times in spring training games when you get hit a little bit.”

That’s OK. The new-school Phillies want their players to be open to new ideas. Pivetta, who struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings in 26 starts last season, is open learning to ride a high fastball by a hitter looking to launch. He watched on television as Justin Verlander did that for Houston in the postseason last year and he’s watched more video of Verlander and interacted with Phillies coaches about the strategy this spring.

“A key point that they brought to me was how Verlander pitched in the playoffs,” Pivetta said. “I think that’s something I can learn from a lot of the time, how he did it when he came over to Houston.

“It’s part of pitching. You’ve got to be able to command the zone, both the top and bottom. It’s not to say we’re going to only throw up. It’s just something else to work on.”

Pivetta pitched two innings and struck out three in the 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays. He allowed three hits, a walk and two runs in the first inning. One of the hits was a solo homer by Curtis Granderson on a hanging breaking ball.

Kapler was pleased with Pivetta’s performace and his reponse to trying new things.

“He executed his game plan today,” Kapler said. “He executed some pretty nasty sliders at the bottom of the zone. He executed some fastballs at the top of the zone. He missed some bats, which is really encouraging.

“One of the things we’re working on with him is elevating a little bit. He has velocity and strong pitch characteristics to pitch up in the zone. But he also has the ability to pitch down in the zone with his slider and his curveball.

“He kicked ass today. He did everything we asked him to do.”

The Phillies host the Orioles on Saturday. Zach Eflin will be the starting pitcher.

Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

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Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — Francisco Rodriguez navigated the narrow streets of this friendly, little, old-school spring training burg looking for a place to park his Mercedes late Friday morning.

Finally, after asking several people for directions, he found a spot near the grounds crew shed at Dunedin Stadium.

The episode was a bit of a metaphor for Rodriguez’s workday with the Phillies. Back on the mound in a game situation for the first time since last summer, Rodriguez allowed a walk to the first batter he faced and later a single, but stayed composed and left two runners on base in notching a scoreless inning in his first action of the spring in a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I felt kind of lost the first couple of batters,” Rodriguez said. “But once I got a ground ball, I started locating. It had been a while since I was on the mound in a game.”

Rodriguez, 36, is the most decorated player in Phillies camp. He is a six-time All-Star and baseball’s active leader in saves (437) and appearances (948). Released twice last season, he is trying to win a spot in the Phillies’ bullpen as a non-roster invite to camp.

He opened last season as Detroit’s closer, but was released in June after recording a 7.82 ERA in 28 games. The Nationals took a peek at him in the minors a few weeks later and also let him go.

Rodriguez said he was not healthy last season. He said he had issues with his groin and hamstring.

“I couldn’t be 100 percent,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse. I should have found a way to get the job done in Detroit and I couldn’t. That’s one of the reasons that I’m in this situation now.”

Rodriguez ranks fourth all time in saves behind Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith. He does not have the power fastball that once earned him the nickname K-Rod — he topped out at 89 mph Friday — but location, a good changeup and old-fashioned savvy are still strengths. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz was influential in bringing in Rodriguez for a look. The two were together in Milwaukee, where Rodriguez was an All-Star in 2014 and 2015.

“He’s a great reliever,” Kranitz said.

Does he have anything left?

“I believe so, yes,” Kranitz said.

Kranitz went on to say that Rodriguez was a high-character guy who would help the Phillies’ young pitchers.

Rodriguez was asked what pushed him to continue his career and come to camp essentially on a tryout.

“I love the game,” he said. “I don’t think I have to prove anything. I don’t think I went to Walmart and bought 900 appearances and 437 saves. I did that with a lot of pride and hard work. This is the only thing I know how to do, play baseball. God gave me the opportunity to throw a baseball and I’m going to continue to do it.”

The Phillies may go with an eight-man bullpen. That could help Rodriguez’s chances of sticking. But he will have to pitch well.

“I’m looking forward to having a great spring,” he said.