Phillies-Nationals 5 things: After World Champs, Phils get MLB's top offense

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: After World Champs, Phils get MLB's top offense

Phillies (12-15) vs. Nationals (19-9)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies are back in rainy Philadelphia after a disastrous road trip, but the task is no easier this weekend with baseball's best team visiting Citizens Bank Park. 

The Phillies open yet another three-game series with the Washington Nationals, who have spent the first five weeks of the season bashing everyone in their way. 

1. Zimmerman makes the difference
Washington's lineup is dangerous enough with a 40-home run guy like Bryce Harper and batting title contender Daniel Murphy in the middle of it. 

But now Ryan Zimmerman is en fuego, which allows Dusty Baker to split up his lefty hitters and makes the Nats' lineup so much tougher and deeper. 

Zimmerman was the National League Player of the Month in April and hasn't yet slowed down in May. He'd be the MVP if the season ended today. He enters hitting .424/.468/.859 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs. He hit .542 last week and has driven in 17 runs the last two weeks. It's hard to imagine there being a fantasy league in the country in which Zimmerman is not the No. 1 ranked player right now.

I remember when Ryne Sandberg was the Phillies' manager, he'd mention Zimmerman any time he was asked about Harper, and it didn't really fit. Zimmerman was somewhat of a threat then but not really. From 2014 to 2016, he hit .242/.300/.420 and averaged 72 missed games per season. He hit a career low last season when he hit just .218 with a .272 OBP in 467 plate appearances.

Zimmerman, like most/all hitters with a big leg kick in their swing, is a streaky hitter. He's not going to hit .370 this season. He's hit over .300 once in the last 12 years. But this streak is lasting longer than usual for him, and the Phillies need to handle him with as much care this weekend as they do Harper.

2. Pivetta's home debut
Nick Pivetta makes his first start at Citizens Bank Park against the team that drafted him in 2013 and traded him for Jonathan Papelbon two summers later.

Pivetta avoided the big blow in his first start over the weekend at Dodger Stadium, allowing two runs in five innings despite putting 10 men on base. He struck out five. 

You could tell Pivetta had some nerves, as do all debuting pitchers. He threw first-pitch strikes to just 9 of 23 batters, a rate that will get him into trouble if it's repeated, especially against a hot offense like Washington's.

We did see some glimpses in L.A., though, of how good Pivetta's stuff can be. He averaged 94.2 mph with his fastball and hit 96 at times, and his slider has some impressive break. He induced 11 swinging strikes on 91 pitches, which is several percentage points above the league average.

This is going to be a tough start for the 24-year-old, no doubt about it. He'll be asked whether facing the team that drafted and traded him provides any additional incentive, but picking up his first big-league win is incentive enough. 

3. A grown-up Strasburg?
The knock on Stephen Strasburg has long been his ability to stay healthy and go deep into games. He's made a full season's worth of starts just twice since coming up in 2010, and despite his electric stuff, has never finished higher than ninth in Cy Young voting. Surprising, right?

Well, Strasburg this season has looked more like a veteran workhorse, going seven innings in all five of his starts. He's 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He has fewer strikeouts than innings pitched, which he's never finished a season with.

Two of Strasburg's outings were against the Phillies, so this means half of his first six starts will be against them. He allowed three runs with three walks and eight strikeouts in a Phillies win on April 9, then allowed two runs in seven innings with eight K's in a Nationals win on April 14.

He's dominated the Phils as long as he's been in the majors, going 8-2 with a 2.47 ERA against them in 19 starts. At Citizens Bank Park, he's 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in seven starts, has held the Phillies to a .173 batting average and just two homers in 44 innings.

The only Phillie with decent career numbers off Strasburg is Cesar Hernandez, who is 7 for 22 (.318) with two doubles.

4. Get to the 'pen
The clear weakness of the Nationals is their bullpen. They don't have a legit closer, and the first three guys who got a crack at the job have either failed or gotten hurt. Blake Treinen has an 8.25 ERA, Koda Glover is on the DL and Shawn Kelley missed the weekend with an illness.

The Nationals have a 3.82 ERA from their starters and a 5.40 ERA from their relievers, which is second-worst in the NL ahead of only the Braves' bullpen. As poor as the Phils' bullpen has pitched, its ERA is a full point better than the Nats' at 4.38.

Chasing Strasburg after six innings tonight would be huge for the Phillies. If they can keep the game tied or within a run and force the Nationals' bullpen to pick up nine outs, they could earn an improbable series-opening win.

5. This and that
• The Nationals are averaging 6.4 runs per game. The next-best NL offense has averaged 5.1.

• The Nats also lead the majors in batting average (.289), on-base percentage (.366), slugging (.491) and doubles (63). They're second in the majors in extra-base hits and walks.

• The Phillies had another great day from their 1-2 hitters Thursday as Hernandez and Aaron Altherr combined to reach base eight of 14 times. As stated many times in these game notes, the Phils have had far and away the highest batting average and OPS in the majors out of their 1-2 hitters and are hitting nearly 100 points higher than the league average.

Hernandez has shown no signs of slowing down. He enters hitting .336/.379/.517.

• Cameron Rupp has picked things up after a slow start. He's 11 for 34 (.324) over his last nine games with five doubles, a homer and four walks.

• The Phillies' loss Thursday was their eighth one-run loss already this season. They have more one-run losses than non-one-run losses. They're 5-8 in those games after going 10-3 in their first 13 last season. It's ironic because no sane baseball fan looked at the 2017 Phillies bullpen as anything but an improvement over the 2016 edition.

• This might be a rare night off for Freddy Galvis, who made two errors Thursday and a poor throw Wednesday that allowed the Cubs' winning run to score. Even the throws Galvis made to first that were caught on Thursday were shaky. He was seen icing his hand after the game.

Phillies' opening day roster decisions not getting any easier

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Phillies' opening day roster decisions not getting any easier


CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies are going down to the wire with their opening day roster decisions.

Manager Gabe Kapler & Co. got another look at pitcher Drew Hutchison and bench candidates Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn on Saturday in a game against the Tigers in Lakeland. None of the three hurt their chances of making the club in a 4-1 win over the Tigers.

Hutchison, a Lakeland native, pitched four scoreless innings. He gave up one hit and survived three walks. He struck out three, including Miguel Cabrera with runners on second and third with one out in the third inning. 

Hutchison, 27, made 74 starts from 2012 to 2016 with the Blue Jays and Pirates. He spent all of last season with the Pirates’ Triple A club and signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies last month. The Phillies have given the right-hander a good look and he has responded well. He has given up 12 hits and six runs in 19 2/3 innings for a 2.75 ERA. However, he has walked eight while registering 17 strikeouts.

Hutchison’s best chance to make the club could be as a long man in the bullpen. Ben Lively is also in the running for that job. Jake Thompson could also be in the picture. He is converting to the bullpen but has built up his pitch counts.

Valentin, a strong candidate for a utility job, started at first base with a borrowed mitt from Rhys Hoskins. Valentin has a first baseman’s mitt and a catcher's mitt on order. He could be the emergency third catcher. Valentin had a good game. He made a nice defensive play and had two hits and a walk. He has played seven positions this spring.

Quinn had two hits, scored a run and swiped three bases. He could open with the big club or be sent to Triple A for playing time. He has impressed Kapler with his electricity and figures to impact the big club at some point, maybe as soon as opening day.

Scott Kingery had two more hits, raising his average to .392 (20 for 51). He will likely open in Triple A but could be up by the third weekend of the season. Delaying his arrival until then would push his potential free agency back until after 2024.

• Rhys Hoskins stayed back in Clearwater and got a bunch of at-bats in a pair of minor-league games. He swatted a pair of opposite-field homers in a Triple A game.

The Phillies host the Orioles on Saturday. Lively will start.

Phillies set date for Jake Arrieta's regular season debut

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Phillies set date for Jake Arrieta's regular season debut

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies have announced their plan for Jake Arrieta.

He will make his regular season debut on April 8 at Citizens Bank Park against the Miami Marlins.

That is a Sunday afternoon game.

Arrieta has a career ERA of 3.28 in day games as opposed to 3.77 in night games. Opposing batters have hit just .214 against him over his career in day games.

“He loves pitching in day games,” manager Gabe Kapler said in announcing the plan for Arrieta, who signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies on March 12.

Even though Arrieta showed up to camp in excellent shape and had been throwing on his own, the Phillies had promised to be cautious in getting him ready for the regular season. Arrieta will start Tuesday in Clearwater then pitch again on April 2, probably against minor leaguers in Clearwater, before his debut against Miami.

Arrieta had hoped to pitch during the first week of the season. The way things line up, he will miss just one start. The Phillies could stash him on the disabled list as he builds arm strength until they activate him before the April 8 game.

“Jake’s on board with this,” Kapler said. “He’s such a competitive dude, he wants to get out there immediately. But he has a strong understanding of the long view and what will keep him healthy and strong over the whole season and through the next three or four years. He understood that the best thing for his body is to build up a little more and get a nice slow, easy ramp and come out firing for us on April 8 against the Marlins.”

Arrieta has made four lifetime starts against Miami. He is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in those games. Over 26 innings, he’s allowed four runs and 16 hits while walking four and striking out 26.

Aaron Nola will start on opening day. The order of the rotation is unclear after that, though the Phillies could get by with four starters until Arrieta is ready. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez will be in the rotation. Zach Eflin, Ben Lively or Drew Hutchison could round out the rotation during the first seven games. Lively or Hutchison could also work out of the bullpen.

Lively will start against the Orioles on Sunday.