Phillies-Nationals observations: Hiccup in 6th inning leads to loss

Phillies-Nationals observations: Hiccup in 6th inning leads to loss


WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals moved closer to clinching the National League East when they rallied for three runs in the sixth inning to beat the Phillies, 4-3, on Thursday night.

Starter Aaron Nola gave up seven hits and three runs (one was unearned) over 5 1/3 innings and did not get a decision.

The Nats (86-54) scored three times in the sixth to take the lead.

The Phillies are 53-87, worst in the majors.

• Washington centerfielder Michael A. Taylor made the play of the game when he leaped at the wall to steal at least extra bases and maybe a homer away from Andres Blanco leading off the seventh. The play came with the Nats up, 4-3.

• Former Phillie Ryan Madson, now 37, pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Washington and struck out two. He came over from Oakland in a deadline deal and has pitched extremely well for the Nats, racking up 12 scoreless innings. He has allowed six hits and a walk while registering 17 strikeouts. He's still hitting 97 mph on the radar gun (see story). The Nats also got closer Sean Doolittle in that trade. He notched his 16th save in as many chances for Washington.

• It's all about the future and with that the Phillies' starting lineup featured four prospects who opened the season at Triple A — Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P Crawford and Jorge Alfaro. Nola was the pitcher and Odubel Herrera the centerfielder. All of these players project to be part of the team's core moving forward. At 25, Herrera is the oldest of the group. 

Two more potential pieces of the future were in the spotlight on Thursday as the team announced the Paul Owens Award winners for 2017. Second baseman Scott Kingery, 23, won the award as top position player in the Phils' minor-league system and right-handed pitcher Tom Eshelman, 23, was the top pitcher (see story). Eshelman, a control artist who came to the Phillies from Houston in the Ken Giles trade, went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 23 starts at Double A and Triple A this season. He had a 0.973 WHIP, struck out 102 and walked just 18 in 150 innings. Kingery, a second baseman, hit .304 with 29 doubles, eight triples, 26 homers and a .889 OPS between Double A and Triple A. 

Both players project to get to Philadelphia sometime next season. Don't bank on Kingery arriving on opening day, however. His potential free agency could be delayed until after the 2024 season if he spends about a month in the minors and that makes good baseball sense, especially for a rebuilding team. He'd be eligible for free agency after the 2023 season if he spent a full season in the majors next year. With Kingery coming, the Phillies are expected to listen to offers for Cesar Hernandez this winter.

• Crawford played his third straight game at third base in place of Maikel Franco. Manager Pete Mackanin said Franco would return to the starting lineup Friday night with Crawford moving to either shortstop or second base.

• Crawford flied out four times in four at-bats. He is 1 for 11 in three games. 

• A day after Mackanin said he wanted to see more of Alfaro, the rookie was behind the plate, paired with Nola for the first time. Nola had previously worked with Cameron Rupp 16 times and Andrew Knapp seven times. Pairing him with Alfaro was noteworthy and made sense; Alfaro is out of minor-league options and will be on the roster next season, possibly as the No. 1 catcher, so he needs to get reps with Nola. Alfaro smacked a solo homer, but also was charged with a passed ball. His defense is a work in progress.

• Adam Morgan was charged with one run in the sixth and took the loss. He gave up the go-ahead hit, a two-run single, on an 0-2 pitch to leadoff man Trea Turner. Morgan has pitched brilliantly lately and his fastball is up to 97 mph. He's got stuff now. So why give Turner a pitch over the plate on 0-2? Why not try to get him to chase out of the zone?

• The Phils played some tremendous defense on the left side of the infield in the fifth inning with shortstop Freddy Galvis going deep in the hole to make a play and Crawford making a nice pick to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play to get Nola out of trouble.

• The Phillies' first two runs came on homers by Alfaro and Tommy Joseph. Joseph's homer snapped an 0-for-14 skid.

• Some health news on three pitchers: Vince Velasquez had surgery Tuesday to address a circulation problem in his hand. He will be ready for spring training. Jerad Eickhoff, shut down for the season with nerve irritation in his right hand, has checked out fine in visits to two doctors. He will probably do some throwing in Clearwater in October. Zach Eflin, out with a shoulder impingement, is throwing in Clearwater. The Phils have not ruled him out to start another game before the season is over. Meanwhile, outfielder Aaron Altherr passed his base-running test. He could get some at-bats before the series ends. He is recovering from a hamstring strain.

• Herrera has a 20-game hitting streak, longest in the majors this season.

• Jake Thompson (1-1, 4.50) pitches against Washington ace Max Scherzer (13-5, 2.19) on Friday night. It will be a tough assignment for the Phillies. Scherzer is second in the majors in ERA and strikeouts (232). Clayton Kershaw has the best ERA at 1.95 and Chris Sale leads in strikeouts with 270. Scherzer is 8-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 career starts against the Phillies. He has struck out 101 and walked just 16 in 88 1/3 innings.

Phillies’ focus turns to Aaron Nola, Scott Kingery, bench competition

USA Today Images

Phillies’ focus turns to Aaron Nola, Scott Kingery, bench competition


FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Phillies began their final full week in Florida on Sunday with a game against the Minnesota Twins. It provided manager Gabe Kapler the opportunity to look at a number of important areas — some settled, some unsettled — of his roster.

To wit:

• The opening day battery of Aaron Nola and Jorge Alfaro worked together. Nola battled through an early rough patch and delivered five innings of two-run ball. He will have one more start before he gets the call in Atlanta in 11 days.

• Scott Kingery, everybody’s favorite prospect, got the start at third base. He had two hits, raising his average to .378 (14 for 37), and made a nice play on a bunt. Kingery is projected to open at Triple A so the Phillies can control his rights through 2024. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be down there long. He projects as the second baseman of the future, but Cesar Hernandez is at the position for now. Third base could be a temporary landing spot for Kingery if Maikel Franco struggles. Kingery played some third at Triple A last season. Yes, Kapler wants to create versatility on his roster. But it was still notable that Kingery got his first look of the spring at third. He will get more time in the outfield before camp ends.

“We want him ready to step in and play all over the diamond whenever that time is,” Kapler said.

• The battle for bench spots was in full display. It’s not clear if the Phils have two or three spots open on the bench because they don’t need a fifth starting pitcher until April 11 and that could allow them a five-man bench at the outset. Regardless, the competition will come into focus this week.  Candidates Ryan Flaherty, Adam Rosales, Pedro Florimon, Jesmuel Valentin and Roman Quinn all played in the game.

Quinn, Florimon and Valentin are all on the 40-man roster so that could help their chances. Quinn, an outfielder by trade, got another look at shortstop. Florimon played left field, had a hit and walked twice. Valentin, an infielder by trade, got a look in right field and belted his third homer of the spring, a three-run shot, for the Phillies’ only runs in a 4-3 loss.

“Valentin has really put his strongest foot forward,” Kapler said. “He’s demonstrated pop, versatility and come up with huge hits.”

Flaherty, who played seven different positions with the Orioles over the last six seasons, started at first base and had a hit. He’s hitting .333.

“He’s having an awesome spring,” Kapler said.

Like Flaherty, Rosales, who has played parts of the last 10 seasons in the majors, can also play anywhere. Flaherty has an out in his minor-league contract on Thursday, so that could bring some clarity to his situation. If he’s still in the hunt Saturday, the Phillies must add him to the 40-man roster, pay him a $100,000 retention bonus or allow him to walk. Ditto for Rosales. So the bench picture will start to come into focus soon.

“There’s a lot to be excited about in that bench role,” Kapler said.

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.