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' 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.


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.