Phillies-Red Sox 5 things: Hey, they hit Chris Sale last season ...

Phillies-Red Sox 5 things: Hey, they hit Chris Sale last season ...

Phillies (21-44) vs. Red Sox (37-28)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

After losing a pair of one-run games in extra innings in Boston, the Phillies were out of it from the jump Wednesday night. The Red Sox scored five early runs and never trailed in a 7-3 win.

Now comes the fourth and final meeting of the season with the Red Sox, and it's by far the toughest matchup yet.

1. K's for Sale
Red Sox ace lefty Chris Sale makes his second career start at Citizens Bank Park. This is usually the case for the Phillies, but runs will be tough to come by tonight.

Sale is having a dominant first year in Boston. He's 8-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 13 starts and he's struck out a major-league-leading 126 in 91 innings. 

From April 10 through May 19, Sale struck out 10-plus batters in eight straight starts. He's missed fewer bats lately but still struck out 31 over 25⅓ innings in his last four outings.

Sale is on pace for 314 K's, which would be the most in a season since 2002, when Randy Johnson struck out 334 and Curt Schilling whiffed 316. In fact, since 2002, the only pitcher to reach 300 in a season was Clayton Kershaw (301) in 2015.

Despite the mid-90s velocity, the ridiculous slider, the funky delivery and intimidation factor, Sale is not invincible. He's allowed three runs or more in each of his last four starts and gave up six runs two weeks ago in Chicago.

The Phillies hit him last season on one of his more erratic nights. Sale allowed six runs to the Phils in four innings on seven hits and three hit batsmen. Tommy Joseph went 2 for 2 with a double, a homer and three RBIs.

2. Altherr's sustainability
When Aaron Altherr was en fuego the first two weeks of May, we knew it wouldn't last forever. And he did hit a cold streak during which his swing elongated back to what it was before this season.

But he's settled back in, and even after coming back to Earth, Altherr has been a solid bat for the Phillies. 

He homered for the second straight game Wednesday, giving him 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. He's hitting .286/.360/.550

Asked Wednesday if he thinks Altherr can settle in to be a .290-ish hitter long-term, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he does because of the adjustments Altherr has shown in 2017. 

If Mackanin is right, Altherr is going to be a very valuable player for years. Any team could use a .290-hitting outfielder with power, speed and above-average defensive instincts. Altherr is playing his way toward an All-Star nod.

3. Not a good matchup for Pivetta
We've seen a mid-90s fastball and a decent slider from Nick Pivetta in his six starts with the Phillies but he has a long, long way to go to earn a permanent rotation spot.

In 29⅓ innings, Pivetta has struck out 27 but walked 16. He's thrown first-pitch strikes to just 47.0 percent of his opponents, well below the MLB average of 60.3 percent. He has the lowest first-pitch strike rate of any NL starting pitcher with at least 20 innings.

The Red Sox are not the team a pitcher struggling with control wants to face. They have power, plate selection and the right type of aggressiveness. Most of these hitters will spit on Pivetta's first pitch if it's a bit off the plate but will be prepared to attack if he tries to just get one over.

The Phillies have yet to receive more than five innings from Pivetta, who has allowed 18 extra-base hits already.

4. Best of Betts
Imagine getting to watch Mookie Betts on a nightly basis. The guy has everything — he hits for average, hits for power, plays maybe the best right field defense in baseball and has game-breaking speed.

The Phillies have gotten an up-close look this week at his myriad of skills. Even though he went 0 for 6 on Tuesday, Betts is 8 for 16 with four doubles and two homers in the three games against the Phillies.

This is the kind of player you build a franchise around. The Phillies don't have anyone like Betts in their system. Granted, few teams do. But there's an enormous difference between the Phillies' young talent and the Red Sox. Guys like Betts and Xander Bogaerts completely transform a team. There's a difference between rebuilding your way to 85 wins and rebuilding your way to a championship. Some luck is involved in landing players like that, but Betts was a fifth-round pick back in 2011. Every team had multiple chances to grab him.

As Phillies fans continue to clamor for their prospects to be called up, it's worth mentioning that Bogaerts debuted at 20 and Betts at 21. 

5. This and that
• Maikel Franco followed his 6-for-9 run at Fenway by going 0 for 4 last night. 

• Cameron Rupp's last 17 games: 6 for 57 (.105) with a .164 on-base percentage. In 61 plate appearances, he has one extra-base hit, four walks and 22 strikeouts. He came up representing the tying run with two outs in the eighth inning last night and struck out. That's the kind of big spot in which the Phillies just haven't been able to produce this season.

• In Joseph, Freddy Galvis, Odubel Herrera, Franco and Rupp, the Phillies have five regulars with on-base percentages between .276 and .316. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have seven starters with OBPs of .345 or higher.

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.