Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Homer-prone Pivetta takes on Coors Field

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Homer-prone Pivetta takes on Coors Field

Phillies (39-68) at Rockies (63-47)
8:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

After winning five straight, including a four-game sweep of the Braves, the Phillies are off to a horrid start to August, losing four out West. They had a 3-2 lead in the series opener in Colorado, but the bullpen squandered the one-run advantage for the second straight night, losing, 4-3, to the Rockies (see story).

In the second game of the three-game set, the Phils turn to Nick Pivetta against Jon Gray at Coors Field for the late night start.

Here are five things to know for Saturday night's game:

1. Western woes
In a season in which there has been very little reason for optimism, there was a brief period of positivity as the Phillies swept away the Braves and took their fifth straight victory. In fact, they had started the second half 10-6 and were actually above .500 (13-12) in July.

But their trip out West has been more of the first-half struggles that leave the Phillies with the worst record in baseball. In four games, they've managed to score just eight runs while their opponents average 5.75 per game. 

It'd be different if all four games came in Colorado, but the first three were in Anaheim, which is home to the lackluster Angels offense. Aaron Nola gave them a quality start on Tuesday, but the bullpen gave up five runs in two innings. Jake Thompson fell victim to a seven-run third on Wednesday.

And then the bullpen has reared its ugly head in the last two games. This can't be entirely unexpected post-trade deadline. The Phillies traded their best reliever away and also dealt Joaquin Benoit, who wasn't highly effective in Philly but was at least an average reliever while pitching in high-leverage assignments. The drop-off from him to a younger reliever who hasn't seen late-inning duty before can be steep. 

Of course, it would help the bullpen if the Phillies' offense can pick up where it left off in July. The Phillies posted the eighth-highest OPS in baseball last month. The Rockies were third in OPS and second in batting average, so the Phillies' pitching staff has its work cut out for it if the offense is silent the next two days.

2. Pivetta and the long ball
In Pivetta's last two outings, he's allowed six runs (no home runs) on 11 baserunners in 12 innings while striking out 12. The strikeout numbers are impressive, as is his .209/.239/.349 averages against, particularly when five of the runs came against baseball's best offense. 

But a 4.50 ERA over two starts isn't noteworthy, except it is a far way from his 6.82 ERA over his previous six starts, in which he allowed 25 runs in 33 innings. While he struck out over a batter an inning in that stretch, he gave up a whopping 11 home runs.

No pitcher is going to survive surrendering three homers per nine innings, which makes his homerless last two starts so encouraging. His strikeout numbers have been impressive, over a K per inning, and the 24-year-old has been able to blow away hitters at times with his four-seam fastball. 

He'll have to play off that fastball at Coors Field. In the altitude, pitchers often have issues with their offspeed stuff, which could make a pitcher like Pivetta — who throws his four-seamer over two-thirds of the time — a solid choice for the assignment. Still, with the Rockies' offense and the adjustment to the environment, Pivetta will have a tough task on Saturday regardless of how well-tuned his fastball is.

3. A budding ace?
Outside of a couple Ubaldo Jimenez seasons, the Rockies have had plenty of trouble trying to pin down a No. 1 starter. With Gray in his second full season, Colorado hopes it has that starter who can master Coors Field and the National League in one fell swoop. 

In his first full big-league season, Gray struck out 185 in 168 innings while pitching to a 4.61 ERA. He was better at home, going 7-2 with a 4.30 ERA in 14 starts.

This season got off to a rocky start for the former No. 3 overall selection as he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in just his third start, prompting him to miss more than two months. Improbably, the Rockies' pitching staff was able to hold things together without Gray and fellow starter Chad Bettis, who has missed the entire season undergoing treatment for cancer. 

Gray has had mixed results in his return, including one particularly ugly start against the Mets in which he allowed eight runs in just two innings. Beyond that, he's been able to elicit whiffs while walking slightly fewer batters than last season. 

The 25-year-old righty has actually been more effective at home than on the road this season, sporting a 3.71 ERA at home while being shelled to the tune of a 6.67 mark on the road. Lefties have batted .327 against him this year, so the Phillies will likely load up their lineup with LHBs to combat him.

Gray's stuff is elite, sporting an upper-90s fastball and a slider that sits around 90 mph. He'll also throw a low-80s curveball, but he's primarily a fastball-slider pitcher.

The Phillies saw him twice last season, tagging him for nine runs in 10 2/3 innings. Freddy Galvis went 2 for 4 with a walk while Cesar Hernandez tripled in four at-bats. Current Phils hit .219/.324/.281 against Gray.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: For the second straight night, Nick Williams picked up three hits on Friday. In that two-game span, he's 6 for 8 with three doubles and a home run.

Rockies: Often overlooked playing in Colorado, Nolan Arenado has won four consecutive Gold Gloves at third base and leads the National League in RBIs for the third straight year. In 2015 and '16, he also led the NL in home runs and total bases. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies have lost four of five to the Rockies this year. They've been outscored 28-10 in the five contests, a season after beating Colorado five times in seven tries.

• With Friday's loss, the Phillies dropped to 14-28 in one-run games. They hadn't lost 28 one-run games since 2013 when they went 28-28 in such contests.

• Rockies closer Greg Holland saved his 34th game on Friday in his 35th opportunity. The former Kansas City Royal missed the whole 2016 season with Tommy John surgery. 

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.