Phillies

In successful weekend in Miami, Phillies show potential against Marlins

In successful weekend in Miami, Phillies show potential against Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies have the worst record in baseball at 52-84. But after taking three out of four games from the playoff-contending Miami Marlins this weekend, it’s possible the Phillies aren’t that bad.

The Phillies continued to show signs of life Sunday, beating Miami, 3-1, at Marlins Park on a two-out, two-run, single by Nick Williams in the top of the 12th inning (see observations).

As for the big picture …

“We’ve had injuries like everybody else,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve had guys coming and going — I think 16 guys who have made their (major-league) debut.

“I feel like this team has a lot of potential.”

To Mackanin’s point, the Phillies are tied for eighth in the majors in fielding percentage, and the organization’s vision no doubt has that ranking improving in the near future with the addition of athletic infield prospects such as J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery.

True, the Phillies are 24th in the majors in ERA (4.72) and 28th in runs scored. The pitching deficiencies have a lot to do with injuries to Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez, a pair of starters the Phillies hope to have ready for 2018.

Aaron Nola leads the staff with 10 wins, and this weekend saw good starts from Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Jake Thompson, the latter of whom struck out a career high seven batters in a one-run, six-inning performance Sunday.

Mark Leiter Jr., who pitches Monday against the Mets in New York, has been impressive so far with a 3.88 ERA.

And here’s the thing: All seven of the aforementioned pitchers are 26 or younger.

The bullpen, meanwhile, looked great Sunday, as four pitchers combined to limit Miami to one hit and no runs over six innings. Hector Neris got his 19th save, but Juan Nicasio, Luis Garcia and Adam Morgan also contributed out of the 'pen.

Thompson, who has bounced four times this year between the Phillies and Triple A Lehigh Valley, was grateful things went his way Sunday.

“It’s nice to have one of those days after the things I’ve gone through this year,” Thompson said. “It makes me feel good.”

As for the offense, it struggled considerably Sunday when Rhys Hoskins sat out with a bruised right hand. But if Hoskins and Williams continue to develop, perhaps the Phillies can rise from out of the NL East basement next year.

Williams, who is batting .271, now has 35 RBIs since making his major-league debut June 30, tops among NL rookies during that span.

But he had stranded the bases loaded with one out in the fifth inning Sunday and had left runners on the corners with one out in the 10th, unable to get even a sacrifice fly on either occasion.

Finally, with two outs in the top of the 12th, Williams pulled his two-run single to right.

“It’s weird,” Williams said. “I’ve been getting out like crazy (lately). It’s not like I was striking out. I’ve just been hitting balls right at people.”

As long as good contact is being made, though, hits will eventually fall, and that’s what the Phillies are hoping for more of in the future.

Perhaps it’s not entirely crazy to think the Phillies could make a Marlins-type run at .500 in 2018. Miami’s pitching is not much better than Philadelphia’s, ranking 21st in the majors with a 4.63 ERA.

The Marlins are 15th in runs scored and 16th in homers. The Phillies are 27th in homers.

So, to make a significant stride, the Phillies would have to get healthy, improve their pitching and hope that Hoskins and Williams become their version of Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna.

Morgan (3-1), who got the win Sunday with three hitless and scoreless innings, is bullish on the Phillies’ future. And the same can be said about Thompson.

“It’s good to have something to feel good about as we go into the offseason,” Thompson said. “That’s huge.

“Hopefully, we can finish the season strong.”

Bombs away! Nick Williams takes aim on manager's car in batting practice

Bombs away! Nick Williams takes aim on manager's car in batting practice

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A week into camp, Nick Williams looks primed to build on last year’s impressive rookie season.

Williams has been launching balls in batting practice and manager Gabe Kapler loves it — even it means he’ll be charged for a little damage to his rental car.

On Tuesday, Williams clubbed a ball far over the fence at Mike Schmidt Field. It landed on the roof of Kapler’s rented Ford Explorer, leaving a dent that would hold a couple of servings of creamed spinach.

“I would trade a Nick Williams home run for a dent in a rental car any day of the week,” Kapler said Tuesday.

“I’m glad he said that,” Williams said Wednesday morning, “because it felt kind of good to hit it.”

Later on Wednesday, Williams put on another power display at Schmidt Field. It was so impressive that Cesar Hernandez considered leaving the field, grabbing his keys and moving his car.

“I just missed Cesar’s car,” Williams said with a laugh.

Kapler was again impressed with Williams’ round of BP.

“Today we had a nice little breeze coming in from right field,” Kapler said. “The breeze did not stop Nick Williams from destroying the baseball and almost hitting my car for a second day straight.

“If he is destroying cars and it happens to be mine, no problem.”

Kapler has no intention of parking elsewhere in coming days. In fact, he likes the idea of Williams using his car for target practice.

“We’re going to make it a bull’s-eye for him,” Kapler said. “That’ll be a running joke. It’s a great way to build relationships. It’s part of the whole scientific plan to make this work.”

Williams, 24, arrived in the majors in June of last season. He played in 83 games and hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS. Like a number of players on the roster, he would benefit from fewer strikeouts and more walks (97/20 in 343 plate appearances last season), but a week into camp, Kapler likes the hitting potential he sees in the young outfielder.

“He’s really shining,” Kapler said. “He really is. He walks around with a perpetual smile on his face.

“Our hitting coaches are enthused about the bat path. The way he sort of lofts the ball to the middle of the field. Some hitters, when they strike their best ball, it’s on the ground. But Nick, when he makes his most solid contract, it has a nice loft to his swing. And in the middle of the field, there aren’t many guys who can drive the ball like he can.”

The Phillies have four outfielders worthy of regular playing time. Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera line up to play left field and center field, respectively. Williams will get time in right. Aaron Altherr can play any outfield position.

Kapler is reluctant to assign roles at this point in camp. But he is confident he can find all four playing time.

“I’m not concerned about that,” he said. “Between pinch-hitting, interleague, someone getting a tweak and missing a week, the occasional rep at first base [for Hoskins], they’re all going to get a ton of reps. I envision plenty of at-bats to keep everybody satisfied, healthy and performing well.”

Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

Larry Bowa sees stars aligning for Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Larry Bowa is still here, hitting ground balls, working with the infielders, pitching batting practice and offering opinions.

"This team should play .500," he said walking off the field after a workout this week. 

"At least .500."

Bowa might be 72, but his energy level is that of a man 50 years younger. Really. This is his 53rd year in pro ball and his 34th in a Phillies uniform. He was a Gold Glove shortstop and a World Series winner in his playing days, he helped win a National League pennant as third base coach in 1993. He managed the club for four years and spent the last four seasons as bench coach.

The front office made sweeping changes after last season. Pete Mackanin was let go as manager — he remains with the club as an adviser and will scout spring training in Arizona — and Bowa relinquished his bench coaching duties. But Bowa's affiliation with the Phillies, which began in 1966, continues. He is now a senior adviser to general manager Matt Klentak. He will spend the season watching all of the Phillies' clubs from top to bottom. He will work with minor-league infielders. So there will be plenty to keep him busy.

Though the Phillies' win total slipped by five, from 71 to 66, last season, strides were made in the rebuild. The team played .500 ball over the final 76 games and a number of young players, some who could be difference-makers for a long time, arrived in the majors.

That's one of the reasons Bowa thinks this Phillies team can surprise people.

"The experience they gained last year, the way they played the second half, the way they played in the division, they played Washington tough," Bowa said. "Our division is not what you'd call super strong, and you're playing all those teams 18 times.

"I think our lineup is going to score runs. They're going to catch the ball. We caught the ball in the infield last year. And I think they're going to catch it in the outfield.

"In a perfect world, you'd like to have more pitching depth, but you know what? There aren't many perfect teams. They should play .500. The bullpen is strong. You hear they might go with eight relievers. Mix and match."

In his heart, Bowa was sad to see shortstop Freddy Galvis go. The two were close after working together for years. But Bowa thinks rookie J.P. Crawford is going to be just fine.

"I think Crawford is a very good shortstop, I really do," Bowa said. "With Freddy, you're talking about a guy who in my opinion should have won two Gold Gloves. Not one. Two. He should have won the last two years, but he didn't. The thing that J.P. brings is, even when he didn't hit good the last month last season, he gets on base. That's big."

Bowa loved what he saw of Aaron Nola last season and believes Jerad Eickhoff will bounce back big.

"He cemented himself with the way he pitched," Bowa said of Nola, who ranked 20th among big-league starters with a 3.54 ERA last season. "And you didn't even see the real Eickhoff. I think there was something bothering him and he tried to pitch through it. I don't think it was anything major. He's a bulldog, man. I'd fight for Eickhoff and Nola every day of the week. I like their demeanor, their attitude, their intensity."

Bowa didn't mince words when talking about third baseman Maikel Franco and starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, two big talents that need to do more.

"It's time," Bowa said, plainly. "It's just time. These are two guys that mean a lot to this team. Stuff-wise, Vinny should pitch good this year."

Bowa loves the addition of first baseman Carlos Santana, a selective hitter who produces runs. He was impressed with the late-season work of relievers Adam Morgan and Luis Garcia and thinks the confidence they gained will fuel strong seasons. He believes the team will respond well to new manager Gabe Kapler's energy.

"If you play .500 baseball going into the middle of August," Bowa said. "There's so much parity in baseball, you catch lightning in a bottle, watch out."

Bowa is happy to still be around the game and the Phillies. The change in role agrees with him.

"I've had a charmed life," he said. "And to be honest, I wasn't in love with the travel anymore."

He remains proud of the Phillies' second half last year. The team went 38-38 in its final 76 games.

"People sort of dismiss that," Bowa said. "But the fact is, it's very easy to fold up shop when you're buried at the All-Star break. It's a credit to Pete and the guys that played, they never quit. They played hard.

"I think this organization, if you look at the second half when Pete left, it's a lot better than when he took over.

"The stars are aligning. Things are really looking up."