Phillies

Youngsters help Phillies steamroll Jacob deGrom, Mets at Citi Field

Youngsters help Phillies steamroll Jacob deGrom, Mets at Citi Field

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NEW YORK — Ben Lively crashed J.P. Crawford's coming-out party Tuesday night and no one had a problem with it.

Lively pitched seven innings of one-run ball and drove in four runs with a two-run single and a swing-hard-and-something-good-might-happen, two-run home run to lead the Phillies to a 9-1 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field (see observations).

Both of Lively's big hits came against Jacob deGrom, who has been an absolute beast against the Phillies for much of his career. The hard-throwing, floppy-haired right-hander entered the game with a 6-0 record and a 2.10 ERA in 10 career starts against the Phillies, including 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three starts this year.

It all changed Tuesday night. DeGrom gave up 10 hits and a career-high nine runs (three were unearned) in 3 2/3 innings, the second-shortest outing of his career. And this was after striking out the side in the first inning.

"It's nice to beat deGrom," manager Pete Mackanin said. "If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best."

Though the Phillies entered the game with the worst record in the majors — watch out, the San Francisco Giants are gaining in the race for the No. 1 draft pick — this was still a satisfying win.

"This was a unique game in that every player on the team, including the pitcher, scored at least one run and had a hit," Mackanin said. "That was kind of neat."

The game also offered a potential glimpse of the future. With the highly touted Crawford having arrived earlier in the day (see story), the Phillies' starting lineup featured five players, Lively included, who opened the season at Triple A and are considered building blocks for the future. They all contributed:

Lively, of course, did it with his arm and his bat.

Rhys Hoskins had a single, a double and two walks to run his on-base percentage to .436 in 26 games.

Nick Williams had a three-run double, giving him 38 RBIs since coming up on June 30.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro had three hits to raise his batting average to .362 in 58 at-bats.

And, on his first night in the majors, the 22-year-old Crawford contributed, as well. He had his first big-league hit, scored a run and made a couple of nice plays at third base.

"These guys, great teammates, made me feel welcome from the get-go," Crawford said. "Right when I got here they made me feel at home and I can't thank them enough to kind of settle down the nerves before the game and just have fun out there.

"It was a dream come true. Stepping onto the field, looking around, I thought to myself, like, man, I'm really here. I've been working on it for so long. Just to finally live the dream. I can't wait to get started."

Crawford is a shortstop by trade and likely is the Phillies' shortstop of the future. But for now, he is getting reps at third base as Maikel Franco and his .223 batting average and .278 on-base percentage take a seat. Mackanin said Crawford would likely be back at third base on Wednesday night as the Phillies look for players that will make them better in the future.

The players involved in Tuesday night's win thought they provided a little peek at the future.

"Definitely," Crawford said. "We've been talking about that since Double A. Just to be here in this moment with everyone together, back together and hopefully sooner or later everyone comes back and stays healthy and we can do some damage later on."

Surrounded by players he'd been with in the minors, Lively was overwhelmed by a feeling of what might be down the road.

"Absolutely," he said. "You can't deny that. Having J.P. up here, I told him it fired me up having him hand me the ball from third base. It's awesome."

"It's nice to see a lot of young guys in the lineup," Mackanin said. "Every little bit helps. It gives everybody a little spurt of energy going down the stretch. It's nice to see. The guys swung the bats well. They played a good game."

Ironically, no one swung the bat better than Lively. He had zero hits in 16 Triple A at-bats this season and last and now has six hits, including two homers, in 21 big-league at-bats this season.

"I still laugh about not having a hit in Triple A," he said. "It's pretty funny. I hit pretty good in high school and had a couple of schools look at me as a third baseman, but the pitching route has worked out pretty well."

Lively's two-run homer in the fourth came against a deGrom slider and cleared the wall in right-center.

"I hit it pretty good," the rookie pitcher said with a laugh. "Right when I hit it I was like, 'Ooh, that's hit pretty good.'"

As much as Mackanin liked the home run, he liked this more: Lively delivered his eighth quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) in 11 outings.

"He's just a battler," Mackanin said. "He's a true competitor. He wants to win. He wants to be good. He goes right after hitters. He doesn't screw around with them. He gives it his best shot. He takes his chances. That's what I like."

Phillies tell hulking power hitter Dylan Cozens to tone it down

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Jim Salisbury/NBCSP

Phillies tell hulking power hitter Dylan Cozens to tone it down

CLEARWATER, Fla. – At 6-6, 245 pounds, Dylan Cozens was the biggest player in Phillies camp last spring.

This year, he's bigger.

“Yeah,” Cozens said with a laugh. “I’m 270 pounds now.”

And it’s all muscle.

Cozens, a 23-year-old corner outfielder, hit the weight room hard this offseason. So now, his muscles have muscles.

There is a plan behind the added strength. Cozens struggled at Triple A last season. He hit just .210 and struck out 194 times. He still has awesome power from the left side, as evidenced by 27 homers and 74 RBIs last season. But he needs to make more contact if he’s going to board the same Philadelphia-bound train that Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro did last season.

More contact is the reason for the added strength.

“Just to have easier power,” Cozens said. “The plan is easier swings with two strikes.

New manager Gabe Kapler spent significant time digging into the Phillies' roster this winter, learning everything he could about his new players. That included players who hadn’t reached the majors yet, prospects like Cozens, the Double A Eastern League MVP from 2016.

Kapler and the Phillies' staff, which includes new hitting coach John Mallee, are looking for Cozens to simply swing a little easier. That could equal more contact, and more contact – for a man of Cozens’ size – will equal more home runs.

“Effort level is always big when it comes to making contact,” Kapler said. “I’m not trying to hit the ball 500 feet. I can hit it 400 feet and it’s still a homer. And by the way, I’m this big and strong and all I really need to do is make flush contact with the baseball. So thinking about being a good hitter first and a power hitter second will actually increase his home run totals and increase his on-base capabilities, which are both things I think he’d be happy with.”

Kapler trotted out an analogy in talking about Cozens.

“Effort level speaks to how hard I’m swinging,” Kapler said. “Am I coming with my 90 percent effort level or am I coming with my 100 percent effort level? If all my muscles are firing and my jaws are clenched and I’m going full speed ahead, I might not be running as fast as if I was more like a cheetah, right? I think that’s the message we would send to Dylan. You’re more a cheetah than a brute. Let it fly, be easy, and that’s going to create loud contact for him because he’s as strong as any individual I’ve been around. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guy with that level of strength and power ever on a baseball field before.”

Cozens arrived at camp early and has been working with Mallee and Charlie Manuel.

Manuel never met a power hitter he didn’t love. He raves about some of the moon shots that Cozens has hit in batting practice.

“He’s got talent,” Manuel said, emphasizing the last word. “He hits balls completely out of the ballpark. If he controls his swing, he’ll be fine.”

Cozens was recruited to play defensive end by the University of Arizona, but instead signed with the Phillies after being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft. He looked to be on a fast track to the big leagues when he pulverized Eastern League pitchers in 2016. Despite striking out 186 times, he hit .276 with 40 homers, 125 RBIs and a .941 OPS. Last season, his OPS dipped .719. He hit .217 against right-handers and .194 against lefties.

“It was terrible,” Cozens said of his season. “I lost my core mechanics. Just a lack of confidence. I doubted myself. Mentally and mechanics-wise, I felt like it was a mess. I was all over the place. I wasn’t consistent at all. I got in my own head.

“I was trying all sorts of different things. I was in on the plate, off the plate, bigger leg kick, smaller leg kick, toe tap, no stride.”

As Cozens fiddled with his mechanics he saw several friends and longtime teammates – players that he’d always been mentioned with as the next generation of Phillies – go to the majors. A year ago at this time, Cozens was thinking he’d play in the majors in 2017. Looking back now …

“I didn’t deserve it,” he said. “I don’t think where I was at with my mechanics being all over the place, and where I was mentally being all over the place, it would have been a good start for me. You don’t want to go up there and fail. You want to be ready for when you’re up there and I didn’t feel like I was ready.”

Cozens’ current swing mechanics are closer to what they were in 2016: Small leg kick. A little hand movement.

“Toning it down,” he said. “I know I can play better than I did last year.”

And so does Kapler.

“You don’t ignore the fact that he needs to make more contact,” the manager said. “That’s 100 percent true.

“If you ask him, he’ll say, ‘If I make more contact I will hit more home runs and be much more valuable to my team. I will reach base more and I will give myself a better chance to be a Philadelphia Phillie.’ “

That’s the goal for Dylan Cozens. One bad season hasn’t changed that. He still has the tools to make it happen.

"I want to have an amazing spring training and force them to make a decision to keep me up there," Cozens said. "It’s probably unlikely, so go to Triple A, hit the ground running and make the decision hard on them.”

Kapler brings in the perfect man to drive home 'Be Bold' mentality

Kapler brings in the perfect man to drive home 'Be Bold' mentality

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies players were welcomed to spring training with an inspirational multi-media presentation and dinner (the menu included creamed spinach) at a Clearwater restaurant on Sunday night.

The welcome event continued Monday morning when Philadelphia’s most sought-after speaker walked into the clubhouse before the team’s first full-squad workout.

Two weeks after winning the Super Bowl and emphatically punctuating the victory parade with the most famous speech in the state of Pennsylvania since Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Eagles center Jason Kelce, already on vacation in the area, popped into camp to fire up the lads with a few words of wisdom.

“Champions have stories to share and they’re effective,” said new manager Gabe Kapler, who jumped at the chance to have Kelce stop by and speak to his team. “They’ve been through the ups and downs, they’ve displayed courageousness, they’ve come together as units, they’ve felt what it feels like to have people count them out and then they’ve proven them wrong.

“Jason’s message was tremendous. I don’t know that there was a No. 1 takeaway. I think there were eight to 10 takeaways and a lot of them have to do with it’s OK to fall down, be fearless, get back up, be bold and do it all over again. He referenced that several times.”

Being bold is the theme of Camp Kap. Before Monday’s workout, players were given red T-shirts emblazoned with the words Be Bold. The letters VAM – Value at the Margins – are on the sleeves. Kapler is stressing how small details can lead to big things in his first camp and bringing in Kelce for a visit was of them. So was Sunday night’s video presentation, produced by team officials Kevin Camiscioli and Dan Stephenson. The video featured victorious and inspirational moments from the Eagles, Flyers and Sixers. There was also some Rocky in there.

“We feel like we're in a partnership with the city, the fans and certainly the teams,” Kapler said. “You saw it today with Jason. He was part of our family.”

Kelce wore a red Phillies shirt, No. 62, of course, and a red Phillies cap. After speaking with the club, he had a picture taken with lookalike Cam Rupp – “He’s a thick boy and he’s got a good beard,” Kelce said – and took in the spirited two-hour workout.

“The environment was created by players,” Kapler said. “They came out and they gave us everything they had. We have high expectations. We expect you to come prepared. We expect you to come in and bust your ass and to come and do it the next day and they started off on the right foot.”

After the workout concluded with conditioning drills and yoga for some players, Kapler knelt in the outfield and spoke with three young players, Andrew Pullin, Dylan Cozens and Scott Kingery. Kapler spoke to them about balancing hard work with recovery. He talked about nutrition and maintaining healthy body fat to help ward off injury. He told them that it’s OK to indulge sometimes.

What are Gabe Kapler’s indulgences?

“An occasional glass of wine, scotch, steaks,” he said. “I really like creamy vegetable stuff. We had some creamed spinach last night. It was incredible.”

By all accounts, Kelce was pretty incredible during his chat with the Phillies.

“Awesome,” said pitcher Mark Leiter, Jr. a Jersey Shore kid and diehard Eagles fan. “He talked about his journey, not being highly recruited, being undersized and now he’s a Super Bowl champion. He has that forever. You have to respect that. It’s something you have to work for.”

Yes, Kelce dropped a couple of F-bombs for emphasis. He was in a locker room, after all. During his speech for the ages on the Art Museum steps two weeks ago, Kelce, filled with adrenaline, emotion and maybe a few adult beverages, dropped a couple memorable F-bombs as he saluted all the underdogs that made the Eagles' championship a reality.

“It was pretty crazy,” Kelce said. “The speech had been building up for a long time and it just came out at that moment. It was stuff that had been brewing for a long time.

"The night before, I couldn’t really sleep. I was just sitting there thinking. They had just told me I was going to talk. I was thinking about what I should say. That’s when I started thinking about all the guys who had overcome things and been counted out and rebounded. It was really from the top down. From there you started to see that parallel to the city of Philadelphia. The city had struggled for this championship for a long time.”

Now, the Eagles have that championship. The Sixers and Flyers are well into their seasons. And the Phillies are just getting into their long grind. Philadelphia’s most sought-after speaker was here to help them kick it off on Monday.