Crank up the tunes, fire up light show, Phillies are hot and having fun

Crank up the tunes, fire up light show, Phillies are hot and having fun


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Aaron Altherr reached into his back pocket for the skinny on how to play Denard Span with a right-handed pitcher on the mound. The card said “R-5” so Altherr moved five steps to his right. A moment later, he made the play of the game in the Phillies’ sixth straight win, a 10-4 victory over the Rays that locked up the team’s second straight three-game sweep Sunday (see first take).

“Everybody notices when it doesn’t work, but it goes both ways,” Altherr said of the defensive alignment strategies that the team is employing under new manager Gabe Kapler. “We pretty much stick to the card we get. The card stayed true to the yardage there that time.”

Altherr’s diving catch on Span’s hard-hit, sinking liner to right ended the sixth inning. It came with runners on second and third and the Phils up by two. Had Altherr not made the catch, the game would have been tied heading into the late innings. Instead, the Phillies exploded for five runs in the eighth, three on Altherr’s three-run homer.

For Altherr, the catch was sweet. So was the home run. He had been just 2 for 34 on the season before it.

“Hopefully that means some good things are coming,” Altherr said.

Plenty of good things have come to this team lately. The Phils have won eight of nine. Sure, they have come against weak teams in the Marlins, Reds and Rays, but you can only beat who the schedule maker sends your way. Tougher tests will come, but at least the Phils have cleaned up where they should. They have outscored teams, 37-18, during their six-game win streak. At 9-5, they are off to their best start since their last playoff season, 2011. The offense has been robust. The starting pitching has mostly been good. The bullpen has been excellent. On Sunday, it picked up five innings and allowed just an unearned run after Ben Lively departed.

Reliever Luis Garcia said he was “lucky” Altherr made the catch on the liner he served up to Span.

“The read, the break, the laying out and the positioning were all spot on,” Kapler said.

It was the second time in three games the Phillies' staff had an outfielder in the right spot to make a catch with the game on the line. Odubel Herrera benefited from positioning in Friday night's win (see story).

The Phils had two big innings. Long before the decisive eighth, they scored four in the third, three coming on rookie Scott Kingery’s double on an 0-2 fastball from lefty Ryan Yarbrough. Half of Kingery’s 14 hits are doubles and he has 12 RBIs, second to Maikel Franco’s 15.

“Sweeps are tough to come by,” Kapler said.

The Phils hadn’t had a three-game sweep against an American League East club since Baltimore in 2003. They celebrated this one. Then again, they celebrate all wins with loud music and a portable light-show machine that they take on the road. Tommy Hunter was the mastermind of the postgame celebration routine and Brother Gabe is all for it.

“These guys know how to keep it light,” Kapler said. “I think there are plenty of guys smiling in our clubhouse right now, in part because they’ve made it an intention to have fun. I think it’s important in baseball because there’s so much stress and so much pressure and so much on the line each night to pick your times to indulge and have a great time and these guys know how to do that.”

Phillies hitters rack up the strikeouts

Phillies hitters rack up the strikeouts


Winning covers up a lot of flaws. Or at least stops people from talking about them. So as the Phillies were running out to a 14-7 start in the new season, the alarming number of strikeouts that their hitters were racking up was hardly noticed.

Not Tuesday night.

Phillies hitters struck out 16 times in an 8-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks (see first take).

Manager Gabe Kapler rationalized the high number of Ks by pointing out that opposing pitcher, lefty Robbie Ray, “is a strikeout guy with good stuff.” Indeed, Ray struck out 11 in just 4 2/3 innings.

Nonetheless, this was the 15th time that the Phils have reached double digits in strikeouts in 22 games this season. They entered the game ranked seventh in the majors with 211 Ks. Now, it’s up to 227.

“Part of working deep counts and seeing a lot of pitches is that you’re going to go through stretches where you strike out some,” Kapler said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to put the ball in play more. We do. It’s an absolute necessity. But sometimes you have to give credit to the opposing pitcher.”

Carlos Santana struck out three times. So did rookie Jorge Alfaro. Twenty-four of his 52 plate appearances have ended in a strikeout this season.

Rookie Scott Kingery led the way with four strikeouts. He is mired in his first funk as a big leaguer. Over his last 25 at-bats, he has struck out 12 times while collecting just two hits.

“The one thing we know is that the league is going to adjust to our hitters and we trust that Kingery has the ability to adjust back,” Kapler said. “We’re seeing some adjustments made. He was really, really good early on and he’s going to go through a stretch where he scuffles a little bit. It doesn’t change our confidence level in him. In fact, it's as high as it has ever been. We know he’s going to come back strong. He’s going to need to make some adjustments but there’s no doubt in his capability to do so.”

Kingery acknowledged his struggles and said he would learn from them.

“I’ve started swinging at balls in the dirt,” he said. “That's always been one of my weaknesses. I'm chasing a little bit right now. They're just really kind of nibbling over the plate. They're not really throwing me too much. They're starting to work ahead with off-speed and trying to get me to chase. So now it's something I'm going to have to adjust back to.

“I knew this was going to happen. Coming into the season, they probably didn't have much information on me. I didn't have much information on them. You start to see some tendencies and stuff like that. They start attacking areas that you're not strongest in and when I chase, that piles up the strikeouts for me.

“I'm going to have to adjust and learn some stuff now to get back to hitting the ball like I was in the beginning of the season. There's definitely room to learn and grow as a player. It's definitely going to be a learning experience that is ongoing.”

Arizona hitters struck out 12 times, but the D-backs hit three homers, two against Phillies' starter Vince Velasquez, as they improved to 16-6.

Phillies fall to Diamondbacks, finally lose at home again

Phillies fall to Diamondbacks, finally lose at home again


The test got a little harder for the Phillies on Tuesday and they did not fare well. They were beaten, 8-4, by the Arizona Diamondbacks on a rainy night in South Philadelphia.

The Diamondbacks hit three home runs. Phillies hitters struck out 16 times, four by rookie Scott Kingery. It was the 15th time they’ve reached double digits in strikeouts in 22 games this season.

The game was played in a not-so-swift three hours, 49 minutes.

The Phillies entered the game with the fifth-best record in the majors after posting a four-game sweep of Pittsburgh. Arizona, meanwhile, had the second-best record in the majors. The Phils fell to 14-8 with the loss while Arizona improved to 16-6.

Phillies starter Vince Velasquez’s string of three straight quality starts ended as he went just 4 2/3 innings.

Velasquez struck out four of the first six batters he faced then allowed back-to-back homers to open the third. His mates got him the lead with three runs in the bottom of the third but he ran into trouble in the fifth inning and was touched for a pair or runs after the first three batters reached on a walk, a single and another walk. David Peralta’s double brought home two runs for Arizona. Velasquez threw 36 pitches in the inning and got just two outs.

Arizona starter Robbie Ray had the stuff to strike out 11 in 4 2/3 innings. But he threw 107 pitches and got an early hook.

Victor Arano’s scoreless innings streak ended when he gave up an RBI single in the sixth as Arizona went up 5-3. Arano had not allowed a run in 10 1/3 innings this season.

The Phillies shaved a run off the Arizona lead in the bottom of the inning on a two-out hit by Cesar Hernandez.

The Diamondbacks put the game away on a two-run homer by Daniel Descalso in the eighth. The home run capped a three-run inning against Phillies reliever Yacksel Rios.

• Odubel Herrera did not start as manager Gabe Kapler parlayed Monday’s off day in the schedule into an extra day of rest for Herrera.

“This gets him back-to-back days of full recovery and tissue repair,” Kapler said. “Then Odubel will get right back in there and play a long stretch of games.”

Herrera entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth and was hit by a pitch. He has reached base in 24 straight games, dating to last season.

• Jorge Alfaro struck out three times. Twenty-four of his 52 plate appearances have ended in a strikeout this season.

• The rookie Kingery got the start in right field. He struck out four times and is 2 for his last 25 with 12 strikeouts.