Phillies

The future is here for promising Alfaro

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The future is here for promising Alfaro

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies have invested countless hours of instruction, manpower and technology into Jorge Alfaro’s improvement as a catcher. It’s beginning to show.

“He’s much improved from September,” said Larry Bowa, who doesn’t miss a thing from the top step of the dugout.

“Light years,” said Dusty Wathan, describing Alfaro’s improvement from the time he joined the Phillies organization in 2015 as part of the return from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade.

The Phillies are handing over the bulk of their catching duties to Alfaro this season. He’s 24 and out of minor-league options. It’s time to see what he can do with a significant look at the big-league level.

Alfaro spent some time in the majors in 2016 and 2017 and his defense left much to be desired. He decided to do something about it over the winter. The man they call El Oso – The Bear – went home to Colombia and trimmed 12 pounds off his rugged frame. He reported at 238 pounds. A lighter load has left him quicker and little more agile behind the plate. He looked quick and agile when he gunned down Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier trying to steal second in the first inning Saturday.

“An elite, elite arm,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Alfaro explained his weight loss: “I knew there was an opportunity and I wanted to prepare myself to compete for that job. Nothing is guaranteed. Even if you are out of options they can take you off the 40-man roster.”

Alfaro grew up playing shortstop and outfield. He was also a soccer standout. In hopes of getting more baseball exposure, he went to live with an aunt in the Dominican Republic when he was 16. The scouts saw his bazooka arm and moved him to catcher. He’s still basically learning the position.

“He’s not a finished product,” said Wathan, a former catcher who managed Alfaro in the minors and is now part of a team of big-league coaches that works with the catchers in the majors. There’s another group of the player-development side that has helped Alfaro, as well. “There’s more room for improvement. He’s got all the tools you’d want and he’s starting to use them.”

Alfaro’s footwork on his release to second base has become smoother. His receiving hand appears to be softer and more still than in the past. The Phillies are putting a premium on catchers’ keeping the ball in the strike zone. Every day, catchers work on framing pitches fired from a pitching machine. Video is used for feedback and teaching.

“It’s about getting strikes for your pitcher,” Wathan said. “Jorge has worked hard on keeping balls on the edge in the zone, especially low pitches.”

The Phillies knew about Alfaro long before they traded for him. They offered him $1 million when he was a 16-year-old amateur. He instead signed with Texas for $1.3 million. The Phils pegged Alfaro as their catcher of the future when they traded for him.

The future is here.

Arrieta exudes leadership, veteran savvy in pacing another Phillies’ win

Arrieta exudes leadership, veteran savvy in pacing another Phillies’ win

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Jake Arrieta prides himself on being a leader to this young Phillies’ pitching staff.

“More than anything, you want to lead by example,” he said. “Part of the mentorship and trying to help these guys progress is exactly that – going out there, having a plan, being prepared and executing. You can talk to guys until you’re blue in the face, but until you can go out there and put up results and show these guys that what you do in between starts really pays dividends, then guys really start to buy in.

“Actions speak louder than words. Any time you can put into motion what you’re trying to emphasize to these guys plays a huge role in their development. I don’t intend to be a preacher, but there’s a lot of things that I regard highly as a starting pitcher and I’m trying to emphasize to these guys and they’re grasping it and running with it.”

Arrieta provided a great example in how to grind when you don’t have your best stuff and how to minimize damage in tight situations in helping lead the Phillies to a 5-3 win over Arizona on Wednesday night (see first take).

Aaron Altherr’s three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning against Zack Greinke was the big blow for the Phillies, but also important was the way Arrieta kept everything together in the top of the fourth inning. A leadoff error, a single and two Arrieta walks pushed an Arizona run home and the bases were still loaded with no outs.

The 32-year-old former NL Cy Young winner heard a few boos – “Who likes a bases-loaded walk?” he said. “I would have booed, too.” – but he responded by getting two ground balls, one a neatly started double play by Maikel Franco, to get out of the inning and limit the damage.

“Tonight was one of those games where a young starting pitcher could give up six or seven runs,” Arrieta said. “That’s just kind of how it goes. Bases loaded no outs. A double in the gap, a walk, things escalate and before you know it you’re out of the game in the fifth. So being able to slow it down, take a deep breath, collect yourself, and then get focused on executing a pitch is really what I try and emphasize to all of these guys and if you’re able to do that more times than not you’ll be able to come out ahead.”

Arrieta battled his way through seven innings for his third straight quality start and the Phillies' 12th in 23 games as a staff. Only one of the three runs he allowed was earned as he pitched over errors by Franco, J.P. Crawford and Andrew Knapp.

“We have to defend the baseball better, everybody knows it,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Arrieta picked up the defenders and Altherr picked up everybody when he clubbed a 2-1 slider into the shrubs in center field for a three-run homer. Grienke doubled up with his slider. Altherr was looking for it and exploded on it.

Why was he looking for that pitch?

“I’d rather not say,” Altherr said with a laugh. “I’ll keep my thoughts to myself on that one.”

Makes sense. Altherr will see Greinke again someday. In the meantime, the Phils are 15-8 and they will look to take the rubber match of the series on Thursday afternoon.

Phillies overcome 3 errors to take down Diamondbacks

Phillies overcome 3 errors to take down Diamondbacks

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This is what happens when you get good pitching. You keep the game close until one big hit can win it for you.

The Phillies have utilized this recipe a lot in the early stages of this season and they did it again Wednesday night. Jake Arrieta delivered the team’s 12th quality start in 23 games and Aaron Altherr provided the big hit the team needed in a 5-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park.

Altherr, a Phoenix-area native, smacked a three-run home run against Zack Greinke with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning to rescue the Phils from a one-run deficit and give them a two-run lead.

It was Altherr’s second difference-making hit in three games. His RBI single in the 11th inning lifted the Phils to a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.

Altherr got off to a slow start – he had just three hits in his first 39 at-bats – but he has seven hits and seven RBIs in his last seven games.

The win was the Phillies’ 14th in the last 18 games and it improved them to 15-8. It came against an Arizona club that entered with the second-best record in the majors and against a pitcher who had dominated the Phillies in recent seasons. In 11 previous starts against the Phillies, Greinke was 7-1 with a 2.56 ERA and a .194 opponents batting average.

Arizona is 16-7.

Arrieta went seven innings and pitched over some poor Phillies’ defense. The club made three errors, two of them in the infield (Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford) to lead off innings. Both of those errors led to runs.

Arrieta held the D-backs to four hits. He walked two and struck out two. He has won each of his last three starts and all have been quality starts – six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs. His ERA in four starts is 1.82.

After Arrieta left, relievers Adam Morgan, Luis Garcia and Hector Neris closed out the Diamondbacks.

The two teams close out the series on Thursday afternoon with Ben Lively opposing right-hander Matt Koch. Arizona won the first game, 8-4, on Tuesday night.

Notes
• General manager Matt Klentak said right-hander Jerad Eickhoff was progressing well in his recovery from a strained lat muscle. “When he comes back to this team, he’s going to be back in the rotation,” Klentak said. “We need to get him stretched out. I think we’re looking at the later part of May. It could be sooner than that. Fortunately, right now we have five guys rolling through the rotation, doing pretty well. We can afford to do the right thing for Jerad and not rush him back.”

Relievers Pat Neshek and Mark Leiter Jr. are due back sometime in May, as well.