Aaron Altherr

Phillies-Nationals observations: Bats, bullpen carry club to 7-5 win

Phillies-Nationals observations: Bats, bullpen carry club to 7-5 win

BOX SCORE

Saturday night in Atlanta, Phillies reliever Luis Garcia failed to protect an eighth-inning lead in a loss to the Braves. Manager Pete Mackanin has not backed off using Garcia in the eighth inning and the right-hander has rewarded the skipper's faith in wins over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

Garcia pitched a scoreless eighth inning both nights. The Phillies won Tuesday night's game, 4-1, and claimed a 7-5 win on Wednesday night.

Garcia was tested in the eighth inning of Wednesday night's win. He faced dangerous Ryan Zimmerman with runners on the corners and two outs. Garcia got Zimmerman to look at strike two, a 99-mph fastball, before getting the Washington cleanup man to flail at a slider away for the third strike.

It may have been the game's biggest out.

• One night after registering four scoreless innings and striking out nine, the Phillies' bullpen turned in another scoreless performance of 4 2/3 innings. Over the last 30 games, the Phils' bullpen has given up 30 earned runs in 107 1/3 innings. That 2.52 ERA is the fourth best in the majors over that span.

• Rookie Yacksel Rios was credited with his first big-league win. Hector Neris registered his 20th straight save. Rookie Victor Arano continued to impress.

• The Phillies showed some resilience in this game. They led, 3-0, after two innings, but trailed, 5-3, after giving up three runs in the top of the fifth. They battled back with three runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 6-5 lead. Two of the runs came on a two-out triple by Aaron Altherr and one on a two-out double by Odubel Herrera. Rhys Hoskins, who walked and scored a run in the second inning, extended the fifth inning with a two-out walk.

• Rookie right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. gave up eight hits and five runs over 4 1/3 innings. He finished the season with a 4.96 ERA in 90 2/3 innings. He made 11 starts and 16 relief appearances. Leiter was not invited to big-league camp in the spring and had never been on the 40-man roster until he was called up in mid-April. He was a 22nd-round pick in the 2013 draft. Leiter put himself on the map this season and Mackanin believes he can be a valuable long reliever and spot starter next year.

• Before the game, Mackanin talked about the need to add some proven starting pitching in the offseason (see story). The Phillies have gone that route before. It's likely that the Phils will look to shop middle infielders Freddy Galvis and Cesar Heranandez for pitching.

• Herrera had some poor at-bats in Tuesday night's game. In fact, he didn't look very motivated to play. Big difference Wednesday night as he had a single, an RBI double, scored a run and made a spectacular leaping catch against the center-field wall on a drive by Jason Werth leading off the fourth inning. Herrera's double in the fifth broke a 5-5 tie. As he reached second base, he pointed to the dugout and made various jubilant gestures, including the bullhorns that are his signature. Herrera clearly came to play.

• Rookie catcher Jorge Alfaro is well known for two tools — his power bat and his power arm. Still to be determined is whether his strong package of skills will come together to form an impact big-leaguer. Alfaro certainly looked the part in this game. He stroked a two-run double down the right-field line in the second inning, added a single in the fourth, and gunned down speedy Trea Turner as he tried to steal second in a one-run game. Alfaro is still a developing player, but he's out of minor-league options next season and will have to finish his development in the majors. He made a nice showing in this game.

• The Phillies are off on Thursday. They return to work Friday night to begin the final series of the season. The Mets will be in town. Rookie Ben Lively (3-7, 4.35) pitches against Matt Harvey (5-6, 6.60).

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro returns as Phillies go for sweep of Dodgers

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CSN

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro returns as Phillies go for sweep of Dodgers

After getting hit by a pitch on the hand on Tuesday night, catcher Jorge Alfaro is back in the lineup for the Phillies, who are aiming for a four-game sweep of the Dodgers.

On Wednesday, Alfaro was replaced by Andrew Knapp, who had one hit in three at-bats in a rare start.

Freddy Galvis, hitless in his last two games, is 4 for 7 with a homer and three RBIs against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda.

For the first time in the last several weeks, cleanup hitter Rhys Hoskins is not in the spotlight for the Phillies. Instead, the attention has been on Aaron Altherr, who will try to finish an impressive series in style. Altherr, who hits fifth again on Thursday, is 5 for 11 with three homers and nine RBIs in the first three games against Los Angeles.

Odubel Herrera, who batted third last night and went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, hits sixth. His season batting average from that spot in the order is .340. 

Here is today's lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, LF
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Jorge Alfaro, C
8. JP Crawford, 3B
9. Mark Leiter, P

Here is the Dodgers lineup: 

1. Chris Taylor, CF
2. Justin Turner, 3B
3. Cody Bellinger, 1B
4. Yasiel Puig, RF
5. Curtis Granderson, LF
6. Chase Utley, 2B
7. Yasmani Grandal, C
8. Logan Forsythe, SS
9. Kenta Maeda, P

Aaron Altherr's clutch hits lead Phillies to another comeback win over MLB-best Dodgers

Aaron Altherr's clutch hits lead Phillies to another comeback win over MLB-best Dodgers

BOX SCORE

Somewhere in the basement of Citizens Bank Park sits a stash of champagne, chilled and ready to go for a celebration in the visiting clubhouse. It's only a matter of time before the Los Angeles Dodgers clinch their fifth straight National League West crown, but the Phillies would prefer it did not happen in their house.

The Phillies aren't saying that verbally.

They're saying it with their actions.

They've played some of their best and most exciting baseball of the season the last three nights in taking the first three games of a four-game series against the Dodgers. All three of the wins have been come-from-behind efforts. The Phillies set themselves up for a series sweep with a 7-5 win Wednesday night (see observations). The victory included two more big hits from Aaron Altherr and a game-ending catch by centerfielder Odubel Herrera that left you wondering how to say 'Wow!' in Spanish (see video).

Herrera burst into laughter when he was asked that question after the game.

His answer: "Wow!"

Altherr has delivered several Wow! moments in this series. There was his decisive grand slam against Clayton Kershaw in the opener, another home run in Tuesday night's win and four more RBIs on Wednesday night.

Altherr hit a game-tying, two-run home run in the seventh inning on a hanging breaking ball from Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling. Two batters later, Tommy Joseph went deep on another hanger from Stripling as the Phillies took a 5-4 lead.

The Phillies' bullpen has been excellent lately, but it struggled in this game and let leads of 2-1 and 5-4 get away.

But these Phillies aren't just playing out the string. They have young players trying to show they belong and that's creating problems for the 96-win Dodgers. After giving up the lead in the top of the eighth, the Phillies rallied for two runs in the bottom of the frame to take the lead for good. The rally featured a leadoff walk by Cesar Hernandez, a sacrifice bunt by Freddy Galvis, a Dodgers' error, an intentional walk to Rhys Hoskins to load the bases and a two-run line drive hit to right by Altherr to put the Phils ahead.

Altherr, activated less than two weeks ago after a month-long stay on the disabled list, has nine RBIs in the first three games of the series. For the season, he is hitting .281 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs in 97 games. His OPS is .890.

"I'm just seeing the ball really well now. I got my timing back," Altherr said. "It's good when those two things come together. I'm just a lot more relaxed at the plate. I'm driving the ball better.

"I think when I first came back I was probably trying to do too much. You know, just trying to make up for lost time. It wasn't working. I went back to relaxing at the plate and letting the ball come to me and putting a good swing on it."

Altherr's decisive two-run single with one out in the eighth came against right-hander Brandon Morrow. Lefty Luis Avilan started the inning and loaded the bases on an intentional walk to Hoskins one batter before Altherr came up.

"That's part of the game," Altherr said of the intentional walk. "But, obviously, you still want to prove them wrong in thinking I'm an easier out. I just wanted to do the best I could to hit the ball hard somewhere."

Jake Thompson pitched five innings, ran a high pitch count, but exited the game with a lead.

He enjoyed watching from the dugout as his teammates rallied for five runs in their final two at-bats to make it three straight against the Dodgers.

"I think it gives us a huge boost knowing who we're doing it against," Thompson said. "They didn't get that record by a fluke. That team is really, really good. I think it shows how far this team has come this year."

The Phillies are moving in the right direction. At least their record is. They were 29 games under .500 before the All-Star break. Wednesday night's win left them at 32-33 after the break and that means something to a rebuilding team that has put a premium on improvement.

"To win these three games is huge for our confidence," Altherr said. "We know we're a good team. We have a lot of talent on this team. Wins like these help us believe in ourselves even more and help us to believe we can do this in the years to come. We're definitely excited about the future."

The Phillies' three wins in this series have come with Kershaw, Yu Darvish and All-Star lefty Alex Wood on the mound for the Dodgers. Those are three pretty good pitchers. The Phils will face righty Kenta Maeda in the series finale Thursday afternoon. A sweep would be a nice accomplishment. It would ensure that the Dodgers would not pop champagne corks in Philadelphia. And it would also give the Phillies a .500 record after the All-Star break, a little sign of progress as the team's fifth straight losing season winds down.