ben lively

Everything is going right for Phillies' rotation

Everything is going right for Phillies' rotation

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Knock on wood, spill some salt over your shoulder, enact whichever good-luck superstition you have. Because right now, everything is going right for the Phillies' starting rotation.

Through three starts, Ben Lively had experienced the worst results of the group, but he pitched very well Friday night and is showing some interesting signs in his second big-league season.

Lively allowed just one run to the Pirates over six innings, lowering the Phillies rotation's ERA to 2.67 since April 1. In just 19 games this season, the Phils have allowed one or no runs seven times already. Last season, it took 41 games just for them to do it once.

The Phils needed every bit of that run prevention in Friday's 2-1 win. Lively, Adam Morgan, Luis Garcia and Hector Neris shut the Pirates down, and Odubel Herrera tripled in Cesar Hernandez in the bottom of the eighth to untie the game and make the Phillies 12-7. 

They could have given Neris more breathing room, but with runners on the corners and one out in the eighth, both Rhys Hoskins and Herrera were caught stealing on the same play.

Lively has 21 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings, a big surprise given his lack of whiffs in the minors and his rate of 5.3 strikeouts per nine in the majors last season.

As for the rest of the rotation:

• Aaron Nola, who owns the lowest hard-hit contact rate in all of baseball (17.7 percent) looks like one of the best dozen starting pitchers in either league. He also seems poised to reach an even higher level in his fourth season.

• Jake Arrieta showed Cy Young stuff Thursday against the Pirates (see story), and through three starts he's 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA and .180 opponents' batting average. That early-season concern over his lack of swings and misses? Arrieta generated 14 swinging strikes against the Bucs with 10 just against his sinker — the most against his sinker in 56 starts.

• Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, the two wild cards entering the season, have combined for a 1.98 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with 38 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings the last three cycles through the rotation.

"Wild card" is the operative term, because if that duo continues to pitch like this, the Phils will have a legit shot at one.

The strikeouts, the weak contact ... we're not dealing with smoke and mirrors here. We're seeing what happens when aces like Arrieta and Nola meet expectations and young guys like Pivetta and Velasquez execute with more consistency. If Lively can just give the Phils quality starts, look out.

And aside from Arrieta, the rest of the Phillies' rotation will earn just under $2.25 million this season combined. That may be the most important number of all.

Phillies demolish Rays for rare AL East sweep

Phillies demolish Rays for rare AL East sweep

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — First with his glove and then with his bat, Aaron Altherr came up huge in helping the sizzling Phillies stay hot with a 10-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday afternoon.

Altherr saved two runs with a diving catch in right field to end the sixth inning. Had he not caught Denard Span's first-pitch scorcher against reliever Luis Garcia, the Rays would have tied the game and who knows what would have happened the rest of the way.

Instead, the Phillies carried a two-run lead into the seventh inning then extended it to seven on the strength of a five-run eighth inning. Altherr highlighted that uprising with a three-run home run.

Altherr had been off to a frigid start — 2 for 34 — before the home run.

Altherr's offense and defense helped the Phillies sweep the Rays. It was the Phils' second straight series sweep and first in a three-game series against an American League East team since they swept Baltimore in June 2003. The Phils took three from Cincinnati last week and head to Atlanta for three Monday.

With six wins in a row, the Phils are now 9-5. That's their best start since 2011, the last year they made the postseason.

The Rays are 3-12.

Ben Lively did not have a good start. He lasted just four innings, gave up seven hits and three runs. He allowed two runs in the first on a solo homer by Span and an RBI triple by Mallex Smith.

The Phillies' offense came alive against Tampa Bay lefty Ryan Yarbrough in the third inning. The Phils scored four runs in the frame, three of which were unearned after an error by shortstop Daniel Robertson. Rookie Scott Kingery had the big hit in the inning, a three-run double with two outs. Kingery hit an 0-2 fastball over the centerfielder's head to clear the bases. Seven of Kingery's 14 hits are doubles and he has 12 RBIs in his first 13 big-league games.

In addition to Kingery and Altherr, the bullpen came up huge for the Phillies. It picked up five innings after Lively left and allowed just an unearned run.

The stickiest spot came in the sixth when the Rays, trailing by two runs, had runners on second and third with two outs and the lefty-hitting Span at the plate. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler called for the right-hander Garcia, but he did not exactly fool Span. The Rays' leadoff man smoked a first-pitch liner to right. Altherr was well positioned. He took a few steps forward and made a diving catch, saving two runs.

• The Phils move on to Atlanta for three games beginning Monday night. Pitching matchups:

Monday night — RHP Aaron Nola (1-0, 1.96) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (0-1, 7.07)

Tuesday night — RHP Nick Pivetta (1-0, 2.70) vs. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (1-1, 2.93)

Wednesday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (1-1, 3.52) vs. RHP Brandon McCarthy (2-0, 3.31)

3 homers from 3 young Phillies lead to exciting win

3 homers from 3 young Phillies lead to exciting win

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Several hours after the two young Phillies everyone wants to talk about hit home runs of their own, another young Phillie who's recently been the odd man out won the game.

Nick Williams, pinch-hitting with two outs in the bottom of the eighth against Reds reliever Kevin Quackenbush, hit a 417-foot solo homer to the bullpen area in right-center field.

For Williams, whose playing time has been anything but regular, it was one giant sigh of relief. It was his first extra-base hit of the season.

Hoskins and Kingery
Hours earlier, Rhys Hoskins put the Phillies on the board with a two-run shot to left in the first inning. Here are five truly mind-blowing Hoskins stats (see photo gallery).

Not to be outdone, Scott Kingery hit his very first major-league home run to lead off the second inning against Reds lefty Cody Reed. It was a line shot into the left-field flower beds. 

The biggest reaction in the dugout to Kingery's homer came from the man he replaced in Monday's lineup: J.P. Crawford (see story).

Some other notes on the Phillies' 6-5 win, which brought them to 4-5 on the season:

Uneven night for Lively
Ben Lively struggled in his first start against his former team, allowing five runs on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings. Not known for his swing-and-miss ability, Lively managed to strike out seven Reds. (This is not a good lineup, especially at the bottom of the order.)

Even though he took a no-decision, Lively did well to avoid mayhem in the first inning. After loading the bases with nobody out, he allowed just one run, ending the inning on a lineout and a pair of swinging strikeouts.

100 pitches
It took nine games but Lively became the first Phillie this season to throw 100 pitches. (He threw exactly 100.)

Nine games may seem like a lot, but this is not unique to the Phils. There are still 10 teams that haven't yet had a pitcher get to 100.

Under-the-radar Phillie killer
Adam Duvall was hitting .107 entering this game but just always seems to play well against the Phillies.

Duvall drew a bases-loaded walk to plate the Reds' first run, and he extended the game with a two-out single in the ninth inning off Hector Neris before Tucker Barnhart struck out looking to end the game.

Entering Monday, Duvall had hit .386 with six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs and a 1.181 OPS in 62 career plate appearances vs. the Phils.

Up next
Aaron Nola (0-0, 2.61) is on the mound Tuesday night at 7:05 against Homer Bailey (0-2, 4.22).

Bailey signed a six-year, $105 million contract in February 2014. The contract has been a colossal mistake for the mid-market Reds, who don't have a high payroll and can't afford to have so much money tied up in an underperformer.