jorge alfaro

Phillies hitters rack up the strikeouts

Phillies hitters rack up the strikeouts

BOX SCORE

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.

Jake Arrieta looks like a $75 million man in domination of Pirates

Jake Arrieta looks like a $75 million man in domination of Pirates

BOX SCORE

Jorge Alfaro looked and sounded like a kid who had just visited an amusement park for the first time. Wide eyes. Big smile. Let’s-do-it-again amazement in his voice.

“That was fun,” he said. “Just put a finger down and he hit the glove.”

Alfaro, the Phillies’ 24-year-old rookie catcher, was on the receiving end of a vintage Jake Arrieta performance Thursday night. In his third start with the Phillies, Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner, dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates, the NL’s highest-scoring team coming in, with seven innings of one-hit, 10-strikeout ball to lead the Phillies to a 7-0 win at wintery Citizens Bank Park (see first take).

Arrieta’s fastball had sink, tail, run, whatever you want to call that Greg Madduxian downward, left-to-right darting action that makes it so tough to hit when it moves like that. He got 11 swing and misses on the pitch, 14 in all. In his previous outing Saturday at Tampa Bay, he struck out just one in 6 2/3 innings and got only four swing and misses.

Arrieta’s improvement might be as simple as this: He signed with the Phillies (for three years and $75 million) just five weeks ago. Though he’s made three starts with the Phillies, he’s really just finishing his spring training.

“I’m caught up now,” he said. “Other than being able to locate the changeup a little better, this was about as good as I’ve been.

“I knew I was going to be pretty crisp today in the bullpen when I had my sinker, glove side, going early. My timing was pretty much right where it needs to be. When I’m on time, when I get my foot down and I’m able to drive the ball downhill to my glove side, I know it’s going to be a pretty good day. Three starts in, to be able to do that as well as I did tonight is a good sign.”

Manager Gabe Kapler loved Arrieta’s sinker.

“It was moving all over the place,” he said. “Very impressive outing for him and a big emotional lift for our team.”

Arrieta came out in attack mode, striking out the first two batters of the game on fastballs that registered 94 and 93 mph, respectively. He kept on attacking after the Phils lit up Jameson Taillon for five runs in the second inning. Rhys Hoskins homered and Cesar Hernandez cleared the bases with a three-run single. Trailing runner J.P. Crawford got a great jump from first on a 3-2 pitch and followed third base coach Dusty Wathan’s wave home.

Kapler said it took “big stones,” on Wathan’s part to send Crawford and that the dugout was “fired up” after Hernandez cleared the bases.

With the way Arrieta was dealing, it was game over after that.

“Any time I get a multiple-run lead, I’m going to be aggressive,” he said.

The Phillies are 11-7 thanks largely to their starting pitchers. They’ve recorded a 2.40 ERA in their last nine starts. At home, the Phils are 6-1 and have outscored opposing clubs by 35 runs. There are nine more games to play on this homestand. It's off to a good start.

Phillies continue to 'get dirty with the opposition' in a 4th straight win

Phillies continue to 'get dirty with the opposition' in a 4th straight win

BOX SCORE

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Rick Kranitz noticed it early. Vince Velasquez wasn’t just complementing his power fastball with a good changeup. He was throwing the changeup down in the zone.

“It’s a great pitch for him because it gets his delivery intact,” the Phillies pitching coach said. “He really has to finish his delivery if he’s going to keep it down and be effective with it. So if his changeup is down in the zone, I know it’s going to be a good day for him because his delivery is right.”

It was a good day — make that night — for Velasquez and the Phillies on Friday. They prevailed, 2-1, over the Tampa Bays Rays for their fourth straight win and sixth in the last seven games to improve to 7-5 (see first take).

Manager Gabe Kapler pulled a lot of strings and his charges made him look good with some timely execution. Four relievers got seven outs after Velasquez pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball as they kept the game close then eventually protected a one-run lead in the ninth. Kapler went with Scott Kingery over disappointed Maikel Franco (see story) at third and Kingery delivered a huge hit in the top of the ninth. The manager did not pinch-hit for frequent strikeout victim Jorge Alfaro and the rookie catcher delivered the go-ahead hit in the ninth. There was also a nifty bit of defensive positioning with Odubel Herrera in center field.

After a 1-4 start against the Braves and Mets, the Phillies have cleaned up on the lowly Marlins, Reds and Rays. But, hey, you can only beat the team that the schedule-maker sends your way — and Brother Gabe was pumped after his team’s fourth one-run win of the young season.

“If we’re going to be a good team, we’re going to win ballgames like this,” he said. “We’re going to kind of stick our nose in it and get dirty with the opposition. These are the games you have to grind out. Your starting pitching has to take you deep in the game and your bullpen has to come in and do the job, which they did. We executed on all fronts.”

Kingery struck out in the fifth and seventh innings. That convinced him to ease up on his swing against hard-throwing Alex Colome in a tie game in the ninth. Kingery swung at a high, 95-mph heater and clubbed it for a one-out double.

“Earlier in the game, I probably would have swung under that ball because I was too big,” Kingery said. “The easier swing allowed me to get the barrel on it.”

Two batters later, Alfaro, twice previously a strikeout victim, delivered a two-out single to left on a 1-2 pitch to score Kingery with the go-ahead run. Kapler said he had confidence in Alfaro and did not consider pinch-hitting. In the bottom of the inning, Alfaro made a nice catch at the backstop for a big out that helped Hector Neris notch the save.

Velasquez took a no-decision, but his second straight strong outing was key to the win. He walked just one and struck out seven.

“All winter and in spring training we talked about how if everybody takes a step forward, we can be a good baseball team,” Kapler said. “This was a big step forward for Vinny. He was efficient and got stronger as the game went on, his velocity held up, he landed his secondary pitches for strikes. Excellent performance.”