Luis Garcia

Phillies' bullpen turns in another scoreless effort in win over Nationals

Phillies' bullpen turns in another scoreless effort in win over Nationals

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The Phillies have been a lot more fun to watch in the final weeks of the season and players such as Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford, Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Nola are only part of the reason.

In the simplest terms, the Phillies have been more fun to watch recently because they are winning more.

The bullpen is a big reason why the Phillies are winning more. The bullpen logged 4 2/3 scoreless innings in a 7-5 win over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night (see observations). The Phils lost the opener of the series Monday night then took the next two to win the series. The bullpen picked up four scoreless frames in Tuesday night's win. Nine of the bullpen's 12 outs in that game came via the strikeout.

Over the last 30 games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just 30 earned runs in 107 2/3 innings for an ERA of 2.52. That's the fourth-best mark in the majors over that span. Only the Washington, Boston and Cleveland bullpens have performed better over that span — and all three of those teams are headed to the postseason.

The bullpen's success has helped the Phillies post a 35-37 record after the All-Star break. With three games remaining in the season — all against the Mets — the Phils have a chance to finish over .500 in the second half of the season. That would be a significant accomplishment considering the team was 29 games under .500 before the All-Star break.

The list of relievers who have stepped up in the second half includes lefties Adam Morgan and Hoby Milner and right-handers Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia and closer Hector Neris. Even recent call-up Victor Arano has shined lately. All of these relievers figure strongly in the team's plans for next season.

Neris sputtered in the first half of the season because he couldn't find his splitter. He has it again. It makes his 96-mph fastball better. He struck out two and picked up his 20th straight save since June 28 on Wednesday night.

"Caballo," said Garcia, looking over at Neris after the game.

Indeed. Neris has been a horse.

Garcia has been pretty good, too. Phillies officials used to say Garcia's stuff was just as good as Ken Giles'. Really. It was just that Giles threw more strikes and kept his composure on the mound better. Over the last few months, Garcia has made great strides in both areas. He has given up just 11 earned runs over 47 2/3 innings (2.08 ERA) since June 14.

The last few days have offered a good portrait of Garcia. He failed to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning in Atlanta on Saturday night. Instead of knocking him out of that role, manager Pete Mackanin stuck with Garcia in the eighth and used him to protect leads in that inning on Tuesday and Wednesday. Garcia responded with two scoreless innings.

"You have to trust guys and you have to keep their confidence level up," Mackanin said. "Louie has pitched so well most of the year that it’s pretty obvious that I have to go to him."

Garcia's performance in Wednesday night's win was impressive because he got the third out in the eighth with the potential tying run on third base and the go-ahead run at first base. Dangerous Ryan Zimmerman was up in that situation. Garcia pumped a 99-mph fastball by him for strike two then came back with a wicked slider off the plate for the strikeout. End of threat.

The emergence of this band of Phillies' relievers has coincided with the departures of veterans Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit through trades. Back in 2006, young players such as Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley stepped out of the shadows after veteran Bobby Abreu was traded. This situation is similar.

"We got an opportunity and we have to take advantage of it and make a name for ourselves," Garcia said. "Next year, we want to be in this same place. We want to be like those guys."

Phillies starter Mark Leiter Jr. gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings but his mates rallied with three two-out runs in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead and the bullpen did the rest.
 
Hoskins kept the fifth inning alive with a two-out walk and Altherr and Herrera knocked in the runs with a two-run triple and RBI double, respectively.

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

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

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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).

Luis Garcia dominates heart of Nationals' order in Phillies' win

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Luis Garcia dominates heart of Nationals' order in Phillies' win

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WASHINGTON -- Admit it, there have been times over the last couple of seasons when you've looked at Luis Garcia said, "OK, enough of this. It's time to move on."
 
Some folks in the Phillies organization have even felt this way. The power-armed reliever has had a lot of chances, but never completely put it together because of an inability to throw strikes consistently.
 
But every time the Phillies seriously think of giving up on Garcia they take another look at that tantalizing arm and decide to give him just a little more time.
 
The Phils' patience with Garcia might pay off, after all. It sure did Saturday night when he mowed down the heart of the Washington Nationals' batting order in the bottom of the eighth inning to help preserve a 5-4 Phillies' win at Nationals Park (see observations).
 
The 30-year-old right-hander struck out Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon — three studs who carried .300 or better batting averages into the game — with a mix of splitters, sliders and fastballs. One of the fastballs to Rendon registered 100 mph on the stadium gun.
 
"I showed him a little mechanical thing to add a little extra," manager Pete Mackanin said jokingly after the game. "He just cut through the middle of their lineup. Outstanding performance."
 
Mark Leiter Jr. got the pitching victory with six gutsy innings of four-run ball and Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco hit home runs. Hoskins also walked three times, including once with the bases loaded in the fourth inning to plate the Phillies' fifth run.

"He's just a smart hitter," Mackanin said. 
 
But this game was won with the bullpen. Edubray Ramos protected a one-run lead in the seventh. Garcia did the same in the eighth and Hector Neris survived some ninth-inning turbulence — with a big assist from Freddy Galvis and his game-ending fielding gem — to close it out and earn his 20th save.
 
"Ramos and Garcia were huge," Mackanin said.
 
"They came in and did their jobs," Leiter said. "We don't win the game if they don't. It was a great job by them."
 
Garcia, 30, knows every mile marker on the Northeast Extension as he's gone back and forth between Triple A Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia numerous times in 2014, 2016 and this season, as well. But since June 14, he's been outstanding — in the big leagues. He's pitched 39 innings in 37 games since then and allowed just eight earned runs for an ERA of 1.85. Opposing batters have hit just .200 (28 for 140) over that span.
 
"I think it's just part of the process of getting more confident and mature," Garcia said.
 
Mackanin agreed.
 
"He's getting ahead with strike one more often," Mackanin said. "And his pitch count is under 15 most innings. He's been efficient with his pitches rather than getting behind 1-0, 2-0, and with that comes confidence. He's built himself some confidence."
 
If Garcia can continue to pitch with confidence and handle his nerves, he could one day be a candidate to close. He certainly has the stuff to do it and adding a splitter to his fastball-slider repertoire has only helped. It wasn't that long ago that Garcia's stuff was compared to Ken Giles'. Giles simply combined his stuff with a fearless assassin's mentality. If Garcia ever gets that, well, the Phillies' patience with him will really pay off.
 
The bullpen's work preserved a one-run win one night after the Phillies lost their major-league-high 34th one-run game. Six of those defeats have come against the Nationals. For the season, the Phils are 6-9 against the Nationals.
 
"Those guys across the field have to be thinking, 'How come these guys don't have a better record than that?' because we always play them so tough," Mackanin said. "It's always a close game, it seems."
 
Regardless of how close the games have been, the Phillies will still be going home in a few weeks, quite possibly with the worst record in the majors, while the Nationals head to the postseason. The Nats' magic number for winning the NL East is two.
 
But in the rubble of this losing season, the Phils may have found a hitter in Hoskins, and maybe another in Nick Williams. And after all these years of waiting for it to click with Luis Garcia, that might be happening, too.