victor arano

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

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

BOX SCORE

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 prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79⅔ innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.

Future Phillies Report: Dylan Cozens, Rhys Hoskins near record; the Nick Williams dilemma

Future Phillies Report: Dylan Cozens, Rhys Hoskins near record; the Nick Williams dilemma

Another big name is off the Future Phillies Report after graduating to the majors. Right-hander Jake Thompson, the organization's top pitching prospect, will make his MLB debut Saturday in San Diego after rattling off a 1.21 ERA in his last 11 starts at Triple A.

Thompson is the fourth legitimate prospect to be called up by the Phillies this season, joining right-hander Zach Eflin, reliever Edubray Ramos and first baseman Tommy Joseph.

And really, with how this week has gone, it would make no sense to start with anyone other than the Bash Bros. at Reading:

OF Dylan Cozens, 1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Good grief. In Reading's last two games, Cozens is 7 for 9 with five homers, two triples and 12 RBIs. That's a month's worth of work for some guys.

Not to be outdone, Hoskins hit three solo homers in those two games.

There are 30 regular-season games remaining for Reading, which is a staggering 74-37. Cozens and Hoskins could both realistically reach 40 home runs. 

Cozens is hitting .286 with 32 homers, 101 RBIs, 31 doubles and a .986 OPS.

Hoskins is hitting .284 with 33 homers, 98 RBIs, 24 doubles and a .953 OPS.

The Reading record for home runs in a season is 38 by Darin Ruf in 2012. That record will soon fall unless one or both of Cozens and Hoskins are promoted to Triple A Lehigh Valley. The Phillies seem more interested in keeping both players at Double A and letting that team chase a Double A championship. It's a near lock, though, that both will start next season at Triple A.

Again, it's worth mentioning that 48 of the duo's combined 65 home runs this season have come at Reading's homer-friendly ballpark, where the air and wind causes many fly balls to just drift and drift and drift their way out. Cozens' slugging percentage is 402 points lower on the road (.415) than at home (.817). Hoskins is slugging .503 on the road compared to .673 at home. 

Combined, the Bash Bros.' slugging percentage is .744 at home and .458 on the road. That's impossible to overlook.

And yet still, 30-plus homers is 30-plus homers.

The concern with both players is the large number of strikeouts. Hoskins has reduced his strikeout rate in each of the last three months, from 27 percent in May to 20 percent in June to 19 percent in July. But Cozens continues to K at a high clip — he had 33 in 100 plate appearances in 24 games before exploding the last two nights.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
It will be interesting to see what the Phillies do in the final two months with Williams, their top outfield prospect who is hitting .282/.312/.466 with 27 doubles, five triples, 12 homers and 57 RBIs in 424 plate appearances with Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies don't currently have a glaring need for Williams, nor would it matter much if they did. They've shown this year that the top prospects will be called up only when they're ready, not because the major-league club has a deficiency somewhere. 

But the Phils must add Williams (and Cozens) to the 40-man roster this winter or else they'd both be eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft. There is no chance the Phils let that happen. Since they need to add Williams to the 40 anyway this winter, calling him up in September would make obvious sense.

It's intriguing, the way the Phillies are building this outfield. About 18 months ago, even the most optimistic Phillies supporter wouldn't have envisioned it. But Odubel Herrera has turned into a valuable top-of-the-order hitter; Aaron Altherr is versatile, powerful at the plate and instinctive defensively; and Williams comes with more hype than both of them.

At this point next year — heck, at this point next month — the Phillies' outfield could consist of Herrera in center, Altherr in right and Williams in left. That trio possesses a whole host of skills. Herrera's plate selection and ability to hit the ball to all fields makes him almost slump-proof. Yes, he'll go through lulls, as he has in 2015 and 2016, but his skill set prevents them from being long. 

Then you have Altherr's power and speed, and Williams' potential to be a 40-double, 20-homer guy. 

How it all shakes out defensively is unknown. Altherr is a more natural centerfielder than Herrera and over a full season the difference between the two defensively would show. Williams also feels most comfortable in center.

It's highly unlikely that Herrera, who played second base in the Rangers' farm system, will move back to that position. He wasn't regarded as a strong defender at second and that was one of several reasons he was unprotected by the Rangers in the December 2014 Rule 5 draft. 

Herrera could eventually move to left field, but many players consider the reads in LF to be the most difficult of all three outfield spots. We've seen many examples across baseball in recent years of young players coming up and manning center field right away, or guys switching from the infield to center field (Herrera, Trea Turner, Ian Desmond). It goes against conventional wisdom, but center field might actually be the easiest outfield position to play as long as you have some speed.

The Phillies have moved Williams around all season to create as much versatility as possible. He's played 39 games in left field, 36 in center and 25 in right. 

Williams' weakness continues to be plate selection. He has one walk and 36 strikeouts in his last 41 games.

SS J.P. Crawford (AA)
Unlike Williams, Cozens, Andrew Knapp and Mark Appel, Crawford would not be eligible to be plucked away in the Rule 5 draft this winter if he's not added to the Phillies' 40-man roster. 

The Phillies can be with Crawford what he's been for them: patient. The top prospect has walked seven times in four games this month and has 16 in his last 23 games. Crawford has 65 walks and 63 strikeouts this season, giving him 225 BBs and 226 K's in his four-year minor-league career.

In 460 plate appearances this season, Crawford has hit .260/.366/.355, spending the majority of the year at Triple A as a 21-year-old. There are still some things to work on. It's been 17 games and 70 plate appearances since Crawford's last extra-base hit. He doesn't project to be a big power guy, but the hope is that he can get to 30 doubles in a season. 

Defensively, Crawford has committed seven errors over the last calendar month (27 games) after making just two in his first 40 games at Triple A. Still, he's been more reliable defensively this season than he was last.

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
It's tough to instill plate selection in a prospect who's spent his entire life mashing. It's what the Phillies are going through right now with Williams and with Alfaro, both acquired from Texas in last summer's Cole Hamels trade.

Both have hit well this season, with Alfaro carrying a .288/.328/.464 line into the weekend. But like Williams, Alfaro has seldom walked this season (17 BBs, 77 K's in 345 plate appearances).

Alfaro, 23, has the type of strength and power that go beyond the box score. His 12 home runs are a far cry from teammates Cozens and Hoskins, but Alfaro's power shows up in different ways. He has the strength to get jammed and still power the ball into the outfield for a base hit. He hits line shots up the middle or in between shortstop and third base with regularity. When evaluating a minor-league player, those signs are more important than stats.

Alfaro is going to be a good one someday soon. He'll probably spend next season at Triple A. The Phillies are in no rush to bring him up because their catching situation is solid with Cameron Rupp emerging into one of the game's top offensive backstops. 

If all three of Rupp, Alfaro and Knapp stay healthy and continue on their current paths, the Phillies will eventually have to make some decisions, such as possibly moving Rupp or Knapp to first base or making a trade. But there's no urgency to make that decision this winter. The Phils will let it play out.

Knapp is having just an OK year at Triple A, hitting .266/.332/.392 with 17 doubles and seven homers in 349 plate appearances.

CF Roman Quinn (AA)
Quinn returned to Double A on Thursday night after going 11 for 22 with five steals in six rehab games in the Gulf Coast League. In his first game back with Reading, he went 1 for 5 with a strikeout.

Quinn missed nearly six weeks with an oblique strain. When healthy, he's been a solid player everywhere he's been in the Phillies' farm system. This season, he's hit .286/.357/.414 at Double A with 25 steals in 31 attempts.

The Phils are hoping Quinn can stay on the field and produce over these final two months to create some confidence heading into 2017. Quinn will be 24 next May. If not for all the leg injuries the last few years, he'd be farther along the developmental path and the Phillies would have a better idea of how he fits into their future.

Right now, Quinn is the wild card in their outfield plans. He's the most natural leadoff prospect the Phils have had in years, probably dating back to Michael Bourn.

RHP Nick Pivetta (AA)
Think the pitchers at Reading enjoy having that offense behind them? Pivetta, the return in last summer's Jonathan Papelbon trade, impressed again in his last start Tuesday, allowing two runs over 7⅔ innings to improve to 10-6 with a 3.55 ERA. 

With 106 strikeouts and 37 walks in 119 innings this season, Pivetta has the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate of his pro career. This is exactly what the Phillies sought in the Papelbon trade: A pitcher with upside who they hoped could figure things out in their system. 

Given how poorly the Nationals' side of that Papelbon deal has turned out — his 4.28 ERA forced Washington to trade for another closer in Mark Melancon — the trade is already looking like a win for the Phils.

RHP Victor Arano (AA)
Arano, the right-handed reliever acquired in the 2014 Roberto Hernandez trade, was promoted to Double A Reading this week after a strong showing with High A Clearwater. He pitched a scoreless inning Wednesday in his Eastern League debut.

In 63 innings with Clearwater, Arano had a 2.29 ERA with 71 strikeouts and just 15 walks. 

Arano throws his fastball in the 91 to 94 mph range and has a decent slider. He's been dominant this season, his first as a full-time reliever. This is more common in the minors, but 24 of Arano's 36 appearances this season have been longer than an inning.