Odubel Herrera, Carlos Santana lead way as Phillies crush Nationals

Odubel Herrera, Carlos Santana lead way as Phillies crush Nationals

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WASHINGTON — If Odubel Herrera keeps this up, he’s going to find himself right back in this city next month.

And not to visit the monuments.

Herrera swung a potent bat again Friday night in helping the Phillies beat up on the Washington Nationals, 12-2 (see first take). The win allowed the Phils to leap over the Nats and into second place in the NL East. The Phils are 40-33. The Nats are 40-34. Atlanta leads the division.

There’s still an entire summer of baseball to play before a division winner is crowned. But the Phils, who went 66-96 last season, were feeling pretty good about themselves after winning this one.

“At this point, in a lot of ways, we've proven ourselves,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We're a pretty good ballclub. We have gone toe to toe with some of the best teams in the league and done a pretty good job. At some point, it stops being that we're trying to prove ourselves and we're just competing with really good teams. I think that's where we are.”

The Philies have won eight of their last 11 and much of that run has coincided with Herrera’s re-awakening at the plate.

Herrera was leading the NL in hitting at .361 on May 17. Over the next 23 games, he hit .161 (15 for 93) to fall to .283. He is back up to .308 thanks to a four-hit game Friday night. He homered, stroked three singles and scored four runs.

Over the last eight games, Herrera is 17 for 36 (.472) with six homers and nine RBIs.

Herrera joined some fine company in the third inning when he homered for the fifth straight game. The only other Phillies to do that are Rhys Hoskins, Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu, Mike Schmidt and Dick Allen.

“All I’m thinking about is helping the team win,” Herrera said. “It’s always satisfying to beat great teams like the Nationals. That’s what you play for. Everyone here is a competitor. You always want to see where you're at. It’s a good challenge for us. Luckily for me, I’m hitting the ball well.”

So well that he could end up back in the All-Star Game. Herrera was the lone Phillie in the game two years ago. This year’s game will be played in Washington.

“I’m playing hard. I’m giving my best,” Herrera said. “If it happens it will be great. That’s what you work for.”

Starter Zach Eflin won his fourth straight start with five innings of two-run ball and relievers Austin Davis, Yacksel Rios and Zac Curtis did the rest.

“Every guy who pitched for us today was not on our opening day roster,” Kapler said. “So here we are, in a very important series in the middle of the summer, and we're playing the Nationals. Kudos to our player development department, an excellent job developing these guys. These guys came in and threw strikes and attacked the strike zone.”

The Phillies had 15 hits. They struck out 13 times, but they drew eight walks and pushed Washington starter Tanner Roark from the game at 4 1/3 innings and 113 pitches.

“Our offense played Phillies-style offense,” Kapler said. “What we've been preaching all year long. Deep counts. We worked walks at the end of the counts. We found ways to put the ball in play. And drive the baseball. I thought we did a really good job. Roark is a tough dude. Really impressive to see us grind him out. I was really impressed with the way we worked counts from the very beginning of the game.”

One of those deep counts came in the first inning when Roark fell behind Carlos Santana, 3-0. With one out and runners on second and third, Kapler gave Santana the green light and Santana lined a pitch that was off the plate into left field for two runs.

“Carlos prides himself on drawing walks,” Kapler said. “He wants to have 100 walks a season. It's an excellent goal. That's why he's so valuable whether he's swinging the bat the way he wants to or not.

"However, every once and a while, he's going to get into a 3-0 count with runners on base and he might be the best guy in the lineup to do damage in that moment. And we like him to sometimes be ultra-aggressive. It doesn't mean you go way out of the strike zone to attack. But maybe you expand just a little bit. You know where the barrel is and you're in an advantageous position against the pitcher. I'm really happy that was his decision.”

Santana also had a two-run homer en route to a four-RBI night. Nick Williams drove in three runs. Cesar Hernandez had three hits and Andrew Knapp homered.

Since May 1, Santana has 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 45 games.

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Phillies make statement in blowout of Nationals for 40th win of season

Phillies make statement in blowout of Nationals for 40th win of season

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WASHINGTON — An off day in the schedule didn’t cool off Odubel Herrera’s molten bat. 

Or Carlos Santana’s.

Herrera had four hits and scored four runs to help the quietly heating-up Phillies beat up on the Washington Nationals, 12-2, on Friday night.

Santana drove in four runs.

The Phils had 15 hits, including three homers. They struck out 13 times, but walked eight times.

The win inched the Phillies (40-33) a half game ahead of the Nationals (40-34) in the NL East standings. The Atlanta Braves lead the division.

The Phils have won eight of their last 11 games.

Right-hander Zach Eflin (5-2) earned his fourth straight victory with five innings of two-run ball. He was supported by plenty of offense.

Herrera homered for the fifth straight game and sixth in the last seven. He also singled three times as his batting average climbed back over .300.

Over the last eight games, Herrera is 17 for 36 (.472) with six homers and nine RBIs.

Santana drove in two runs with a first-inning single against Washington starter Tanner Roark. He also blasted a two-run homer in the sixth inning. He also walked twice and scored three runs.

Since May 1, Santana has 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 45 games.

Nick Williams also had a pair of hits and three RBIs.

Andrew Knapp hit the Phillies’ third homer of the game in the ninth inning.

Relievers Austin Davis, Yacksel Rios and Zac Curtis combined on four shutout innings of relief.

Notes
• The Phillies signed veteran infielder Danny Espinosa to a minor-league deal. He will join the Triple A Lehigh Valley team and provide depth. He has been released from three organizations this season — the Yankees in spring training and the Blue Jays and Dodgers during the season.

• Pat Neshek will get some work for Single A Clearwater on Saturday. He has not pitched in the majors this season because of shoulder and forearm injuries. Manager Gabe Kapler said it was possible that Neshek could be back as early as the middle of next week, depending on how he progresses.

• Saturday is an important day for Jerad Eickhoff as he will start throwing his curveball in the bullpen. That pitch had caused discomfort in the fingers on his right hand (see story).

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Gabe Kapler plays utility man at third base as he waits for Maikel Franco to make 'fixes' in his game

Gabe Kapler plays utility man at third base as he waits for Maikel Franco to make 'fixes' in his game

WASHINGTON — When J.P. Crawford went down with a broken hand on Tuesday, it ostensibly meant more playing time for Maikel Franco after he’d played himself out of the Phillies' regular third baseman’s job.

But Franco did not start Friday night’s game against the Nationals. Utility man Jesmuel Valentin got the nod at third.

Manager Gabe Kapler talked up Valentin saying, “There’s a lot of people in our organization who believe Val is a prospect and by prospect I mean a guy who can contribute on the major-league level either as a utility guy or a guy who plays a little more regularly, so we want to see that.”

But Kapler made it clear that Franco needs to make some “fixes.” In particular, Kapler wants to see the slow-footed Franco drive the ball in the air more and get on base more. Phillies management has made these observations before. Many times. Franco’s inability to improve in these areas is the reason he lost playing time to Crawford in the first place. It was the reason the Phillies seem to be phasing him out their plans, the reason they are likely to seek a trade-deadline upgrade at third base — if they can stay in contention.

Kapler said he wasn’t sending any messages in holding Franco out of Friday night’s lineup.

“The only message tonight is let’s win the baseball game and give Maikel a chance to work on his craft,” Kapler said.

Indeed, Franco spent significant time before the game working in the cage with hitting coaches John Mallee and Pedro Guerrero.

“The profile on Maikel is who he is — a guy who hits home runs and sometimes in bunches and has a lot of power, hasn’t been able to consistently get on base over a long period of time and that feels like what makes a major-league third baseman is a guy who gets on base and hits homers and plays good D,” Kapler said. “So if you have all three, you’re a regular at third base for a really long time. If you have two of the three, it’s a challenge. And right now, Maikel is dealing with working on his D and making that better and he’s also dealing with adding one more offensive tool to the third-base mix. The home runs are going to be there. If you gave him 500 plate appearances, he’s going to hit you 25 homers. But that doesn’t make a third baseman at the major-league level long term, just that in isolation.”

Entering Friday, Franco had just a .284 on-base percentage and he had hit the ball on the ground 52 percent of the time, the 13th-highest rate among 162 qualifying hitters in the majors, according to FanGraphs data.

Kapler said he remains confident that Franco can make the fixes he’s looking for.

“He’s a young player. He’s 25. He’s still developing,” Kapler said. “I still have a ton of confidence that he can put it all together and we can roll with Maikel Franco, and we’re doing everything in our power to access that player. He’s very talented. That confidence has not let up at all.”