Phillies

Ben Lively, a fighter, can't recover from disastrous 1st inning in Phillies' loss to Braves

Ben Lively, a fighter, can't recover from disastrous 1st inning in Phillies' loss to Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — A few hours before Friday night's game against the Atlanta Braves, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin had some words of praise for his starting pitcher, Ben Lively.

"He's just very competitive," Mackanin said of the 25-year-old right-hander. "His stuff is pretty ordinary, but he's deceptive in his delivery and he locates his fastball well.

"He's the kind of guy if you ever got in a fight with him, you'd have to kill him because he never gives up."

Lively lived up to some of his manager's words Friday night, but not all of them. He didn't give up. That's for sure. On a night when he was cut early as they say in the fight business, he managed to stick around for five innings and preserve some bullpen arms.

But the location of his fastball was not crisp. The Braves' first six hitters of the game all reached base on hits (three singles, two doubles and a homer) and five of them scored.

The night ended with the Phillies absorbing a 7-2 loss (see observations).

"Bad first inning," Mackanin said. "Very poor control, command in that first inning. Then he settled down and gave us some good innings. But that first inning, he didn't hit his spots and he didn't change speeds very much. He got hurt. We were out of the game after that first inning."

Mackanin seemed irked that Lively didn't show more breaking balls in the first inning. Only two of Lively's first 15 pitches were breaking balls. He threw all fastballs to the first three hitters and gave up a double, an RBI single and an RBI double.

"I was just trying to find my fastball early in the game," Lively said. "Fifteen pitches too late. The big thing in my game is my fastball. It doesn't help when the fastball is fading toward the middle of the plate.

"Just one of those days."

Lively gave up a sixth run in the second inning and finished with three scoreless frames.

"Really, I just started establishing the inside corner," he said. "It made all my breaking stuff better."

The Phillies were never in the game, not after trailing 5-0 and 6-0. Rookie Nick Williams drove in both of the Phillies' runs with a sacrifice fly and a base hit. He has 52 RBIs in 75 games. Twenty-two of his RBIs have come this month. Williams had two of the Phillies' six hits. Cesar Hernandez walked three times and doubled.

Atlanta rookie Sean Newcomb gave up just two runs over 5 1/3 innings.

Lively joined the Phillies organization before the 2015 season. He came over from Cincinnati for Marlon Byrd. He rose to the majors earlier this season and had mostly impressed, delivering a quality start in nine of his first 13 outings before this one. He is 3-7 with a 4.35 ERA in 14 starts.

The Phillies have bodies in the starting pitching department. But a number of them — Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin — have gone down with injuries this season. All three of these pitchers will be ready to go for spring training, but none are assured opening day jobs, according to Mackanin. Lively's work this season and his good health make him a solid candidate to be in the rotation in April, but nothing is certain. The Phillies front office will surely add pitching through trades and free-agent signings in the offseason, a factor that could change the mix.

Mackanin was noncommittal when asked about the possibility of Lively being in next season's rotation.

"He's in the mix for a chance to make the team," Mackanin said. "Nobody is locked in, other than (Aaron) Nola, for me."

Lively would like to end the season by leaving a good impression on the front office. He lines up to make his final start of the season next week at home.

"I'm not happy with this one," Lively said. "The last game of the season, I have to be ready to battle and end the season on a good note."

The loss left the Phillies at 61-93 (.396). With a week to go in the season, they are still in the running to have the worst record in baseball and get the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. But they have company. The White Sox are 62-91 (.405), the Tigers 62-92 (.403) and the Giants 60-94 (.390).

It's a sprint to the basement.

Big fastballs, big hits and a big Phillies’ win in biggest series since 2011

Big fastballs, big hits and a big Phillies’ win in biggest series since 2011

BOX SCORE

Nick Pivetta threw 55 fastballs, got eight swing and misses on them and hit 97.9 mph on the radar gun in firing seven shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves. But as good as Pivetta’s fastball was Monday night, it wasn’t even the most effective on his own team.

Bazooka-armed Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro made three spectacular throws in the late innings to help lock down a 3-0 win over the Atlanta Braves in an early-season showdown for first place in the NL East (see first take).

“I don’t know if there’s another catcher that I’ve ever seen – and I played with Pudge – that makes that play in the ninth inning,” said manager Gabe Kapler, comparing the 23-year-old rookie to Hall of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. “He is spectacularly talented, spectacularly athletic, incredibly durable. He’s starting to look like a guy who is going to be a fixture in our lineup for a long time.”

The play Kapler referred to was the game-ender. Alfaro sprung from behind the plate, retrieved a bunt by Ender Inciarte up the third-base line, wheeled and threw bullet to first to nip Inciarte for the final out. Two innings earlier, with the Phillies nursing a 1-0 lead thanks to a homer by Nick Williams in the fourth, Alfaro gunned down Johan Camargo as he tried to steal second with one out. Camargo had reached base on Pivetta’s only walk.

“That was a really, really big out,” Pivetta said. “It made my life a lot easier.”

After gunning down Camargo, Alfaro ended the top of the seventh by retrieving a swinging bunt by Dansby Swanson and gunning him down.

Alfaro’s throw to second to get Camargo registered 88.3 mph on MLB’s Statcast. His throw to first to get Swanson was 80 mph. The velocity on Alfaro’s game-ender was unavailable. The eyes said it was a laser.

“How many perfect throws has he made in a row?” Kapler said. “On the button, like you couldn’t place it any better. The exchanges are incredible. The velocities are incredible. His cat-like reflexes. We knew he was talented. It’s starting to come together. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s really fun to watch.”

In addition to Williams, the Phils got a homer from Aaron Altherr, a two-run, pinch-hit blow in the bottom of the seventh. Maikel Franco and Rhys Hoskins joined Alfaro in making fielding gems. 

Pivetta has been brilliant in his last three starts – one run, 10 hits, two walks, 25 strikeouts in 19 innings. His seven shutout innings Monday night came in the most meaningful game – and least in the standings – the Phillies have played since 2011.

“It’s a big series, but it’s still early,” Pivetta said. “We just have to focus on winning games and not look too far ahead.”

The Phillies (27-18) and Braves (28-18) play again on Tuesday night. With a win, the Phillies will move into first place. Again, it’s early, but after too many losing seasons, first place sure beats other places the Phillies have been since the start of the 2012 season.

“I think it makes your heart beat a little faster in the dugout,” Kapler said. “As a fan of baseball, it’s nice to see two teams with rich histories and amazing fans competing for first place in the National League East. I’m a baseball fan at heart and thinking about that gives me goosebumps.”

Phillies take opener in crucial series with NL East rival Braves

Phillies take opener in crucial series with NL East rival Braves

BOX SCORE

If this is the most important series that the Phillies have played since 2011 — the last time they made the playoffs — then this was their most important win since 2011.

Nick Pivetta pitched brilliantly again, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr both hit home runs and catcher Jorge Alfaro was a defensive standout as the Phillies shut out the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves, 3-0, at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

The win improved the Phillies to 27-18 and pulled them within a half game of the Braves in the division. The two teams play again on Tuesday and Wednesday nights as the Phillies, who haven’t had a winning season since 2011, look to move into first place in the division.

OK. OK. OK. It’s still May and there are more than four months remaining in the season. There are many miles to go before this team establishes itself as a legitimate postseason threat or not. Nonetheless, this was a pretty nice win for the Phillies in front of 21,284.

Pivetta pitched seven shutout innings, gave up just four hits and a walk and struck out seven.

He got all the run support he needed in the fourth inning when Williams smacked an opposite-field homer to left. Williams started for the third time in four games in right field in place of Altherr. Altherr entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and crushed a two-run homer to left to make it a 3-0 game.

Seranthony Dominguez pitched a scoreless eighth inning, running his scoreless streak to seven appearances and 7 2/3 innings since debuting in the majors earlier this month.

Manager Gabe Kapler went to Hector Neris in a three-run game in the ninth and Neris picked up the save.

Though first baseman Carlos Santana was charged with his third error in as many games, the Phillies did have some defensive standouts. Third baseman Maikel Franco made a big play in the fourth. Leftfielder Rhys Hoskins made a nice diving catch on a sinking liner by Freddie Freeman to open the sixth. An inning later, in a one-run game, Alfaro gunned down Johan Camargo trying to steal second with a howitzer throw and made a nice play in front of the plate on a swinging bunt to get Dansby Swanson at first.

Alfaro ended the game with another defensive gem, gunning down Ender Inciarte on a dribbling bunt up the third-base line.

Pivetta is on a terrific roll. Featuring a power fastball and sharp slider, he has won three straight starts. He has pitched 19 innings of one-run ball over that span. He has given up 10 hits, walked two and struck out 25. Pretty impressive.

The Phillies had eight hits. Cesar Hernandez walked and singled. He has reached base safely in 25 straight games.