Phillies

Crucial season awaits pitching prospect Mark Appel, the Phillies' tantalizing curiosity

Crucial season awaits pitching prospect Mark Appel, the Phillies' tantalizing curiosity

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Almost four years after he was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and 15 months after the Phillies took a shot on him in a trade with the Houston Astros, Mark Appel remains a tantalizing curiosity.

The right-hander's professional career has been defined by unfulfilled potential, but that strong-bodied, 6-foot-5, perfect pitcher's frame and power arm are just too mesmerizing to give up on.

This is a big season for Appel. He will turn 26 in July, and he's healthy after having surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow in June. With that, the Phillies sent him off to minor-league camp on Tuesday. In three weeks, he will embark on the season that he hopes will finally land him in the major leagues.

"Everybody kind of makes their own opportunity based on how they play," Appel said. "So, that's where my focus is. I know if I go out there and do the little things that I've been doing the last eight or nine months since surgery and keep this progression that I've been on, that I'll be there in no time.

"It's just a matter of being able to go out and prove that I'm healthy, prove that I can give the team five, six, seven innings, keep the team in the game. I think that's really where my head is at. It's just a matter of going down to minor-league camp and doing my thing."

It's not out of the question that Appel ends up in the bullpen some day. For now, the Phillies want him to continue to get starter's reps so he can work on his primary flaw -- control. He projects to open the season in the Triple A rotation. He opened there last season and went 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his first four starts. He followed that by going 0-3 with an 8.27 ERA in his next four starts before being shut down with the elbow problem. For the season, Appel worked 38 1/3 innings. He struck out 34 but walked 20.

Appel spent a month in big-league camp this spring and pitched in four Grapefruit League games. In nine innings, he gave up seven hits and five runs. He struck out 10 but walked four.

Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure is one of those folks who marvel at Appel's raw talent. He saw progress this spring.

"I'm seeing more quality in his pitches," McClure said. "For me, it looks like he's going forward and that's a big thing. He's not scattering balls all over. His misses are not as frequent and not as bad as they were. I'm very pleased where he's at and he should be too. He's made good progress coming off surgery."

McClure believes Appel will pitch in the big leagues someday. He said the pitcher's goal for 2017 should be to throw "the least amount of pitches per inning as he can."

In other words, fill the strike zone.

Appel knows he needs to improve on that.

"I think I've taken kind of big strides this spring," he said of his control.

He mentioned having some chats with Larry Andersen, who served as a guest pitching instructor early in camp. Andersen stressed the importance of an aggressive mindset and pitching with confidence, two qualities that Appel has not always shown.

"Larry and I had some conversations about the mentality of pitching and really just having confidence and not trying to throw a strike but knowing you're going to throw a strike," Appel said. "There's kind of a difference in knowing it in your head and kind of believing it in every fiber of your body. It makes a difference when you're on the mound."

On the Phillies' depth chart of upper-level pitching prospects, Appel ranks behind Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson, who both made it to the majors last season. He's probably also behind Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Ricardo Pinto. Drew Anderson is a pretty hot name, as well.

But Appel still has the physical tools that led the Astros to draft him No. 1 overall in 2013, the tools that continue to make him a tantalizing curiosity, a lottery ticket the Phillies hope to cash in on. It's just that it's getting to be time for him to start making his move.

"I think I've had times when I've been antsy, but there's a lot of patience with me," Appel said. "I think I've experienced a lot of things. I've experienced times of just pitching really poorly, my performance has lacked. I've had times when I've been injured and there have been setbacks -- last year was obviously a big one for me. I think in that sense there's always the hope, and the dream and the goal of getting to the big leagues, but you can't do it overnight. So I think it's just a matter of staying the course, staying the process."

Jean Segura hustles when he needs to and that's OK with Jake Arrieta

Jean Segura hustles when he needs to and that's OK with Jake Arrieta

PITTSBURGH — Jean Segura has jogged into the crosshairs of Philadelphia fans a couple of times this season for not hustling down the first base line. One of his infractions was magnified because it came on the play in which the highly respected Andrew McCutchen suffered a season-ending knee injury back in early June.

So it was all a little ironic that Segura helped the Phillies win an important ballgame Friday night in the very ballpark where McCutchen won the 2013 National League MVP award while playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Segura beat out a potential inning-ending double play ball in the seventh inning and that set the table for Bryce Harper’s tie-breaking hit in the Phillies’ 6-1 win over the Pirates.

An inning after extending the seventh for the red-hot Harper — he has five two-hit games and eight RBIs since the All-Star break — Segura entertained everyone in the ballpark with a grueling 13-pitch at-bat in which he fouled off nine pitches. The at-bat ended with his legging out an infield hit with the bases loaded to turn what was a one-run lead into a two-run lead. The Phillies poured it on after that.

After the game, everyone from manager Gabe Kapler to starting pitcher Jake Arrieta was buzzing about Segura’s at-bat and his hustle.

“You can summarize the game by that at-bat, really,” Arrieta said. “Against a bullpen guy (Kyle Crick) that's got a really, really good slider and a mid- to upper-90s fastball.

“Look, Segura strained his hamstring early in the season. He's our everyday shortstop. The hustle thing, I think, is a little overblown because you hit a routine groundball to the infield, guys in the big leagues make that play. So, what's the point of being out by two steps versus three or four steps? That doesn't concern us here. He has the understanding and the awareness to know when to really get after it. That at-bat tonight, that groundball is one of those times. I don't want to see him running 100 percent to first base every time. None of the other guys in here do. But in the right situation, like tonight, he does it and it paid off for us.”

It was pointed out to Arrieta that Philadelphia fans don’t always approve of the type of selective hustle he spoke about.

“But the fans also want him on the field every night so you have to understand the guy at shortstop on the other team is making a ton of money and if the ball's hit to him, he fields it cleanly, he's out,” Arrieta said. “I don't care who's running, if it's Billy Hamilton or Roman Quinn or Scott Kingery. The out is usually made. I think people need to understand that. It might not look great, but big-league shortstops, big-league infielders, they field the ball cleanly and they record the out 99 percent of the time. Segura’s got a really good feel for the game and he knows when he needs to really get after it.”

The Pirates challenged the bang-bang call on Segura’s infield hit in the eighth. He beat it by a hair.

“Segura just grinded and grinded and grinded,” Kapler said. “The hustle was off the charts. Both beating out the double play ball and he broke right out of the box, never hesitated, smelled the hit, gave us everything he had, and beat it out. It was a huge play in the game.”

Segura has been playing in recent days with a bruised left heel.

“I do my best,” he said. “I’m still sore a little bit. At the end of the day, I had to hustle and get down the line because the bases are loaded and we’re up only 2-1 in the eighth inning. That’s huge for us. It got us a couple more runs.

“That’s baseball. You play through injuries. You play through pain. It made me feel even better because I know my teammates are behind me and they see that.”

Arrieta is also playing through some discomfort. Pitching with a bone spur in his right elbow, he was able to give his team 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. He lobbied Kapler to stay in the game with the bases loaded and the game tied in the sixth inning. Kapler won the debate, Juan Nicasio doused the threat and Harper gave the Phils the lead in the seventh.

The Phillies are 4-4 since the All-Star break.

The Pirates are 1-6.

The Phillies, still trying to right themselves after six weeks of hell that dropped them from first place to third in the NL East, need to continue to pour it on Saturday night behind Zach Eflin and an offense that is starting to warm again.

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Phillies 6, Pirates 1: Jake Arrieta, Bryce Harper and Jean Segura's hustle lift Phillies to win

Phillies 6, Pirates 1: Jake Arrieta, Bryce Harper and Jean Segura's hustle lift Phillies to win

BOX SCORE 

PITTSBURGH — Bryce Harper had another big hit. Jean Segura had the at-bat of the season. Adam Haseley stood out on both sides of the ball. Jake Arrieta and the bullpen got it done on the mound.

The Phillies made it two wins in a row and improved to 4-4 since the All-Star break with team-effort, 6-1, win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on Friday night.

Harper, who tied the game with a hit in the seventh inning of Thursday’s win over the Dodgers, this time had the go-ahead hit with two outs in the seventh.

Harper is heating up. He has had two hits in five of the eight games the Phils have played since the All-Star break. In those eight games, he has four doubles and eight RBIs.

The Phils are 51-47.

The Pirates are 1-6 since the break.

Arrieta’s night

Though he did not pitch deep into the game, Arrieta did a solid job with 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. In two starts since it was confirmed that he is pitching with a bone spur in his right elbow, Arrieta has pitched 10 2/3 innings and allowed just two runs.

Arrieta threw 87 pitches and got just four swinging strikes. He was able to throw his curveball, a pitch that had previously aggravated his elbow, with some success.

Bad clutch early

The Phillies had the bases loaded and one out in the first inning and got nothing. They ran into an out on the bases after a one-out double in the fourth and left runners on the corners in the sixth when Maikel Franco went down on a disputed 0-2 check-swing.

The Phils finally got a big hit with men on base when Harper laced a first-pitch single to left-center with two outs in the seventh to score Brad Miller (one-out pinch-hit single) with the tie-breaking run.

And then in the eighth …

Segura turned in what may have been the Phillies’ best at-bat of the season when he went toe-to-toe with reliever Kyle Crick for 13 pitches — Segura fouled off nine of them — before stroking an RBI infield hit to the right side to give the Phils a 3-1 lead.

Huge out

Manager Gabe Kapler lifted Arrieta for Juan Nicasio with the bases loaded and two outs in a 1-1 game in the bottom of the sixth. Nicasio then retired dangerous Kevin Newman on a bouncer back to the mound to end the Pirates’ threat.

Arrieta had gotten the first two outs of the frame before allowing a walk and a ringing double to Colin Moran. It was a good thing Moran hit the ball hard off the wall — and a good thing centerfielder Scott Kingery made such a quick retrieval of the ball off the wall — because Josh Bell, the runner at first, had to hold at third. Arrieta then intentionally walked the bases full before Kapler went to Nicasio.

An underappreciated pickup

The Phillies swapped relievers and sent Luis Garcia to Anaheim for lefty Jose Alvarez in the offseason. Alvarez has been a nice pickup. He protected a one-run lead with a scoreless frame in the bottom of the seventh. Eleven of his last 12 appearances have been scoreless, including his last seven.

Cole Irvin got the final six outs.

Hey, Haseley

Rookie outfielder Adam Haseley returned for his second stint in the majors six days ago when Sean Rodriguez went on the IL. Haseley, who turned 23 in April, is a developing player who needs to be on the field. The injury to Jay Bruce has allowed him that time in left field.

Haseley had an impressive game on both sides of the ball. He made a nice play in left field to gun down Moran as he tried to stretch a single into a double in the fourth inning.

In the fifth inning, he showed off his power with a game-tying solo homer to center. Pirates starter Jordan Lyles challenged Haseley with a 93-mph fastball on an 0-2 count and Haseley crushed it 402 feet for the second homer of his big-league career. He hit his first in Thursday’s win over the Dodgers.

Haseley added an RBI double as the Phils turned it into a rout in the ninth.

Health check

Reliever David Robertson (elbow injury) continues to make progress toward a return. He will face hitters in a live batting practice session in Clearwater on Saturday and then again on Wednesday, if all goes well. The Phils hope to have Robertson for most of the final two months.

Up next

Zach Eflin (7-9, 4.16) will oppose right-hander Joe Musgrove (6-8, 4.31) on Saturday night. Trevor Williams was the Pirates’ scheduled starter, but he has been scratched with what the team called “severe flu-like symptoms.”

Drew Smyly, whose signing will become official Saturday or Sunday, will start for the Phillies on Sunday afternoon.

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