Mark Leiter Jr. turns in historic relief outing in Phillies' 5th straight loss

Mark Leiter Jr. turns in historic relief outing in Phillies' 5th straight loss


DENVER — When he took over in the third inning, relieving Phillies starter Nick Pivetta, Mark Leiter Jr. had a simple task: Save the bullpen.

He did that Saturday night with a performance that was historic, spellbinding and nearly defied belief, a long-relief outing for the ages, really.

“He put on a clinic on how to pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said after the Phillies suffered their fifth straight loss on this road trip with an 8-5 loss to the Rockies (see Instant Replay).

“He threw all his pitches for strikes. Threw strikes with all his secondary pitches and he’s got quite a few of them. He made a lot of good hitters look bad tonight.”

Pivetta gave up five runs in the first and three more in the third when Pat Valaika hit a two-run homer to end Pivetta’s outing. On came Leiter, a 26-year-old rookie with good bloodlines, the son of a former major league pitcher. Leiter’s finger-in-the-dike mission was to go as long and as far as possible, so the bullpen would not be in tatters.

Leiter pitched 4⅓ scoreless innings. He allowed two singles, didn’t issue a walk and piled up nine strikeouts, eight of them swinging. Leiter threw 40 of 52 pitches for strikes. The Rockies swung and missed 13 of his pitches, most of those misses futile swings on splitters.

Leiter’s nine strikeouts are tied for the fifth-most by a reliever in Phillies history and the most since Lowell Palmer struck out 10 against San Francisco on May 3, 1970. Leiter became the sixth reliever in MLB history to record nine strikeouts without allowing a run or walk. The last was Bruce Ruffin, who began his career with the Phillies, on Sept. 14, 1993, when he was pitching for the Rockies against Houston.

Leiter was in his fifth season in the minors this year when the Phillies promoted him. He made his major league debut April 28. Leiter is now in his third stint with the Phillies, this one beginning last Sunday when they recalled him from Triple A Lehigh Valley two days after trading Jeremy Hellickson to Baltimore.

When he took over for Pivetta, Leiter’s big league experience consisted of 17 games, including three starts, with a 1-2 record and a 4.86 ERA with 19 walks and 29 strikeouts in 37 innings and 32 hits allowed.

There were some moments, like May 2 at Wrigley Field where Leiter became the first Phillies reliever since Ryan Madson in 2005 to throw at least three innings and allow one or no hits. But there were never moments like Saturday night at Coors Field against a potent Rockies lineup.

“Just try and throw strikes and get ahead and not let your pitch count get away from you,” Leiter said. “Just try to stick to the game plan and also executing pitches.”

A graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Leiter was drafted by the Phillies in the 22nd round in 2013. By then, obviously, he had shown profession promise, armed with six pitches and a knack for when and how to use them.

“I wasn’t a guy that threw 90-plus in high school,” Leiter said. “Didn’t really start throwing 90 (mph) until college. My sophomore year is when I started throwing a little harder. I learned how to pitch and each year kind of got a little better with one pitch and maybe adding a pitch and kind of using one more here and one there. Just kind of evolving to being 26 years old now. I played a long time in the minor leagues, just each year trying to get better. That’s really what it comes down to."

In the midst of another Phillies loss, Leiter was spectacular. He said it was disappointing to lose but everybody has a job and helping the team in whatever way possible is paramount.

“Can’t say enough about his performance,” Mackanin said. “He’s a rookie. He’s getting his feet wet. But he pitched like a 10-year veteran tonight. He put on a clinic for every pitcher in baseball. It was really a lot of fun to watch.” 

Late homer spoils Nick Pivetta's strong outing against MLB-best Red Sox

Late homer spoils Nick Pivetta's strong outing against MLB-best Red Sox


The Phillies continue to play the Boston Red Sox tough. But that didn’t produce a win Tuesday night.

The Red Sox, who have the majors’ best record at 86-35, beat the Phillies, 2-1, at Citizens Bank Park. The Sox have beaten the Phillies two out of three games the last two weeks.

Boston’s wins have both been by scores of 2-1.

The Phils won one of the games by a 3-1 score.

The Phillies entered the game in second place in the NL East, a game behind Atlanta. It was the first time since July 4 that the Phils did not enter a game in first place.

The Phillies had just two hits in the game and they struck out 13 times. They have scored just 16 runs in the last seven games. They are 2-5 over that span.

It was a 1-1 game until pinch-hitter Brock Holt came off the bench and launched a first-pitch homer against Tommy Hunter with one out in the top of the eighth inning.

Boston starter Rick Porcello pitched brilliantly with seven innings of one-run ball, no walks and 10 strikeouts.

Porcello was staked to a 1-0 lead on a home run by Sandy Leon in the top of the third inning. Porcello did not allow a hit through the first four innings. Rhys Hoskins broke through with the Phillies’ first hit when he launched his 23rd homer to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. The blast tied the game at 1-1.

After batting second most of the season, Hoskins hit cleanup as manager Gabe Kapler shuffled his lineup in the wake of the Phillies scoring just 15 runs while going 2-4 on their recent trip to Arizona and San Diego. Kapler dropped Carlos Santana from fourth to fifth and used Nick Williams in the No. 2 hole.

Hoskins struggled mightily on the trip with just one hit in 21 at-bats. That was part of a bigger 1-for-27 funk.

Phillies starter Nick Pivetta scattered three hits and a walk over six innings of one-run ball. He struck out six. The only run he allowed came on Leon’s solo home run in the third. The Red Sox continued to threaten in that inning as Porcello doubled with one out and Mookie Betts walked. Pivetta then battled Andrew Benintendi to a full-count showdown and got an important double play on a breaking ball. The double play was one of two the Phils turned behind Pivetta.

Pivetta threw just 84 pitches and was in control. However, he was lifted for pinch-hitter Roman Quinn to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning. Before the game, Kapler indicated that he would be aggressive with his bench and bullpen in pivotal situations in the game. That’s why the Phils added a ninth reliever before the game (see story).

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Phillies trade Jake Thompson, call up Hector Neris, and monitor Wilson Ramos' progress

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Phillies trade Jake Thompson, call up Hector Neris, and monitor Wilson Ramos' progress

The Phillies made several transactions before Tuesday night’s game against the Boston Red Sox.

In a move that could have an immediate impact Tuesday night, the club recalled reliever Hector Neris from Triple A Lehigh Valley. To make room for Neris, the Phillies sent infielder J.P. Crawford to Lehigh Valley.

The move left the Phils with a four-man bench and gave them an unusual nine-man bullpen — three lefties and six righties.

Also on Monday, the team traded pitcher Jake Thompson to the Milwaukee Brewers in a cash deal. Thompson had been designated for assignment when the Phillies acquired left-handed slugger Justin Bour from Miami on Friday.

Thompson, 24, joined the Phillies organization from Texas in the July 2015 trade that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers. He pitched in 30 games for the Phillies over three seasons and shuttled back and forth to Triple A this season while working out of the bullpen.

Thompson was one of six players acquired from the Rangers for Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman. The others were pitchers Matt Harrison, Jerad Eickhoff and Alec Asher, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams. Harrison never pitched for the Phillies because of a back injury. The Phillies essentially took on his remaining contract as part of the deal. Asher was designated for assignment at the end of spring training 2017 and eventually dealt to Baltimore. Ironically, he landed with Milwaukee and was designated for assignment Monday to make room for Thompson.

Eickhoff, Alfaro and Williams remain with the Phillies. Eickhoff has been on the disabled list all season but is pitching on minor-league rehab. Alfaro and Williams are regulars with the big club.

Crawford sent down

Manager Gabe Kapler said the Phils decided to send Crawford down for more at-bats because Bour would be the first left-handed hitter off the bench and that would reduce some need for Crawford.

Also, the Phils like the idea of a super-deep bullpen against Boston and its majors-best offense.

“The Red Sox don’t have many holes,” Kapler said. “They do everything really well. We felt like if we could stay in games these next couple of games — even if we don’t have the lead, if we’re within striking distance, we felt like it was advantageous to stay in games even if it was two, three or four runs away from going for the jugular. So in that case, it’s nice to have an additional reliever for sure.”

Neris returns

Neris was sent to the minors in early July to repair his splitter and his confidence. He has been very good recently, giving up just three earned runs in 16⅔ innings over his last 17 games. He has allowed just nine hits and six walks over that span while striking out 29.

Wilson Ramos ready?

One final note: Catcher Wilson Ramos appears to be making speedy progress in his recovery from a hamstring strain. He was 4 for 9 with three doubles in three games for Clearwater from Saturday through Monday. Ramos is expected to be evaluated in Philadelphia on Tuesday and could be in the Phillies’ lineup sooner rather than later. The Phils acquired Ramos from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline knowing he’d need some time to recover from the injury suffered in early July.

“With Wilson, we're discussing what his next steps are going to be,” Kapler said. “Nothing is set in stone and nothing is off the table.”

Ramos' three rehab games have been “really, really good,” Kapler said. “He's come out feeling especially healthy. He's been productive at the plate. Last report from his game Monday night — nine innings, he was much more mobile behind the plate, no health issues, looking very good.”

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