Phillies

Pete Mackanin's 2018 season wish? A 'stabilizer' at top of Phillies' rotation

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Pete Mackanin's 2018 season wish? A 'stabilizer' at top of Phillies' rotation

Pete Mackanin’s wish last September for the 2017 season? The manager wanted to sign an established hitter to insert into his lineup after the Phillies finished second worst in the majors with a team batting average of .240.

For the 2018 season? Mackanin said Wednesday he wants an established arm to help stabilize the front of his rotation alongside right-hander Aaron Nola.

“We could always use more pitching, more hitting, more everything,” Mackanin said. “Managers always want more. We want to do better than we have the last couple of years. I think it would behoove us to get a bona-fide starting pitcher. We have a lot of guys who showed some good signs — (Ben) Lively, (Jake) Thompson and (Nick) Pivetta. To move forward, we need a stabilizer at the top.”

Mackanin said Pivetta had impressed him with his growth throughout the season after being a “nervous wreck” for his first few starts.

Mackanin gave the example of major-league veteran Matt Kemp. At the trade deadline in 2016, the Padres dealt him to the Atlanta Braves, who finished the season batting .255 as a team. Entering Wednesday's action, they were hitting .263 this season, the sixth-best mark in the majors.

The Phils have acquired veterans with sizable salaries to support their rotations in the past. It’s not difficult to imagine the club doing it again — either by trade or free agency — this offseason because it has only one player, Odubel Herrera, secured to a long-term deal.

“Having a proven starter would help,” Mackanin said. “That was the reason that we got guys like (Aaron) Harang, (Jeremy) Hellickson and even (Clay) Buchholtz, who got hurt, was just to have someone that is proven at the top of the rotation somewhere. I think it is important that we take a step forward next year. Having a guy you can look up to and count on takes a lot of pressure off of the other guys.

“At this point, I would prioritize a pitcher. I am not talking about a slew of pitchers but I am talking about a stabilizer. I’d like to see someone you can count on. For various reasons, mainly injuries, no one has been that guy other than Nola.”

Nola leads the team with 12 wins, a 3.54 ERA and 184 strikeouts, a reliable arm in this Phillies rotation.

While Mackanin is interested in bolstering the top of the rotation, he is unsure of the intentions of general manager Matt Klentak this offseason. He will soon find out.

“We are having a meeting on Saturday with the staff to discuss what the plans are moving forward,” Mackanin said. “After that meeting, I will understand more about what the plans are. I would like to move forward and enhance the team.”

2 unique pitching matchups await Phillies at Wrigley Field vs. Cubs

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2 unique pitching matchups await Phillies at Wrigley Field vs. Cubs

As the Phillies begin a seven-game road trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, two interesting pitching matchups await. 

In tonight’s series opener at Wrigley Field, former Cub Jake Arrieta opposes the pitcher his ex-team chose to pay instead of him: Yu Darvish. 

In Game 3 of the series, left-hander Cole Irvin is opposed by left-hander Cole Hamels in Hamels’ first-ever start against his former team. The Phillies are the lone MLB team Hamels has never faced. 

The Arrieta-Darvish comparison has been an interesting one. Neither pitcher has lived up to the price tag so far. 

In 40 starts as a Phillie, Arrieta is 14-15 with a 3.98 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. His ERA has been 7 percent better than the league average over that span. The Phils did not expect they were getting the Cy Young version of Arrieta, but expectations were certainly higher than an ERA barely better than 4.00 for the ninth-highest paid pitcher of all-time in annual salary. 

What Arrieta has given the Phillies that Darvish has not given the Cubs, though, is durability and consistency. Arrieta has allowed three runs or fewer in 23 of those 40 starts as a Phillie, keeping them in the game more often than not. The same cannot be said of Darvish, who has been limited to just 17 starts as a Cub and has a 5.05 ERA with them. 

Darvish missed most of last season because of injuries to his triceps and elbow. He pitched just 40 innings. 

This season, Darvish has struggled mightily to throw strikes. He’s walked 33 batters in 42 innings and completed six innings once in his nine starts. He’s still racking up the strikeouts, though, and is coming off a season-high 11 against the Reds. The previous two games, he walked 11. 

There is a lot of contract left for Darvish, but so far it’s played out like a major mistake for the Cubs, who did almost no spending this past offseason because of the big-money deals already on the books and the dough that will soon need to go to Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and eventually Willson Contreras. 

Between Darvish and Jason Heyward, the Cubs committed a total of $310 million and an average of $44 million per year. Those two contracts are two major examples of why free agents are being paid differently these days.

Last June when the Phillies went to Wrigley Field, Arrieta did not pitch. He didn’t face the Cubs at home, either, so this will be the first matchup since his departure. The best days of Arrieta’s career came in Chicago and he’s still beloved there for the no-hitters, the Cy Young season and World Series ring. And he doesn’t hold any ill will toward the Cubs for making the choice they made last winter. 

"I knew that there was always an opportunity to come back here until I signed with another team," Arrieta said in the visiting dugout at Wrigley last summer. "It was a very chaotic offseason for free agents, not only myself but everybody involved. When Theo (Epstein) did call, it seemed like it could've been a possibility but just the way it all went down, I was leaning more and more to the side of probably not returning to Chicago. 

"Would it have been great if I signed here? Yes. Am I happy with the way things worked out ultimately signing with the Phillies? Absolutely."

Tonight begins an important series of starts for Arrieta, whose next three opponents will be the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals, three of the best offenses in the National League. Despite the degree of difficulty, these are the kinds of games a contending team hopes to get quality starts from its $75 million man.

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Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Sunday was Scott Kingery’s first career start in center field and it came in his first game back. Kingery was sidelined for a month with a hamstring strain that was worse than the ones suffered by Jean Segura and Odubel Herrera. 

Kingery fared well in his return. There were no issues in the field, and at the plate he went 1 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base. The hit was a smooth line drive to left field in his first at-bat. 

With Herrera not providing much at the plate (.234 batting average, .297 OBP), Kingery will continue to see time in center field. It doesn’t make sense right now to sit Cesar Hernandez for him given how hot Hernandez has been for the last month. But Herrera and Maikel Franco are different stories. 

Kingery will not start Monday night in Chicago. The Phillies are monitoring his workload with him fresh off the IL. He will, however, likely start multiple games in the Cubs series. The Phillies face lefties Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester in consecutive games Tuesday through Thursday. Seems like a logical spot to sit Herrera for Kingery. 

Kingery was hitting .406 when he was sidelined. He started the season looking like a completely different player than last season. 

“The most important thing (while I was out) was trying to keep my timing,” Kingery said after the Phillies’ 7-5 win over the Rockies Sunday. “As soon as I could pick up the bat I was in the cage, working on my swing, fastball machine, doing whatever I could, seeing live arms BP-wise and stood in on a few bullpens just to see some different pitches. That's about all you can do when you're hurt. I feel good now.”

Defensively, Kingery will face some adjustments. Center field is not his natural position nor does he have extensive experience there. But his speed, range and instincts give him a chance to be an above-average defender there. 

“I think the main goal is my arm slot has always been for an infielder,” Kingery said. “So I have to work at getting a little more over the top and get a little more carry on the ball. I'd say that's one of the most important things for me right now.”

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