Phillies

Phillies mount late rally to squeeze past fast-fading Marlins

Phillies mount late rally to squeeze past fast-fading Marlins

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MIAMI — It was revenge for Nick Pivetta, who lasted just four outs the last time he faced the Miami Marlins.

It was redemption for Maikel Franco, who had stranded four runners in a pair of two-out at-bats.

And it was sweet relief for Jorge Alfaro, Andres Blanco and Hector Neris, three of the heroes of a ninth inning that saw the Phillies turn an apparent loss against a pitcher making his major-league debut into a rousing 2-1 comeback win on the road (see observations).

Let’s start with the starter, Pivetta, who left with a no-decision, yes, but with his pride intact.

In two previous starts against Miami, Pivetta was 1-1 but with an ugly 12.15 ERA. On Friday, he pitched six innings, struck out six, allowed four hits and just one run — on a wild pitch.

He had a respectable 4.73 ERA in the first half of this season. But entering Friday, he had a 9.22 ERA in the second half.

“The work I’m doing is coming together,” said Pivetta, a rookie with a 5-9 record and a 6.28 ERA. “I had a rough August, but I’m looking forward to [a better] September and finishing strong.”  
  
Franco’s night was interesting.

The Phillies had very little in terms of a scouting report to go on against rookie lefty Dillon Peters, who stepped on a big-league mound for the first time on Friday.

Threats of two men on base were mounted in the first and sixth innings. But Franco squashed both of those opportunities, striking out swinging in the first and grounding into a force play in the sixth. On the latter play, another Marlins player making his big-league debut, Brian Anderson, made a diving stop.

But in the ninth, Franco got his first hit of the game, a leadoff double to the left-field corner, and that set the Phillies up for victory.

Franco moved up to third on a grounder by Nick Williams and scored when Alfaro singled softly to right.

“I was trying to put the ball in play,” Alfaro said. “I wasn’t as anxious as earlier in the game.”

The game-winning RBI wasn’t hit that hard, either. With runners on the corners and one out, Blanco grounded out to second baseman Dee Gordon. But Blanco gave it all he had to first base, avoiding a double play.

“That’s how you create a run and win a ballgame,” Blanco said. “Everybody was doing the little things, and I didn’t want to be left behind. I wanted to do something too.“

Neris pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 18th save of the season, but it wasn’t that easy, especially that last out.

Christian Yelich hit what should’ve been a fairly easy comebacker. However, Neris bobbled the ball and threw wildly to first, where Blanco stretched out for a great grab.

It was ironic that Neris, who specializes in saves, needed a save from his teammate, but that’s exactly how it went down.

“I didn’t expect a good throw,” Blanco told CSN’s Gregg Murphy. “I knew something crazy was going to happen. He bobbled it so many times. … But we made it.”

A glimpse of what could make Zach Eflin a complete pitcher

A glimpse of what could make Zach Eflin a complete pitcher

These last six weeks, the Phillies have desperately needed a starting pitcher other than Aaron Nola to step up to keep them alive in the NL East race. 

Zach Eflin has been that guy two starts in a row, allowing one run in 11 innings in victories over the Marlins and Mets. If the Phillies lose one of those games, they lose the series and their already slim playoff hopes reach critical condition. 

The most impressive aspect of Eflin’s night Wednesday in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Mets was his changeup, specifically to the dangerous Michael Conforto. Eflin trusted the pitch vs. lefties and executed it as well as he has all season. 

After retiring him twice (the first time on a swinging strikeout), Eflin faced Conforto in the fifth inning with two on and two outs. The Phils’ lead was on the line in that moment, with the Mets’ best power hitter at the plate two nights after homering and driving in six runs. 

Eflin got Conforto to swing over a 3-2 changeup and the crisis was averted. The Mets didn’t threaten again. 

You don’t want to overemphasize one good start from a young pitcher, but if Eflin’s confidence in his changeup grew Wednesday, it’s a night you’ll think back to as his career unfolds. At various points in the season, all four of Eflin’s pitches — four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, changeup — have looked like plus pitches. 

He has a lot in his toolkit. He can throw a four-seamer by a hitter at 95 up in the zone. He can keep the ball in the infield, as he did Wednesday when just one of 21 Mets put the ball in the air against him. He can use the slider’s movement to complement the opposite movement from his two-seamer. 

If Eflin can effectively throw that changeup to powerful left-handed hitters, he can be a reliable mid-rotation piece for years to come. 

He’s the lone Phillies starter who will not pitch this weekend in Atlanta, but Eflin will indeed face dangerous lefties like Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis in his remaining two starts. 

Blackmon and Freeman are both red-hot, in zones where they’re capable of hitting every type of pitcher they face. Go pull up a clip of Blackmon’s rainmaker off Clayton Kershaw Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.

Eflin will likely need that changeup to work against them like it did Conforto. With every remaining game carrying massive importance, the Phillies’ playoff hopes could depend on it. 

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Phillies 4, Mets 0: After 2 straight series wins, bring on the Braves

Phillies 4, Mets 0: After 2 straight series wins, bring on the Braves

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Zach Eflin is pitching as well as he has since June, Rhys Hoskins added another startling stat to his résumé with career homer No. 50, and the Phillies won a series against a team other than the Marlins for the first time since July 25.

Boy, did the Phils need this 4-0 win, too, with the Braves beating the Cardinals earlier in the day ahead of the all-important four-game showdown in Atlanta beginning Thursday.

"We're going to Atlanta ready to win," Eflin said after the game, with some confidence.

At 78-73, the Phils are 5½ games back in the NL East with 11 to play. Any combination of six Braves wins or Phillies losses will result in Atlanta winning the division.

"We're in a pretty unique postion, an exciting position that doesn't happen all that often," Hoskins said. "As a competitor, it's all you can ask for — you control your own destiny."

This is the first time the Phillies have won back-to-back series since their first two series out of the All-Star break.

Success vs. Syndergaard

Four meetings with Noah Syndergaard in 2018 and the Phillies hit him around all four times. Syndergaard lasted just four innings, put seven men on base, allowed three runs and two homers.

Syndergaard had a 5.75 ERA in his four starts against the Phillies and they hit .326 off him.

In a year filled with weak offensive performances vs. mediocre pitchers, the Phils had little trouble with Syndergaard. The only other ace-type they did some damage against was Stephen Strasburg.

Hoskins has reached base in 8 of 13 career plate appearances vs. Syndergaard with two homers and two doubles (see story).

"There's something about velocity that simplifies things," Hoskins said. "It gives you less time to think. We've stuck to our game plan really well against him. As that goes on, you build confidence against a guy and when something works, you stick with it."

Eflin deals

Eflin was cruising until the fifth inning, when his pitch count rose in a high-stress situation. With runners on the corners and the Mets' most dangerous hitter, Michael Conforto, at the plate, Eflin was able to gear up to strike him out on a full count.

Eflin struck out nine over five scoreless innings. He faced 21 batters and only one put the ball in the air.

The Phillies have desperately needed someone to step up in the rotation other than Aaron Nola and these last two starts, Eflin has done it. He's given up one run in 11⅓ innings in wins over the Marlins and Mets.

Pinch-hit decisions pay off

These last two nights, Gabe Kapler's pinch-hit decisions in the middle innings have paid off.

On Tuesday, he used Wilson Ramos and Justin Bour in place of J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery in the sixth inning. Ramos hit an RBI single and Bour tied the game with an RBI double. The Phillies scored five in the inning to win the game.

On Wednesday, Kapler turned to Jose Bautista over Odubel Herrera against a lefty in the fifth inning. An interesting choice with Herrera having homered in his previous at-bat.

Bautista rewarded his skipper with an RBI double.

Up next

Phillies and Braves, four games at SunTrust Park beginning Thursday at 7:35 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

The pitching matchups:

Vince Velasquez (9-11, 4.50) vs. Kevin Gausman (5-2, 2.61)

Nick Pivetta (7-13, 4.67) vs. Julio Teheran (9-8, 3.97)

Jake Arrieta (10-9, 3.77) vs. LHP Sean Newcomb (12-9, 4.04)

Aaron Nola (16-5, 2.44) vs. Mike Foltynewicz (11-10, 2.90)

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