Phillies

Phillies' never-ending-search for pitching turns to reclamation project Henderson Alvarez

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Phillies' never-ending-search for pitching turns to reclamation project Henderson Alvarez

The Phillies’ never-ending search for pitching leads to a possible reclamation project Sunday, a move that will set a team record and sets up a six-man rotation to end the season. 

Former NL All-Star Henderson Alvarez, who hasn’t appeared in a big league game in two years, will become the Phillies' 31st player to pitch when the right-hander starts the final game of the series against Oakland. It will break the team record for most hurlers in a season set in 2015. 

“We’ll get a look at him and see what he looks like,” manager Pete Mackanin said Saturday. “We could use some starters.”

With Aaron Nola the only likely lock for the 2018 rotation, the Phils will go with an extra starter to close the season. Alvarez will join Nick Pivetta, Nola, Jake Thompson, Mark Leiter Jr. and Ben Lively. 

“They’re younger pitchers and we’re just giving them that little extra day’s rest,” Mackanin said. “Plus, get a look, an audition, for Alvarez.”

Alvarez, a Venezuelan, was once one of the top prospects in Toronto. With a zippy fastball, solid sinker and changeup, he jumped directly from Double A to the majors in 2011 before being traded to Miami. 

He first went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation in 2012, and his 2013 season started late because of lingering issues. 

But he closed 2013 with a no-hitter against Detroit on the final day of the season, frustrating the Tigers into poor contact while striking out only four. Alvarez was an All-Star in 2014 and led the majors with three complete games in late July before he was shelved with more shoulder pain. 

After being named the Marlins’ opening-day starter in 2015, he went 0-4 with a 6.45 ERA in four starts before July shoulder surgery. 

Alvarez signed with Oakland before last season, but his comeback was cut short by two more shoulder surgeries. 

“Twice he was so close to pitching for us,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He was really on his last rehab game when he got hurt again before he was going to start for us.”

Alvarez, who is only 27, couldn't get a job and he was pitching for the Long Island Ducks in the independent Atlantic League when the Phillies signed him last month. 

“I think the key is to just see how the ball is coming out of his hand if he’s healthy,” Mackanin said. “I know at one point — I’ve seen him before — he was quite good."

After three starts and a 2.84 ERA at Triple A Lehigh Valley, Alvarez is finally set to return to the majors. 

“I’ll be on the other side of it and certainly we want to win, but it puts a smile on your face to know how hard he’s worked to get back,” Melvin said. “After the second injury, you have a hard time thinking he’ll get back to the big leagues. I’m sure it’s hard work and perseverance that got him here, so hats off to him.”

Phillies' relievers let the club down again in tough loss to Cardinals

Phillies' relievers let the club down again in tough loss to Cardinals

BOX SCORE

The pregame talk centered around the Phillies’ beleaguered bullpen. Both manager Gabe Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak expressed confidence in the unit (see story).

Well …

Said bullpen gave up three killer runs in the late innings in a 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night.

Tommy Hunter let a two-run lead get away in the top of the seventh inning as the Cardinals took a 6-4 lead. The Phillies rallied to tie the game on a two-run double by Rhys Hoskins in the bottom of the eighth. Hoskins hit a 101-mph fastball from Jordan Hicks. The Cardinals, however, went ahead for good on a two-out solo homer by Matt Carpenter against Seranthony Dominguez in the top of the ninth. Carpenter hit an 0-2 fastball that registered 98 mph. Dominguez threw all fastballs in the showdown and Carpenter was waiting for one.

Vince Velasquez turned in a solid start for the Phillies and exited with one out in the seventh inning, two men on base and a two-run lead. Hunter came on and got the second out of the inning. However, he then allowed three straight hits, including a pair of two-run doubles, as the Cardinals tied the game then took the lead.

Hunter, signed to a two-year, $18 million contract in the offseason, left the mound to boos after the frame.

The Phillies’ bullpen has been among the worst in baseball in June. It has a 6.17 ERA in the month and has given up 64 hits in 54 innings.

The Phillies scored single runs in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings in building a 4-2 lead. Carlos Santana drove in two runs with a ground out in the first inning and a solo homer in the fifth. Odubel Herrera continued to heat up with a solo homer in the third, his fourth long ball in the last five games. Cesar Hernandez drew a one-out, bases-loaded walk for a run in the fourth. The Phils had two more shots to get more runs against Luke Weaver in the inning but Hoskins popped up and Herrera took a called third strike as the Phils left the bases full.

Velasquez gave up just two runs, both on solo homers, through the first six innings. He got the first out in the seventh then did Hunter no favors by giving up a single and hitting a batter to put two runners on base as Kapler went to the bullpen.

Before the game, Kapler proclaimed that Dominguez would be available. Kapler likes to use him in the game’s biggest moment, but in this case he went to Hunter, probably because the right-hander features a cutter that works well against left-handed hitters. Carpenter, a left-handed hitter, tied the game with a two-out double. He hit a 1-0 curveball. Two batters later, Jose Martinez clubbed a two-run double to put the Cards ahead.

Dominguez came into the game in the ninth and struck out the first two batters before Carpenter stroked another big hit to break the tie and send the Phillies to a demoralizing loss.

Crawford exits
J.P. Crawford, who started at third base, was plunked on the left hand by a pitch in the fourth inning. He stayed in the game briefly then was replaced by Maikel Franco. Kapler said after the game that Crawford suffered a fracture and will miss four to six weeks.

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Matt Klentak, Gabe Kapler agree on how Phillies should use Seranthony Dominguez

Matt Klentak, Gabe Kapler agree on how Phillies should use Seranthony Dominguez

Matt Klentak and Gabe Kapler are in lock-step agreement when it comes to how bullpen weapon Seranthony Dominguez has been deployed.

Kapler, the Phillies skipper, hasn’t ruled out using Dominguez as a classic, ninth-inning closer someday. But he prefers to use the hard-throwing right-hander as a kill shot in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth inning, whenever he determines the game to be on the line.

Klentak, the general manager, shares that philosophy and that’s not a surprise. Their shared baseball ideals and a dedication to new-school practices made Kapler an attractive choice when Klentak went searching for a new manager after last season.

“The argument against (using Dominguez exclusively in the ninth inning) is that the ninth inning is not always the highest-leverage situation,” Klentak said Tuesday afternoon. “You can blow a save in the seventh or the eighth or the ninth. Emotionally, it stings more when it happens in the ninth because you feel like you're right there. You're just about to win the game. But if you never get to the ninth inning with a lead in the first place, you never have a chance to win that game. So sometimes using your best relievers earlier in the game is what makes the most sense.”

By all indications, the Phillies are trying to come up with a dependable ninth-inning man from their current bullpen mix. That would allow Kapler to continue to use Dominguez as a wild card. Luis Garcia and Hector Neris got looks in the ninth. Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano will get some looks there. Pat Neshek might get an occasional call there when he returns. Down the road, others will get a look.

The NL East rival Washington Nationals went out and traded for a closer, Kelvin Herrera, on Monday. Klentak would not say whether he was in the mix for Herrera, but he did not rule out trading for bullpen help in the coming weeks — if the Phillies remain in the hunt.

“There's been a handful of [trade] conversations,” Klentak said. “I wouldn't say that the trade market has been hot at this point. Once you get through the draft, those conversations start. It's the proverbial feeling-out process, but I guess every once and a while that might lead to something.”

Before making a trade, Klentak will first try to fill bullpen holes from within. He mentioned that Neshek could be the biggest bullpen acquisition in the game once he’s ready (see story).

“First and foremost, we really do like and trust the group of relievers that we have,” he said. “I am well aware that to date we have not settled on a single closer. I think at some point we might. If organically it works and that's the way things shake out, I think we're open to that. If we had Brad Lidge on this team, he would close. If we had Billy Wagner on this team, he would close. If we had Jonathan Papelbon on this team, he would close. We don't have one of those guys. So we're making due with what we have, which is a pretty good group. Guys like Arano, Dominguez, Ramos — these guys are having, quietly or not-so-quietly, some really good years. Tommy Hunter is having, arguably, the best year of his career right now.

“That doesn't minimize the fact that we've had some really tough losses, some really deflating ninth-inning meltdowns. But the group itself is really talented and we're confident in it. I think at some point in the near future we're going to get Pat Neshek back, who while not a traditional closer, is probably as good a bullpen arm as a team is going to add in the next six weeks. We will see what's available in the trade market — which players are available, what the costs are. We will probably look at that in free agency as well. But we have to maintain the proper perspective on any potential acquisition.”

That perspective involves weighing where the Phillies are in the standings, how realistic their chances at making the postseason are and what the cost in prospects surrendered would be. Despite the improvements the Phillies have made this season, the front office is still in a building mode and it does not want to mortgage the future.

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