Phillies

Phillies prove no match for AL-best Astros in series opener

Phillies prove no match for AL-best Astros in series opener

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A lot has changed since the Houston Astros last came to Philadelphia in 2014. Back then the Astros were a rebuilding team on their way to a 92-loss season after reaching triple-digit losses the previous three seasons.

Now, the Astros' rebuild is complete and they have the best record (66-33) in the American League and the second best in the majors after the Los Angeles Dodgers (68-31).

The Astros have a powerhouse offense that ranks first in the majors in runs (594), hits (1,105), doubles (222), homers (165), batting average (.293) and OPS (.863).

Those numbers burned the eyes of Phillies manager Pete Mackanin when he got a look at them before Monday's game.

"When I look at their stat sheet and look at all their numbers, I really don't want to look at it," he said. "But once again, good pitching will stop good hitting, so if we can get good outings from some of our pitchers, we have a chance."

The Phillies did not get a good outing from their starting pitcher, nor did they get good work from the bullpen, as they lost Monday's series opener, 13-4 (see Instant Replay).

The Astros pounded out 18 hits and eight of them were for extra bases.

And they did all that damage without star shortstop Carlos Correa (.320/20/67). He is on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb. Also, All-Star George Springer (.311/27/66) left the game in the third inning with a sore quad muscle.

So it could have been worse if the Astros had played with a full deck.

"We’ve been playing pretty well recently and these kinds of games happen," said Mackanin, whose club is 5-5 after the All-Star break. "Unfortunately, this was one of those games.

"Houston is as good a team as we've seen. They have nine guys with double-digit home runs. They are a real aggressive team, one of the best, if not the best, that we’ve seen. They have aggressive hitters. You can't make mistakes against them. Early in the count, they hack at those mistakes. They don’t strike out a lot.

"It was noticeable that they go up there ready to hit every pitch. They're not taking to get a look at the pitcher. If you make a mistake over the plate, they look to hurt you, to do damage."

The Phillies trailed 12-1 in the seventh inning before rookie Nick Williams tripled home three runs. Williams has three triples and 18 RBIs in 72 at-bats with the big club.

Cesar Hernandez had three hits and Odubel Herrera added a pair to raise his July batting average to .364 (24 for 66).

"Other than that, there weren't a lot of bright spots," Mackanin said.

Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, pitching against his former team, worked into the fourth inning, but had his outing cut short by a one-hour, 52-minute rain delay. Velasquez might not have pitched deep into the game even in good weather conditions. He struggled with location and did not use his secondary pitches effectively. He gave up a pair of home runs (to Brian McCann and Alex Bregman) in the second inning, both on fastballs.

Mackanin was rather blunt when asked how he thought Velasquez pitched.

"He gave up six hits, two home runs, in three innings," Mackanin said. "His velocity was OK, but if you don't locate against a team like this, you're going to get hurt."

Velasquez walked three. One of those walks turned into a run.

"They were hunting fastballs," Velasquez said. "Maybe if I utilized my secondary pitches more I would have slowed their bats down and protected my fastball better. They hammer mistakes.

"I probably could have done a better job if I executed. Correa was out of the lineup. If he was in there he probably would have done some damage, too. This team is hot. They're in first place for a reason. They're very selective. They are in the zone. They're locked in."

Ricardo Pinto picked up Velasquez when the game resumed in the top of the fourth inning. He was tagged for seven hits and six runs in 1 1/3 inning. Three of the runs were unearned. 

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

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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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