Pitcher Tom Eshelman happy with move to Phillies organization, NL

Pitcher Tom Eshelman happy with move to Phillies organization, NL

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New Phillies prospect Tom Eshelman was almost in a situation where he needed to have a shopping receipt handy.

The Clearwater Threshers' starting pitcher was property of the Houston Astros after the 2015 June draft and through some of the offseason, but a pre-Christmas trade saw the righty, along with pitchers Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer and Harold Arauz, join the Phillies organization in a deal for pitcher Ken Giles.

The trade was nearly an untimely one that would have potentially had Eshelman returning Christmas gifts after Santa arrived to his Southern California home.

“It was weird. It was a week before Christmas. I was happy it happened before that because I was about to buy a bunch of Astros stuff for my family for Christmas,” said Eshelman, who grew up in Carlsbad.

“The process of (the trade) was interesting. I found out through Twitter on a Wednesday. I saw my name published that I was in a trade, but it wasn’t official. It was finalized on Saturday, so I had Thursday and Friday to kind of sit and dwell on it.”

Eshelman, 21, enjoyed being traded to the Phillies. He knew fellow Threshers pitchers Joey DeNato and Matt Imhof from back home, but few more other than Reading shortstop J.P. Crawford, also a Californian.

Eshelman, DeNato, Imhof and the rest of Clearwater’s pitching staff are an active part of the offense, learning plays and signs because they will eventually have to swing the bat if they have they are promoted to the next level in the organization.

“We have to bunt, learn how to steal, run the bases. I think in the National League you learn how to be an all-around baseball player," Eshelman said. "I like that. You have to understand the game more and know what the other team’s going to do at a certain time because you know the offensive side. You really are learning from all different aspects in the National League.

“It makes the game more interesting as a player, learning how to help yourself out. If you don’t, sometimes that can be the ballgame.”

And how are those hitting skills?

“I can bunt,” Eshelman said laughing. “I’m sure that first live at-bat will look like 105 (mph). I think my last at-bat was in June of my senior year of high school.”

However, Eshelman’s work at the plate isn’t what will get him moved up the organization with a final destination possibly at Citizens Bank Park. It will be his work around the plate and on the black, getting ahead of batters and doing what he does best.

Throw strikes.

In eight starts this season, he is 2-2 with a 3.77 ERA. He has 47 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 45⅓ innings.

Eshelman was a standout pitcher at Cal State-Fullerton, where he went 28-11 with a 1.65 ERA in 52 games and led the team to last year’s College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

He started and dominated Game 4 of the CWS against Vanderbilt and National Pitcher of the Year Carson Fulmer, who was drafted eighth overall by the Chicago White Sox last June.

Eshelman was better than Fulmer that Sunday night, recording eight strikeouts and taking a 3-0 shutout two outs into the sixth inning before a lightning strike postponed the game until Monday. The Commodores rallied, finally winning 4-3 on a walk-off homer to send Cal State-Fullerton into the losers’ bracket.

Eshelman’s most eye-popping stat in college was his pinpoint accuracy. He had 321 strikeouts while walking just 18 in 376⅓ innings pitched during his three-year career with the Titans.

He said his coaching in college led to the outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“It was more of a mentality thing that the Fullerton coaches had," said Eshelman, who ironically enough walked the first FSL batter he faced in April on four pitches. "It was ‘Go after the guys, don’t let them hit it.’ I walked some in high school, and I’ve walked more (in the Florida State League) than in my life. But I just keep learning and try to be a better pitcher day in and day out.

“I got that out of the way.”

Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz said control like Eshelman possesses — beyond excellent for most of his career — can occasionally be troublesome.

“When you’re around the plate, guys get more aggressive because they know you’re going to be around the plate more," Fultz said. "Sometimes you have to learn to pitch out of the zone a bit."

A former Phillies reliever, Fultz said it is essential for the strike-throwing Eshelman to work ahead in the count.

“His stuff is good, but it’s not dominating, so he has to command the ball," Fultz said. "When he faces good hitters and goes down 2-0, 3-1 in the count, they can do some damage. His control is really good, but I want to see him be more aggressive earlier in the count.

“He’s good enough to where I can see him pitch to corners instead of halves of the plate. It’s just developing that and being more consistent.”

Eshelman, who was drafted two picks in front of teammate Scott Kingery, has never been to Philadelphia but loves the club, attitude and style of baseball played by the Phillies.

“This is a great organization to be a part of,” Eshelman said. “Everyone’s super likable, and it’s hard-nosed baseball, which is what I like.”

Phillies get a handful of clutch performances in beating Dallas Keuchel and keeping season alive

Phillies get a handful of clutch performances in beating Dallas Keuchel and keeping season alive

ATLANTA — The Phillies survived a ninth-inning high-wire act from Hector Nervous, er, Neris and held on for a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on Tuesday night.

With 13 games to go, the Phillies are barely alive in the National League wild-card race.

But they are alive.

“We still have odds and we know that,” Rhys Hoskins said. “Sure we know they may be long and we have a lot of work to do, but we’re still in it and I think getting this win tonight is huge.”

It was a good way to open an 11-game road trip that will take the Phillies to Cleveland and Washington after this three-game stop in Atlanta, where the Braves will wrap up a second straight NL East title any day now.

The Phils would rather the Braves not do that while they are here. That happened last year and it was painful.

The entire ending to last season was painful. The Phils went into the final 14 games of last season with a 76-72 record — the same slate they had going into Tuesday night’s game — and went 4-10 down the stretch to finish under .500 at 80-82.

“Everyone that was part of that last year carries that with them,” Hoskins said. “Nobody wants to go through what we went through last year at the end of the year, nobody likes watching people clinch. I think everybody in the whole league is in the same boat there. But we still have a chance and we know it. It started tonight and we just have to continue it tomorrow.”

At 77-72, the Phillies need five wins to have their first winning season since 2011.

They just need wins to stay in the postseason hunt.

They are four games back in a crowded wild-card race.

Picking up wins against the Braves, Indians and Nationals on this trip will require a lot of clutch work and the Phillies got some of that Tuesday. To wit:

• Starting pitcher Vince Velasquez limited damage and stayed in the game after throwing 30 pitches and allowing two runs in the first inning. He delivered five innings of two-run ball.

• Hoskins and Jose Pirela both clubbed two-run homers against Keuchel to help the Phils build a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning. Keuchel came into the game on a big roll. He’d won his previous five starts and had given up just four runs in those games. Beating him would not be easy, but the Phils did it. They had to.

• Overall, the bullpen did some clutch work — four innings, two runs — despite allowing a pair of late homers to make it a one-run game. 

Neris gave up a leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth as the Braves made it a one-run game. He then issued a walk to Ronald Acuna Jr., who stole second and moved to third on a ground out. Neris then walked dangerous Freddie Freeman to put runners on the corners for cleanup man Josh Donaldson, who has 88 RBIs. As the ballpark rocked and the tomahawk chop chopped, Neris remained cool and struck out Donaldson before getting Nick Markakis on a pop up to end the game.

“To be able to collect himself after walking Freddie and to get a huge second out against Donaldson was, I think, what kind of tipped it back in our favor,” Hoskins said. “Huge props to Hector. We’ve seen him do that a lot. It was cool to see him come out on top.”

Manager Gabe Kapler praised the composure that Velasquez and Neris showed in the first and ninth innings, respectively.

“I think today, the reason we won the game, in addition to Hector’s composure and Vinnie’s composure, is that we were able to put a big inning on the board highlighted by a really good swing by Rhys Hoskins,” Kapler said.

The manager knows making the playoffs is a long shot. He’s not giving in.

“We spent a lot of time today talking about the importance of these last 14 games,” Kapler said. “We know where we are in the standings, we know what the numbers say, but that’s not what we’re paying attention to right now. We’re paying attention to fighting for each other all the way through the finish line.”

The fight continues Wednesday night with Zach Eflin on the mound. Thirteen games to go and the Phils have no margin for error.

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Phillies get to Dallas Keuchel this time around, hold on to win series opener over Braves

Phillies get to Dallas Keuchel this time around, hold on to win series opener over Braves


ATLANTA — The Phillies kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on Tuesday night.

The Phils got two-run homers from Rhys Hoskins and Jose Pirela — both against Atlanta’s Dallas Keuchel — and Vince Velasquez and the bullpen held the Braves to two runs over the final eight innings. All in all, it was a good way to open an 11-game road trip.

The Phillies’ bullpen survived two late homers as the Braves made it a one-run game.

Hector Neris allowed a leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth and got the final two outs of the game with runners on the corners.

The standings

The Phillies entered the night five games out in the NL wild-card race. The victory left them with a chance to pull to within four games of the second wild-card playoff spot depending on the outcome of the Chicago Cubs-Cincinnati Reds game.

The Phils have 13 games left. They are 77-72 overall. They need five wins to have their first winning season since 2011.

Velasquez’ night

Though he lasted only five innings, Velasquez did a pretty good job for the Phillies. He had a tough first inning in which he threw 30 pitches and that prompted early action in the Phillies’ bullpen. But the right-hander maintained his composure and held the Braves to just two runs in the inning. It could have been worse, but Velasquez’ ability to limit damage was huge.

After the first inning, Velasquez racked up four scoreless innings and held the Braves to two hits.

Keuchel’s night

The left-hander who had been passed over by the Phillies earlier in the season came into the game on a big roll — five straight wins in which he’d allowed a total of just four runs.

Keuchel sailed through the first three innings then allowed a pair of infield hits and a pair of two-run homers as the Phillies rallied for five in the fourth inning to take the lead.

Hoskins hits one

There have been times this season when Hoskins has looked pull-happy at the plate. He’s a better hitter when he uses the whole field like he did in the fourth inning when he clubbed a two-run homer to right-center to tie the game at 2-2. It was his 29th homer of the season and first solidly to the opposite field. He had four opposite-field homers last season.

Hoskins did a good job staying back on a high changeup to the outside part of the plate from Keuchel. He hit the ball right where it was pitched. He has homered in back-to-back games and has nine since the All-Star break.

Pirela rewards Kapler

Looking to get right-handed bats in the game against Keuchel, manager Gabe Kapler started Sean Rodriguez at third base and Pirela in left field. (Kapler did not start Maikel Franco at third because he did not believe Franco would fare well against Keuchel’s sinker.) Pirela rewarded his manager’s faith with a two-run homer with two outs in the fourth. He had previously been 0 for 5 with two strikeouts against Keuchel.

Braves set team mark

Adeiny Hechavarria’s home run in the eighth was the Braves’ 236th of the season, a team record.

Phillies pitchers have allowed 238 homers this season. That is a team record. The old one was 221.

Up next

Zach Eflin (8-12, 4.20) opposes right-hander Julio Teheran (10-9, 3.50) on Wednesday night.

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