Phillies

Rockies' Pat Neshek encouraged by Phillies' Cameron Rupp, Andrew Knapp to throw slider more

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Rockies' Pat Neshek encouraged by Phillies' Cameron Rupp, Andrew Knapp to throw slider more

DENVER — Pat Neshek left the Phillies with more than good memories. 

He departed throwing a far more effective slider to left-handed hitters, thanks to the urging of catchers Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp.

“I'm throwing it a little bit harder than I do to righties, but it's got just downward movement,” said Neshek, whom the Phillies traded to the Rockies on July 26 for three minor league prospects. “Before for me, it was just fastballs and changeups. Now I got something I can run in on them, and a lot of them just look outside and try to slap (the ball) to left. It's been a very effective pitch for me.”

The well-traveled Neshek, whose unconventional sidearm delivery is unique, said he toyed with the harder slider to lefties last year in his second season with the Astros but never really had confidence in it. Early this season, however, that changed because of Rupp and Knapp.

“I didn't really know them, they didn't know me, but they were adamant it was a great pitch, so I just trusted them,” Neshek said. “Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp with the Phillies kind of just kept calling it, and I think it gave me confidence.”

Neshek said when he was with the Cardinals in 2014, catcher Yadier Molina called a lot of changeups, and Neshek “felt like that was my pitch to left-handers.” But thanks to Rupp and Knapp, Neshek said he began attacking lefties with an 82-85 mph slider, up from 81-83 mph last year.

“With the right-handers, he starts it off the plate and throws it off that same fastball plane and keeps it riding out of the zone,” Rupp said. “Whereas with a lefty, you can’t do that or you’re going to hit him. It’s got more depth, and it’s shorter. When you see that, his fastball at 91-92 (mph) plays harder. And then when you throw the movement in with that slider, it’s a pitch you got to be ready to hit.

“He kind of places it instead of letting the ball ride out of the zone and be a chase pitch. It’s not a big chase pitch for him to lefties. He gets a lot of swings. The ball’s in the zone. He gets a lot of weak contact.”

Entering this season, left-handed hitters were batting .237 (117 for 494) against Neshek. They are 13 for 62 (.210) against him this year.

The trade to the Rockies means Neshek has left cozy Citizens Bank Park but will make repeated appearances at mile-high altitude in spacious Coors Field.

“Offensively the ball's flying a lot more in Philly, but more runs are probably going to be scored here,” Neshek said. “It's a bigger ballpark here. So you want to control the running game, limit the base hits and the balls that go in the gaps. But as far as balls flying out, Philly wasn't fun. I mean it was in your head all the time. Same with places like Cincinnati and Atlanta; they're tiny ballparks. For me, I'm losing one tiny ballpark and going to an offensive ballpark. Houston was the same way. Down the left field line was a joke.”

In 43 games with the Phillies, Neshek went 3-2 with a 1.12 ERA with five walks and 45 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings. While that performance piqued the Rockies’ interest, it also eased any concerns Neshek might have had about pitching regularly at Coors Field.

“Philly, when I got traded there, I was like, 'Oh my God,' ” Neshek said. “And to have a good year there, it kind of just tones that down a little bit.”

Phillies activate Wilson Ramos

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Phillies activate Wilson Ramos

As the Phillies continue a three-week stretch against tough teams and multiple aces, they’ll welcome perhaps their biggest trade deadline addition to the lineup.

Wilson Ramos has completed his rehab assignment and was activated ahead of the Phillies' home game tonight against the Red Sox. He will bat sixth.

To accommodate Ramos on the 25-man roster, the Phillies optioned catcher Andrew Knapp to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Ramos went 4 for 9 with three doubles in three rehab games with the Clearwater Threshers (High A). He caught 14 innings.

The Phillies acquired Ramos on July 31 from the Rays for a player to be named later or cash, but the All-Star catcher was still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered on July 14.

His bat will make the Phillies’ lineup better, there’s no question about it. Gabe Kapler will be replacing a bottom-of-the-order bat with a middle-of-the-order bat. He’ll be replacing Jorge Alfaro’s league-worst strikeout rate and .306 OBP with a catcher who can hit .300 — with power — and doesn’t whiff much.

Ramos is also steadier behind the plate, where Phillies catchers have struggled all season receiving. The Phillies have the second-most passed balls, second-most wild pitches and second-most stolen bases allowed in the National League.

Ramos has hit .297/.346/.488 with 14 homers and 14 doubles in 315 plate appearances. He’s played essentially two-thirds of the season to this point.

Ramos was also an All-Star two years ago, his last healthy, full season. He hit .307/.354/.496 with 22 HR and 80 RBI with the Nationals, who tried to reacquire him this summer to no avail.

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Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

BOX SCORE

Coming out of spring training, the consensus opinion on the Phillies was that they’d pick up on the improvement they showed in the second half of last year’s 66-96 season and maybe push .500.

The thinking was that would be a nice step in the right direction for a team that had pushed its rebuild into field-goal range.

Then the season got going and the Phillies started winning, and contending, and by the first week of July they were in first place in the NL East.

They entered August in first place and that was meaningful because, in a sport where the long haul matters, four months is a significant chunk of time.

Becoming a contender a year before most envisioned changed the way these Phillies are viewed. Had they been plugging along hoping to finish the season at .500 and fuel a little optimism for the future, then Tuesday night’s loss to the Boston Red Sox might have been seen as a good thing, an oh-look-at-how-we-hung-with-the-big-boys moral victory (see first take).

But as a contender and a team with legitimate postseason hopes, the 2-1 loss stung and it stung even worse when the out-of-town scoreboard flashed the final score from Atlanta, where the Braves beat the Marlins, 10-6.

In two days, the Phillies have lost two games in the standings to the Braves and now trail them by two games in the NL East.

The Phillies are 2-5 in their last seven games and they have scored just 16 runs over that span. They have another one on tap against Boston on Wednesday night.

The Red Sox are the majors’ best team, on pace to win 115 games, and the Phillies have played them tough in three games over the last two weeks. Boston has won a pair of 2-1 games and the Phils have won a 3-1 contest. But the Phils are past the point where playing a good team tough makes them feel good. 

They need some hits.

They need some wins.

“We know that we can go toe to toe with this team,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We showed that we could at Fenway Park. We did it tonight. We came out on the losing end because they played a better baseball game. But we're very confident that tomorrow we're going to be playing the better baseball game. We're looking forward to that.”

The Phillies’ offense ranks second to last in the majors with a .234 batting average and below average in many other important offensive categories. It ran into a good pitcher on top of his game Tuesday night and the results were not good. Boston’s Rick Porcello, a Cy Young winner in 2016, dazzled with seven innings of one-run ball. He walked none and had six 1-2-3 innings. Porcello gave up just two hits – that’s all the Phillies had – and struck out 10. The Phils struck out 13 times as a team – they’ve reached double digits in Ks 60 times this season – and walked just once.

That’ll lose you some ballgames.

“Porcello deserves a lot of credit,” Kapler said. “He was really awesome. Great job by him.”

The Phillies got a strong game from their starter, as well. Nick Pivetta delivered six innings of one-run ball, walked one and struck out six. He exited early for a pinch-hitter as Kapler tried to nudge the offense only to see Roman Quinn go down on a first-pitch fly ball in the bottom of the sixth.

All the scoring came via the long ball. Sandy Leon took Pivetta deep in the third and Rhys Hoskins got Porcello leading off the fifth. Hoskins, who was dropped from second to cleanup, was 1 for 28 before hitting his 23rd homer. The Phillies need his bat to come alive.

With no margin for error, the Phillies’ bullpen – neither bullpen, for that matter – could afford a mistake. Tommy Hunter made one with one out in the eighth and pinch-hitter Brock Holt clubbed it off the facing of the upper deck in right to break a 1-1 tie and propel the Sox to their 86th win.

Holt ambushed the first pitch.

“Yeah, it was a cutter,” Hunter said. “He got it. He hit it. I'll probably throw 16 of them again tomorrow. He got it. Tip your cap.”

The cutter is Hunter’s best pitch and Holt was looking for it.

“Yeah, coming off the bench, he's going to swing at the first pitch,” Hunter said. “I left it a little too far on the plate. I probably should have buried it in off the plate.”

The atmosphere in all three of the Phillies-Red Sox games over the last two weeks has been intense, almost playoff-like.

“It’s two pretty good teams going toe to toe,” Hunter said. “That’s the way you like it though. Throw blows and see who comes out on top.”

Vince Velasquez will try to help the Phillies come out on top Wednesday night.

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