West Chester's Joey Wendle enjoys 'pretty surreal' grand slam against Phillies

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West Chester's Joey Wendle enjoys 'pretty surreal' grand slam against Phillies

The ball jumped off the bat and the small section of friends and family jumped from their seats and began to roar. Joey Wendle not only had just hit his first career grand slam Sunday, it came against the team he rooted for while starring at Avon Grove High School and leading West Chester University to a national championship. 

The Oakland second baseman had to be reveling in the moment as he circled the bases at Citizens Bank Park, right? 

“Did I run around the bases? I don’t even remember that,” Wendle said. “Yeah, it was pretty surreal.”

Wendle’s second career home run came one year to the day after he went deep against Yu Darvish in Texas and in just his fifth game since being recalled from Triple A Nashville. It was the go-ahead homer in the Athletics’ 6-3 victory (see story)

“Definitely a special memory,” the 27-year-old said. “Definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

The Phillies led 3-2 in the top of the sixth inning when Henderson Alvarez was lifted after walking Matt Joyce and allowing a single to Chad Pinder. Left-hander Hoby Milner came in and struck out Matt Olson for the first out, and then manager Pete Mackanin brought in Edubray Ramos. 

The righty struck out Matt Chapman but then walked Mark Canha to load the bases. 

Up came the lefty-hitting Wendle. And he wasted no time by pouncing on a first-pitch slider and drilling it to right field. 

“That guy has more than a strikeout per inning and I was looking for something up in the zone because I knew what he could do if I got buried in the count,” Wendle said. “Just got a slider, kind of backed up a little bit and I was able to drive it out.”

Wendle finished 1 for 4 and is 3 for 9 since his call-up. He hit .285 with eight homers and 54 RBIs in 118 games at Triple A. 

Wendle faces obstacles to stick with Oakland. Veteran Jed Lowrie is ahead of him at second base and Franklin Barreto is a 21-year-old prospect the A’s value. But manager Bob Melvin said he’s been happy with what he’s seen from Wendle, who’s the first alum of Division II West Chester to play in the big leagues since John Mabry retired in 2007. 

“It’s one thing to hit a grand slam to put your team ahead. It’s another when you do it at home,” Melvin said. “And this is a close-knit group of guys, especially the younger guys that we brought up and Joey’s been with them, so they were really happy for him.”

Don't expect to see Vince Velasquez for long tonight vs. Braves

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Don't expect to see Vince Velasquez for long tonight vs. Braves

The Phillies send Vince Velasquez to the mound tonight to begin their crucial four-game series in Atlanta, but don’t expect to see him for long. It doesn’t fit with how Gabe Kapler has used the back of his rotation in September or with how Velasquez has pitched lately. 

Since Aug. 8, Velasquez has averaged under 4.0 innings per start. In seven games, he’s pitched just 25 1/3 innings. His last time out, he faced 10 batters. 

Velasquez’s numbers against the Braves earlier this season (0-4, 7.41 ERA) were ugly, but it’s a different situation this time. He isn’t being relied on to pitch six innings. He almost certainly will not be relied on to face the top of the order a third time through, especially with left-handed Freddie Freeman in the three-spot. 

Get ready for plenty of pitching changes tonight. However boring or monotonous it may be at times, it’s logical to have lefties face Freeman and Nick Markakis each time from the middle innings onward. Obviously, you want a righty in there for Ronald Acuña Jr. 

With a dozen men in the bullpen this month, the Phillies have averaged nearly 4.5 relievers per game in September. Bet the over on that number tonight. 

Everyone other than Pat Neshek should be available to pitch. Neshek has gone back to back games. He hasn’t pitched three straight nights at any point this season or last. 

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What's changed with Braves in 4 months since Phillies last saw them?

What's changed with Braves in 4 months since Phillies last saw them?

Finally, for the first time in nearly four months, the Phillies get a chance to take out their frustrations on the Braves.

Tonight begins a four-game series in Atlanta and nobody needs to tell you how crucial it is. The Phils are 5½ games back in the NL East with 11 games left to play. Seven are against the Braves. 

Any combination of six Braves wins or Phillies losses will result in Atlanta clinching the division.

The schedule isn't ordinarily this lopsided, but the Phillies played 12 of their first 47 games against the Braves, then went 104 games without seeing them again. The Phils went 5-7 in those dozen games, losing three of the four series.

So, what has changed since the Phillies last saw the Braves?

The Acuña effect

Ronald Acuña Jr. is one of three main candidates for NL Rookie of the Year, along with Washington's Juan Soto and St. Louis' Jack Flaherty. 

Acuña has played 101 games this season and hit .293/.368/.573 with 26 homers, 25 doubles and four triples. He's also stolen 14 bases in 19 attempts. 

The Phillies haven't seen much of him. He played just six of the 12 games, and they were all before Acuña really took off this season. Since June 30, Acuña has hit .309 in 70 games with 21 of his homers and an OPS over 1.000.

He's one of the league's most dynamic players, especially out of the leadoff spot. Can beat you with power, by splitting the gap, with his wheels or with his defense.

Tired bullpen

The Braves' bullpen was the main contributor to the four-game losing streak that was snapped Wednesday. In those four losses, the Braves' relievers allowed 16 earned runs in 18⅓ innings. In each of the four games, the bullpen turned a one-run deficit into a much larger one.

Arodys Vizcaino, the opening-day closer, has made just 35 appearances this season, missing much of the year with injuries. Lately, Atlanta has used a mix of A.J. Minter, Jonny Venters and occasionally Dan Winkler in the closer's role. Both Minter and Winkler have stumbled a bit since the All-Star break after pitching well and reliably in the first half. 

There's some cruel irony in former Phillies first-round pick Jesse Biddle's season-long success in the Braves' bullpen.

Rotation edge?

The four pitching matchups in this series are:

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)

Atlanta has gotten a strong return on investment since acquiring Gausman from the Orioles in one of the last trades announced before the July 31 deadline. 

In eight starts with the Braves, Gausman has allowed 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 3 and 4 runs. The Braves are 6-2.

Newcomb has really fallen off in the second half of his first full season. His ERA's by month since May: 1.54, 2.67, 5.06, 6.75, 6.08.

Foltynewicz has had a breakout season, mostly because he's dominated the NL East. He has a 1.96 ERA against the Phillies in four starts and a 1.83 ERA in 14 starts vs. the division as a whole.

The Phillies should, theoretically, have the starting pitching advantage when Nola and Arrieta pitch, but Arrieta hasn't been all that strong lately. He has a 6.03 ERA in his last seven starts and the Phillies have lost five of them. 

The expectation is that Velasquez and Pivetta will go five innings max in their starts this week because it's September, there are more than a dozen relievers in the bullpen and Gabe Kapler has been pulling those two at the first sign of danger.

Saturday afternoon, the Phils badly, badly need Arrieta to recapture the release point and command he had in May and July.

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