Noah Levick

Phillies' victory over Marlins the ultimate 'team win'

Phillies' victory over Marlins the ultimate 'team win'

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"There's no 'I' in 'team."

It’s a strong contender for biggest cliché in sports. It’s also what Vince Velasquez had to say after going just two innings in the Phillies’ 5-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday (see first take), and it’s not the worst way to sum up a night when the Phillies made the most of their expanded roster and secured a series victory for the first time since Aug. 2-5.

After another short start from Velasquez, seven relievers combined to throw shutout seven innings for the Phillies. Justin Bour laced a key two-out, two-RBI single as a pinch hitter for Velasquez. Cesar Hernandez hit a decisive three-run homer in the fifth inning. Just about everyone on the roster made sort of contribution. 

With the Phillies on the outer periphery of playoff contention, 6½ games back of the Braves in the NL East and five games behind the Dodgers for the second NL Wild Card spot, manager Gabe Kapler is still trying to squeeze every last win out of his team.

“Certainly [the bullpen] was the story of the game for us, putting up zeroes for us, each one of them looking out for each other,” Kapler said. “It was a team win. Everybody contributed. I think it's kind of interesting how we've gotten contributions from everywhere on the roster. It feels to me like we have the opportunity to use everyone on the roster every night. ... We're really playing team baseball the last couple of days, and it's interesting how the roster is making that possible."

That’s the plus side of these sort of team wins — just about every face in the clubhouse gets to chip in. But it might be a stretch to say everyone goes home happy. You can’t imagine Scott Kingery felt great about being pinch hit for with the bases loaded and one out in the second inning, with Marlins righty Brett Graves on the mound. While Kingery said he understood the decision to go with Asdrubal Cabrera and knew he might be replaced once lefty spot starter Jarlin Garcia left the game, it seems unlikely that starting a game and not getting an at-bat did anything positive for his confidence.

“Obviously I think every guy in the lineup wants to be the guy to get the big hit,” Kingery said, “but in that situation, we had a chance to get a big hit with a lefty and got a better chance there.”

Kapler said the move had everything to do with trying to win in the present and nothing to do with his view of Kingery as a key part of the team’s future.

"The most important message there is while that's happening right now, it's no indication that you're not going to be the guy pinch hitting down the road,” Kapler said. “It's no indication you're not going to have 700 plate appearances where you don't come out of the lineup. That's who I think Scott Kingery is. It's just that in this moment, we have a veteran, proven, left-handed bat that we pre-planned might come up in a situation like that. 

"None of these things are going to catch our players by surprise. Do they sting a little bit at times? Probably. Is it an ego blow? Absolutely. But at this time of the year with the weapons we have, in order to use them effectively, somebody is going to get their feelings hurt once in a while."

Velasquez’s feelings weren’t hurt about being pulled after just 46 pitches, in large part because Bour picked him up with a clutch hit. Still, Saturday night was the seventh straight start in which he failed to pitch more than five innings. He hasn’t thrown more than 84 pitches in any of those outings — with an oversized bullpen to call on, Kapler hasn’t given Velasquez much leash.

“He knows if you have your good stuff and he knows if you don’t,” Velasquez said. “My job is to put zeros on the board. … If you kind of are slipping a little bit, he’s going to end up taking you out and do what’s best for the team. In this situation, down four runs, bases loaded, he’s going to make some moves. 

"So again, I need to learn how to prepare myself for those situations, knowing that it is going to happen and it has happened before, and I tip my cap off to Bour for scoring those two runs. This is not about me. I should have done a better job, yes. But this is also a team. There’s no ‘I’ in team. The fact that we came out and we won as a team, that’s all that matters.”

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Phillies 5, Marlins 4: First impressions after finally securing a series win

Phillies 5, Marlins 4: First impressions after finally securing a series win

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Finally. For the first time since Aug. 2-Aug. 5, the Phillies have secured a series win.

They sealed a series victory over the Marlins on Saturday night with a 5-4 win, thanks to two timely hits and excellent work from the bullpen.

After Vince Velasquez allowed four runs in the second inning, manager Gabe Kapler had Justin Bour pinch hit for his starter with two outs and the bases loaded. Bour ripped a two-RBI single to left-center field. 

Velasquez hasn’t lasted more than five innings in seven straight starts.

Cesar Hernandez provided the other big hit of the night, a three-run homer in the fifth inning to give the Phillies the 5-4 lead.

Seven Phillies pitchers combined to throw seven scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Pat Neshek earned his fifth save of the season, working around an error by defensive replacement Pedro Florimon to start the inning.

The Phillies are 76-71, 6 1/2 behind the Braves in the NL East and five games behind the Dodgers for the second NL Wild Card spot.

Win at all costs? 

Scott Kingery started the game, but he didn’t get an at-bat. That’s because Kapler pinch hit for him with one out and the bases loaded in the second inning, sending up switch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera against righty Brett Graves. Cabrera struck out. 

The move seemed to be a pretty clear indication that Kapler is still prioritizing winning now over giving his young players more opportunities, despite the Phillies’ nearly evaporated postseason hopes. 

That was quick

Marlins spot starter Jarlin Garcia threw just one perfect inning (12 pitches), much less than the 45-50 pitches Kapler said he was expecting him to go pregame. His abbreviated start was a reminder that the “opener” strategy Kapler discussed before the game is slowly spreading across baseball (see story).

Like a natural

Rhys Hoskins was at first base for the second straight night and the fourth time this season, with Carlos Santana remaining at third base and Aaron Altherr in left field. He made a nice play at his natural position in the sixth inning, sprinting into foul territory and grabbing a basket catch. Friday night, Hoskins said he prefers first base to left field but doesn’t care where he plays as long as he gets to hit (see story)

On the mend

According to Kapler, Maikel Franco is still experiencing some soreness in his injured shoulder, though he’s improving. Franco hurt his shoulder Tuesday flipping into the camera well going after a foul ball. 

Kapler said the team would likely use Franco off the bench before re-inserting him into the starting lineup.

Looking sharp

Jerad Eickhoff threw a three-inning simulated game off the mound about three hours before the first pitch. Kapler liked what he saw. 

“Really good curveball today,” Kapler said. “Really sharp. Good swings and misses, too. One of the things that I think is really important for Eickhoff, especially as his stuff is building back up, is to use it on the inside part of the plate and in off the plate, and he showed that today. Obviously it’s just a simulated game, but it’s nice to see him really attack hitters like he did.”

Eickhoff, who has been sidelined most of the season with a lat injury and tingling in his fingers, has pitched in just one game for the Phillies, throwing one inning on Sep. 8. Kapler said the current plan is to keep the rotation intact, but that’s subject to change. 

Especially if the Phillies fall further out of contention, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Eickhoff make a start, or at least an extended appearance.

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Gabe Kapler has considered using unconventional pitching strategies

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Gabe Kapler has considered using unconventional pitching strategies

As a manager, Gabe Kapler is all about exploring any method he can to win, whether that means pinch-hitting for a member of his starting lineup in the fourth inning or having his fielders use index cards to determine their defensive positioning.

So it came as no surprise before the Phillies’ game against the Marlins Saturday when Kapler said he’s considered using an “opener,” or having a reliever start the game. Kapler also said the team has discussed “piggybacking,” a strategy several MLB teams have used which involves pairing a starter on a pitch count with a middle/long reliever.

“Openly, we’ve been discussing 'opener' strategies … and we’ve been thinking about 'piggybacking' for probably the last two months. Nothing has changed recently and in fact, the guiding data points we’re going to use are how our pitchers are performing and how they’re feeling. We’re probably going to say, ‘does Vince [Velasquez]’ stuff look crisp, does it look sharp, is he executing, is he getting results?’ If all those things are intact, we’re not going to put artificial limitations on him, and I think that’s true for (Nick) Pivetta, it’s true for (Zack Eflin), it’s true for (Aaron Nola), and obviously it’s true for Jake (Arrieta).”

Velasquez, Eflin, Pivetta and Nola have already reached career highs in innings pitched this season, which is one reason an "opener" or "piggybacking" strategy might appeal to Kapler in the final weeks of the season. With an expanded roster and stocked bullpen at his disposal, he has the resources available should he wish to experiment.

If their recent performances are any indication, Pivetta and Velasquez might be slowing down. Velasquez has a 6.66 ERA in his last six starts heading into Saturday’s outing against Miami, while Pivetta has a 6.08 ERA in his last five starts. 

With a depleted rotation this season, the Tampa Bay Rays have used the opener strategy frequently. It’s an unconventional approach, but one that may eventually catch on across baseball. Kapler thinks it’s a sensible strategy, especially when you have a good idea of the opposing hitters you’re going to face. 

“Given a lineup that looks pretty much the same every day and one that features the same four or five hitters in the top five spots, I think there’s some really good tactical advantages that you can get from bringing a guy in specifically to match up with those guys,” Kapler said.

“However, there’s a balance between what is tactically optimal and what is optimal for the entirety of the clubhouse. And it’s a constant balance between what will help this clubhouse stay confident and strong, and what will be the most optimal tactical decision on the field.”

Kapler said it’s a topic he’s thought a lot about, and that was evident as he explored various versions of the strategy. He even discussed the idea of using an “'opener' for an 'opener,'” or having a right-handed pitcher face a right-handed leadoff man, then going to a second, lefty “opener” if “you’re pretty confident that you’re going to get three lefties in the next five hitters.”

For Kapler, if he were to use the "opener" strategy, it would be because he was confident he could gain a competitive edge. In his opinion, following the unwritten rule that you should let the opposition know your starter several hours before the game doesn’t make much sense, because it would remove that advantage. 

“In theory, you could walk up to the plate for the meeting with the umpires with three separate lineup cards,” he said. “If you’re going to use an opener, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to allow them to alter their lineup to beat your 'opener.'”

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