Andrew McCutchen's league-best eye and extra work making the Phillies a better team

Andrew McCutchen's league-best eye and extra work making the Phillies a better team

This was the Andrew McCutchen game. 

The Phillies would not have snapped their three-game skid without his bat, his arm or his eye.

McCutchen was on the field at Citizens Bank Park around 3 p.m. Friday doing extra work. Specifically, he wanted to hit slow curveballs off the pitching machine to slow himself down, to force himself to stay back and utilize the whole field.

"Felt like I've been muscling up quite a bit on the ball as opposed to waiting," he said.

It's not that McCutchen has been unproductive lately. He's been a consistent table-setter for the Phillies. He has a .371 on-base percentage and is tied with Bryce Harper for the National League-lead in walks with 33. 

The hits have not fallen as regularly. McCutchen entered the Rockies series hitting a career-low .239. He had stranded almost 88 percent of the runners on base during his plate appearances. He has maintained his disciplined approach at the plate whether he's leading off an inning or coming up with two men in scoring position. Earlier this week, he said he has to constantly remind himself in those high-leverage situations to think aggressively, regardless of whether that means swinging at the first pitch.

In the third inning Friday, with the Phillies down two runs, McCutchen came to the plate after pitcher Cole Irvin worked a 10-pitch walk. Unsurprisingly, McCutchen worked the count full. The only player in the majors who's worked more three-ball counts than McCutchen is teammate Rhys Hoskins. 

On pitch No. 6, McCutchen crushed a 97 mph fastball from Jon Gray for a two-run home run to left-center. It was one of three consecutive two-out rallies the Phillies started in a high-character 5-4 win (see observations).

The prior half-inning ended when McCutchen threw out Mark Reynolds at the plate.

Had to be one of his most satisfying games of the season.

"I try not to think too much about the outcome, I try to think of my approach and if I can repeat it over and over and if I'm seeing the ball well, feeling like I'm under control," McCutchen said. "Today, I felt under control. Some things you can't control, like strikeouts. But for the most part, I felt really good today. It was good to show up and get the results with how I felt."

No player in the majors has chased fewer pitches outside the strike zone than McCutchen. He came into Friday's game having chased 17.3 percent of pitches, a half-percent better than Mike Trout for the MLB lead and about 10 percent lower than his rate in his prime years with the Pirates.

McCutchen is a different hitter now than he was then. He hit .299 with power in his first six seasons and picked up extra hits with his legs. Now, his game is built more around making pitchers work and maintaining a high OBP.

His eye has just gotten better and better and better.

"The guys are throwing harder. I don't know if a lot of guys are throwing smarter, they're throwing harder though," McCutchen said. "So for myself, I have to make that adjustment. If I don't, I'm gonna be striking out a lot. That's my approach, stay within myself, especially with velocity and how it's gone up over the years. 

"You've really just got to hone in on your own zone. That's what I try to do. If you go outside the zone, it's really hard to succeed like that. The swing's gonna be there, the hits are gonna come, I just have to be stubborn in my approach."

Earlier in the week, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told a story to describe McCutchen's unique knowledge of the strike zone. When the Phils were in Kansas City, McCutchen came back to the dugout after an at-bat and discussed it with Hoskins. McCutchen, Kapler said, showed Hoskins with his hands how far outside one of the pitches was, then showed him how much closer to the outside corner another pitch in the at-bat was. When the Phillies reexamined that at-bat after the game, McCutchen's inexact hand measurements turned out to be exact.

The Phillies, so far, are getting the player they thought they were getting for $50 million over three years.

"McCutchen was incredibly comfortable at the plate today," Kapler said. "Very relaxed, very easy, in control of all of his plate appearances, including the one where he struck out.

"It's really gratifying to see a guy go out pregame, work on something specific, and immediately apply it."

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Phillies and Nationals postponed for second straight night

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Phillies and Nationals postponed for second straight night

Here we go again.

After a rain delay of about two hours, the Phillies and Nationals have been rained out for a second straight night. Tonight’s game will be made up as part of a split doubleheader on Sept. 24.

After nearly three hours of waiting on Monday, the series opener was postponed and scheduled to be made up as part of a split doubleheader on Wednesday (1:05 p.m. and 7:05 p.m.), but Tuesday’s postponement will cause even more issues for both teams.

Different from Monday, there was steady rain falling throughout the night and, perhaps, with a day game on Wednesday, it got too late to give this one a go. The Phillies have announced that Zach Eflin will start game one and Jake Arrieta will start game two. It appears Patrick Corbin will try again for Washington, however the Nationals may be searching for a second starter after a freak accident during batting practice resulted in a broken nose for their ace, Max Scherzer, whose status is TBD. (see video)

While a doubleheader is difficult from a pitching standpoint, the Phillies will welcome two extra days for J.T. Realmuto and Jay Bruce to mend. Not in the posted lineup for either of the games that were postponed due to rain, Gabe Kapler did indicate that Realmuto would start one game on Wednesday and Bruce was available to pinch hit on Tuesday if needed.

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Phillies need a 5th and 6th starter this weekend; who could it be?

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Phillies need a 5th and 6th starter this weekend; who could it be?

Updated: 9:30 p.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consecutive rainouts Monday and Tuesday benefited the Phillies by giving J.T. Realmuto and Jay Bruce two additional days to recover from their injuries. Had the Phils played Tuesday night, both players would have been available to pinch-hit but would have likely needed pinch-runners. Realmuto will start one game of the Phillies’ day-night doubleheader Wednesday. 

Where it negatively affected the Phillies is in the starting rotation. The Phils don’t have a true No. 5 starter right now. Gabe Kapler said Monday that there is a belief within the organization that Vince Velasquez can fill that role, but it’s not a certainty that he’s returned to the rotation. If Velasquez is needed out of the bullpen Thursday or Friday, for example, he may not get the start Saturday. It’s TBD. 

And now, because the Phillies play twice on Wednesday, they’ll also need a starter for Sunday’s game. In effect, a team with no fifth starter needs a fifth and sixth starter this weekend. 

On Wednesday, it will be Zach Eflin in Game 1 and Jake Arrieta in Game 2. 

Nick Pivetta pitches Thursday. 

Aaron Nola pitches Friday. 

Then possibly Velasquez Saturday. 

On Sunday, the Phils will have to figure out something else because it would be short rest for both Arrieta and Eflin. 

Who are the options? Kapler said Tuesday that hot pitching prospect Adonis Medina, despite being on the 40-man roster, is not under consideration for a start this weekend. 

The organization likely does not feel he’s ready yet and doesn’t want to rush a young pitcher with promise just because it needs a spot starter this weekend. Plus, Medina is a trade chip, and you don’t want to do anything to ding his value by bringing him up before the time feels right. 

So there’s Velasquez, there’s Cole Irvin, there’s Enyel De Los Santos. Those are the three most realistic options. Irvin is still on the active roster and was ticketed for the ‘pen before Mother Nature intervened. 

De Los Santos made a six-inning start for Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sunday, so he’d be on turn this weekend. The Phillies don’t seem to love him as a starting pitcher, though. They haven’t turned to him when the need has arisen this season and when he has been promoted it has been as a reliever. More of a two-pitch pitcher, De Los Santos could ultimately find more success as a reliever. 

Drew Anderson, who started Tuesday for the IronPigs, is another swingman on the 40. There’s also Ranger Suarez. 

If the Phillies want to promote someone who’s not on the 40-man roster, 23-year-old Dominican right-hander Ramon Rosso is another option. He has pitched well in 11 starts this season, including a Triple A debut June 13 in which he struck out nine and did not allow an earned run over six innings.

The other options are using an opener or making a trade. It seems unlikely the Phillies will be able to complete a deal for an attractive starting pitcher by the weekend, but one name to keep in the back of your mind is Mike Leake. He’s a No. 4 starter who has alternated quick and efficient quality starts and clunkers throughout his career. He’s on a Mariners team committed to tearing things down and eager to trade high-priced veterans for seemingly whatever they can get, whether it’s salary relief or an interesting young player. Leake is owed $15 million next season and has a $5 million buyout in 2021, way too much for a pitcher his caliber. The Phillies are not going to want to commit $20 million to him just because he’s the most obtainable starting pitcher on the market this minute. But if the Mariners pick up a bulk of his remaining money a la Bruce, he could and should be considered as a rotation stabilizer, not as the missing piece. 

Fortunately for the Phillies, they face the lowly Marlins this weekend. If there is a team to lack starting pitching against, it is them. 

But again, it highlights the lack of quality options the Phillies have after their first four starting pitchers, who collectively have been just OK. The choice to not sign a veteran starter this offseason has predictably backfired. The team enters Wednesday 39-32, which is still an 89-win pace, but the more important point is that the Braves are surging and the Nationals have won 14 of 21 with a roster every bit as talented as the Phils’. 

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