Phillies

Defensive alignment again hurts Phillies in loss to Mets

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Defensive alignment again hurts Phillies in loss to Mets

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NEW YORK — This isn’t how the Phillies wanted to come home after spending nearly $170 million on free agents and hiring a bold new manager this offseason.

But here they are, heading into Thursday’s home opener with a 1-4 record, hitting .183 as a team, scoring 2.8 runs per game and striking out more than 11 times per game.

They’re also carrying a 5.56 team ERA.

Sure, it’s a super-small sample size. But new manager Gabe Kapler and his charges are not off to a good start and it will be interesting to see what kind of welcome they get from the home folk.

“I’m excited about going back to Philadelphia and I think our players are, too,” Kapler said after his club capped its season-opening trip with a 4-2 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday (see breakdown). “I think the fans can be excited for the young product we’re putting on the field, some hitters who have been grinding through at-bats, and some good young arms. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The road trip wasn’t fun for the Phillies or Kapler. Several of the rookie manager’s moves backfired, including a couple of defensive calls in New York. On Tuesday night, the Phils could not turn a double play in the sixth inning because they were in a shift. It led to two runs and a 2-0 loss (see story).

On Wednesday, reliever Drew Hutchison, who picked up Aaron Nola after 87 pitches, gave up a killer two-run triple to No. 9 hitter Amed Rosario with two outs in the sixth. It broke a 2-2 tie. The triple came on a first-pitch slider and sailed over the head of rightfielder Nick Williams, who was playing extremely shallow — about 50 feet closer than normal, according to MLB Statcast. Kapler said Williams was told to play in that position because Hutchison’s slider often induced weak contact and the Phils didn’t wanted to give up a hit in front of the outfielder.

Kapler defended the defensive alignment.

“That ball was hit hard,” he said. “If he was playing back 25 feet, I’m not sure he catches that ball. It was over his head by a significant margin and we’re optimizing for the ball in front of us there. I trust our positioning right there.

“Some of these moves have not worked out in the short term. In the long term, we are very confident they will. I can’t express enough confidence that our strategies will pay dividends, but I understand in the short term they haven’t and that can be disappointing. I get it.”

Williams said he was not sure if he would have had a play on the ball if he were in normal position.

Hutchison got in a jam in that inning by his own doing. He issued a no-out walk and a two-out walk before Rosario’s dagger.

“I wasn’t sharp with the two walks,” he said. “I didn’t make pitches. I didn’t get the job done.”

Nola survived a rough first inning — 32 pitches, two walks, a single and a two-run homer — and pitched through the fifth. He said Kapler made the right move going to the bullpen.

The Phils have lost three in a row and scored just four runs in that span. They struck out 15 times Wednesday and 26 times in two games in New York.

Now, this show goes home.

2 unique pitching matchups await Phillies at Wrigley Field vs. Cubs

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2 unique pitching matchups await Phillies at Wrigley Field vs. Cubs

As the Phillies begin a seven-game road trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, two interesting pitching matchups await. 

In tonight’s series opener at Wrigley Field, former Cub Jake Arrieta opposes the pitcher his ex-team chose to pay instead of him: Yu Darvish. 

In Game 3 of the series, left-hander Cole Irvin is opposed by left-hander Cole Hamels in Hamels’ first-ever start against his former team. The Phillies are the lone MLB team Hamels has never faced. 

The Arrieta-Darvish comparison has been an interesting one. Neither pitcher has lived up to the price tag so far. 

In 40 starts as a Phillie, Arrieta is 14-15 with a 3.98 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. His ERA has been 7 percent better than the league average over that span. The Phils did not expect they were getting the Cy Young version of Arrieta, but expectations were certainly higher than an ERA barely better than 4.00 for the ninth-highest paid pitcher of all-time in annual salary. 

What Arrieta has given the Phillies that Darvish has not given the Cubs, though, is durability and consistency. Arrieta has allowed three runs or fewer in 23 of those 40 starts as a Phillie, keeping them in the game more often than not. The same cannot be said of Darvish, who has been limited to just 17 starts as a Cub and has a 5.05 ERA with them. 

Darvish missed most of last season because of injuries to his triceps and elbow. He pitched just 40 innings. 

This season, Darvish has struggled mightily to throw strikes. He’s walked 33 batters in 42 innings and completed six innings once in his nine starts. He’s still racking up the strikeouts, though, and is coming off a season-high 11 against the Reds. The previous two games, he walked 11. 

There is a lot of contract left for Darvish, but so far it’s played out like a major mistake for the Cubs, who did almost no spending this past offseason because of the big-money deals already on the books and the dough that will soon need to go to Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and eventually Willson Contreras. 

Between Darvish and Jason Heyward, the Cubs committed a total of $310 million and an average of $44 million per year. Those two contracts are two major examples of why free agents are being paid differently these days.

Last June when the Phillies went to Wrigley Field, Arrieta did not pitch. He didn’t face the Cubs at home, either, so this will be the first matchup since his departure. The best days of Arrieta’s career came in Chicago and he’s still beloved there for the no-hitters, the Cy Young season and World Series ring. And he doesn’t hold any ill will toward the Cubs for making the choice they made last winter. 

"I knew that there was always an opportunity to come back here until I signed with another team," Arrieta said in the visiting dugout at Wrigley last summer. "It was a very chaotic offseason for free agents, not only myself but everybody involved. When Theo (Epstein) did call, it seemed like it could've been a possibility but just the way it all went down, I was leaning more and more to the side of probably not returning to Chicago. 

"Would it have been great if I signed here? Yes. Am I happy with the way things worked out ultimately signing with the Phillies? Absolutely."

Tonight begins an important series of starts for Arrieta, whose next three opponents will be the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals, three of the best offenses in the National League. Despite the degree of difficulty, these are the kinds of games a contending team hopes to get quality starts from its $75 million man.

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Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Sunday was Scott Kingery’s first career start in center field and it came in his first game back. Kingery was sidelined for a month with a hamstring strain that was worse than the ones suffered by Jean Segura and Odubel Herrera. 

Kingery fared well in his return. There were no issues in the field, and at the plate he went 1 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base. The hit was a smooth line drive to left field in his first at-bat. 

With Herrera not providing much at the plate (.234 batting average, .297 OBP), Kingery will continue to see time in center field. It doesn’t make sense right now to sit Cesar Hernandez for him given how hot Hernandez has been for the last month. But Herrera and Maikel Franco are different stories. 

Kingery will not start Monday night in Chicago. The Phillies are monitoring his workload with him fresh off the IL. He will, however, likely start multiple games in the Cubs series. The Phillies face lefties Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester in consecutive games Tuesday through Thursday. Seems like a logical spot to sit Herrera for Kingery. 

Kingery was hitting .406 when he was sidelined. He started the season looking like a completely different player than last season. 

“The most important thing (while I was out) was trying to keep my timing,” Kingery said after the Phillies’ 7-5 win over the Rockies Sunday. “As soon as I could pick up the bat I was in the cage, working on my swing, fastball machine, doing whatever I could, seeing live arms BP-wise and stood in on a few bullpens just to see some different pitches. That's about all you can do when you're hurt. I feel good now.”

Defensively, Kingery will face some adjustments. Center field is not his natural position nor does he have extensive experience there. But his speed, range and instincts give him a chance to be an above-average defender there. 

“I think the main goal is my arm slot has always been for an infielder,” Kingery said. “So I have to work at getting a little more over the top and get a little more carry on the ball. I'd say that's one of the most important things for me right now.”

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