Phillies

Don't forget Pivetta when talking about Phillies' early-season bright spots

Don't forget Pivetta when talking about Phillies' early-season bright spots

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A lot of good things happened Wednesday night for the Phillies, more than enough to overcome Hector Neris’ first blown save since last June.

The Phils beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, in 12 innings (see first take) to complete a three-game sweep and a pretty spiffy 5-1 homestand (OK, they didn’t beat the ’27 Yankees, but you can only play the team that the schedule-maker sends your way) on the strength of:

• Scott Kingery’s game-winning sacrifice fly in the 12th and run-saving throw from left field in the sixth inning.

• Odubel Herrera’s homer-robbing catch on a Scooter Gennett drive to center in the 10th inning.

• Cesar Hernandez’s two-out solo homer in the fifth inning.

• J.P. Crawford’s two-run homer in the first inning and sacrifice bunt to set up the winning run in the 12th.

While these were all highlights, perhaps the biggest positive to come out of the win — maybe the entire homestand, for that matter — was the pitching of Nick Pivetta. The 25-year-old British Columbian made two starts during the homestand and allowed just nine hits and two runs over 12 2/3 innings. He walked zero and struck out 16 over that span.

No one is pronouncing Pivetta as arrived, but the Phillies might have a pretty good starter blooming here.

“The concentration level is different than it's been in the past,” manager Gabe Kapler said of Pivetta, who joined the Phillies in July 2015 when Jonathan Papelbon was traded to Washington. “The intensity level is different than it's been in the past. He's been able to maintain it throughout longer stretches. He worked diligently in spring training to attack with fastballs up in the zone and to use his curveball to play off of that. We're seeing him mix and match with his curveball and his slider effectively and appropriately. Those are two things that are really coming together. Being able to land your secondary pitches for strikes is not the easiest thing to do for a young pitcher, and he's doing it consistently.”

Injuries forced the Phils to push Pivetta to the majors last season and he went 8-10 with a 6.02 ERA in 26 starts. That’s not pretty, but the experience he gained was invaluable and now it’s paying dividends.

“My number one thing is you’ve got to learn from your failures and I feel like right now — I still have a lot to learn — but I went through a lot last year and this year I can kind of handle certain situations and minimize damage," he said.

“I learned from my mistakes last year. I worked hard with [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] and everybody not trying to be so perfect in the strike zone. I think that really has carried over this year and it's been good so far.”

Pivetta allowed just two runs over seven innings and struck out seven. Kapler trusted him to go back to the mound at 92 pitches for the seventh inning and the right-hander responded with a quick, 11-pitch inning. He was on his way to a win before Neris blew a one-run lead in the ninth. Yacksel Rios ended up getting the win in relief. Pivetta had to settle for covering a few more miles on the road to becoming a good major-league starter.

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

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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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