Phillies

En garde, Phillies regulars, someone is coming after your job

En garde, Phillies regulars, someone is coming after your job

Update: Nick Pivetta has been optioned to Triple A and replaced in the Phillies’ rotation by Jerad Eickhoff

Internal competition for playing time is a wonderful thing. It can sharpen everybody’s performance and ultimately make a team better.

This was the great subplot of the Phillies’ giddy 14-3 win over the New York Mets on Tuesday night.

Watch out for Scott Kingery and Jerad Eickhoff.

The Phillies’ 10th victory in 16 games was an entertaining affair, mostly because the club came out of the gate with a 10-run explosion in the first inning. The Phils sent 14 men to the plate and had six extra-base hits, including two home runs, in the uprising. After the final out of the inning, the sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park showed its appreciation with a standing ovation.

Maikel Franco was one of the stars of the big first inning. He clubbed his team-high sixth homer, a three-run shot to center. J.T. Realmuto had a pair of RBI doubles in the inning and finished his night with five RBIs.

Kingery also drove in five runs. Three of them came on a first-inning homer. He also had a single and a two-run double. 

Nick Pivetta was the beneficiary of the early run support and he got the win. But the most impressive pitching performance of the night came from Eickhoff, who came up from the minors earlier in the day and struck out six over four shutout innings.

Kingery began the season as a reserve on a team that has a set lineup. Eickhoff began the season without a spot in the big club's rotation. They are both in position to put pressure on the people ahead of them — especially if they continue to produce like they did Tuesday night.

Kingery struggled at the plate as a rookie last year, but he’s “flattened” his swing and taken a more aggressive approach early in the count and it’s paying off. He looks like a more confident player. He's certainly more potent at the plate.

Over his last seven games, Kingery is 11 for 17 (.647) with four doubles, a homer and five RBIs. He’s put himself in line for more time at second base, third base, shortstop or even center field. In the short term, that time could come at shortstop because Jean Segura left Tuesday night’s game with a hamstring tweak.

“Absolutely,” manager Gabe Kapler said when asked if Kingery deserved to play more. “And it’s because of his all-around game. It’s getting more and more difficult to not have him in the lineup.”

A better read on Eickhoff’s performance might have come in a closer game. Nonethless, Kapler was impressed.

“Jerad pitched great tonight,” he said. “He continues to open eyes. He’s off barrels. He induces weak contact. He gets swings and misses. It’s not 97, but it’s a slider that makes hitters uncomfortable and it’s a curveball that makes left and right uncomfortable. We saw him go through some pretty good hitters tonight.”

It’s not clear what is next for Eickhoff. He probably would not be best served waiting around for opportunities as a long reliever. It might be best to keep him stretched out as a starter at Triple A. Regardless of the path the Phillies choose, Eickhoff, who was the club's best starter in 2016, is healthy and eager to take a regular turn in the rotation. Pivetta, who has struggled out of the gate, took a small step in the right direction Tuesday night, but if he doesn’t find some consistency soon, Eickhoff could get the opportunity he desires. An effective Eickhoff will also force Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez to be on top of their games.

Internal competition can be great fuel for achievement and the Phillies are happy to have some. It’s almost as good as scoring 10 runs in the first inning.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Phillies still need a miracle, but 2 wins over Braves, with Aaron Nola up next, is a good place to start

Phillies still need a miracle, but 2 wins over Braves, with Aaron Nola up next, is a good place to start

ATLANTA — The Phillies departed on this 11-game road trip needing to win just about all of them to have a shot at making the postseason. There are still two more cities to visit and miles upon miles to go on this trip, but …

Do you believe in miracles?

“I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do in this clubhouse,” Zach Eflin said after backboning a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

The Phils have opened the road trip with two straight wins against the soon-to-be NL East champs and they will look for a sweep behind Aaron Nola on Thursday. A sweep is almost a must if the Phillies want to stay in the NL wild-card chase. There are 12 games remaining and they are three back.

The Phillies have used the long ball in beating the Braves on back-to-back nights. They have hit four homers in the two games and three of them have been two-run shots. Bryce Harper keyed the offense Wednesday night with a two-run bomb in the fourth inning. Cesar Hernandez also homered and the Phils scored their third run on a bases-loaded walk.

The Phils had just four hits in the game and they struck out 12 times. They also committed three errors in the field. All of this made it imperative that they get a good performance from their pitchers and they did.

Eflin was brilliant for seven innings and the bullpen tandem of Jose Alvarez and Hector Neris got the final six outs in speedy fashion.

After the game, manager Gabe Kapler gushed about Eflin.

“That was the toughest, from a mental standpoint, start from a pitcher that we've gotten all season long,” he said. “Quite simply, we didn't make plays behind him early on. He continued to get ground ball after ground ball. Calls were not going his way. And that was true when he was at that plate, as well. He just kind of had a resiliency about him throughout this game. He wasn't going to get beat mentally. He just continued to induce ground balls and got weak contact throughout the game. That was why we won that game.

“I think that there were a lot of people who were inspired — myself and the coaching staff and many of the players in the dugout — by the start that Zach just made. “

Eflin had struggled mightily in three previous starts against the Braves this season, including one last week. In just 9 1/3 innings, he was tagged for 17 hits and 20 runs (eight were unearned). He walked nine and struck out nine.

The 25-year-old righty rebounded impressively in this one. Relying heavily on his favorite pitch, a sinking, two-seam fastball, he held the Braves to five hits and one unearned run. He walked two and struck out four. He threw 99 pitches and 57 were sinkers. He got 12 outs on the ground, including a big double play against Brian McCann to end the sixth inning.

“The part that makes it especially mentally tough is the fact that he just faced the Braves,” Kapler said. “It's an incredibly tough lineup to go through several times, but even more so that he's coming off a start against them. 

“We've talked about this time of year being when we're going to fight and scratch and claw. That was fight. That was tough from Zach Eflin.”

Over his last five starts, Eflin has allowed just five earned runs in 28 2/3 innings for a 1.57 ERA.  

After some mid-season struggles, he has found himself again. It has all coincided with his re-dedication to throwing his favorite pitch, the sinker.

“At the end of the day, I’m going out and attacking guys and if it’s my sinker that day that’s working I’m going to use my sinker, if it’s my change-up I’m going to use my change-up,” he said. “We figure out what we have going early in the bullpen before the game. Today was the sinker. It’s been working these last couple outings so if it’s there next outing you’ll probably see it again.”

The Phillies still have stops in Cleveland (three games) and Washington (five) on this trip.

They face the longest of odds in making the postseason, but they’re not dead.

“We come in every single day mentally and physically ready to play and win,” Eflin said. “We have the guys in the clubhouse to do it and get there and make a postseason run, so to be able to do that and play good baseball at the same time is really good for us. We’re looking forward to riding this momentum the next couple of days and into the next series that we have coming and really doing everything we can to make it.”

On paper, you have to like the Phillies' chances with their ace, Nola, on the mound in Thursday’s series finale. However, the Phils are 0-5 in his last five starts.

Can he turn things around and keep the Phillies’ momentum going?

“I think it's really important that we focus on just one game,” Kapler said. “More specifically, just one pitch. The first pitch of the game for Aaron Nola, the first pitch of the game for our leadoff batter tomorrow is what we're focused on.”



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Zach Eflin excellent, Bryce Harper homers and Phillies beat Braves again

Zach Eflin excellent, Bryce Harper homers and Phillies beat Braves again

BOX SCORE 

ATLANTA — A couple of home runs and some excellent pitching.

That was the Phillies’ recipe in a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

The Phils remain alive in the NL wild-card race. They entered the night four games out and had a chance to pick up ground depending on outcomes elsewhere.

There are 12 games remaining.

Zach Eflin gave the Phils an outstanding start Wednesday night and he was supported by home runs from Bryce Harper and Cesar Hernandez. Harper’s 32nd homer was a long, two-run shot against Julio Teheran in the fourth inning.

The Phillies only had four hits in the game and they struck out 12 times. It helps when half of your hits go over the wall and are preceded by a batter getting hit by a pitch as J.T. Realmuto was before Harper’s homer. The Phils scored their fourth run on a bases-loaded walk to Jean Segura in the sixth.

The Phils have beaten the Braves two straight nights in this three-game series. They have hit four home runs, including three two-run shots, in the two games.

Atlanta’s magic number for winning the NL East is two.

The Phillies are 78-72. They need to win four of their final 12 games to have their first winning season since 2011.

Quite the rebound

Eflin had struggled mightily in three previous starts against the Braves this season, including one last week. In just 9 1/3 innings, he was tagged for 17 hits and 20 runs (eight were unearned). He walked nine and struck out nine.

Eflin really turned the tables in this one. Relying heavily on his favorite pitch, a sinking, two-seam fastball, he held the Braves to five hits and one unearned run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out four.

Eflin threw 99 pitches and 57 were sinkers. He got 12 outs on the ground. He also pitched over three errors behind him.

Big out

Eflin got into a little jam in the bottom of the sixth when he allowed a one-out infield hit followed by a walk. Dangerous but slow-footed Brian McCann came to the plate with the Braves down, 4-1. The best way to attack McCann in that situation was with a heavy dose of sinkers, something that would produce a ground ball and a potential double play. Eflin threw McCann a first-pitch sinker and got his double play ball for one of his biggest outs of the night.

Bullpen shines

Lefty Jose Alvarez retired three big bats — Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson and Nick Markakis — in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out both Freeman and Donaldson and got Markakis on a ground ball. The Phils have done a good job on Freeman in the first two games of the series. They’ve pitched around him some and gone after him some. He is 0 for 5 with four walks.

Hector Neris got the save with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Go figure

Heading into the final meeting of the season with Atlanta on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have 10-8 record against the Braves.

While the Phils have enjoyed a winning record against the soon-to-be NL East champions, they have struggled against the last-place Miami Marlins. The Phils are 7-9 against the Marlins. The Phils finish the season later this month with three games against Miami.

Up next

Good pitching matchup in Thursday afternoon’s series finale: Aaron Nola (12-5, 3.62) against right-hander Mike Soroka (12-4, 2.57). First pitch is 12:10 p.m.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies