Phillies

The future is here for promising Alfaro

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The future is here for promising Alfaro

CLEARWATER, Fla. – The Phillies have invested countless hours of instruction, manpower and technology into Jorge Alfaro’s improvement as a catcher. It’s beginning to show.

“He’s much improved from September,” said Larry Bowa, who doesn’t miss a thing from the top step of the dugout.

“Light years,” said Dusty Wathan, describing Alfaro’s improvement from the time he joined the Phillies organization in 2015 as part of the return from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade.

The Phillies are handing over the bulk of their catching duties to Alfaro this season. He’s 24 and out of minor-league options. It’s time to see what he can do with a significant look at the big-league level.

Alfaro spent some time in the majors in 2016 and 2017 and his defense left much to be desired. He decided to do something about it over the winter. The man they call El Oso – The Bear – went home to Colombia and trimmed 12 pounds off his rugged frame. He reported at 238 pounds. A lighter load has left him quicker and little more agile behind the plate. He looked quick and agile when he gunned down Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier trying to steal second in the first inning Saturday.

“An elite, elite arm,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Alfaro explained his weight loss: “I knew there was an opportunity and I wanted to prepare myself to compete for that job. Nothing is guaranteed. Even if you are out of options they can take you off the 40-man roster.”

Alfaro grew up playing shortstop and outfield. He was also a soccer standout. In hopes of getting more baseball exposure, he went to live with an aunt in the Dominican Republic when he was 16. The scouts saw his bazooka arm and moved him to catcher. He’s still basically learning the position.

“He’s not a finished product,” said Wathan, a former catcher who managed Alfaro in the minors and is now part of a team of big-league coaches that works with the catchers in the majors. There’s another group of the player-development side that has helped Alfaro, as well. “There’s more room for improvement. He’s got all the tools you’d want and he’s starting to use them.”

Alfaro’s footwork on his release to second base has become smoother. His receiving hand appears to be softer and more still than in the past. The Phillies are putting a premium on catchers’ keeping the ball in the strike zone. Every day, catchers work on framing pitches fired from a pitching machine. Video is used for feedback and teaching.

“It’s about getting strikes for your pitcher,” Wathan said. “Jorge has worked hard on keeping balls on the edge in the zone, especially low pitches.”

The Phillies knew about Alfaro long before they traded for him. They offered him $1 million when he was a 16-year-old amateur. He instead signed with Texas for $1.3 million. The Phils pegged Alfaro as their catcher of the future when they traded for him.

The future is here.

Phillies 8, Rockies 5: Aaron Nola battles; Phil Gosselin, Bryce Harper lead offense

Phillies 8, Rockies 5: Aaron Nola battles; Phil Gosselin, Bryce Harper lead offense

BOX SCORE

DENVER — The Phillies finally solved the beast of Coors Field in an 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.

Aaron Nola delivered a solid start in earning the win and Phil Gosselin and Bryce Harper both drove in three runs.

Gosselin, a West Chester native and former Malvern Prep star making his first start, gave the Phils the lead with a bases-loaded double in the fourth.

The win snapped the Phillies' six-game losing streak in Coors Field, dating to September.

The Phils are 12-8, first place in the NL East.

Colorado is 8-13.

The keys

• Nola showed tremendous intangibles — resilience and toughness. He allowed first-pitch homers in the first and second innings and pitched with traffic on the bases most of the night. But he got big outs when he had to. For instance, he struck out two with the bases loaded to end the third inning, preventing a one-run Colorado inning from getting bigger. He got a big strikeout with a runner on third to end the fourth and stranded two in the fifth.

• Big hits had been scarce for the Phillies in this series, but they got one from Gosselin, a three-run double in the fourth inning.

• Nola helped himself at the plate. His successful sacrifice bunt in the third inning sent Maikel Franco to second and set up a two-out RBI single by Cesar Hernandez.

• Charlie Blackmon is always a thorn in the Phillies’ side. He won Friday night’s game for the Rockies with a two-run homer in the 12th then hit the first pitch Nola threw out of the park to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead in this one. Blackmon had hits in each of his first three at-bats against Nola. Nola struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the sixth but manager Gabe Kapler would not allow the right-hander to face Blackmon again, not in a one-run game. He summoned lefty Adam Morgan and he used his slider-fastball combo to strike out Blackmon and end the inning. Morgan has pitched nine scoreless innings this season. He has allowed three hits and one walk. He has struck out 10.

• Harper made everyone in the Phillies’ dugout breathe a little easier when he smacked a three-run homer in the seventh to turn a one-run lead into a four-run lead. That was big because the Rockies rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth. Hector Neris survived a near game-tying homer by Trevor Story in the eighth en route to a five-out save. Andrew McCutchen clubbed a solo homer in the ninth to give Neris a little extra cushion.

Nola's night

Nola had struggled in his previous three outings so this was a clear step forward. Though he allowed nine hits over 5 2/3 innings, he limited the Rockies to three runs by getting big outs. He struck out nine and really seemed to find his breaking ball late in the outing. He got seven swinging strikes on the pitch. His fastball touched 95 mph. All in all, definitely something to build on.

Transactions

There were lots of them as the Phils placed three players on the injured list. The full recap and what it all means is here (see story).

Up next

Jerad Eickhoff, healthy after dealing with something similar to carpal tunnel syndrome the last two seasons, makes his first start of the new season in the series finale Sunday afternoon. He will face Rockies’ right-hander Jon Gray.

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West Chester native Phil Gosselin has suddenly become very important to Phillies

West Chester native Phil Gosselin has suddenly become very important to Phillies

DENVER — The Phillies on Saturday placed two shortstops on the injured list.

With Jean Segura down for at least seven games and Scott Kingery out longer than that — both have hamstring injuries — the Phillies will look to Phil Gosselin to handle the position.

Gosselin, 30, signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies this winter after spending parts of the previous six seasons in the majors with five different clubs.

A local guy from West Chester, Malvern Prep and the University of Virginia, Gosselin signed with the Phillies because they were in win-now mode and he figured at some point they might have a need for a veteran who can play all over the diamond.

That need is here.

Called up from Triple A on Wednesday, Gosselin took over at shortstop when Kingery went down on Friday night. For a short time, it looked as if Gosselin, playing in his first game for the team he grew up rooting for, might be one of the stars of a victory. He came back from an 0-2 count to stroke a two-out hit in the 12th then scored the tie-breaking run on a double by Bryce Harper. The Phils were one strike from winning when Charlie Blackmon clubbed a two-run homer against Juan Nicasio to give the Rockies a 4-3 win.

Manager Gabe Kapler called the loss “brutal.”

He could have added an unprintable adjective in front of that.

On Saturday, the Phils addressed the fallout.

Nicasio was in the game because Victor Arano had a tender elbow and could not go. Kapler said Arano was tender from a massage he had last week in Miami. (We’re guessing Sparky Lyle never had that issue.)

Arano joined Segura and Kingery on the 10-day IL.

To fill the void, the Phils called up infielder Mitch Walding and relievers Austin Davis and Drew Anderson from Triple A.

The Phillies were actually leaning toward playing Segura on Sunday. When Kingery went down, they decided it was best to make sure they got Segura back to 100 percent so they placed him on the IL to avoid the temptation of using him before he was completely ready. Segura will be eligible to return next Saturday so Gosselin’s starting assignment is temporary — but important.

Gosselin, who shined in spring training, hitting .405 with a 1.159 OPS, can play all over but most of his big-league time has come at second base and third base. He has played just 64 innings at shortstop in the majors. He has significantly more time there in the minors.

“It’s exciting,” Gosselin said of his opportunity. “I think all of us in here, guys that don’t play every day, want to play every day. We all want to get the chance, no matter if it’s catcher, right field. I’ll put in some work with (infield coach) Bobby Dickerson, keep working at it, and look to make all the routine plays out there so the pitchers have confidence in me.”

Behind Gosselin, the Phillies could use Cesar Hernandez, Roman Quinn or even Maikel Franco at shortstop in a pinch. The Phils have Sean Rodriguez and Andrew Romine at Triple A if more reinforcements are needed at the position.

There was no immediate word on how long Kingery would be out. Team medical personnel was still evaluating his MRI on Saturday night.

Kapler said it was difficult to see Kingery go on the IL.

"I watch Scott Kingery play like I’m watching a family member," Kapler said. "I feel that invested in watching him play and caring about his well being. It was an enormous blow to see him having the success that we all knew he could have and to know that was going to be interrupted. He’s going to be back on the field but it was that his progress, his flow, his confidence, and his health were interrupted in that moment and that was upsetting. I’m still upset about it."

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