Phillies

Gabe Kapler coy about Sunday's starter for Phillies but roster moves likely to come

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USA Today Images/Isaiah J. Downing

Gabe Kapler coy about Sunday's starter for Phillies but roster moves likely to come

ATLANTA — Gabe Kapler is playing things close to the vest regarding Sunday's starting pitcher. The Phillies still have not announced who will start the series finale in Atlanta.

Here's what we know:

• It will not be Jake Arrieta on regular rest. Instead, the Phils will get Arrieta an extra day because of the off-day this past Thursday. Arrieta will start Monday's series opener in D.C.

• Cole Irvin will be involved Sunday in some form. He may not start, but he's likely to pitch multiple innings in relief as he did at Dodger Stadium on June 1.

If Irvin doesn't start, the other option is using an opener. However, this isn't as clear-cut as it was against the Dodgers, an extremely left-handed team with Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Alex Verdugo.

The Braves come at you from both sides and they are unlikely to alter their batting order because of an opener. Friday night's win was their eighth in a row and they've won all eight with this lineup. 

Atlanta is not going to move Ronald Acuña Jr. down in the order just because a right-hander like Juan Nicasio or Vince Velasquez is beginning the game. The Braves are not going to move Freddie Freeman or Nick Markakis out of their customary spots batting third and fifth.

All that to say, the mind game with the Braves Sunday is unlikely to have a big impact. 

We could wind up seeing someone like Nicasio face the first two batters of the game, Acuña Jr. and Dansby Swanson, then Kapler make the call to the 'pen for Irvin. That would seem like the right spot with Freeman batting third, Markakis fifth, Brian McCann seventh and Ozzie Albies (switch-hitter) eighth.

Roster moves coming

The Phillies could have a couple of roster moves to make Sunday to make room for Irvin and the potential return of Pat Neshek. Neshek (shoulder) responded well after a bullpen session Friday and could be activated Sunday morning. 

If those two are added to the 25-man roster Sunday, the casualties would likely be two of Ranger Suarez, Jerad Eickhoff and J.D. Hammer.

What about Quinn?

The tentative plan was to activate Roman Quinn for this Braves series but now it's more likely he's activated in D.C. rather than Atlanta.

Quinn was hit by a pitch in the shoulder Friday night during a rehab game with Double A Reading and felt discomfort on a subsequent swing. He will not play Saturday night for Reading but will go through his normal pregame routine and the Phillies will formulate a plan from there.

They do not see the shoulder issue as anything serious. Quinn is sitting Saturday as a precaution, Kapler said.

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As trade deadline approaches, Phillies GM Matt Klentak to get firsthand look at much-coveted Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd

As trade deadline approaches, Phillies GM Matt Klentak to get firsthand look at much-coveted Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd

The Phillies began an important week in the schedule with a 2-1 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Despite scoring just three runs in the final two games, the Phillies took two of three from the Pirates to remain entrenched in the National League wild-card race as next week's trade deadline (and big decisions for the front office) steams toward us.

And, this year, it's a real trade deadline. There are no more August waiver deals, the kind that once brought the Phillies Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs and the Houston Astros Justin Verlander in 2017, two months before they won the World Series.

The Detroit Tigers traded Verlander to the Astros in August 2017. Two years later, the Tigers, who entered Monday tied with Baltimore for the worst record in the majors, remain in a rebuild and they have several trade candidates that intrigue contending teams.

The Phillies will get a good look at one of them — maybe more — over the next couple of days when they travel to Detroit for a quick, two-game interleague series on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak will join the team in Detroit for the series and will no doubt have his eyes trained on Tuesday night's Detroit starter, lefty Matthew Boyd.

Though Klentak would surely prefer otherwise, it's possible he could also get a look at Shane Greene, the Tigers' All-Star closer. Outfielder Nicholas Castellanos and lefty starter Daniel Norris are also on Detroit's trading block.

The Phillies have big needs in the starting rotation and at the back end of the bullpen. Sources say the Phils have had conversations with the Tigers about all of their available players, particularly Boyd and Greene. Both are the type of pitcher the Phillies would like to acquire in that they are talented and under contractual control beyond this season. In other words, they are not rentals. Boyd has three years of control after this season and Greene is under control through next season.

Now, here's the rub: That type of control raises the price tag on these pitchers and by all accounts, the Tigers are looking for a huge score — as they should.

One baseball executive familiar with the Tigers' thinking said the club was looking for four young players for Boyd — "two with star potential and two more with a chance."

The Tigers are in position to seek a huge score not only because Boyd has so many years of control remaining but also because the market for starting pitchers heavily favors sellers. Toronto's Marcus Stroman (the Phillies have scouted him recently) and Boyd are the top two controllable pitchers on the market. It remains unclear if Arizona will deal lefty Robbie Ray, who is under control for another season, or Zack Greinke because the Diamondbacks are still in the wild-card chase. The D-backs could hold on to both and look to deal them in the offseason if they desire. The market for Greinke will be limited, now and in the offseason, because he is owed over $80 million through 2021 and he has a no-trade clause. The Phillies have plenty of money and would prefer to use that over prospect capital, but even they would have reservations about taking on that amount of money for a guy who will pitch at 36 and 37 the next two seasons and has Philadelphia on his no-trade list.

Madison Bumgarner is another pitcher that the Phils have long liked, but his availability is now complicated by the fact the Giants have gotten hot and are now in the wild-card race. (Surely, teams with available starters like Toronto and Detroit love that.)

In the end, Bumgarner might not be quite as attractive for a team that is more than one piece away from a title because he will be a free agent at season's end. The Phillies, just four games over .500 and with multiple holes, have to consider the prospect cost of a rental player because they just don't appear to be good enough to make a significant October run.

Can we beat the Dodgers by adding just one player, or are we better off hanging onto our prospects? That's a question teams like the Phillies have to ask themselves. It is a question they have already asked themselves.

For someone like Boyd, the Tigers would probably ask the Phillies for a package that would include position players such as Alec Bohm, Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley, or pitchers Adonis Medina, Spencer Howard and Francisco Morales. The Phils might part with a couple of these guys — hey, they're going to need pitching next season, too — but their current place in the standings would suggest that they will also be very protective of this group, especially Bohm and Howard.

Nonetheless, it should be interesting to watch Boyd pitch against Aaron Nola on Tuesday night in Detroit. Boyd is 6-8 with a 4.13 ERA in 20 starts for the lowly Tigers. He walks under 2.0 batters per nine innings and strikes out an even 12.0. He pitches a little like J.A. Happ, unafraid to go after hitters up in the zone with a sneaky fastball and complement it with a good changeup. He'd be a nice pickup for the Phillies, for now and beyond, and Matt Klentak will be watching. Is he willing to pay the price? Tick, tick, tick. The trade deadline is nine days away.

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Drew Smyly's outstanding debut, fearless Ranger Suarez help Phillies beat Pirates

Drew Smyly's outstanding debut, fearless Ranger Suarez help Phillies beat Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Despite a second straight day of little offense, the Phillies were able to escape PNC Park on Sunday with a series win. The Phillies had just three hits through eight innings and just six for the day. Ultimately, they got the game’s biggest hit — a solo homer from Rhys Hoskins with one out in the 11th — and that was enough to secure a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates heading into an off day Monday and a two-game set with the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.

This is what happens when you get outstanding pitching. You can do little at the plate and still win a ballgame with one swing of the bat.

Make no mistake: The Phillies won this game because of their pitching. Even Hoskins admitted that.

“It was pretty incredible,” he said.

The Pirates scored a run in the first inning and nothing after that.

That first-inning run came against Drew Smyly, the veteran lefty who opted out of his minor-league contract with the Brewers on Thursday after the Phillies had reached out with a chance to be a starter in the big leagues. Smyly spent several days in roster limbo and did not get to join his new teammates in the clubhouse until Sunday morning. He signed his contract before the game then proceeded to pitch six innings of one-run ball. He scattered four hits, walked two and struck out eight. He got 16 swing and misses, eight on a curveball that catcher Andrew Knapp said was like no other he’d ever caught because it had screwball action.

“It's definitely a great one to start off on,” Smiley said. “Just try to build off of it. It was a lot of fun being out there with a new group of guys, a fresh start. I'm very grateful to the Phillies for this opportunity and just going to try to roll with it.”

Smyly, 30, missed 2017 and 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He was released by Texas in late June after recording a 8.42 ERA in 51 1/3 innings.

“I feel like once Texas designated me and then I went and signed with the Brewers, I really started to figure out some things about myself and kind of a new game plan, a new approach on how to attack hitters,” Smyly said. “I instantly saw results and I only think it's going to get better. I just feel like I'm a different pitcher than I was with Texas right now.”

Smyly would not offer specifics about the changes he made after Texas.

“I don't want to give away my secrets,” he said with a laugh. “Still have a lot of games to play. But it's just the way I'm attacking and the way I feel like I'm mixing it up. I was pretty predictable in Texas. I wasn't good. I didn't perform well. I know what I'm capable of. I've had a lot of good seasons in the past before my Tommy John surgery. So I just need to get back. The game has changed a little bit in the last two years and I just have to get back to attacking hitters and keeping them off balance. I think I have a good idea of how to do that now.”

After Smyly departed, the Phils got five shutout innings from the bullpen. Most impressive was rookie Ranger Suarez’ two scoreless innings after Hector Neris hit two batters and got a bases-loaded line out to left to survive a ninth-inning scare.

The lefty Suarez survived a leadoff double in the 10th and a hit in the 11th. He struck out the final two batters of the game. Eight of his last nine appearances have been scoreless. Not bad for a guy working out of the bullpen regularly for the first time.

Manager Gabe Kapler called Suarez’ work “gutsy” and “courageous.” The 23-year-old from Venezuela does pitch with a fearless swagger.

“I don’t need any fear,” Suarez said through translator Diego Ettedgui. “I need outs. And I was able to get them."

And the Phillies, still hoping to snap a seven-year playoff drought, were able to clinch a series win on a day when they scored just two runs.

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