Phillies

Gabe Kapler defends it all after one of the ugliest Phillies' losses you'll ever see

Gabe Kapler defends it all after one of the ugliest Phillies' losses you'll ever see

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On Sunday night, the Phillies and New York Mets will travel upstate to Williamsport to play a regular-season game in front of a few thousand Little Leaguers. It’s all part of a Major League Baseball initiative to inspire young players to excel in the game, reach for the stars and maybe get to the big leagues.

MLB better hope that the brand of ball played in the nationally televised game will be better than what masqueraded as baseball at the highest level early Thursday night.

The Phillies, a sloppy defensive team to begin with, played error-filled ball in the first game of a doubleheader and came away with an eyesore of a 24-4 loss (see first take). The Phillies’ performance ranged from ugly to embarrassing to comical as the team made four errors, gave up 11 unearned runs and resorted to using two position players on the mound to cover the final three innings of the blowout.

Oft-injured outfielder Roman Quinn gave up six hits and seven runs in 1 2/3 innings and infielder Scott Kingery allowed four hits and two runs before the game mercifully ended.

During his stint as a mop-up reliever, Kingery lobbed the ball so slowly that it did not register on the stadium radar gun. Mets hitters dug in and teed off. Players in the Mets’ dugout giggled. Fans, who had booed earlier in the day, also giggled. The whole thing, frankly, was an embarrassment to the sport.

But Phillies manager Gabe Kapler managed to keep it all in perspective, especially as it pertained to his use, or non-use, of the bullpen.

“You guys are going to spin this however you want, but the fact of the matter is, in the fifth inning when we're down 11 runs, we started to prepare for the second game,” he said. “We used strategy to best position the Phillies to win baseball games. We're going to continue to do that. My job is to protect the Phillies. That's it. That's what I did.

“Our best relievers are not excited about coming into those kind of games, those lopsided games. On the flip side, a couple position players enjoyed it. A 24-4 game and a 5-4 game both count as a loss. And so our strategy is to be best positioned to win the next baseball game. If we end up using Luis (Garcia) or (Victor) Arano, they're going to be less effective in the second game. [Quinn and Kingery] got through it safely. We're in a much better position to win Game 2 as a result.”

Kapler defended his use of Quinn, who has missed significant time in his career with a series of injuries.

“I don't have any concerns for Roman throwing the ball 78 miles an hour because that's what he does every day when he plays catch,” Kapler said. “I don't have any concerns for Scotty doing the same thing. It's a strategy decision because we're trying to make the playoffs, we're trying to win the National League East, and the game was out of hand. We now have a bullpen that we can use effectively in Game 2 of this doubleheader.

“Down the road, we're going to look back on this and it's just going to be a time when we got our asses kicked and we had position players on the mound.”

Kapler was asked if that is what fans really want to see, a couple of position players throwing batting practice. The Phillies entered the game with eight relievers and used just two for an inning apiece before Quinn took the mound.

“I think they were probably more entertained than they have been, frankly,” he said. “I would bet that it is more entertaining to watch what we just saw than in the same kind of blowout game one of our relievers that we see regularly.”

Maikel Franco made a pair of errors at third base in the opener. Catcher Jorge Alfaro made a throwing error and leftfielder Rhys Hoskins dropped a ball for another error. All the errors led to runs. Rookie starter Ranger Suarez gave up eight runs, four of which were unearned. Mark Leiter Jr. gave up four hits, including a grand slam, and seven runs in one inning, but all were unearned as the Phils made a pair of errors behind him.

Poor defense is nothing new for these Phillies. They entered the first game of the doubleheader ranked second to last in the majors in defensive runs saved (minus-85), according to Fangraphs. Only Baltimore at minus-95 was worse.

The four errors gave the Phils 92 on the season, tying them with St. Louis for most in the majors.

“We didn't play good defense,” Kapler said. “We put a little additional pressure on our pitchers to get additional outs. These are major-league hitters. They're going to eventually drive the baseball and that's what they did.”

The Mets had 25 hits in the first game. Eleven of the hits, including three homers, were for extra bases.

All four of the Phillies’ runs in the first game came on solo homers by Hoskins, Franco, Alfaro and Nick Williams.

The Phillies rebounded to win the nightcap, 9-6 (see story).

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The hero again, Jay Bruce making a huge impact on the field and on his Phillies teammates

The hero again, Jay Bruce making a huge impact on the field and on his Phillies teammates

Imagine where this Phillies team would be without Jay Bruce.

When the Phillies acquired Bruce from Seattle on June 2, it was to be a platoon outfielder and extra bench bat, a player who could come off the pine, pop one and change the game.

Less than a month later, he's become one of the most instrumental bats in their lineup.

Bruce did what no other Phillie has done this season: delivered a walk-off win. His line shot off Stephen Nogosek in the 10th inning Wednesday sailed over the head of centerfielder Juan Lagares (who was playing much shallower than you'd expect) and sent the Phillies' dugout into a frenzy with a 5-4 win (see observations). Rookie Edgar Garcia, the winning pitcher, rushed to dump the Gatorade jug over Bruce's head. The party was on.

Make that three straight nights the Phillies have come back to beat the plummeting Mets. They overcame a two-run deficit Monday, a three-run deficit Tuesday and a four-run deficit Wednesday. It's probably best they don't continue the pattern.

"I don't think there's any way I could actually express it in words, how important he's been to the club," manager Gabe Kapler said of Bruce. "He spent a tremendous amount of time in the clubhouse getting to know our players very quickly. You guys have seen how many big hits he's gotten for us and how clutch he's been.

"I talked to him this morning about the possibility of maybe giving him a day. We have some [right-handed starting pitching opponents] coming up. I thought maybe it might be a good time to get him off his feet. It wasn't a push or anything. It was an open conversation between two grown-ups. He said, 'I'm in there. Not only am I in there, but I give the Phillies the best chance to win a baseball game.' And as he was coming off the field right there, he said, 'I told you.' And I believe him.

"Everything he has said has been true — from the time he got to the Phillies, from the time he walked into my office in San Diego and said he was still a strong enough defender to put out there every day, that his body was capable of bouncing back. He's proven that to be true. That he can hit left-handed pitching. He's proven that to be true. I'll never doubt another word that Jay Bruce says."

As a Phillie, Bruce has hit .294 with an OPS just under 1.000. He has seven home runs, four doubles and 20 RBI in 19 games. Keep in mind, his arrival coincided with the season-ending injury to Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera's arrest, and the beginning of cold spells for Jean Segura and Cesar Hernandez.

Bruce's bat has, in many ways, kept the Phillies afloat and prevented further disaster in the month of June.

"Jay's an awesome guy. He brings energy to the field every day, he's happy, he competes," said Nick Pivetta, who had a rough outing. "I've faced him before, he's not an easy out. He's really helping us do a lot of great things. It's been a pleasure to watch him play."

Bruce is no stranger to walk-off hits. This was the 12th of his career. In the span of 19 games, he has been the key hitter in at least five and probably six of the Phillies' 10 wins. Metrics like Win Probability Added and Wins Above Replacement are more complicated than just accounting for game-winning or game-breaking hits, but Bruce has literally added a few more wins to the Phillies' total than they'd otherwise have. 

He has shown how much added value an acquisition can bring when it's completed far ahead of the trade deadline.

"I definitely, and you can ask anybody, I want to be the guy up at the plate with a chance to end it," Bruce said. "But I think that you learn throughout your career how to approach and how to handle those situations. The biggest message I talk to myself every single at-bat in a situation like that is to just do less. Try to do less. Try not to force the situation. All the cliches, start taking it pitch by pitch.

"These guys have made it so easy on me, man. It’s been unbelievable. They’ve been so great as far as kind of welcoming me, allowing me to be myself, integrating myself in the clubhouse. I think one of the things I feel is the most important when you get traded — now being traded four times — is integrating yourself in the clubhouse. Being a little vulnerable, opening up, getting to know guys, kind of understanding how guys tick and what the team is like. I think that’s really important."

Moments after Bruce finished answering questions, he grabbed an adult beverage, pulled up a chair and joined the circle of Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Andrew Knapp and Sean Rodriguez in conversation.

"Ray Bjuce!" Knapp yelled, a nickname that probably won't stick.

It feels like Bruce has been with the Phillies a lot longer than 24 days.

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Phillies 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): Phillies come back for 3rd straight night, notch 1st walk-off of 2019

Phillies 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): Phillies come back for 3rd straight night, notch 1st walk-off of 2019

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It took 80 games but the Phillies have their first walk-off win of 2019. Jay Bruce smoked an RBI double over the centerfielder's head in the bottom of the 10th to give the Phillies a 5-4 win and a third straight victory over the Mets.

The Phillies came back from a two-run deficit to win Game 1, a three-run deficit to win Game 2 and a four-run deficit to win Game 3. The Mets' bullpen has been a total disaster, especially lately, which made beleaguered Mets manager Mickey Callaway's decision to pull starter Jason Vargas after just 77 pitches across 6⅓ mostly dominant innings even more strange.

The Phillies took advantage of that highly questionable decision in the sixth inning, scoring three runs on an RBI double by Cesar Hernandez and a game-tying, bases-loaded two-run single by Jean Segura, who homered an inning earlier.

Hernandez has six straight multi-hit games. Segura has nine home runs, just one fewer than he had last season.

The Phillies are 42-38; the Mets are 37-44.

Happy to see you go

The Phillies were thrilled to see Vargas exit this game. The veteran finesse lefty matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts over 6⅓ innings and allowed just five of the 24 batters he faced to reach base. 

Callaway, who has come under tremendous fire lately for the team's poor performance, his questionable managerial decisions and his tirade toward a Newsday reporter over the weekend, pulled Vargas after 77 pitches for reliever Seth Lugo. He did it despite the fact that every Mets setup man has failed this month to get the ball from the starting pitcher to closer Edwin Diaz. 

From a Phillies perspective, it paid off, just as it did 24 hours earlier when Callaway turned to his worst reliever, Wilmer Font, with the game on the line in the decisive sixth inning.

Another stressful night for Pivetta 

It was not a strong night for Nick Pivetta, who allowed a pair of solo homers and four runs total over 5⅔ innings. 

The most surprising aspect of Pivetta's start was the lack of whiffs. Just two of the 40 fastballs he threw resulted in a swinging strike and both were by the opposing pitcher, Vargas. Pivetta struck out only three batters and two were Vargas, who singled in his first AB.

Pivetta allowed a baserunner in every inning and pitched out of the stretch to 17 of the 29 batters he faced.

In six starts since returning from his stint in the minors, Pivetta has a 4.30 ERA and has allowed nine home runs in 37 innings. The Phillies are 2-4 in those games.

Phillies starting pitchers have allowed 15 runs in 16⅔ innings in the series.

Add McNeil to the list

Of Phillie-killers, that is. The guy is just a really good hitter. Strong contact skills, sneaky power, hits pitchers from both sides. McNeil followed Tuesday's four-hit game by going 2 for 4 with a solo homer, an RBI double and a walk.

In 20 career games against the Phillies, McNeil has hit .456 with 11 extra-base hits in 85 plate appearances (36-79).

Draft news

According to a source, Phillies first-round pick Bryson Stott is in Philadelphia for a physical. GM Matt Klentak had said Monday the Phillies expected to sign Stott this week. The deal could be completed as soon as Thursday morning.

Up next

The four-game series concludes tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 when Aaron Nola (6-2, 4.55) takes on Zack Wheeler (6-5, 4.69).

Wheeler has been as up-and-down this season as Nola. In his last start, Wheeler allowed one run to the Cubs over seven innings. His prior two times out, he allowed 14 runs on 20 hits in 10⅔ innings.

The Phillies faced Wheeler twice in one week in April. In those two games, Wheeler gave up three runs in seven innings in a Mets loss and went seven scoreless with 11 punchouts in a Mets win.

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