Phillies

Kapler won't commit to Maikel Franco, even after a huge afternoon

Kapler won't commit to Maikel Franco, even after a huge afternoon

Thursday was the kind of day Maikel Franco needed to have early in the season, and the kind of day he'll need to keep having to stave off his infield competition.

It still wasn't enough to get a definitive answer from his manager on whether he'd start Saturday.

Franco drove in all but one run in the Phillies' 5-0 win over the Marlins in their home opener. He singled in their first two runs and crushed a two-run homer in the seventh. In between, he hit a triple to deep center that was nearly a home run.

One game means little in the grand scheme and it's not like we've never seen a powerful game from Franco before. But what did stick out was the way he fought back in his ABs. He fell down 0-2 before the two-run single and was down 1-2 before the triple.

"I saw a lot of battle (with Franco)," manager Gabe Kapler said after his first win in South Philly. "He got down in a couple of counts and was able to battle back and get two monster hits for us. 

"The line drive trajectory on his ball has been really consistent from spring training to this point. He hasn't always had much to show for it but I can tell you the feeling of being in the batter's box and hitting balls on the nose gives you confidence in your next at-bats and eventually that confidence leads to results, it leads to balls falling on outfield grass and it leads to balls going into the gaps and into the seats like it did for Frankie today. Really happy for him."

Even so, Kapler would not commit to starting Franco in the Phils' next game. He should, given that the Phillies face another mediocre lefty starting pitcher in Dillon Peters and shortstop J.P. Crawford is scuffling mightily at the plate. Kapler could start Scott Kingery at shortstop like he did in Game 3 and keep Franco in the lineup.

That's not the Phillies' best defensive arrangement — Kingery is passable at short but probably not a long-term option there — but it's the better offensive arrangement with Crawford looking as lost as he currently does. Crawford's swing right now is very long. He's swinging like Joey Gallo, just without the pop. That's got to change. 

"I'm pretty confident. (Crawford) got off to a little bit of a slower start last year," Kapler said. "He wasn't always perfect in his Triple A performance. But the one thing that's been consistent about J.P. is he manages an at-bat. He controls the strike zone. He's good at seeing a lot of pitches. He walks. That's consistent. That you can depend on. You can't depend on balls falling in for base hits. But you can depend on controlling the strike zone. He does that very well."

That's Crawford's reputation, but he hasn't done that all too well lately either. It's far too early to give up on him, but when you have an infield surplus, you've got to go with who's hottest.

Right now, that's Franco. He joined Ryan Howard (2013) and Chase Utley (2010) as the only Phillies since 1962 with both a homer and a triple in a game in the first week of the season. And he's the only player in the majors so far this season with a homer, triple and at least four RBI in a game.

Franco, who's started four of the Phillies' six games, claims not to care about the irregular playing time. We'll see if that's still the case in a few months — if he's still here. The best way to help build his trade value is to give him as many early-season at-bats as possible, especially when he's seeing the ball well.

Hector Neris picks up biggest outs of young season in confidence-builder for Phillies bullpen

Hector Neris picks up biggest outs of young season in confidence-builder for Phillies bullpen

As Phillies manager Joe Girardi maneuvered his way through the middle and late innings with a beleaguered bullpen in a close game Thursday night, one thought weighed uncomfortably on his mind.

Girardi's counterpart, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, had decided this was the night to rest one of the most dangerous hitters on the planet. But just because Aaron Judge was out of the starting lineup didn't mean he and his lethal power bat wouldn't be a factor in the game.

Sure enough, with the Phillies desperately clinging to a one-run lead with two outs in the eighth inning and a man on third base, the hulking Judge grabbed his bat and strode toward the plate.

Girardi responded by replacing lefty reliever Jose Alvarez with right-handed closer Hector Neris.

Phillies fans beyond the centerfield gate and those watching on television held their breath.

Five pitches later, they could exhale as Neris got Judge to swing over a splitter for strike three. It was the biggest out of the young season — at least for an inning. Neris allowed a pair of two-out hits in the ninth before retiring Luke Voit on a ball to the warning track to complete a 5-4 victory over the Yankees.

The win gave the Phils a split of the four-game series with one of baseball's most powerful teams.

J.T. Realmuto and Phil Gosselin stood out with the bats and Zach Eflin pitched well in his season debut as the Phillies improved their record to 3-4. 

But the star of the game was an unlikely unit, a bullpen that had been scorched for 17 earned runs in 16⅔ innings in the early part of the season.

The 'pen was handed a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning and got 15 outs to preserve a one-run victory. Nick Pivetta allowed a two-run homer in the seventh for the bullpen's only blemish. But Pivetta did get six of the 15 outs.

Neris got four huge outs, including the strikeout of Judge, who leads the majors with seven homers and 17 RBIs in his first 12 games.

Yes, Girardi thought about having Neris walk Judge and go after Gio Urshela. But he didn't think about it for too long.

"You know, Aaron Judge, as great a hitter as he is, if you make your pitches you have a chance," Girardi said. "I thought Hector and J.T. had a great plan and they executed it."

Realmuto, the Phillies catcher, sensed that Judge would be looking for a first-pitch splitter because Neris is known for that pitch and threw it 66 percent of the time to lead off an at-bat last season. So Realmuto called for two straight fastballs then three straight splitters and it got the job done.

"That's a dangerous at-bat for any pitcher because if you make a mistake he can hit it out of the ballpark anywhere," Girardi said. "Hector was fantastic. 

"When you look at what our bullpen did tonight, they gave us five strong innings against arguably the best lineup in baseball. Just an outstanding job."

Girardi admitted that his heart may have skipped a beat when Voit launched his ball to center in the last at-bat of the game. Off the bat, it looked like it had a chance to be a three-run homer and more misery for the bullpen.

"You worry because you know how strong these guys are and how far they hit the ball," Girardi said. "But you feel a little bit better when you see your centerfielder nestle under it."

The bullpen needed a little confidence-builder after a rough start to the season. But there's not much time to savor the performance. The Braves arrive Friday night for a four-game series.

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Phillies' beleaguered bullpen gets the job done to earn series split vs. mighty Yankees

Phillies' beleaguered bullpen gets the job done to earn series split vs. mighty Yankees

The Phillies' beleaguered bullpen got the job done in a 5-4 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday night.

The taut victory gave the Phillies a split of the four-game, home-and-home series with the Yankees, who had won nine of their first 11 games.

The Phillies are 3-4 after seven games. They play their next four in division against the Atlanta Braves.

The Phils got a promising start from Zach Eflin in winning the series finale against the Yankees. They got a three-run homer from J.T. Realmuto and another big hit from Phil Gosselin. But the star of the game might have been closer Hector Neris. He highlighted a good night for the bullpen with a four-out save that included a huge strikeout of one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball with a runner on base in a one-run game in the eighth inning.

Eflin's night

The right-hander did a lot of good things against a powerful lineup in his season debut.

He worked four innings and gave up two runs, but both were unearned after a Scott Kingery error extended the second inning. The error, on a possible double-play ball, caused Eflin's pitch count to soar and that prevented him from going another inning and qualifying for the win. Eflin threw 77 pitches, many of them his bread-and-butter sinking fastball. He allowed just four hits, one walk and struck out five.

The Phillies need Eflin to be a consistent contributor this season. This was a good place to start.

Hold your breath

Eflin's pitch count was being watched carefully because he's still building his workload after a July back injury. After Eflin left the game with a 5-2 lead, manager Joe Girardi had to hope that his struggling bullpen could get 15 outs against possibly the best lineup in baseball to preserve the lead.

It did.

Barely.

But it did.

Deolis Guerra, who failed to keep Monday night's game in New York close, enjoyed some redemption with a scoreless fifth inning.

Nick Pivetta worked the next two innings and allowed a two-run homer to Gary Sanchez in the seventh as the Yanks made it a one-run game.

Things got hairy in the top of the eighth as Giancarlo Stanton doubled against Jose Alvarez with one out and moved to third on a ground out.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone sent up Aaron Judge (he did not start) to pinch-hit and Girardi countered with right-handed closer Neris. In a dramatic showdown with the game on the line, Neris struck out Judge on five pitches to end the threat and preserve the lead.

Judge leads the majors with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 12 games. Neris got him swinging over a splitter. It was the biggest out of the season so far for the Phillies.

Neris survived a pair of two-out singles in the ninth for the save. It was a nervous save as Yankee slugger Luke Voit sent one to the warning track in center for the final out.

Uncle Larry warms up

Before the game, Girardi expressed faith in leadoff man Andrew McCutchen, who had started off 1 for 18 with two walks. McCutchen lined out to shortstop in the first inning but singled and doubled later in the game. His double in the seventh likely would have scored Roman Quinn from first base hadn't Quinn been picked off with his team up a run.

Realmuto stays hot

With a vocal group of fans shouting "Sign J.T." from beyond the centerfield gate, Realmuto homered for the second straight night. His three-run homer in the first inning came against Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery. Rhys Hoskins (walk) and Bryce Harper (single) were on base. 

Realmuto leads the Phils with three homers and eight RBIs.

Realmuto also made a huge defensive play, gunning down a runner trying to steal second base in the fourth to complete a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play.

Also on the hot list

Phil Gosselin got the start as the designated hitter and doubled home two runs in the third to give the Phils a 5-2 lead. Gosselin is 6 for 10 on the season with six RBIs.

Up next

The Phillies open a four-game series with NL East rival Atlanta on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. Vince Velasquez (0-0, 12.00) will oppose right-hander Kyle Wright (0-1, 7.50) in the first game of the series. Jake Arrieta pitches Saturday night for the Phillies and it's possible that prospect Spencer Howard could get the call on Sunday afternoon.

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