Phillies

Gabe Kapler's risky decision pays off in win vs. Brewers

Gabe Kapler's risky decision pays off in win vs. Brewers

BOX SCORE

Gabe Kapler made another move Saturday that would have surely caused an uproar if it backfired ... but it didn't.

With the Phillies up a run and men on second and third with two outs in the top of the sixth, Kapler opted to pinch-hit for a cruising Zach Eflin with Maikel Franco. 

Franco was intentionally walked by Brewers lefty reliever Boone Logan, who then walked 9-hole hitter J.P. Crawford on a borderline 3-2 pitch to bring in a run. Cesar Hernandez followed with an RBI infield single that gave the Phils a 4-1 lead that stood up as the final score.

If Franco or Crawford would have made an out to end the inning, many would be questioning why Kapler yanked Eflin, who had retired 11 of the last 13 hitters he faced.

Eflin pitched another very good game against a very good lineup, allowing just a run on three hits over five innings with six strikeouts. He also picked off Lorenzo Cain and caught Travis Shaw stealing.

While some will still say that Eflin was pulled too early, the move made sense if looked at contextually. The Phillies' offense has been brutal lately and this was a rare run-scoring opportunity. And the Brewers have an elite triumvirate in the bullpen of Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffers and Corey Knebel. If you don't score in that situation and it remains a one-run game, you're definitely seeing one or more of those relievers and it becomes a whole lot harder to score.

Hoskins delivers

Rhys Hoskins had a powerful and productive game and blasted the hardest-hit ball of his MLB career off Junior Guerra, who had a hilarious reaction.

Another royal inning

It appeared the Phillies were again set to use Seranthony Dominguez for six outs. It would've been the fourth time already he'd gone two innings and his third two-inning save. But after Dominguez stranded two baserunners in a scoreless eighth inning, Kapler turned to Hector Neris for his first save since May 21. 

Up next

The series concludes Sunday at 2:15 p.m. when Aaron Nola (8-2, 2.27) opposes Chase Anderson (5-5, 4.13).

The Phillies have a big starting pitching advantage and could really use a second straight series win. After leaving Milwaukee, the Phils have 14 straight games against teams with a combined winning percentage of .610.

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Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

CLEARWATER — Aaron Nola did not have a bad season in 2019 by any stretch of the imagination. He made every start and went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA. There are pitchers all over baseball who would love to have a season like that.

But it's indisputable that Nola's 2019 season was not nearly as good as his 2018 season. In 2018, he was brilliant. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Nola's WHIP in 2018 was a sterling 0.975.

Last season, it was 1.265.

After pitching two scoreless innings in his spring debut Sunday, Nola reflected on his 2019 season.

"I didn't get ahead," he said.

He's right.

Check out the numbers.

In 2018, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. That ranked second in the majors to St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (71.1).

Last season, Nola's first-pitch strike percentage slipped to 62.3. That ranked 39th in the majors, well behind leader Max Scherzer (70.4) and teammate Zach Eflin, who ranked fourth (68.6).

Nola ended up walking 3.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from 2.5 in his big year of 2018.

So, it's no surprise what Nola is working on this spring.

"Just fill up the strike zone and throw the ball down a lot," he said. "That's kind of the key. Get ahead of guys and stay ahead of guys. I just want to focus on having that tunnel vision around the plate."

If you've paid attention to the things Phillies pitchers have said this spring and even late last season, you know they weren't always comfortable with the practices of former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young. The theme in this camp, at least among the pitchers, can be summed up in one word.

Simplify.

"I'm just going to simplify some things and throw my fastball for strikes," Nola said. "I don't want to throw too hard too early in the count."

Nola pointed to his outing Sunday. He allowed a hit to open the game then got a double-play ball with a strike down in the zone.

"I want to try to get ground balls and I felt like I did that today," Nola said. "I got a double play and it's satisfying to get double plays."

Nola, 26, has so far enjoyed bonding with Bryan Price, his fourth pitching coach in as many seasons. Price espouses some traditional philosophies, like keeping the ball down. In that regard, he is similar to Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, two former Phillies pitching coaches that Nola thrived under.

"That's been my mindset ever since I started to pitch and it is really stressed now," he said of pitching down in the zone. "I think that's what pitching should be and that's what we've always learned how to do.

"I think the state of the game is to simplify things and get back to that part of it. I look forward to my one-on-one bullpen sessions with (Price). When you have a bad game or not as good of a game as you want to go back to basics in the bullpen sessions. I've had previous pitching coaches like that and it has helped me a lot. Just to simplify things is going to go a long way."

Nola believes if he does a better job getting ahead early in counts that his curveball and particularly his changeup will become better weapons for him in 2020. His changeup blossomed under McClure and Kranitz during their stints in Philadelphia.

"My changeup wasn't as consistent as it was in previous years," Nola said. "I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.

"When I'm throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches."

Manager Joe Girardi has not named an opening day starter yet, but Nola is expected to be the guy when he does.

And when Nola takes the mound March 26 in Miami, his goal will be this:

Strike 1.

That's a big reason he had a great season in 2018 and why he slipped some in 2019.

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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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