Phillies

Matt Klentak acknowledges Ruben Amaro for leaving strong foundation

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Scott Lauber/Twitter

Matt Klentak acknowledges Ruben Amaro for leaving strong foundation

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak is not a regular presence on the field during batting practice, but he did descend from the executive level at Citizens Bank Park to greet New York Mets bench coach Gary Disarcina, a former coworker in the Los Angeles Angels organization, before Friday night’s game.

Klentak also got a chance to chat with the Mets' first base coach — none other than Ruben Amaro Jr., the man who preceded Klentak as Phillies GM.

“It was nice,” Amaro said Saturday. “I’ve talked to him once or twice since I moved on. I remember texting him when he got the job. I congratulated him and wished him the best of luck. He’s been in front offices with Anaheim and Baltimore, he was in the Commissioner’s office, so we’ve talked over the years.”

During their conversation around the batting cage, Amaro complimented Klentak on the Phillies’ strong start.

“I said, 'It seems like things are going pretty good,’ and Matt said, ‘A lot of it is because of you,’” Amaro related.

The Phillies embarked on a teardown and rebuild in the fall of 2014 and Amaro was let go in September 2015. He did not leave the cupboard bare. In fact, eight of the players who were supposed to start Saturday night — including starting pitcher Zach Eflin and Odubel Herrera, the majors’ leading hitter — entered the organization as a draft pick, an international signing, a Rule 5 draft pick or a trade pick-up during Amaro’s time as GM. Klentak has acknowledged this fact before. To do it directly to his predecessor “was a very nice thing to say,” Amaro said.

Amaro also had a “nice chat” with Phillies manager Gabe Kapler during the pregame exchange of lineup cards Friday.

“I said, ‘How you doing?’ and he said, ‘Well, after that first week … it was a little bit of a rough first week, but after that, it’s been OK,’" Amaro said. “I told him, ‘Hey, just like any other place, and maybe more so than others, if you guys keep playing well the fans will really appreciate it and things will turn around.

“I told him, and this was actually something Matt and I talked about, too, the fans will start coming out more regularly. I mentioned that the Sixers and Flyers were over so the focus will be on the Phillies and the fans are going to see it’s a pretty darn good product and they’ll appreciate it and come out.”

This is Amaro’s second time back to Citizens Bank Park since his firing. He came in with the Boston Red Sox as their first base coach last season. This time, he said, everything feels a little more comfortable.

“Time heals a lot of stuff,” he said. “And the fans have been great. I get some boos, but I really don’t take a lot of heat. I flipped someone a ball (Friday night) and someone said, ‘You still love us, Ruben, and we love you, too.’ It was nice.

“During BP, I look around the stadium and I get nostalgic. Yeah, I really do. Actually, it felt really neat emotionally on Friday because I consider this home for me. I know I work for a different company and ballclub and I worked for a different ballclub last year, and I’m here trying to beat the Phillies, but I still consider Philadelphia home. That will never change.

“And this ballpark will always be special to me. I remember looking out on the field that first year (2004) when we came back from Clearwater and seeing that grass on the field and thinking, ‘Holy Smokes, this is so cool. Look at the grass. This is our ballpark now.’ That was a moment, a big moment.

“So this place will always be special.”

Amaro has often said he wished he could have stayed around to see the rebuild through. Instead, Klentak gets to see it through. He has made changes along the way, but much of Amaro’s foundation remains. In fact, Eflin, who was scheduled to pitch before Saturday night's game was rained out, came in the first trade Amaro made after the team embarked on its rebuild.

Phillies still need a miracle, but 2 wins over Braves, with Aaron Nola up next, is a good place to start

Phillies still need a miracle, but 2 wins over Braves, with Aaron Nola up next, is a good place to start

ATLANTA — The Phillies departed on this 11-game road trip needing to win just about all of them to have a shot at making the postseason. There are still two more cities to visit and miles upon miles to go on this trip, but …

Do you believe in miracles?

“I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do in this clubhouse,” Zach Eflin said after backboning a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

The Phils have opened the road trip with two straight wins against the soon-to-be NL East champs and they will look for a sweep behind Aaron Nola on Thursday. A sweep is almost a must if the Phillies want to stay in the NL wild-card chase. There are 12 games remaining and they are three back.

The Phillies have used the long ball in beating the Braves on back-to-back nights. They have hit four homers in the two games and three of them have been two-run shots. Bryce Harper keyed the offense Wednesday night with a two-run bomb in the fourth inning. Cesar Hernandez also homered and the Phils scored their third run on a bases-loaded walk.

The Phils had just four hits in the game and they struck out 12 times. They also committed three errors in the field. All of this made it imperative that they get a good performance from their pitchers and they did.

Eflin was brilliant for seven innings and the bullpen tandem of Jose Alvarez and Hector Neris got the final six outs in speedy fashion.

After the game, manager Gabe Kapler gushed about Eflin.

“That was the toughest, from a mental standpoint, start from a pitcher that we've gotten all season long,” he said. “Quite simply, we didn't make plays behind him early on. He continued to get ground ball after ground ball. Calls were not going his way. And that was true when he was at that plate, as well. He just kind of had a resiliency about him throughout this game. He wasn't going to get beat mentally. He just continued to induce ground balls and got weak contact throughout the game. That was why we won that game.

“I think that there were a lot of people who were inspired — myself and the coaching staff and many of the players in the dugout — by the start that Zach just made. “

Eflin had struggled mightily in three previous starts against the Braves this season, including one last week. In just 9 1/3 innings, he was tagged for 17 hits and 20 runs (eight were unearned). He walked nine and struck out nine.

The 25-year-old righty rebounded impressively in this one. Relying heavily on his favorite pitch, a sinking, two-seam fastball, he held the Braves to five hits and one unearned run. He walked two and struck out four. He threw 99 pitches and 57 were sinkers. He got 12 outs on the ground, including a big double play against Brian McCann to end the sixth inning.

“The part that makes it especially mentally tough is the fact that he just faced the Braves,” Kapler said. “It's an incredibly tough lineup to go through several times, but even more so that he's coming off a start against them. 

“We've talked about this time of year being when we're going to fight and scratch and claw. That was fight. That was tough from Zach Eflin.”

Over his last five starts, Eflin has allowed just five earned runs in 28 2/3 innings for a 1.57 ERA.  

After some mid-season struggles, he has found himself again. It has all coincided with his re-dedication to throwing his favorite pitch, the sinker.

“At the end of the day, I’m going out and attacking guys and if it’s my sinker that day that’s working I’m going to use my sinker, if it’s my change-up I’m going to use my change-up,” he said. “We figure out what we have going early in the bullpen before the game. Today was the sinker. It’s been working these last couple outings so if it’s there next outing you’ll probably see it again.”

The Phillies still have stops in Cleveland (three games) and Washington (five) on this trip.

They face the longest of odds in making the postseason, but they’re not dead.

“We come in every single day mentally and physically ready to play and win,” Eflin said. “We have the guys in the clubhouse to do it and get there and make a postseason run, so to be able to do that and play good baseball at the same time is really good for us. We’re looking forward to riding this momentum the next couple of days and into the next series that we have coming and really doing everything we can to make it.”

On paper, you have to like the Phillies' chances with their ace, Nola, on the mound in Thursday’s series finale. However, the Phils are 0-5 in his last five starts.

Can he turn things around and keep the Phillies’ momentum going?

“I think it's really important that we focus on just one game,” Kapler said. “More specifically, just one pitch. The first pitch of the game for Aaron Nola, the first pitch of the game for our leadoff batter tomorrow is what we're focused on.”



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Zach Eflin excellent, Bryce Harper homers and Phillies beat Braves again

Zach Eflin excellent, Bryce Harper homers and Phillies beat Braves again

BOX SCORE 

ATLANTA — A couple of home runs and some excellent pitching.

That was the Phillies’ recipe in a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

The Phils remain alive in the NL wild-card race. They entered the night four games out and had a chance to pick up ground depending on outcomes elsewhere.

There are 12 games remaining.

Zach Eflin gave the Phils an outstanding start Wednesday night and he was supported by home runs from Bryce Harper and Cesar Hernandez. Harper’s 32nd homer was a long, two-run shot against Julio Teheran in the fourth inning.

The Phillies only had four hits in the game and they struck out 12 times. It helps when half of your hits go over the wall and are preceded by a batter getting hit by a pitch as J.T. Realmuto was before Harper’s homer. The Phils scored their fourth run on a bases-loaded walk to Jean Segura in the sixth.

The Phils have beaten the Braves two straight nights in this three-game series. They have hit four home runs, including three two-run shots, in the two games.

Atlanta’s magic number for winning the NL East is two.

The Phillies are 78-72. They need to win four of their final 12 games to have their first winning season since 2011.

Quite the rebound

Eflin had struggled mightily in three previous starts against the Braves this season, including one last week. In just 9 1/3 innings, he was tagged for 17 hits and 20 runs (eight were unearned). He walked nine and struck out nine.

Eflin really turned the tables in this one. Relying heavily on his favorite pitch, a sinking, two-seam fastball, he held the Braves to five hits and one unearned run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out four.

Eflin threw 99 pitches and 57 were sinkers. He got 12 outs on the ground. He also pitched over three errors behind him.

Big out

Eflin got into a little jam in the bottom of the sixth when he allowed a one-out infield hit followed by a walk. Dangerous but slow-footed Brian McCann came to the plate with the Braves down, 4-1. The best way to attack McCann in that situation was with a heavy dose of sinkers, something that would produce a ground ball and a potential double play. Eflin threw McCann a first-pitch sinker and got his double play ball for one of his biggest outs of the night.

Bullpen shines

Lefty Jose Alvarez retired three big bats — Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson and Nick Markakis — in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out both Freeman and Donaldson and got Markakis on a ground ball. The Phils have done a good job on Freeman in the first two games of the series. They’ve pitched around him some and gone after him some. He is 0 for 5 with four walks.

Hector Neris got the save with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Go figure

Heading into the final meeting of the season with Atlanta on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have 10-8 record against the Braves.

While the Phils have enjoyed a winning record against the soon-to-be NL East champions, they have struggled against the last-place Miami Marlins. The Phils are 7-9 against the Marlins. The Phils finish the season later this month with three games against Miami.

Up next

Good pitching matchup in Thursday afternoon’s series finale: Aaron Nola (12-5, 3.62) against right-hander Mike Soroka (12-4, 2.57). First pitch is 12:10 p.m.

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