Phillies

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

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Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”

Phillies suffer another brutal loss in Coors Field house of horrors

Phillies suffer another brutal loss in Coors Field house of horrors

DENVER — Coors Field is turning into a house of horrors for the Phillies. Swept in four games during the final, dark days of the 2018 season and now losses in back-to-back nights in the new season, including one of the most excruciating you’ll see on Friday night.

“Brutal,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Just a brutal loss. No way to sugarcoat it. That was a devastating loss across the board.”

Moments after taking a one-run lead in the top of the 12th inning on two-out hits by Phil Gosselin and Bryce Harper, the Phillies walked off the field with a painful 4-3 loss when Charlie Blackmon lined a two-out, two-run home run over the wall in right-center. The home run came on a 1-2 fastball from Juan Nicasio in his second inning of work (see observations).

In addition to losing the game, the Phillies likely lost recently hot-hitting Scott Kingery to the injured list. He suffered a right hamstring strain in the fourth inning and left the game. Andrew McCutchen also left the game with swelling in his left knee. After the game, he said he’d be ready to go Saturday night.

The Phillies are already thin with Odubel Herrera on the IL with a hamstring injury and reliever David Robertson on the IL with an elbow strain. Shortstop Jean Segura is also sidelined with a hamstring issue, though he’s not on the injured list. The Phils will likely have to add a position player from the minors for Saturday night’s game and Aaron Nola will have to give his team some innings to give the bullpen a rest.

The bullpen was very good before Nicasio walked a batter and allowed Blackmon’s homer in the 12th on Friday night. It delivered 5 1/3 scoreless innings between Vince Velasquez's departure in the sixth and the decisive 12th inning.

Velasquez’s solid start — two runs and eight strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings — and the work of the bullpen gave the Phillies a chance to win on a night when the offense racked up a lot of hits but did very little damage.

The Phils had 17 hits on the night but only three were for extra bases. The Phils were just 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position and they stranded 19 runners.

“Certainly, we have the ability to swing the bats very well with runners in scoring position and we didn't do that tonight,” Kapler said.

“Our bullpen threw the crap out of it,” Harper said. “Any time you can keep a team like that to two runs in Coors Field for that long, that’s doing something.

“We can be better, myself included. We got guys on base. We’ve got to get those guys in. If we could have gotten a couple of those runs across, it might have been a different story.”

As badly as things went for the Phils, with the injuries and the lack of scoring, they were in line to win the game after Gosselin, the West Chester native playing in his first game with the Phils, stroked a two-out single in the top of the 12th and came all the way around to score the go-ahead run on Harper’s fifth hit and second double of the game.

Nicasio issued a one-out walk in the bottom of the 12th then got the second out before Blackmon came up and ended the game. The Phils were one strike from winning. That’s why Nicasio challenged Blackmon with a fastball with the light-hitting Drew Butera on deck.

“You have Blackmon in a hole so you try to put him away,” Kapler said. “And that's what Juan did. We backed off the bunt. We weren't going to guard against the bunt. If [Blackmon] wants to put a bunt down, fine. First and second with Butera coming up — we would have been OK with that. Then, when we got Blackmon in the hole, I think everybody felt like the right play was to really attack him there.”

Blackmon attacked back.

And won.

The Phils are 4-12 against the Rockies since the start of the 2017 season and they have lost six straight in Coors Field with two more to play this weekend.

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Rockies 4, Phillies 3: Stunning loss on 2-out, 2-strike walk-off homer in 12th inning

Rockies 4, Phillies 3: Stunning loss on 2-out, 2-strike walk-off homer in 12th inning

BOX SCORE

DENVER — Charlie Blackmon's two-run homer in the bottom of the 12th against Juan Nicasio gave the Colorado Rockies a 4-3 win over the Phillies on Friday night.

The home run came with two outs on a 1-2 count.

Bryce Harper’s fifth hit of the game, a double to the gap in left-center with two outs in the top of the 12th inning, scored Phil Gosselin from first base and gave the Phils the lead.

The Phils had 17 hits, but only three for extra bases. The Phils were 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position and left 19 men on on base.

Those missed chances killed the Phillies.

Colorado has won two in a row against the Phils. The Phillies are 4-12 against the Rockies since the start of 2017.

The Phillies are 11-8.

The Rockies are 8-12.

In a troubling subplot, the Phillies lost two more players to injury. Andrew McCutchen exited with left knee inflammation in the sixth inning. Earlier Scott Kingery exited with a hamstring injury suffered while legging out a ground ball in the fourth inning. The team called it a “strain,” which would seem to signal a trip to the injured list for Kingery (see story).

The keys

• Colorado right-hander German Marquez pitched a one-hit shutout with no walks and nine strikeouts against the Giants in his previous outing. The Phillies tripled that hits total in the first inning as they broke out to a 1-0 lead. They worked Marquez for 26 pitches in the inning and were into the Rockies’ bullpen in the sixth inning.

• Vince Velasquez pitched well for the Phillies. He carried a shutout and a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning. But Velasquez had trouble putting away hitters in that frame. Trevor Story hit a 459-foot homer to left on an 0-2 fastball (96 mph) to make it a one-run game. Ian Desmond doubled on a 2-2 pitch with two outs and Garrett Hampson followed with a broken-bat double to left on a full-count fastball (97 mph) to tie the game.

• Catcher J.T. Realmuto cut down Blackmon trying to steal second with one out in the seventh. It was a big play in a tight game. Realmuto has caught three would-be base stealers in two nights.

Velasquez's night

The enigmatic right-hander continued to make strides with his third straight solid start. He gave up just the two runs in 5 2/3 innings and struck out eight. The only walk he surrendered was intentional. Over three starts, Velasquez has pitched 16 2/3 innings and given up just five runs. He seems to be pitching with more poise than in the past.

Velasquez had a big fastball and he used it often. Sixty-four of his 97 pitches were fastballs and he got 15 swinging strikes on the pitch, which topped out at 98 mph.

Health check

The Phillies have been beset by a series of injuries in recent days. Reliever David Robertson was placed on the injured list with an elbow strain. Odubel Herrera went on the IL with a hamstring strain. Jean Segura is not on the IL, but he has missed three straight games with a sore hamstring.

Injuries continued to mount as Kingery left this game in the fourth inning and McCutchen in the sixth.

Kingery started at shortstop. He was replaced by Gosselin.

Up next

Aaron Nola looks to break an early season slump when he faces the Rockies and right-hander Antonio Senzatela on Saturday night.

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