Phillies

Phillies 4, Reds 2: Jay Bruce stays red-hot, Zach Eflin makes strong return from IL

Phillies 4, Reds 2: Jay Bruce stays red-hot, Zach Eflin makes strong return from IL

BOX SCORE 

The Phillies returned home after a difficult West Coast trip and scored a 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night. The Phils, who went 2-4 in six games at Los Angeles and San Diego, maintained their two-game lead on second-place Atlanta in the NL East. They are 36-27 overall and 21-11 at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils took control with three runs in the fifth inning. Newcomer Jay Bruce continued his torrid hitting with a two-run homer in that inning. Scott Kingery followed Bruce with a base hit and scored on a throwing error. The Phils added another unearned run in the bottom of the eighth.

The keys

• Zach Eflin returned after a brief stay on the injured list (sore back) and delivered a good one.

• What more can you say about Bruce? He is the first Phillie in the modern era — since 1920 — to belt four homers in his first four games with the club. Hat tip: Elias Sports Bureau. He has nine RBIs with the Phils.

•The Reds played poor defense and the Phillies capitalized for two unearned runs.

• The bullpen came up huge with 4 1/3 scoreless innings in Wednesday’s win at San Diego. The ‘pen delivered another good performance in this one. Jose Alvarez got two outs and Vince Velasquez and Hector Neris got three each to protect a one-run lead.

With Seranthony Dominguez out, Velasquez was called upon to pitch the eighth. It was his most pressurized outing since going to the bullpen two weeks ago and he delivered with a ground out and two strikeouts. His fastball reached 96.8 mph.

Neris is 13 for 13 in save chances. The crowd of 32,058 stood on its feet and clapped rhythmically as Neris struck out Eugenio Suarez with two men on base for the final out.

Eflin’s night

He was very good. He pitched 6 1/3 innings and allowed just four hits and two runs. One was unearned. Two of the four walks he issued were intentional and he struck out six. He did not let a first-inning homer by Joey Votto get him off course.

Haseley out

The Phillies are committed to giving rookie Adam Haseley a look in center field. In fact, he was slated to start his third straight game at the position, but was held out as a precaution because of a sore hip. That meant Scott Kingery started in center field and Maikel Franco at third base. Franco’s playing time has shrunk recently because of his prolonged slump and Kingery’s success.

More bad news in the bullpen

Dominguez is down and likely out for a while. He has an elbow injury that GM Matt Klentak very openly said could require Tommy John surgery (see story).

Up next

The series continues Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. Nick Pivetta (3-1, 6.14) pitches against right-hander Sonny Gray (2-5, 3.54).

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Phillies Talk podcast: Any early solutions for Phils' pitching staff?

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Phillies Talk podcast: Any early solutions for Phils' pitching staff?

Are there any early-season solutions to the Phillies' already glaring bullpen issue? Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman discussed that and more on the Phillies Talk podcast.

• Close deficits turning into insurmountable ones for the Phils.

• Is there anyone at Lehigh Valley Phillies can turn to for bullpen help?

• Spencer Howard time? How will Phils set up their pitching this week with the doubleheader?

• NL East already shaken up drastically by injuries and schedule changes.

• What Rhys Hoskins needs to work his way through.

• Could we soon see lineup changes if Phillies don't hit with RISP?

• Yankees could be a real threat for J.T. Realmuto.

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Is Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard on the way? It sure feels like it

Is Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard on the way? It sure feels like it

It has long been a given that Spencer Howard would make his major league debut this season.

Maybe it will happen during the Phillies' coming homestand.

Big rain from Tropical Storm Isaias forced the postponement of Tuesday night's meeting between the Phillies and Yankees in the Bronx. Makeup dates are scarce in this shortened, 60-game season so the two teams will play the game as a part of a doubleheader in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Manager Joe Girardi said that Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler would be the starting pitchers in those two games. The first game starts at 4:05 p.m.

After Wednesday, the Phils will play 11 straight days, all at home, against the Yankees, Braves, Orioles and Mets.

Because of the doubleheader and the stack-up of games, the Phillies will need an extra starting pitcher in the coming days, perhaps Sunday against Atlanta. The Phils could reach into their bullpen and plug someone like Cole Irvin or Nick Pivetta into that start. Or they could reach down to their reserve camp in Lehigh Valley and bring up Howard. The 24-year-old right-hander is their top prospect and has impressed everyone from Bryce Harper to pitching coach Bryan Price.

"If this kid is the guy we think he is — and we do — then he's going to have a really nice future in Philadelphia," Price said in July. "I would really hope and expect to see him pitching here at some point in (2020) because he really needs the work and I think he's ready to compete at this level."

Maybe that future begins in the coming days. Girardi was noncommittal when asked about Howard's timetable on Monday, but you can bet he will discuss Howard with Price and front office officials during Tuesday's weather shut down.

Howard commands a four-pitch arsenal. His fastball approaches triple digits and his changeup and breaking ball are both top-notch. He has the potential to one day work at the top of a rotation.

Price has been reluctant to speak in those terms, at least as it relates to Howard's ceiling. He'd prefer to let Howard control the trajectory of his own career. But there's no doubt that the pitching coach is high on the young man.

"I stay away from (commenting on a pitcher's ceiling) and I'll tell you why," Price said. "Because when you start talking about assigning expectations, especially if you rank like No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — we don't know what these guys are until they come up here and perform.

"We know that (Howard) would be a top-end prospect in any organization because he has power, he throws strikes, he's athletic, he has a really, really good changeup and breaking ball. The key component there is stuff with strikes, stuff with command. So the sky is the limit.

"In the same respect, you have to get to the big leagues and perform at this level before you define where you are: starter or reliever, No. 1 or No. 5, or somewhere in between. I'll reserve judgment on that and let him pitch his way wherever he gets to."

If Howard pitches well once he does arrive, he will put heat on the back end of the rotation, particularly Vince Velasquez. An effective Howard could push Velasquez to the bullpen. The Phils could benefit from Velasquez's power arm in the bullpen. The question remains: Would Velasquez embrace the role enough to succeed? That's an issue for another day. As it stands now, Velasquez would get a start on Thursday or Friday.

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