Phillies

Phillies 7, Rockies 5: Bryce Harper's game-winning HR leads Phils to sweep on getaway day

Phillies 7, Rockies 5: Bryce Harper's game-winning HR leads Phils to sweep on getaway day

BOX SCORE

Bryce Harper clobbered a baseball for the second straight afternoon and his home run proved to be the game-winner as the Phillies completed a three-game sweep of the Rockies with a 7-5 win.

It was Harper's ninth home run of the season and second in two months off Rockies lefty specialist Mike Dunn. Harper has five extra-base hits over his last four games — three doubles and two homers. 

Harper is up to .304/.407/.537 this season against left-handed pitchers with six doubles and three homers in 54 plate appearances.

He's heating up. In their next series, the Phillies face three consecutive lefties Tuesday through Thursday.

With Hector Neris unavailable after pitching two innings Saturday, Juan Nicasio, Adam Morgan and Pat Neshek were strong in relief.

Nicasio struck out Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story in the seventh inning and got Nolan Arenado to ground out with two men aboard to end the threat. Morgan pitched a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts. Neshek threw 11 pitches to earn his third save of the season.

The sweep was the Phillies' second of the season. They wrapped up their homestand Sunday with a 4-3 record and are 18-10 at home. 

The Phils are 27-19 overall as they hit the road for a week-long trip. They lead the Braves by 2½ games, the Mets by 6½ games and the Nationals by 7½ games. The Mets have lost five in a row.

Clutch off the bench

J.T. Realmuto, who did not start, snapped a three-week home run drought with a pinch-hit, two-run shot off Rockies reliever Bryan Shaw in the sixth inning. It was Realmuto's first career pinch-hit homer and it tied the game three batters before Harper put the Phils ahead for good.

Andrew Knapp started in Realmuto's place and walked three times, scoring twice. 

McCutchen stays hot

Andrew McCutchen had another productive day at the plate, reaching his first three times up with a walk, a two-run single and another single.

The two-run single should have been a double and it could have been a bases-clearing double had Knapp read it correctly on first base. It was a deep drive to left-center field but Knapp hesitated thinking it had a chance to be caught. As a result, he advanced only to second.

In his final AB of the day, McCutchen lined out sharply to warning track in left-center.

Eickhoff regressing

Jerad Eickhoff hadn't allowed a home run in 30 innings entering his last start against the Brewers. Milwaukee homered off him twice and the Rockies hit three more on Sunday. That's five home runs Eickhoff has allowed in his last nine innings.

His ERA has risen to 3.23. Eickhoff does not have a huge margin for error. He's heavily reliant on his curveball to the point that facing the same team twice in less than a month can be more problematic for him than other pitchers.

The Rockies came into Sunday's game having scored an average of 6.9 runs per game in May, by far the most in the National League. The Cubs, who the Phillies face next, are second at 5.1.

Kingery's back

Scott Kingery (hamstring) returned from a month-long absence and got his first-ever start in center field. He stroked a line-drive single to left in his first at-bat and later walked and stole a base.

With Odubel Herrera hitting .234 with a .297 on-base percentage, Kingery could continue to see regular time in center field, especially against left-handed starters.

Up next

The Phillies head to the midwest for a seven-game road trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, beginning with four games at Wrigley Field.

There are two very interesting pitching matchups in the Cubs series. 

In Game 1, Jake Arrieta faces the pitcher the Cubs chose to pay instead of him: Yu Darvish. 

In Game 3, it's a battle of left-handed Coles past and present. The Phillies are the only team Cole Hamels has never faced.

Monday night at 8:05 — Jake Arrieta (4-4, 4.02) vs. Yu Darvish (2-3, 5.14)

Tuesday night at 7:07 — Zach Eflin (5-4, 2.89) vs. LHP Jose Quintana (4-3, 3.68)

Wednesday night at 8:05 — LHP Cole Irvin (2-0, 2.77) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (4-0, 3.13)

Thursday afternoon at 2:20 — Aaron Nola (4-0, 4.47) vs. LHP Jon Lester (3-2, 2.09)

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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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