Phillies author latest chapter of why it's difficult to believe they can make a run

Phillies author latest chapter of why it's difficult to believe they can make a run

SAN FRANCISCO — Corey Dickerson belted a solo home run against Jeff Samardzija in the first inning Saturday and Bryce Harper immediately filled with optimism.

“Dickerson got us ahead, 1-0, and I thought as a group we were going to have a big day,” Harper said. “Samardzija had different plans and did his job."

Welcome to the latest chapter of why it’s difficult to believe the Phillies can make a serious run at the National League wild card: The offense is just too damn inconsistent.

Dickerson’s first-inning homer was the only run that the Phillies scored on Saturday.

Less than 24 hours after their offense exploded for 10 hits and nine runs on Friday night, the Phillies were held to just three hits in a 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants (see observations).

The loss was the Phillies’ fourth in six games on this trip. They have scored one or zero runs in three of those games.

They have been held to one hit through five innings in three of the last four games and one hit through six in two of the last three. They were one-hit by the Giants on Thursday night.

After Dickerson’s feel-good homer with two outs in the first inning, the Phillies managed just a bloop single from Cesar Hernandez in the eighth inning and a broken-bat hit from Sean Rodriguez in the ninth.

Samardzija worked over Phillies hitters with a fastball-cutter combo. After Dickerson’s homer, he retired 20 straight batters.

Why is this Phillies offense so inconsistent?

“I don't know,” Harper said. “We prepare every day the same. We come in here and want to hit the ball, we want to score runs and get those runs on the board, so I'm not sure.”

Samardzija has beaten the Phils twice in his last three starts. He’s allowed just five hits and a run in 14 innings in those starts.

One might think Phillies hitters would have made some adjustments and handled Samardzija better seeing him for the second time in 11 days. But they didn’t.

"I thought he came at us pretty well,” Harper said. “He threw backdoor cutters, mixed well. I think as a team we just missed some pitches. I think we hit some balls hard and they made some plays on us. I thought he threw the ball well."

Samardzija did not walk a batter. He struck out five.

“He's got a fastball-cutter combination and it's difficult to pick up which is which,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He does a really good job of changing eye levels. He commands all his pitches. He throws it where he wants to throw it. That makes it very difficult.

“At the same time, we're just not a team that's built to shut out the opposition on a regular basis. In some form or fashion, we have to scratch out runs. We've all read the four-run stat. We have to find a way to get to that magic number more frequently.”

The Phillies are 52-15 when they score four or more runs. They have done that just five times in the last 11 games.

Vince Velasquez did not pitch badly over five innings, but he allowed three runs, all on a pair of homers. One was preceded by a hit batsman. Kapler did not show a lot of patience with Velasquez. The right-hander teetered in the fifth inning and was gone.

“I thought his command was not his best, and I thought his stuff was also not his best either,” Kapler said. “Specifically, when his stuff is really good and his fastball has life, he gets foul balls and swings and misses. When it's not his best, you see fly balls. That was sort of an indication.

“One of the adjustments that Vince is making is when things aren't going well for him, he's been pretty consistent at grinding through and giving us a chance to win baseball games. I thought today he did just that. It just wasn't his best outing. At the same time, when he came out of the game, we were still in it.”

The Phillies were in it until the end. They put two runners on base in the ninth inning, but Giants closer Will Smith survived the top of the Phillies’ order and got strikeouts of Harper and Dickerson (sandwiched around a walk to Hoskins) to end the game.

The umpiring behind the plate has not been standout in this series. CB Bucknor did not have a good night Friday and Nic Lentz missed a 1-1 pitch on Harper, the potential tying run, calling it a strike.

The Phillies limp into the final game of the trip Sunday night.

“What makes sense for us is to quickly turn the page and get ready to put up numbers tomorrow,” Kapler said. “My mind's already there, and I know our guys are going to turn the page quickly.”

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J.T. Realmuto will fight for future generations in salary arbitration case against Phillies

J.T. Realmuto will fight for future generations in salary arbitration case against Phillies

More than once last summer, J.T. Realmuto expressed his affection for Philadelphia and said he’d one day be up for signing a long-term contract extension with the Phillies.

The specter of his upcoming salary arbitration hearing hasn’t changed his outlook.

“Not at all,” he said before the 116th annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet Monday night. “Anybody who knows about the arbitration process knows it’s business. It’s not necessarily me against the Phillies right now. There’s definitely not going to be any hard feelings there. So I feel like we’re at the same place we were two or three months ago as far as with the contract extension.”

Before the two sides go to work on a long-term contract extension, Realmuto is likely to play the 2020 season on a one-year contract. Barring an unlikely settlement, Realmuto will have his 2020 salary decided by an arbitration panel next month. He is seeking $12.4 million. The Phillies’ arbitration offer is $10 million. The arbitration panel will hear arguments from both sides then pick one number or the other.

Realmuto knows the game. He went to arbitration with the Miami Marlins two years ago and lost.

“I have a good understanding of the process,” he said. “I know it’s not the Phillies trying to slight me. It’s more the system. There are no hard feelings there.”

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is coming off a season in which he solidified himself as baseball’s best catcher while making $5.9 million. He was an All-Star. He was the catcher on the inaugural All-MLB team and he won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in the National League. He led all big-league catchers in hits, RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits while swatting a career-high 25 homers. He threw out 37 runners trying to steal, the most in the majors.

Realmuto’s 2019 season put him in a good position to win his arbitration case.

But he made it clear that this is about more than just himself.

"It’s not me against the Phillies,” he said. “It’s the system that we’re trying to fight right now.  I’m trying to go out and set a precedent for future catchers in the game and I feel like I had a season worthy of doing that so I’m going to fight for that.

"This is not because the Phillies didn’t give us a chance to come to an agreement. We’re fighting for a cause, fighting for the rest of the catchers. Historically, catchers have not been treated well in the arbitration process and we feel like this is an opportunity to advance that for the catchers. Just being able to fight for those guys is something I take pride in. I believe in fighting for future generations and I’m excited to do it."

Once Realmuto’s 2020 salary is established in mid-February, the Phillies are expected to initiate talks on an extension that would begin at the start of the 2021 season. Those talks should commence during spring training. A contract extension is expected to cover up to five seasons with an average annual value of over $20 million.

Realmuto, who was honored as the PSWA’s Athlete of the Year for 2019, was joined by new Phillies manager Joe Girardi at the banquet.

“I’m really excited to play for him,” Realmuto said. “I feel like he’s got a lot of feel. He knows exactly what he wants to do as a manager and has a lot of confidence and he’ll be able to instill that confidence in us.”

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Vince Velasquez 'disappointed' by Astros’ scandal, ready to 'click' in Phillies’ rotation

Vince Velasquez 'disappointed' by Astros’ scandal, ready to 'click' in Phillies’ rotation

Vince Velasquez broke into the majors with the Houston Astros in 2015. His manager was A.J. Hinch. Jeff Luhnow was the general manager.

You know where this is going.

“I never saw anything,” Velasquez said Monday. “A lot of people have asked me, but I wasn’t there when it happened.

“It was shocking to hear about. And a little bit disappointing.”

The Astros were found to have used an illicit sign stealing scheme during their 2017 World Series championship season. Major League Baseball last week suspended Hinch and Luhnow for the 2020 season and Houston ownership followed up by firing both men. The explosive issue also cost Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran their jobs as managers of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, respectively. Cora was the Astros’ bench coach, and a mastermind of the scheme, in 2017, and Beltran was a player on the team.

Velasquez pitched in just 19 games for the Astros in 2015. He was traded to the Phillies in December of that year.

Pitchers and catchers have always been cognizant of changing their signs and varying their sequences in running through signs, especially when there is a runner on second base, to combat sign stealing. Velasquez predicted that pitchers and catchers will be even more diligent in light of the Astros' scandal.

“Now, we have to be more observant of what we’re doing,” he said. “I think it’s going to be part of the discussion [in spring training.] You have to learn to protect yourself.”

Velasquez is spending the week in Philadelphia helping the team with some promotional work. (He even plans to throw a couple of bullpen sessions in the cages at Citizens Bank Park.) On Monday, Velasquez and teammate Roman Quinn joined former Phillies Milt Thompson and Mickey Morandini at a youth instructional clinic at the Ryan Howard Training Center in South Philadelphia. Forty-five young players affiliated with the Phillies/MLB Urban Youth Academy and RBI program showed up a cold January day to get a head start on the season and some tips from the Phillies players past and present.

Quinn missed significant time last season with a torn groin muscle, the latest in a series of injuries that has robbed the exciting outfielder of playing time in his career. He has made changes to his offseason conditioning program and believes he can stay healthy in 2020 and make a run at the Phillies’ starting centerfield job. As it stands right now, he will battle Adam Haseley for the job in camp.

“I trust my abilities and I know if I’m healthy then it’s hard to keep me out of the lineup,” Quinn said.

Like Quinn, Velasquez will be in a spring-training battle.

The top four spots in the Phillies’ rotation are set with Aaron Nola, Zach Wheeler, Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta. Velasquez will compete with Nick Pivetta for the fifth spot in the rotation. The loser of the competition will not necessarily be out of a job as the Phillies need bullpen help and one of the two could end up there.

Velasquez knows where he wants to be.

“I can play any role, but I want to start,” the 27-year-old right-hander said. “I want to be in the rotation. I want to be in that playoff run and I want to be that guy for that game.

“I know I have a job to earn. That’s my main focus. Battling.”

Velasquez, as Phillies fans know by now, is blessed with a tremendous arm. However, he has struggled to put his talents together and arrive at that place known as consistency. He runs high pitch counts and fails to get through the middle of games. He averaged just 4 2/3 innings in his 23 starts last season.

Velasquez knows it’s time for him to pitch deeper into games and he says, “I want that bad.” He has already established a telephone/text/video relationship with new pitching coach Bryan Price in hopes of picking up some keys to doing that.

“We’re in communication,” Velasquez said. “I’ve spoken to him a number of times and sent him videos of some of my bullpens.”

Velasquez avoided salary arbitration and will make $3.6 million this season. As his price tag goes up, so do expectations and the impatience of team officials. He might not be around at this time next season if he doesn’t produce in 2020.

“I’m very optimistic this is the year it clicks,” Velasquez said. “I know I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I feel like I’m starting to figure a lot of things out. A lot of people tend to figure things out after two or three years in the major leagues and I think this is that time for me to put all the pieces together.

“My time is due. It’s really come down to that point where I need to plug in all the pieces.”

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