Phillies

Phillies bear down on 1st place behind Nick Pivetta's 11 Ks

Phillies bear down on 1st place behind Nick Pivetta's 11 Ks

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BALTIMORE — The Phillies are a quarter of the way into their season and eight games over .500 for the first time since the last time they made the postseason. That would be 2011 when Jimmy, Chase, Ryan and Cole still roamed Citizens Bank Park.

It’s way too early to anoint this team a firm contender, but not to soon to say things are moving in the right direction.

Big time.

“Look at the talent we have,” Nick Williams said after Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards (see first take). “We have young guys that want to make an impact, not just for themselves but for the team. We love winning. Some of the guys in here were part of the team last year and it can be tough. We have this youth movement and we’re all loving it.”

Williams, 24, had an important two-out hit as the Phillies rallied for three runs, two with two outs, in the sixth inning to make a winner out of 25-year-old starter Nick Pivetta.

“That was the best I’ve seen him look,” manager Gabe Kapler said of Pivetta, who survived a first-inning homer en route to 11 strikeouts over seven innings of two-hit, one-walk ball.

Pivetta racked up 23 swinging strikes, 10 on a riding, power fastball up in the zone.

“He attacked the top of the zone with his fastball and the bottom of the zone with his breaking balls,” Kapler said. “The fastball up today was everything we had envisioned and imagined it could be and would be. He just had an amazing amount of confidence on the mound, delivering that pitch up in the zone.”

“He has the ability to go out and do that every time,” catcher Andrew Knapp offered. “He's become very consistent with all four of his pitches. The spin rate on the fastball, you just can't catch up to it at the top of the zone, so when he can do that and throw off-speed off of it, it's a really lethal combination.”

Starting pitching has been a strength most of the season. Lately it has gone to a new level with Pivetta, Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta all shining. Of that group, only Arrieta is over 25.

Over the last nine games, the starters have given up just eight earned runs in 56 innings for a 1.29 ERA.

“We kind of feed off each other,” Pivetta said. “It’s fun. It’s fun baseball.”

Pivetta kept the Phillies in the game long enough until Cesar Hernandez could ignite a three-run rally with a leadoff homer against Andrew Cashner in the sixth. A two-out walk by Carlos Santana and a big hit by Williams after being down 0-2 set the table for two-out RBIs by Maikel Franco and Pedro Florimon (see highlights).

Luis Garcia got two huge outs to bail out Tommy Hunter in the eighth and Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris got the final three outs in the ninth (see story).

And so the Phillies head to St. Louis for four games. They are 24-16 and just an Atlanta loss on Wednesday night away from owning a share of first place in the NL East. The starting pitching has been stellar. The bullpen has more often than not been strong. The hitting has been timely. It sure was Wednesday. It’s going to take more of the above to say the Phils are really contenders, but a quarter of the way into the season — and after 96 losses last year — things are most definitely moving in the right direction.

J.P. Crawford suffers broken left hand, out 4-6 weeks

J.P. Crawford suffers broken left hand, out 4-6 weeks

J.P. Crawford is headed back to the disabled list. The 23-year-old infielder suffered a broken left hand when he was hit by a pitch Tuesday night by St. Louis right-hander Luke Weaver. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said Crawford would be out four to six weeks.

Crawford already missed five weeks earlier this season with a forearm strain. He came off the disabled list on June 6 and had been getting an extended look at third base.

Crawford’s latest injury means Maikel Franco will likely get another full-time chance at third base. Franco had lost reps to Crawford recently.

The Phillies did not immediately announce a replacement for Crawford on the roster. Outfielder Dylan Cozens could be a possibility. He is on the DL with a quadriceps injury.

Crawford was hit in the fourth inning. He was not available for comment after the game. He is hitting .194 in 34 games.

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Phillies stand by bullpen after another meltdown in loss to Cardinals

Phillies stand by bullpen after another meltdown in loss to Cardinals

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It was another bad night for the Phillies’ bullpen Tuesday. Three more runs allowed, another blown lead, another home run. For the month of June, Phillies relievers have a 6.17 ERA and they have given up 64 hits, including a majors-high 13 home runs, in 54 innings.

Things have turned so badly for the bullpen that now even dashing debutant Seranthony Dominguez is giving up killer hits.

The hard-throwing rookie right-hander surrendered a tie-breaking, solo home run to St. Louis Cardinals leadoff man Matt Carpenter in the top of the ninth inning as the Phillies blew a late two-run lead in what ended up a 7-6 loss (see first take).

Dominguez, brought in after Rhys Hoskins tied the game with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth, struck out the first two batters in the ninth before Carpenter, looking like a man who knew what was coming, unloaded on an 0-2 fastball and sent it over the wall in right. Dominguez didn’t want to climb the ladder on Carpenter. He didn’t want to throw his slider. He wanted to get him out with a fastball on the inside part of the plate. He missed his spot and allowed his first homer in 22 1/3 innings as a big-leaguer.

Dominguez might have been guilty of being a little too proud of his fastball, thinking he could get it by Carpenter.

“I don’t think it was a rookie mistake at all,” manager Gabe Kapler said of the 0-2 fastball. “I think it was not a perfectly located pitch. But you can find those from veterans and you can find them from rookies. It’s just imperfect. If you can rewind time, maybe you throw that pitch a little more in off the plate and maybe then it’s foul. This is a game of inches and we’ve seen that over the last couple of days.”

Indeed, the Phillies won Monday night’s game in extra innings when Aaron Altherr’s go-ahead double fell just in front of a diving Marcell Ozuna in left.

Earlier Tuesday night, Carpenter tagged a 1-0 curveball from Tommy Hunter for a game-tying, two-run double with two outs in the seventh. That hit was the first of three straight against Hunter as the Cards rallied for four runs in the seventh to take a 6-4 lead.

Hunter, in the first year of a two-year, $18 million contract, picked up Vince Velasquez in the inning after Velasquez had given up a single and hit a batter. Hunter got the first out before giving up a pair of two-run doubles, including Carpenter's.

“I had a lot of confidence in Tommy to get us out of that jam and their hitters did a really good job tonight,” Kapler said. “We just got beat by some good hitters tonight.”

It seems every night brings a new bullpen drama for this team. But management remains confident in the group. General manager Matt Klentak said so before the game (see story). He even singled out Hunter, who entered with a 4.05 ERA in 24 games, as possibly having the best year of his career. Even after the game, Kapler remained steadfastly confident in the bullpen. In recent days, he has been asked about possible upgrades. He believes the Phillies can solve their problems with the relievers that are currently here. 

“Roughly six days ago, the questions that we were addressing were: Are you concerned about this offense and I said very comfortably that I had a lot of confidence in this offense and the reason I said I had a lot of confidence in this offense is because I know that we have a talented group of individuals, guys that have a track record of success,” Kapler said. “I’m very confident in our bullpen, too, for the same reason. We have a lot of athletic arms out there, guys that are prepared to play every single night, guys with a track record of success. Seranthony has been dominant through the beginning of his career. Tommy Hunter has years of success under his belt. That’s why we went out and got him. Do I have confidence in our bullpen? Absolutely. Just like I have confidence in our offense.”

Odubel Herrera and Carlos Santana homered to help the Phils build a 4-2 lead for Velasquez. He allowed those two base runners with one out in the seventh to make Hunter’s job a little more difficult.

“Vince threw his tail off,” Hunter said. “But you know, it's just unfortunate that I wasn't able to get that done right there. It was a big part of the game, and I didn't come through. That's pretty much the whole gist of it.”

The loss left the Phillies at 38-33 and the bullpen licking its wounds.

The Phils also lost J.P. Crawford to a broken left hand (see story).

“Frustrating game to lose, obviously,” Kapler said.

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