Phillies

Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies upgraded their bullpen this winter with the signings of Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

They bettered their offense with the signing of Carlos Santana, the injection of J.P. Crawford’s on-base percentage. And a full season of Rhys Hoskins won’t hurt.

The glaring area of need for this team remains the starting pitching rotation.

The team added to its inventory of starters when it signed veteran right-hander Drew Hutchison to a minor-league contract on Thursday. The former Toronto Blue Jay will join a long list of candidates to win a spot at the back end of the rotation.

“It’s a good depth move for us but it doesn't end our search for additional starting pitching,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

Klentak had been looking to add starting pitching all winter. There is enough of it available as Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and others remain on the slow-moving free-agent market.

Arrieta is a former National League Cy Young award winner, but the time does not seem right for this rebuilding team to make a run at him. The right-hander will pitch at 32 this season and is said to be seeking a deal of six years or more. Length of contract is a serious consideration for this team. When Santana hit the free-agent market in November, he was said to be seeking a six- or seven-year deal. The Phils had no stomach for that. When he came down to three years, they pounced.

If the (length of) contract demands of the remaining free agents come down, the Phillies could add another pitcher in the coming weeks. If they don’t, Klentak is comfortable with the group that has been assembled.

“We’re open to adding a starter if it makes sense for us, but even if we don’t, we are confident that this starting pitching group is going to take a step forward because they are really talented and they’re healthy,” Klentak said. “We’re watching them here and they look great.

“The starting pitching market being as slow to develop as it has been has allowed us to get to Clearwater and watch our guys and evaluate them and see the look in their eye and see the electricity in their pitches and regain that confidence in our young starting pitching.”

Aaron Nola lines up to start on opening day. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez will be in the rotation. Nick Pivetta seems to have a good shot after making 25 starts last season. Ben Lively made a good showing last year. He’s a tough competitor and will make a strong run at winning a spot, but so will Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Mark Leiter, Tom Eshelman and Hutchison.

As much as new manager Gabe Kapler would love a top starter dropped in his lap, he, like his bosses, remains committed to the development process that has gone hand in hand with this rebuild.

“You’re always looking to upgrade,” he said. “But there has to be a balance. If you bring in someone, a young arm might not get an opportunity.”

Not long ago, the Phillies had some of the top payrolls in the game. From 2012 to 2014, they spent over a half-billion on payroll (only the Yankees and Dodgers spent more in the time) and did not make the playoffs in any of those seasons. That led to the current rebuild, which has been marked by disciplined roster construction.

“We’re open to anything,” Klentak said. “But the dollars and the years and the player fit would have to be right. We’re not going to compromise on our evaluation and where we see the franchise right now. We’re not going to do something that doesn’t make sense for this organization."

That will continue.

“We’ve gone through this rebuild and acknowledged that it was going to be painful for a few years," Klentak said. "It has been. We’re not going to do anything to compromise the future of that. We’re going to continue to do this right. If there’s something that makes sense, I know the owners will support it economically. It’s up to us to bring that to them if we see fit. And if we don’t, we’re excited about the group we have here. We have ways we think we’re going to help this group continue to improve. Either way, it’s going to be a fun year.”

Phillies score 10 runs and win but still leave behind a sour taste

Phillies score 10 runs and win but still leave behind a sour taste

Such an enigmatic group, these Phillies.

How crazy is it that on an afternoon when the Phils scored 10 runs to finish off an unlikely series victory, the leftover taste was a sour one because of the bullpen.

Gabe Kapler tried to show confidence in Hector Neris in the ninth inning for the second straight game. It worked Saturday but not Sunday.

After needing eight pitches in a 1-2-3 save Saturday, Neris allowed four runs and two homers in two-thirds of an inning to turn a 10-5 lead into a 10-9 game (see first take)

Kapler was forced to turn to Jake Thompson, who threw one pitch to get the save.

At this point, how can Kapler go back to Neris late in a close game? He attempted to use Neris in low-leverage situations — prior to Saturday, each of his last six outings came in games well in-hand — but it hasn't worked. 

Neris has a 6.00 ERA and has allowed eight home runs in 27 innings. To put that in perspective, Aaron Nola has allowed six home runs in 95⅓ innings. 

Neris' velocity was crisp Sunday, reaching as high as 98 mph. But the location, again, was off. Too many pitches in the middle of the plate.

The Phillies have a 4.56 ERA in the ninth inning. That's fourth-worst in the majors and second-worst in the NL, ahead of only the Marlins. Remove Neris from the equation and the Phils' ninth-inning ERA is 3.52.

The Phillies' bullpen was supposed to be a strength. But Pat Neshek hasn't pitched, Neris has fallen flat, Tommy Hunter is only starting to get into a groove and Luis Garcia is on the DL after several rough outings in a row.

Kapler must be careful of overusing Seranthony Dominguez, who factors into their ninth-inning plans far beyond this year. But aside from Dominguez, the only relievers the Phillies have who've been reliable more often than not are Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano. 

It's a precarious position to be in, yet the Phils are 12-6 in one-run games this season. Only the Mariners, Yankees, Brewers and Braves have a better winning percentage in such games. 

Nick Pivetta is on the hill Monday at home against the Cardinals. The Phillies badly need a long outing from him after their starters accounted for just 57% of the innings in Milwaukee.

It would be the perfect time for Pivetta to get back on track after allowing 13 runs in his last 14 innings and failing to pitch into the sixth four starts in a row.

More on the Phillies

Maikel Franco picks up Aaron Nola for unlikely Phillies series win

Maikel Franco picks up Aaron Nola for unlikely Phillies series win

BOX SCORE

The Phillies didn't get the kind of start from Aaron Nola they've been accustomed to but were still able to finish off an impressive series win Sunday by beating the Brewers 10-9.

As bad as they looked Friday night, this turned out to be a strong week for the Phils, who have won four of six games and two straight series over the Rockies and Brewers. 

The Phils are 37-32 and have been at least two games over .500 every day since April 13. The Brewers still own the best record in the National League at 42-29.

After this quick trip to Milwaukee, the Phillies are back home Monday through Wednesday against the Cardinals before going to Washington for the weekend. After that, they have an eight-game homestand.

Franco connects

Maikel Franco hasn't played much lately but got the start Sunday with J.P. Crawford playing shortstop in place of Scott Kingery.

In his second at-bat against right-hander Chase Anderson, Franco connected on a hanging, middle-in curveball for a two-run homer to left field.

In the seventh inning, Franco gave the Phillies some insurance with a rare single to right-center in a high-pressure situation. Franco's line drive drove in two more runs as he completed a four-RBI day. 

In nine career games at Miller Park, Franco is 14 for 30 (.467) with four homers and 14 RBI.

He's never going to be a high-OBP guy, but Franco can still pound mistakes here and there. The Phillies think Crawford has more upside offensively and defensively, but right now, Franco is the more effective option between the two because of this ability to occasionally run into a two-run homer.

The league knows what Franco is. He's likely never going to have significant trade value because of his .298 career on-base percentage in just under 1,900 plate appearances. But he does have mid-20s home run power. He has nine this season after hitting 24 last season and 25 the year before.

Neris … not so good

Kapler turned to Hector Neris in the ninth inning for the second day in a row and this time, it didn't work.

Neris gave up four runs with the Phillies up by five and was pulled with two outs for Jake Thompson.

Neris allowed home runs to Jesus Aguilar and Eric Thames, with Thames' three-run shot coming at the literal four-hour mark of the game — 4:00:00.

This game lasted 4 hours and 3 minutes, making it the Phils' longest non-extra-inning game since July 6, 2015 at Dodger Stadium.

The Phillies' ERA in the ninth inning this season is now 4.56 — fourth-worst in the majors and second-worst in the NL ahead of only the Marlins.

Hoskins stays hot

After demolishing a 431-foot home run Saturday, Rhys Hoskins hit another two-run shot to left in his first at-bat on Father's Day.

This one wasn't hit quite as hard but was a majestic, high shot that just kept carrying and carrying.

Hoskins is seeing the ball well. In a later at-bat, he hung with a low-and-away curveball and just missed the barrel, flying out to left field.

Since fracturing his jaw, Hoskins is 11 for 30 (.367) with three doubles, four homers, 11 RBI and four walks in nine games.

Williams' decisive blow

The half-inning after Nola exited his shortest start in over a year, Nick Williams delivered the key blow for the Phillies, a two-run single up the middle with the bases loaded.

Williams has had a productive week, going 6 for 13 with two doubles, a homer, four RBI, two walks and two hit by pitches in his last five games.

Up next

Pitching matchups for the Cardinals series:

Monday: Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.25) vs. Miles Mikolas (7-2, 2.43)

Tuesday: Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.74) vs. Luke Weaver (3-6, 4.52)

Wednesday: Jake Arrieta (5-5, 3.33) vs. Michael Wacha (8-2, 3.24)

More on the Phillies