Phillies

Phillies have a new slugger and maybe a new third baseman

Phillies have a new slugger and maybe a new third baseman

SAN DIEGO — Andrew McCutchen’s injury means the Phillies have a new leftfielder.

Maikel Franco’s lengthy slump means the Phillies might have a new third baseman.

The Phillies got several important contributions in snapping a five-game losing streak with a 9-6 win over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night (see observations).

None were more important than what they got from Jay Bruce and Scott Kingery.

Bruce, who was acquired in a trade with Seattle on Sunday and thrust into the starting leftfielder’s role when McCutchen went down with a season-ending knee injury on Monday, clubbed two homers, one of which was a grand slam, and drove in six runs.

Kingery, who started his second straight game at third base in place of Franco, belted an RBI double and a booming homer to left.

It was all part of a 13-hit attack for the Phillies, who had seven extra-base hits, as many as they had in the previous four games on the trip, all losses. The nine runs were one more than they had in the previous four games.

The win enabled the Phils to stay a half-game up on second-place Atlanta in the NL East.

“It was a pretty big win for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “In a lot of ways, we played with Andrew out there. We kind of won one for him.”

Kapler said Bruce was the story of the game. In addition to his two homers, he roped a double. He’s going to be very important to this club. He was going to be important to the club when the Phillies acquired him. With McCutchen down, his importance only rises.

“The news was devastating about someone I have so much respect for as a player,” Bruce said of McCutchen. “I’ve gotten to know him over the years and we came up playing together. I know how much he meant to this team and I’m definitely not coming to try to replace Andrew McCutchen. What he does and has done in his career speaks for itself. He’s a good player. I just wish a speedy recovery for him and hope he’s ready as soon as possible. Like I said, my mindset doesn’t change. I just want to play and play well and help this team win a championship.”

If Bruce was the story of the game, there were some important subplots. Starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff played the stopper’s role with six innings of three-run ball. He was noticeably aggressive in delivering his pitches after being hit hard in his previous four starts.

“Waking up today, I wanted to be that guy that stops the bleeding,” said Eickhoff, referring to the Phils’ five-game skid.

Kingery’s role in the game was huge. In addition to swinging the bat well, he made several nice plays at third base, including at least one eye-popper. He is hitting .333 with nine doubles, four homers and 12 RBIs in 87 at-bats.

Franco came off the bench with a pinch-hit homer but has struggled mightily since a hot start. He entered the game hitting .150 (15 for 100) with a .206 on-base percentage in his previous 30 games.

Kingery had been helping in center field, but the Phils want to take a look at Adam Haseley there, and injured Roman Quinn could be back in a couple of weeks.

The door seems wide open for Kingery to put a lockdown on the third base job.

“I don't think that we have to make any declarations about that right now,” Kapler said. “I will say that he's playing a good third base right now. He'll continue to get the opportunity to play some third base for us.”

Kingery struggled as a rookie last season, but he clearly learned from that. He looks much more comfortable this season like he believes he’s a big leaguer.

Does he believe he can take over at third?

“For me, if I’m in the lineup, I’m happy,” he said. “I don’t know what the plan is, whether it’s moving back and forth between center and third, but it’s felt good at third. I guess we’ll see going forward what happens.”

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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