Phillies

Phillies make sure Aaron Nola's latest gem stands up ... barely

Phillies make sure Aaron Nola's latest gem stands up ... barely

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Aaron Nola was up in the clubhouse riding an exercise bike and watching on television as the Colorado Rockies mounted a charge in the ninth inning.

One run in. A second run in. Now a third.

Suddenly it’s a one-run game and Nola’s masterpiece is about to unravel.

Nervous?

“I mean, kind of,” Nola said. “How can you not get nervous right there? But we pulled it out.”

The Phillies survived a rocky performance by reliever Luis Garcia in the ninth inning to score a 5-4 win over the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night (see first take). The game should not have been that close. The Phils led 5-1 entering the inning. Garcia was tagged for four straight hits and three runs before rightfielder Aaron Altherr (with a game-saving catch) and Seranthony Dominguez (with a game-ending strikeout of two-time National League RBI king Nolan Arenado) saved his bacon and locked down the one-run victory.

The Phils have won two in a row for the first time since May 16-17.

“That is a long time,” Nola said. “But it's good to get back on the winning train.”

The Phillies were out-hit by a margin of 11-4 in this game, but they managed to win because Nola pitched well and Scott Kingery drove in four runs with a three-run homer in the first inning and a sacrifice fly. Jesmuel Valentin had a pinch-hit, RBI single in the eighth and the run proved huge as the win turned out to be more difficult than it should have been.

Colorado starter Jon Gray struck out 10, but he walked four and paid for them. He walked two in the first inning, setting up Kingery’s three-run homer, his first long ball in two months. Kingery hit a 1-2 fastball that came in at 97 mph.

“I’m just trying to put the bat on the ball and thankfully he threw me something I could handle,” said Kingery, who has chased a ton of breaking balls out of the zone in similar situations.

Nola also stuck out 10 as he improved to 8-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 14 starts. That’s All-Star Game material.

Since June 22, 2017, Nola is 14-3 with a 2.03 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and 148 strikeouts in 18 home starts. The Rockies love to hit fastballs. Nola combated that with 15 swinging strikes, nine on curveballs.

“He mixed his pitches beautifully,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Nola got in a couple of jams, but his pulse never quickened and he navigated them. He left with two outs in the seventh and a 4-0 lead.

“It's an intangible very few pitchers have,” Kapler said of Nola’s no-panic demeanor. “It's confidence and it's bravado.”

Kapler wanted to stay away from his favorite bullpen weapon, Dominguez, especially after the rookie right-hander had thrown 41 pitches on Sunday. But Dominguez had to come in and clean up Garcia’s mess. Altherr helped with a sensational grab on a Charlie Blackmon liner to right that would have brought home at least a run.

“Basically what we look at is who is most likely to get a ground ball there,” said Kapler, explaining his decision to open the ninth with Garcia. "Louie throws 99 miles an hour with a slider, so he matches up pretty well against a lot of people. Because he hasn't a lot of success in recent days doesn't mean we're going to go away from him. We have to maintain faith and confidence in our guys with big electric stuff and that's basically what we've done.”

Dominguez threw 13 pitches on a night Kapler was hoping not to use him. The Phillies want to be careful with him so he might not be available on Wednesday night when the team tries to win three in a row for the first time in a month.

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Major Leaguers go crazy on social media about Jake Arrieta

Major Leaguers go crazy on social media about Jake Arrieta

The absolute filth. What Jake Arrieta did Monday had his fellow Major Leaguers going crazy on social media.

In his final start of the spring, Arrieta sure looked ready for his season debut on Sunday. He went six strong, allowing two earned with eight strikeouts. However, it was how he racked up the K’s that had his colleagues fawning on social media.

First, this disgusting free and easy 92 out of Arrieta’s right hand that falls away from the right-handed hitter.

Fellow MLBers Marcus Stroman and Lance McCullers could not get enough.

Next, this 88 mph change, which falls off the table, had other pros wondering how they could harness the same sorcery.

Arrieta, a World Series champ and Cy Young winner, was solid but not spectacular in his first season with the Phillies, but he’s still got the same fire and ability that saw him win 22 games and post a 1.77 ERA in 2015. In fact, our Corey Seidman wrote about why Phillies fans can expect more from Arietta this season (see story).

A veteran presence in the clubhouse and a force on the mound, he’ll certainly be one to watch this season as the Phillies make a push for the playoffs.

We know it’s more than just Phillies fans watching, too.

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Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

On his last day in Florida, Gabe Kapler put the top down and took his new and improved lineup for a spin.

The Phillies manager used what figures to be his opening day lineup — minus starting pitcher Aaron Nola — for the team’s final spring-training game Monday.

The unit — with a little help from minor-leaguer Malvin Matos — pulled out a curtain-closing, 3-2, win over the Tampa Bay Rays at sun-splashed Spectrum Field. Matos, up for the day from minor-league camp, won it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of ninth and everybody left happy.

The new season starts Thursday when the Phillies host the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of 162. Nola, who finished third in National League Cy Young voting last season, will oppose right-hander Julio Teheran.

The Phillies added two former NL MVPs, a former NL hits leader and the best catcher in baseball this winter and expectations are high for this club that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2011, its last winning season.

Kapler had his game face on after Monday's spring finale.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think this team has a ton of potential, but we have to stay focused every single day.

“We have to come to the ballpark every day with a game plan of doing the little things right, running the bases hard and executing fundamentals. If we do that, we can do good things.”

The Phils will send Nick Pivetta to the mound in the second game of the series on Saturday. He will face rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson. Jake Arrieta will start Sunday night’s nationally televised game against another Atlanta rookie right-hander, Kyle Wright.

The Phillies will play their fourth game of the season Apr. 2 at Washington and send Zach Eflin to the mound. That should be a wild scene with Bryce Harper, the hood ornament on Kapler’s new and improved lineup, returning to the city in which he played for seven seasons.

Harper, a former NL MVP, anchored Kapler’s lineup in the No. 3 spot Monday. He will be right back there Thursday and could stay there all season as Kapler, with improved personnel, has said he’ll try to keep guys in consistent spots in the order this year.

Kapler’s sneak-peek lineup looked like this Monday:

Andrew McCutchen LF
Jean Segura SS
Bryce Harper LF
Rhys Hoskins 1B
J.T. Realmuto C
Odubel Herrera CF
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Maikel Franco 3B

Last season, Hernandez was the Phillies’ primary leadoff man and Franco often batted in the middle of the order. They significantly strengthen the bottom third of the order. Franco homered on Monday and Hernandez doubled.

Four of the top five spots in the batting order were occupied by newcomers, McCutchen, another former MVP, at the top followed by former NL hits champ Segura and Harper. Realmuto caught and hit fifth.

“It’s exciting,” Arrieta said of the lineup. “More than anything I think it puts a little fear into the opposition. I don’t know if you call it fear, it’s just maybe a little more preparation goes into facing a lineup like we have this year.

“With the guys we’ve got, there’s really not a break in our lineup. It’s going to be fun.”

Arrieta started Monday and struck out eight over six innings in his final spring tune-up. Pivetta pitched into the sixth inning in a minor-league game and struck out nine.

Over the weekend, Nola said: “We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete. Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.”

Arrieta concurred.

“Of course, I think we're a playoff team,” he said Monday. “You look at the team we had last year, we were borderline. We had our chances. Some youth, some inexperience, maybe some hangover from a tough series carried on to the next vs. the cliché of turning the page quick. This group is much better suited to deal with adversity.

“The Braves doing what they did to us last year in winning the division, not that there has to be a chip on our shoulder, but a lot of guys in here remember how it shook down for us, the way the season finished, and we don’t want that to happen again.”

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