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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Phillies nearly complete sweep on national TV, but that bullpen …

Phillies nearly complete sweep on national TV, but that bullpen …

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WASHINGTON — In this case, it really was a game of inches.

A powerful fifth inning put the Phillies up four runs, but the bullpen couldn't finish the sweep, allowing three in the sixth and three in the eighth in an 8-6 loss Sunday night to the Nationals.

The culprits were Edubray Ramos, who allowed his first two earned runs since May 8, and Seranthony Dominguez, who allowed a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single to Daniel Murphy. It was a soft line drive an inch over 5-foot-10 Cesar Hernandez's glove. 

The Nationals had 17 hits. Nine of them came in the final three innings.

The meltdown was under the bright lights of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Know how long it had been since the Phils appeared on Sunday Night Baseball? So long that Delmon Young and Darin Ruf were their starting corner outfielders. 

Despite the loss, the Phillies won another series against a good team. They've been doing a lot of that lately. They're 12-13 during this grueling stretch that began at Dodger Stadium on Memorial Day, and they're 23-25 against teams over .500. 

It's a very good sign for the ensuing three months of the regular season.

"I think that every series that we win, it's less, 'If they keep this up, it proves they are good' kind of thing. And rather every series we win, we feel more confident that second-half development leads us into the playoffs," manager Gabe Kapler said Sunday. 

"That's how I am thinking about it. We have young players on our roster, right? A lot of 25-, 26-year-olds. If they all do what their natural curve should do, get a little bit better in the second half, theoretically we are a developing team that is getting better. So I can see us getting even better in the second half."

After losing seven of their first eight games in June, the Phils are 9-4. Just in time to welcome to Citizens Bank Park a suddenly cold Yankees team.

The decision you'll hear about Monday

In that ugly eighth inning, Kapler chose to intentionally walk 19-year-old rookie Juan Soto to load the bases with two outs and Daniel Murphy due up next.

As always, the manager was heavily criticized immediately on the interwebs because the move didn't work.

"Why walk the rookie to pitch to a career Phillie-killer?"

Well, because Soto has been unbelievable, including in this series. He's hitting .324/.430/.588. Murphy was 5 for 37 entering the night after coming back from major knee surgery 12 games ago. He also has had issues catching up to fastballs. 

At the very least, it seemed like a "flip-a-coin" decision. Didn't work. Soto's going to be very good for a very long time.

"Soto has been one of the league's most dangerous offensive players. Murphy, coming off injury and sort of still going through the process of getting back to being Murphy, has struggled," Kapler said.

"And with Seranthony (Dominguez's) fastball, it's not an easy fastball to catch up with and we thought that Soto was more dangerous in that situation. You pick your poison right there. You have two very good hitters and the first one in Soto has been elite and Murphy has struggled a little bit. So, went after the guy who's struggled and coming off an injury."

Big bats in the middle

One through five, the Phillies' offense is clicking.

Cesar Hernandez walked twice more Sunday and has a .376 on-base percentage.

Rhys Hoskins hit a two-run homer and is now batting .352 over his last 15 games with five homers, five doubles and 15 RBI.

Odubel Herrera hit a two-run triple off lefty reliever Sammy Solis. He, too, couldn't be hotter. In his last nine games, Herrera has nine extra-base hits and 11 RBI.

Carlos Santana? Quiet game for him, but over his last 45 games he's hit .277 with a .399 OBP, 20 extra-base hits and 35 RBI.

Not to be outdone, Nick Williams hit his first homer of the season off a lefty two batters after Herrera's triple. Williams has settled into what's become almost an everyday job in right field. He's started 21 of the Phillies' last 25 games.

Just enough from Pivetta

Nick Pivetta really wanted to get the bad taste out of his mouth from his last outing at Nationals Park in early May, which lasted one inning and resulted in six runs. 

Minus that outing, Pivetta has a 3.46 ERA on the season.

In five innings Sunday night, Pivetta allowed two runs and struck out seven. He faced jams in the fourth and fifth innings but navigated around them because of his strikeout stuff. With two on and nobody out in the fourth, he struck out the side. With the bases loaded and two outs the next inning, he punched out Michael A. Taylor.

Pivetta has struck out 101 batters in 84⅓ innings. Only five NL pitchers have more K's: Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Jacob deGrom, Jon Gray and Zack Greinke.

Pair of injuries

Andrew Knapp left the game in the seventh inning with a right knee contusion.

An inning later, Maikel Franco slipped on a slick first-base bag on a single and landed awkwardly. He stayed in after a brief delay, then exited the next half-inning.

Kapler said both appear to be OK and that Franco could play tomorrow.

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Phillies catch a break this week vs. Yankees

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Phillies catch a break this week vs. Yankees

WASHINGTON — The Phillies will catch a break this week when the Yankees come to town. Starting catcher Gary Sanchez is likely headed to the DL after coming up lame on a groundball in extra innings Sunday.

Sanchez was trying to leg out a double-play ball in the top of the 10th in Tampa Bay when he injured his groin area. He walked off the field carefully, and after the game, Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters his catcher is likely going on the shelf. Monday's MRI will determine it.

It's a break for the Phils against a ridiculously deep Yankees lineup. Sanchez is hitting just .190, but he's a huge power threat with 14 homers and 14 doubles. Since 2016, Sanchez has 67 home runs despite averaging just 340 plate appearances per season over that span. It's by far the most HR hit by any player with that few PAs.

Even with Sanchez out, the Phils will have to deal with a formidable offense. You've got Aaron Judge batting second with his league-best power and .393 OBP. You've got Giancarlo Stanton, who's heating up and went 5 for 5 with a pair of doubles Sunday. Rookie Miguel Andujar has been better than anyone anticipated, entering the week hitting .284 with 11 homers, 35 RBI and a .836 OPS.

But because the series is at Citizens Bank Park and the Yankees won't have a DH, they likely won't play Aaron Hicks. In effect, the Yankees will be without their regular Nos. 5 and 6 hitters.

The pitching matchups for the series are:

Monday — Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) vs. Jonathan Loaisiga (1-0, 3.12)

Tuesday — Jake Arrieta (5-5, 3.42) vs. Luis Severino (11-2, 2.24)

Wednesday — Zach Eflin (5-2, 3.42) vs. Luis Cessa (0-0, 3.00)

Loaisiga has a great nickname: Johnny Lasagna.

Severino is one of the AL's toughest customers. 

Cessa has not started a game this season and has a 4.54 ERA in 14 career starts.

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