Phillies

Phillies' series loss to Rockies gnaws at Gabe Kapler

Phillies' series loss to Rockies gnaws at Gabe Kapler

DENVER — The Phillies’ offense, pretty much nonexistent for much of the day, began to stir with two outs in the ninth inning. One hit. A second hit and a run. A third hit. Suddenly it’s a three-run game and there are runners on second and third.

In the on-deck circle, Bryce Harper motioned to hitting coach John Mallee and asked to look at a sheet of paper bearing some intel on Colorado reliever Wade Davis.

All the Phillies needed was for Cesar Hernandez to reach base for Harper to get a chance with the bases loaded in Coors Field, the place where anything can and often does happen. You could almost hear Harper saying, “Get me to the plate, boys,” as Ryan Howard did one long ago October in the same ballpark.

Harper never made it out of the on-deck circle. Davis retired Hernandez and the Phillies trudged back to the clubhouse with a 4-1 loss (see observations), their third in four days in the series and seventh in their last eight games at Coors Field, dating to September of last season.

“I think we can play better than we did in this series,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

The Phils pretty much gave away Friday night’s 12-inning game by going 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position and leaving 19 men on base.

And, on Sunday, they had just two hits over the first 8 2/3 innings and Hernandez committed a costly base-running blunder in the fourth inning when the Rockies were leading just 1-0.

“It was a big play,” Kapler said. “It’s a play that can’t happen.”

The Phils were looking at having runners on first and second with one out against Jon Gray after the Rockies muffed a force out at second. The ball got away from second baseman Garrett Hampson as Hernandez slid into second. Umpire Joe West flashed the safe sign. However, Hernandez did not see the loose ball (which was in front of him) nor did he see West’s signal. He started walking back to the dugout and eventually was tagged for the second out. It cost the Phils a run, and maybe more, because Maikel Franco followed with a double.

“It’s ultimately my fault,” Hernandez said. “I know better. I should have stayed on the base until I was 100 percent sure if I was out or safe. I just assumed I was out. It's a learning experience for me. Hopefully it won't happen again.”

Both Hernandez and Kapler said they wished West had voiced his call as well as signaled it.

“That always helps,” Hernandez said. “But, again, it’s not his fault. It’s mine.”

Said Kapler: “Joe did not say anything verbally. He held his hands out (safe sign). You always like, when you can get it, a demonstrative call one way or the other; I’m definitely not calling out Joe for anything in this particular case. I think this is something that Cesar has to be responsible for. If Cesar was standing right next to me, he’d tell you stay on the base until you’re absolutely certain what the call is.”

Hernandez has recently started to heat up after a slow start. However, he went hitless in five at-bats Sunday and did not look good in one of his two strikeouts. He was about to be pushed for work before Scott Kingery suffered a hamstring strain in this series and went on the disabled list.

About the only bright spot Sunday was starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, who allowed four runs in six innings, a solid performance in Coors Field and against a team that boasts the beast of Charlie Blackmon. He had 10 hits, including two triples and two homers, in the four games to raise his average from .219 to .286 and his OPS from .567 to .802.

The Phillies jetted to New York after the game. They play the Mets in Citi Field the next three nights.

Kapler wasn’t planning on kicking back with a scotch on the flight.

“We’ve got a lot to think about on this plane ride and we’re going to go through everything and be prepared to come out and beat the Mets,” he said.

He was asked to expound on what needed to be thought about.

“I think it’s more postmortem from this series, some of the things we could have done differently,” he said. “Take some time. I’d love to be able to tell you exactly what those things are, but that’s why you get on the plane and think about them.”

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Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce honors a friend on his back and in his heart

Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce honors a friend on his back and in his heart

CLEARWATER, Fla. – As kids, they rode their bikes to each other’s houses. They played Little League and high school ball together.

As adults, they hunted and fished together, always washing it down with a cold beer and a few laughs.

Jay Bruce and Justin Hoose were boys, as the saying goes.

“We started playing together in tee ball,” Bruce said. “And we were always close. I had my first sleepover at his house. Toothpaste in the ear, shaving cream, you name it, we did it. He was the first person I ever ding-dong-ditched with. 

“We did everything together. And regardless of whether you wanted to have fun or wanted to laugh or wanted to have a good time, when he came around you were going to do all of those things.”

The phone call came in December when Bruce was in Idaho picking up a hunting dog. Back home in Beaumont, Texas, his lifelong friend Justin had been hospitalized with a sudden and serious illness. A few days later, he was gone, way too young at the age of 32.

“It floored me,” Bruce said. “We have a tight group of friends from high school and it floored all of us. It still stings. I still can’t believe it. It’s something no one would have imagined.

“I always believed we’d one day be old men talking (crap) on each other and then …

“It’s really made me understand and realize that life is precious and can be taken from you so quickly and to just love the people you’re close with.”

Justin loved the Dallas Cowboys so much that friends were encouraged to wear Cowboys’ colors to his memorial service. A few years ago, Bruce arranged for sideline passes at a Cowboys game.

“We had a blast,” he said.

In 12 seasons as a major league outfielder, Bruce has played in Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York, Seattle and Philadelphia. Justin supported his friend, and rooted like crazy for him, in every one of these towns.

So, as Bruce prepared for spring training this year, he decided to do something for the old friend that supported him so much. He phoned Phillies equipment man Phil Sheridan and asked if he could change his number from 23 to 9. That was the number Justin wore when they were teammates on the baseball team at West Brook High School in Beaumont.

Changing numbers in the big leagues is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it requires league approval. Merchandisers often object because they have existing stock with the player’s number already on it. But everything lined up favorably for Bruce because he’d only been a Phillie for a few months after being traded from Seattle last season.

“I got here in June so there’s not a lot of stuff out there,” he said. “But if there was merchandise out there, I would have been willing to buy it to do this.”

There aren’t many Bruce jerseys with No. 9 on them in the merchandise stores yet. But there is another one out there. Before he left for spring training, Bruce, a husband and father of two young sons, made sure to order one for Joseph Hoose, the 10-year-son of his old pal Justin.

Bruce took batting practice with his new number on his back Tuesday and felt as if his old friend was looking down on him.

“Justin was special,” Jay Bruce said through misty eyes. “He was an incredible person. Wearing this number doesn’t fully honor who he was a person, but it brings a little bit of him with me.”

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Which of these Phillies batting orders do you like better?

Which of these Phillies batting orders do you like better?

The Phillies have 32 spring training games to figure out which infield alignment makes the most sense, who the opening day centerfielder will be and how the batting order shakes out. 

On yesterday’s Phillies Talk podcast, Ricky Bottalico and I discussed how much batting order flexibility the addition of Didi Gregorius gives Joe Girardi. Gregorius can really bat anywhere between first and fifth. 

This was Ricky’s batting order:

  1. Andrew McCutchen, LF
  2. Didi Gregorius, SS (L)
  3. Bryce Harper, RF (L)
  4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
  5. J.T. Realmuto, C
  6. Jean Segura, 2B
  7. Scott Kingery, 3B
  8. Adam Haseley, CF (L)

And here was mine:

  1. Andrew McCutchen, LF
  2. Bryce Harper, RF (L)
  3. J.T. Realmuto, C
  4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
  5. Didi Gregorius, SS (L)
  6. Jean Segura, 2B
  7. Scott Kingery, 3B
  8. Adam Haseley, CF (L)

We will have to wait and see how much the new three-batter rule for relievers affects lineup construction, if at all. It could prompt managers to focus more on splitting up their lefties, which was the idea behind my splitting up Harper and Didi. 

Another option the Phils could go with is McCutchen and Segura at the top, where they were early last season. Forgotten in the totality of Segura’s disappointing first season as a Phillie is that he was hitting .330 in mid-May and his production didn’t crater until right around the time he didn’t hustle out the ball in San Diego, leading to the rundown in which McCutchen tore his ACL. Segura spoke this week about how much that ordeal weighed on him last summer. 

What’s your ideal Phillies batting order?

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