Phillies

Phillies still like matchup vs. Braves after yet another shellacking

Phillies still like matchup vs. Braves after yet another shellacking

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Some odd scheduling has seen the Phillies play three series against the National League East rival Atlanta Braves in the first month of the season. The Phils now get a three-week break from the Braves and that’s a good thing.

The Phillies absorbed their sixth loss in nine games against the Braves this season in a 10-1 drubbing at chilly Citizens Bank Park on Sunday (see first take). The Braves beat Vince Velasquez for the third time in less than a month, mauling the right-hander for seven hits, including two homers, and six runs in four innings.

“Lack of performance on my end,” Velasquez said. 

The right-hander heard some boos. He has an ERA of 5.70 in six starts. It is 9.24 in three starts against Atlanta this season. The Braves have outscored the Phillies, 32-6, in Velasquez’ three starts.

Overall, the Phillies are still looking at a very good month of April, particularly from where they came — 66-96 last year. They head into the final game of the month, Monday night in Miami, with a 16-11 record, the same mark, actually, as the Braves. However, much of the Phils' record has been forged against weak teams. The Phils are 8-1 against Cincinnati, Miami and Tampa Bay. They are 4-10 against Atlanta, Arizona and the Mets. They are also 4-0 against Pittsburgh, a club that entered Sunday leading the NL Central. The Phillies opened the homestand with a sweep of the Pirates then won just two of the remaining six games. Atlanta won the final two games of this series, handing the Phils consecutive losses for the first time since the first week of April. The Braves have outscored the Phillies, 54-30, in nine games.

“We feel we match up very well against the Braves. We have a lot of confidence every time we play them, for sure,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think very directly they have just played better than us in the games that we have played them. Not much more to say about it. They have gotten big hits, they have pitched a little better and they have been the better team in the games we have played against them.”

The Braves jumped out to a 6-0 lead on Velasquez in Sunday’s game. Jake Thompson followed Velasquez with 3 2/3 innings of three-run ball and was sent back to Lehigh Valley after the game. Kapler let Thompson hit in a five-run game with one out in the seventh because he wanted Thompson to provide some length — i.e., preserve the bullpen. Thompson then needed help getting through the eighth and Kapler at first chose valuable Luis Garcia over Drew Hutchison. Garcia had to pick up 29 pitches, which may render him unavailable Monday.

Phillies’ hitters produced just five hits.

“Tough day across the board," Kapler said. "We just didn’t get the big hit and (Atlanta) did."

Part of the reason the Phils did not get the big hit was that they racked up 13 strikeouts, five against reliever Jesse Biddle, the former Phillies’ first-round draft pick who was called up by the Braves earlier this month. The Phils have reached double-digits in strikeouts 18 times in 27 games.

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

The calls for Astros players to get suspended have gotten louder and louder as players have descended upon Florida and Arizona for spring training this past week. From Cody Bellinger to Mike Trout to Trevor Bauer to Nick Markakis and everywhere in between, players have made clear how angry they are about Houston's cheating scandal. 

It's going to take a long time for Astros players to gain back the respect of their peers.

It's not some easy fix, though. Astros players were granted immunity from discipline in order for their cooperation in MLB's investigation. MLB cannot, after the fact, revoke that immunity and decide to suspend players knowing what it now knows. That would never fly, and it shouldn't. Whether immunity should have been granted in the first place is the big question, but that point has passed.

Joe Girardi was asked on ESPN's Golic and Wingo Show Wednesday whether he thought MLB's punishment was sufficient.

The Phillies' first-year skipper doesn't think the current punishment serves as much of a deterrent.

"There are some people that lost their jobs that really were the people that had to pay for it, but there were a lot more people involved," Girardi said. "The financial gain for the players is substantial if they have big seasons because of this, so if there's no punishment for them, I'm not sure that it stops. I'm really not sure. Because the financial gain, similar to the steroid era, is very similar. If you know it's coming and you have a big year and you're a free agent, there's a lot (of money) to be made there and players want to take care of their families.

"I'm not exactly sure what the right answer is, but I don't know how much of a deterrent it is for players right now. There's not a huge deterrent for the players and I think there has to be to make sure that it stops."

People made fun of commissioner Rob Manfred for saying this but it should be acknowledged that the public ridicule the Astros are feeling right now will actually serve as some sort of deterrent. That doesn't mean MLB made the right call, that their decision-making process has been sound or that Manfred has done himself any favors publicly. But the disrespect factor around the league and around the country is real. Guys like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, even a Justin Verlander — will they ever again command the respect they did before this? This is a permanent stain.

MLB recognized how difficult an investigation would have been without cooperation from key figures and went the route of immunity. It's a decision that will be questioned for years.

"If you're not in the clubhouse and you don't admit yourself that you did it, how do you take the word from another player that he was doing it? That's the hard part," Girardi said. "Like, if you get caught with something on your body, that to me definitely should be a suspension and a huge fine. But to say that someone was using it, it's his word against his word, that's pretty tough to penalize a player."

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A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Spencer Howard, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, returned to a bullpen mound Wednesday and threw 27 pitches.

Ordinarily, a bullpen session in spring training is not news, but Howard had temporarily stopped his bullpen work after sustaining a minor knee injury — manager Joe Girardi called it a "tweak" — 10 days earlier.

Howard threw all of his pitches during the bullpen session as a gaggle of fans watched at Carpenter Complex.

"I only saw two pitches," said Girardi, who was busy bouncing around four fields. "But he felt great. That's the important thing."

Girardi said there was no timetable for when Howard would pitch in a Grapefruit League game. The Phillies are on record as saying they will take things slowly with Howard in the early part of the season. The 23-year-old right-hander is on an innings/workload limit this season and the Phillies would like to get a good chunk of those innings in the big leagues.

"Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he's going to play a role for us," Girardi said earlier in camp. "We can't go wear him out by June so we have to think about that. We're not going to waste a lot of innings in spring training."

It's possible that the Phillies could hold Howard back in extended spring training in the month of April so they can maximize his innings later in the season.

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