Pitching and defense help Phillies bounce back to beat Diamondbacks, increase lead in NL East

Pitching and defense help Phillies bounce back to beat Diamondbacks, increase lead in NL East


PHOENIX — Despite being in the thick of the National League East race all season and leading the division every day since July 6, the Phillies have had a major flaw in their game: They are not a good defensive team. They made another error Tuesday night and had a catchable ball fall on the warning track for a double. Both miscues came in the eighth inning.

But credit where credit is due: Defense was a big reason the Phillies won Tuesday night’s game, 5-2, over the Arizona Diamondbacks (see first take).

The Phils turned four double plays in the infield and none of them were easy. Two of the double plays came with the game on the line in the late innings, one in a one-run game to end the seventh inning, the other a momentum-buster to end the eighth inning after the Diamondbacks had rallied for two runs and brought the tying run to the plate. 

“I thought (Asdrubal) Cabrera and (Cesar) Hernandez did a good job up the middle tonight, played some good defense, turned some nice double plays,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

First baseman Carlos Santana and reliever Luis Garcia also had a hand in one of those double plays, the one that ended the seventh and preserved a one-run lead.

The Phillies capitalized on poor defense by the Diamondbacks and rallied for four runs to take a 5-0 lead in the top of the eighth inning. Arizona rallied against newcomer Aaron Loup in the bottom of the inning and Kapler was forced to go to Victor Arano for the final two outs in that inning even though the right-hander had thrown 33 pitches the night before. 

Arano survived a misplayed fly ball by Odubel Herrera that became a run and an error by third baseman Maikel Franco that became another run and got out of the inning by getting dangerous Eduardo Escobar to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.

“It might go unnoticed, but Arano weathered a pretty incredible storm out there with the ball that dropped in center field and the misplay by Mikey,” Kapler said. “He was able to keep his wits about him, stay composed, stay under control and continue to deliver sharp pitches. He’s been excellent for us all year.”

Even with the two runs charged to Loup, the Phillies still have the best bullpen in the majors since July 1. Its ERA over that span is 2.70.

The starting rotation has been good all season and particularly good lately. Over the last eight games, the starting staff has allowed just nine earned runs in 55 1/3 innings for a 1.46 ERA. The Phils are 6-2 over those eight games. Both of the losses were by one run, in 13 and 14 innings, respectively.

Nick Pivetta became the latest starter to shine with six shutout innings. He walked one and struck out six in the Phillies’ NL-high 59th quality start.

Pivetta struggled throughout most of June and July, but the front office chose not to trade for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. Pivetta has responded with two strong starts since then. He has given up just two runs in 12 innings, while registering 13 strikeouts and walking just one in those two starts.

“The organization has continued to show a great degree of confidence in Nick Pivetta and this is Nick kind of rewarding the organization for its patience,” Kapler said.

Pivetta appreciates the organization sticking with him.

“Gabe is an amazing manager,” the right-hander said. “He’s a great communicator. He sticks up for everybody in this clubhouse all the time because he believes in us. I think that’s important when you have a manager that’s fighting for us. I think that gives us a lot of confidence. We’re sticking with him just as much as he’s sticking with us.”

The Phillies beat a good one in Zack Greinke as they improved to 64-49. They lead the NL East by 1½ games over Atlanta. Greinke gave up just a run in seven innings, a homer by Nick Williams. The victory came a day after the Phils wasted eight shutout innings from Jake Arrieta and lost, 3-2, in 14 innings.

“We know how to take a punch,” Kapler said. “We took a punch last night and it was a hard one, but we bounced back today and it’s sort of the character of our club now. We get knocked down but we pop right back up.”

Vince Velasquez gets the ball in the series finale Wednesday afternoon.

More on the Phillies

Phillies coach Dusty Wathan to interview for Rangers manager

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Phillies coach Dusty Wathan to interview for Rangers manager

The Texas Rangers will interview Phillies third base coach Dusty Wathan for their manager opening later this week, according to a baseball source.

Wathan, 45, was a finalist for the Phillies' job that went to Gabe Kapler a year ago.

Wathan is a former catcher who played professionally for 14 seasons and appeared in the majors with Kansas City in 2002. He managed 10 seasons in the Phillies' minor-league system and was Eastern League manager of the year at Double A Reading in 2015 and 2016 before moving up to Triple A Lehigh Valley in 2017 and joining the big-league staff under Kapler in 2018. He managed many of the players that have recently arrived in the majors with the Phillies.

The Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister in late September. According to reports, they have already interviewed several candidates including former Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Cubs bench Brandon Hyde, Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Rangers assistant GM Jayce Tingler. The Rangers are also expected to interview Don Wakamatsu, who finished 2018 as interim skipper, and Sandy Alomar Jr., a member of the Indians' coaching staff. 

We profiled Wathan here last year.

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10 Years Ago Today: Charlie Manuel felt professional euphoria, personal grief

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10 Years Ago Today: Charlie Manuel felt professional euphoria, personal grief

Ten years ago this month, the Phillies won their second World Series title in franchise history. Over the next few weeks, Jim Salisbury will look back at team’s run through the NLCS and World Series.

As the final out settled into Carlos Ruiz's mitt and the Phillies clinched the NLCS with a 5-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 5, I looked down at the dugout from the press box. Players streamed out to congratulate each other on the field. Manager Charlie Manuel stayed behind and accepted handshakes and hugs from his staff.

October 2008 was the high point of Manuel’s career, but it came amidst personal grief. Five days before the Phillies won the NLCS in Dodger Stadium, Manuel’s mother, June, died at the age of 87 back in the family’s hometown of Buena Vista, Virginia.

Manuel spoke to his mother daily before her passing and she wanted him to stay with his team. He celebrated the Phillies’ punching their ticket to the World Series and the next day flew to Virginia for his mother’s funeral.

Phillies players adored Manuel because he never complicated things, never got in the way and always had their back. There was a sense of “Let’s win this for Chuck,” throughout that postseason and it shined brightly in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.

Mr. Bright Lights himself, James Calvin Rollins, fought back from an 0-2 count and led off the contest with a full-count home run against Chad Billingsley. Later in the game, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell had big hits.

Cole Hamels continued his coming out party with seven innings of one-run ball, giving him a total of 22 innings of three-run ball to that point of the postseason. He was named NLCS series MVP.

Hamels labored through a 26-pitch seventh inning in Game 5 and his warning light was flashing when Manuel went to the mound to speak with his pitcher with two outs, two men on base and dangerous Jeff Kent coming up in a four-run game. One swing could have made it a much different ballgame. Manuel looked into Hamels' eyes and the 24-year-old lefty convinced the skipper he was OK. With the count 2-2, Hamels reached back for everything he had on his 104th pitch of the night. Kent took a called third strike in what turned out to be the final at-bat of his great career.

The spectacular bullpen duo of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge finished it off and at age 64, Charlie Manuel was headed to the World Series as manager of Philadelphia Phillies.

After the game, Manuel said he knew his mom was watching from above and he recalled his last conversation with her.

“Charles Jr.,” she told him, “you’re going to win these games and go to the World Series.”

Moms are always right.

Previously in this series