Phillies

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

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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.

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Here's the scoop on Manny Machado's visit to Philly

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Here's the scoop on Manny Machado's visit to Philly

The Manny Machado Free Agent Tour is coming to Philadelphia.

Machado will be in town Thursday for a recruiting visit with Phillies officials, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The trip to Philadelphia is part of a busy week for the star infielder. Chicago-based baseball reporter Bruce Levine has reported that Machado will be in that city to visit with White Sox officials this week and George King of the New York Post reports that Machado will visit the Yankees in New York on Wednesday.

The Phillies have strong interest in signing Machado to be their third baseman. However, landing Machado will not be easy as the player has had a long desire to play for the Yankees. The Yankees could even offer Machado a chance to play shortstop, at least for part of the 2019 season, as Didi Gregorius recovers from elbow surgery. Machado is an elite defensive third baseman, but shortstop is his favorite position.

Though the Phillies favor Machado over Bryce Harper, this winter's other mega free agent, they remain interested and engaged with Harper and pursuit of the outfielder could intensify if they don't land Machado.

Earlier this offseason, the Phillies hosted pitcher Patrick Corbin for a recruiting visit at Citizens Bank Park. He also visited the Yankees and Washington Nationals and ended up signing a six-year deal with Washington.

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Why Andrew Miller would be better for Phillies than Zach Britton

Why Andrew Miller would be better for Phillies than Zach Britton

The Phillies should go get Andrew Miller.

They're pursuing him hard, two sources told Jim Salisbury Wednesday night. We know the Phillies are also after Zach Britton, but if forced to choose between the two, it should be Miller all the way.

Miller, when healthy, is the best left-handed reliever in baseball. From 2014-17, he made 260 appearances and had a 1.72 ERA with 421 strikeouts in 261 innings. There was simply no weakness in his game over those four years. Nobody hit him. Few players homered off him. He had an elite walk rate. Batters from both sides struggled mightily.

Miller's 2018 season was incomplete because of three different injuries to his shoulder, knee and hamstring. In 37 games, he had a 4.24 ERA and every peripheral number was worse. He appeared in two playoff games, allowing three walks and a hit while recording one out.

The biggest consideration is Miller's health. He was recently given a clean bill of health from Mets team doctor David Altchek, who once gave Roy Halladay a second opinion on his shoulder and performed surgery on Sixers legend Andrew Bynum.

If Miller is indeed fully healthy, he would significantly improve the Phillies' ability to prevent runs. A healthy Miller would be closer to that dominant 2014-17 stretch because his repertoire remains the same. 

He still has a funky, whip-like delivery with a low arm slot that deceives hitters and keeps them uncomfortable. Most lefty hitters have no chance.

He still has a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider. How devastating? From 2014-17, Miller's opponents hit .118 against the slider. They made an out in 550 of the 612 at-bats ending in his slider.

The reasons to like Miller go even beyond that, though. He also has stamina and the willingness to pitch in any role, which Gabe Kapler of all managers would love. Sixth inning, seventh inning, ninth inning, whatever. Miller just wants to pitch in high-leverage situations.

From 2014-17, Miller went more than one inning 61 times. In the 2016 playoffs with the Indians, he went at least two innings seven times. Re-read that sentence. He went at least two innings seven times. There's just no other reliever used this way, except maybe Josh Hader in 2018.

If the Phillies get Miller, the combo of Miller and Seranthony Dominguez would be one of baseball's most unique bullpen duos. They possess different strengths, and it's a good mix of youthful energy and veteran experience.

The addition of Miller would obviously help the Phillies a ton against tough lefties, but he's far from a platoon specialist. From 2013-17, righties hit between .131 and .155 off Miller each season.

Britton is no slouch, but a healthy Miller is better, with more versatility.

What kind of contract might it take? Well, Jeurys Familia found $30 million over three years from the Mets, and Joe Kelly is set to receive $25 million over three years from the Dodgers. Miller is coming off a four-year, $36 million contract with Cleveland. Something like three years, $36 million seems about right this time around.

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