Phillies

Rockies 6, Phillies 2: Pair of homers doom Phillies in unfriendly Coors Field

Rockies 6, Phillies 2: Pair of homers doom Phillies in unfriendly Coors Field

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DENVER — Coors Field continues to be an unfriendly place for the Phillies. They were thumped, 6-2, by the Colorado Rockies in the first game of a four-game series Thursday night.

Zach Eflin and Colorado lefty Kyle Freeland hooked up in a nice pitchers' duel through five innings. The Rockies then pull ahead on a pair of homers by Ryan McMahon in the sixth and seventh innings.

Colorado, which started the season slow, has won four in a row to go to 7-12.

The Phils saw their two-game winning streak come to an end. They are 11-7.

The Phils are 4-11 against the Rockies since the start of 2017. They have lost five in a row in Coors Field, dating to last September, and been outscored 45-9 in those games. 

The keys

• It was a scoreless pitchers' duel heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. The Rockies got the lead runner on base when shortstop Scott Kingery made a throwing error. Trevor Story then stroked a base hit up the middle. Eflin then gave up a three-run homer to McMahon on a 1-1 changeup as the Rockies broke the deadlock and took a 3-0 lead.

• Freeland was selected by the Phillies in the 35th round of the 2011 draft but chose to attend the University of Evansville. Three years later, he was a first-round pick of the Rockies, going eighth overall, one slot after of Aaron Nola. Freeland was brilliant in this one. He held the Phils to two hits – a single by Eflin and an infield hit by Cesar Hernandez — over six shutout innings. He walked none and struck out seven. He left the game because of a blister problem.

• Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto gunned down two runners trying to steal second. He also clubbed a two-run homer in the seventh to briefly make it a 3-2 game. The Phils left a runner in scoring position in that inning and McMahon clubbed a two-run homer, this one against Victor Arano, in the bottom of the inning to put the game out of reach.

Eflin’s night

It was good until the sixth inning when he elevated a changeup with two men on base. Eflin allowed just four hits over the first five innings. He walked three and struck out just two.

Eflin is 2-2 with a 3.68 ERA in four starts.

Out-hit

Coors Field is a hitter’s haven, but the Phils were out-hit, 11-5, in this one. Four of the hits were singles and one of those was an infield hit.

Bryce Harper went hitless with a walk in four trips to the plate. He has just two hits in his last 14 at-bats. He has, however, reached base in all 18 games.

Rhys Hoskins went 0 for 3 and was hit by a pitch. He was up 3-0 in the count then struck out against Scott Oberg with two men on base to end the top of the eighth inning. Hoskins is hitless in his last 12 at-bats.

Transaction

Odubel Herrera went on the injured list and Roman Quinn was activated. All the details and what it means here.

Quinn had a tough night with four strikeouts.

Up next 

Vince Velasquez looks to build on Sunday’s strong outing in Miami when he pitches against righty German Marquez on Friday night.

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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