Phillies

Will Phillies promote pitching prospect Spencer Howard?

Will Phillies promote pitching prospect Spencer Howard?

MIAMI — Spencer Howard, the Phillies’ top pitching prospect, tossed another gem for Double A Reading on Thursday night.

The possibility of the right-hander helping out the big club in September has been mentioned for weeks.

So, what does the manager think?

“I think Spencer has great stuff and he’s had tremendous results and yesterday’s game was no exception,” Gabe Kapler said Friday. “I think everybody is sort of dreaming on what he can be. Whether that happens at some point late this season or it happens next year, I think it’s inevitable that Spencer Howard is going to be on a big-league mound and I don’t think it’s going to take very long.”

Kapler was asked if there would be a hesitation to bring up Howard if the Phillies are still in the race in September.

“I think those discussions are ongoing,” he said. “You’re always trying to balance long-term development with what the club needs and does the pitcher appear ready to help. There’s a lot of things to consider when talking about when is the right time to advance Spencer Howard.”

In addition to simple readiness, both physical and mental, matters to cover when discussing whether to bring up Howard in September likely include the Phillies’ place in the standings, the need for him in relation to the performance of the rest of the rotation, starting his big-league service-time clock, and one other less obvious subject.

The baseball.

Howard has dominated hitters in the Single A Florida State League and Double A Eastern League this season. In 60 innings, he’s allowed 12 earned runs (1.80 ERA) and 36 hits. He has rung up 80 strikeouts and walked just 11. He pitched six shutout innings, gave up two hits, walked none and struck out seven for Reading against Hartford on Thursday night.

Howard has done all of his work this season with a baseball that is different than the one used in the majors and Triple A. The Major League ball, which is being used for the first time in Triple A this season, has smaller, tighter and less pronounced seams. It is made from a higher quality leather than the ball being used at the Double A level and below. And it flies. (MLB is headed toward a record-setting season for home runs.) 

Pitchers notice a difference in the feel of the two baseballs and that feel can affect performance. As an example, Kapler mentioned Damon Jones, a Phillies pitching prospect who rocketed up the system from Single A this season and has struggled at Triple A.

“One thing we’ve seen is the adjustment to the baseball is real,” Kapler said. “It’s a difficult thing just going from Double A to Triple A. We’ve seen it with Damon Jones. He was essentially unhittable in A ball and Double A and he struggled more as he reached the Triple A level and had to adjust to the new ball.”

There are several factors, beyond his performance, that make Howard a good consideration for a September promotion. He’s 23 and mature. He was a second-round pick in the 2017 draft out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. And he will have innings left in his arm after missing time this season with what the team called shoulder fatigue.

September is fast approaching. We’ll know soon if Howard, profiled here, is going to be part of the Phillies’ September push.

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Freddie Freeman and the Braves make Phillies and Nola pay in costly loss

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Freddie Freeman and the Braves make Phillies and Nola pay in costly loss

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA – The Phillies failed to complete a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves on Thursday afternoon. Aaron Nola was roughed up for the third time in his last four outings and the Phillies suffered a 5-4 loss.

The Phillies are winless in Nola’s last six starts, a stretch coinciding with the team’s decision to pitch him every fifth day regardless of the schedule.

Freddie Freeman had a game-changing two-run single against Nola after the Phils passed on walking him to set up a potential double play in the fifth inning. An inning later, Nola gave up a homer to rookie Austin Riley as the Braves built a 5-3 lead. The Phils pushed home a run in the eighth to make it a one run game, but Freeman, the Braves’ first baseman, made a play on Haseley’s line drive to stop the damage as the Phils left two men on base. 

The loss was a blow to the Phillies’ already faint postseason hopes. They immediately fell 3 ½ games back in the wild-card race with a chance to be four back by the end of the day.

There are just 11 games left.

The Phillies are 78-73. They need four wins to have their first winning season since 2011.

Atlanta’s magic number for winning the NL East is one.

Nola’s day

He was not sharp. He gave up nine hits, including two homers, in just five innings of work. He walked two and struck out four.

Nola has struggled in three of four starts this month. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a loss against Boston last weekend, but has been tagged for 20 hits and 14 runs over 15 innings in his other three starts this month. Two of those starts have been against the Braves.

If the Phillies stay on turn in their rotation, Nola would start one of the two games in Tuesday’s doubleheader at Washington.

Defensive issues

On Wednesday, general manager Matt Klentak praised the team’s defensive improvement this season. Then the club went out and made three errors, two by second baseman Cesar Hernandez.

Hernandez did not make an error in this one but he did have a costly misplay that led to a Braves’ run in the fifth inning. Hernandez could not immediately get the handle on a ground ball by Ozzie Albies and that prevented him from getting the lead runner at second and possibly starting a double play. He had to settle for the out at first base.

The misplay put runners at second and third with one out in a tie game and Freeman quickly untied it with a two-run single.

Hernandez has one more year of salary arbitration before free agency. He is making $7.75 million this season and could be in line to make about $10 million in 2020. Scott Kingery is projected to be the full-time second baseman at some point. Will the Phillies deal Hernandez this winter to open the spot for Kingery? It’s complicated. Hernandez could be difficult to move at that salary, especially when teams know he could become a free agent if the Phillies don’t offer him a contract.

This is one of the many questions the Phils must deal with in the offseason.

Freeman makes ‘em pay

After Hernandez’ misplay in the fifth, Nola had to face Freeman with one out and runners on second and third in a tie game. The situation seemed ripe for walking Freeman to set up a double play with Adam Duvall coming to the plate. The Phils had, in fact, walked Freeman five times previously in the series. But Nola pitched to Freeman and the Braves slugger, previously 0 for 6 in the series, lined a two-run single to right field to score two runs as the Braves took a 4-2 lead that they never relinquished. 

Up next 

The Phillies move on to Cleveland for a three-game interleague series. The Indians are right in the thick of the American League wild-card race and need the series as badly as the Phillies do.

Pitching matchups: 

Friday night – LHP Drew Smyly (4-6, 6.22) vs. RHP Shane Bieber (14-7, 3.26) 

Saturday night – LHP Jason Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. RHP Zach Plesac (8-6, 3.64) 

Sunday night – RHP Vince Velasquez (7-7, 4.89) vs. RHP Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.34)

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Braves second baseman attempts hilarious illegal play on Jean Segura

Braves second baseman attempts hilarious illegal play on Jean Segura

The Phillies got a badly needed win on Wednesday night against the Atlanta Braves to keep the tiny thread holding their playoff hopes alive together.

Zach Eflin was great and a couple of long balls were just enough to keep Phillies fans happy for at least another day.

But perhaps the funniest moment of the game came when Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies tried something unique to get Jean Segura out at second base: he removed his hand from the bag.

You can't do that!

His effort was for naught anyway because the ump had already called time. I appreciate the effort though.

Segura took it in stride and had some fun right back.

via [Cut4]