Phillies

Wilson Ramos has a debut to remember as Phillies bounce back with crucial win over Red Sox

Wilson Ramos has a debut to remember as Phillies bounce back with crucial win over Red Sox

BOX SCORE

Wilson Ramos, all 250 pounds of him, rounded second base like a runaway buffalo and headed for third. He slid in safely with just the second triple of his career – and first since 2011 – pumped his fist emphatically and gave the Phillies’ dugout one of those looks that said, “Let’s bleeping go!”

The moment verified two things:

One, Ramos’ hamstring is healthy.

And two, the big catcher, who goes by the nickname “The Buffalo,” is all-in with his new team and its quest to end a six-year postseason drought.

Ramos’ triple came with no outs in the bottom of the sixth inning and the Phillies locked in a tie ballgame with the Boston Red Sox. Moments later, he trotted home with the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by Scott Kingery and the Phillies were on their way to a 7-4 win over baseball’s best team (see first take).

Ramos, 31, had been acquired by the Phils from Tampa Bay before last month’s trade deadline. The Phils picked him up even though he was on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. He was deemed healthy and activated from the disabled list earlier Wednesday and had a debut that included two doubles, a triple and three RBIs. Two of the RBIs came on a seventh-inning double that helped seal the game. It was the first time he’d had three extra-base hits in a big-league career that started in 2010.

The Phils added Ramos because they needed an offensive boost and he delivered it. 

“Today is a special day, especially for me, my Phillies debut,” Ramos said. “I remember feeling the same in my MLB debut. I went 4 for 5 in my MLB debut. This one, pretty similar. It made me feel excited. I wanted to show everybody here what I can do and that’s what I can do.”

A night after giving up a tie-breaking homer in a 2-1 loss to Boston, Tommy Hunter, one of seven relievers employed by manager Gabe Kapler, got the win.

Hunter shared it with his former Tampa Bay teammate, Ramos.

“The dude is a stud,” Hunter said. “I played with him last year. You can’t expect anything less from a buffalo. He’s a welcomed addition. And we can’t welcome him with more open arms than what we have tonight.”

The victory was one of the Phillies’ best of the season because they came from three runs down against a powerhouse team, and it was one of their most important because it came at a time when the doubters were beginning to stir after the club had gone 2-5 in its previous seven games to fall out of first place in the NL East and slip two games behind the Atlanta Braves in the standings.

“We have had a lot of special wins,” Kapler said. “That one was a lot of fun, I can tell you that. Any time the action starts early and you’re starting to make decisions early in the game and you’re thinking about tomorrow’s game and the doubleheader and all of that all at once, it’s really stimulating and invigorating and I think that’s how we all felt in the dugout tonight – invigorated.

“Through good and bad, our job is to keep laser-sharp focus on the step right in front of us. We’re not thinking about 15 games down the road. We’ve shown that we can turn the page, we can take a punch and come out fighting the next day. So we’re certainly not thinking about last night or what’s going on around us. Our focus is squarely on this game and we showed that tonight and now our focus is on tomorrow.”

With the win, the Phillies, who still trail Atlanta by two games, improved to 66-53. They have equaled last season’s win total – with 43 games remaining.

Two of the Phillies’ wins have come in four games against Boston in the last two weeks. Both times, the Phillies lost the previous night’s game by a score of 2-1.

“They have tremendous athletes and pop up and down the lineup, but we feel we can go toe to toe with them and we feel like we’ll continue to go toe to toe with the best in baseball,” Kapler said.

There were other standouts besides Ramos. Newcomer Justin Bour got the start at first base, had a pair of hits, scored an important run in the seventh inning and made a crucial defensive play to keep the game tied in the top of the sixth.

The bullpen was also a standout. Hector Neris left the bases loaded in the third after the Sox scored three times against ineffective starter Vince Velasquez. Neris had spent the previous five weeks in Triple A, working on his splitter and regaining his confidence.

“Hector Neris saved this game for us,” Kapler said. “He came into a spot where the game was about to be out of hand. He got a pop out and a punch-out. He threw some nasty splits. This is a guy who went down to Triple A for us. He had a pride-swallowing moment. He worked his tail off to get his stuff back. He came up and just executed beautifully for us tonight. We definitely don't win that game without the contributions of Hector Neris.” 

In all, the bullpen pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball.

Against the majors’ best offense.

Impressive win. Important win.

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Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

CLEARWATER — Aaron Nola did not have a bad season in 2019 by any stretch of the imagination. He made every start and went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA. There are pitchers all over baseball who would love to have a season like that.

But it's indisputable that Nola's 2019 season was not nearly as good as his 2018 season. In 2018, he was brilliant. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Nola's WHIP in 2018 was a sterling 0.975.

Last season, it was 1.265.

After pitching two scoreless innings in his spring debut Sunday, Nola reflected on his 2019 season.

"I didn't get ahead," he said.

He's right.

Check out the numbers.

In 2018, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. That ranked second in the majors to St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (71.1).

Last season, Nola's first-pitch strike percentage slipped to 62.3. That ranked 39th in the majors, well behind leader Max Scherzer (70.4) and teammate Zach Eflin, who ranked fourth (68.6).

Nola ended up walking 3.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from 2.5 in his big year of 2018.

So, it's no surprise what Nola is working on this spring.

"Just fill up the strike zone and throw the ball down a lot," he said. "That's kind of the key. Get ahead of guys and stay ahead of guys. I just want to focus on having that tunnel vision around the plate."

If you've paid attention to the things Phillies pitchers have said this spring and even late last season, you know they weren't always comfortable with the practices of former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young. The theme in this camp, at least among the pitchers, can be summed up in one word.

Simplify.

"I'm just going to simplify some things and throw my fastball for strikes," Nola said. "I don't want to throw too hard too early in the count."

Nola pointed to his outing Sunday. He allowed a hit to open the game then got a double-play ball with a strike down in the zone.

"I want to try to get ground balls and I felt like I did that today," Nola said. "I got a double play and it's satisfying to get double plays."

Nola, 26, has so far enjoyed bonding with Bryan Price, his fourth pitching coach in as many seasons. Price espouses some traditional philosophies, like keeping the ball down. In that regard, he is similar to Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, two former Phillies pitching coaches that Nola thrived under.

"That's been my mindset ever since I started to pitch and it is really stressed now," he said of pitching down in the zone. "I think that's what pitching should be and that's what we've always learned how to do.

"I think the state of the game is to simplify things and get back to that part of it. I look forward to my one-on-one bullpen sessions with (Price). When you have a bad game or not as good of a game as you want to go back to basics in the bullpen sessions. I've had previous pitching coaches like that and it has helped me a lot. Just to simplify things is going to go a long way."

Nola believes if he does a better job getting ahead early in counts that his curveball and particularly his changeup will become better weapons for him in 2020. His changeup blossomed under McClure and Kranitz during their stints in Philadelphia.

"My changeup wasn't as consistent as it was in previous years," Nola said. "I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.

"When I'm throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches."

Manager Joe Girardi has not named an opening day starter yet, but Nola is expected to be the guy when he does.

And when Nola takes the mound March 26 in Miami, his goal will be this:

Strike 1.

That's a big reason he had a great season in 2018 and why he slipped some in 2019.

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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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