Amed Rosario

Defensive alignment again hurts Phillies in loss to Mets

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Defensive alignment again hurts Phillies in loss to Mets

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NEW YORK — This isn’t how the Phillies wanted to come home after spending nearly $170 million on free agents and hiring a bold new manager this offseason.

But here they are, heading into Thursday’s home opener with a 1-4 record, hitting .183 as a team, scoring 2.8 runs per game and striking out more than 11 times per game.

They’re also carrying a 5.56 team ERA.

Sure, it’s a super-small sample size. But new manager Gabe Kapler and his charges are not off to a good start and it will be interesting to see what kind of welcome they get from the home folk.

“I’m excited about going back to Philadelphia and I think our players are, too,” Kapler said after his club capped its season-opening trip with a 4-2 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday (see breakdown). “I think the fans can be excited for the young product we’re putting on the field, some hitters who have been grinding through at-bats, and some good young arms. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The road trip wasn’t fun for the Phillies or Kapler. Several of the rookie manager’s moves backfired, including a couple of defensive calls in New York. On Tuesday night, the Phils could not turn a double play in the sixth inning because they were in a shift. It led to two runs and a 2-0 loss (see story).

On Wednesday, reliever Drew Hutchison, who picked up Aaron Nola after 87 pitches, gave up a killer two-run triple to No. 9 hitter Amed Rosario with two outs in the sixth. It broke a 2-2 tie. The triple came on a first-pitch slider and sailed over the head of rightfielder Nick Williams, who was playing extremely shallow — about 50 feet closer than normal, according to MLB Statcast. Kapler said Williams was told to play in that position because Hutchison’s slider often induced weak contact and the Phils didn’t wanted to give up a hit in front of the outfielder.

Kapler defended the defensive alignment.

“That ball was hit hard,” he said. “If he was playing back 25 feet, I’m not sure he catches that ball. It was over his head by a significant margin and we’re optimizing for the ball in front of us there. I trust our positioning right there.

“Some of these moves have not worked out in the short term. In the long term, we are very confident they will. I can’t express enough confidence that our strategies will pay dividends, but I understand in the short term they haven’t and that can be disappointing. I get it.”

Williams said he was not sure if he would have had a play on the ball if he were in normal position.

Hutchison got in a jam in that inning by his own doing. He issued a no-out walk and a two-out walk before Rosario’s dagger.

“I wasn’t sharp with the two walks,” he said. “I didn’t make pitches. I didn’t get the job done.”

Nola survived a rough first inning — 32 pitches, two walks, a single and a two-run homer — and pitched through the fifth. He said Kapler made the right move going to the bullpen.

The Phils have lost three in a row and scored just four runs in that span. They struck out 15 times Wednesday and 26 times in two games in New York.

Now, this show goes home.

Nick Pivetta runs into command issues again in Phillies' loss to Mets

Nick Pivetta runs into command issues again in Phillies' loss to Mets

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Nick Pivetta is learning what so many other young pitchers have learned before him: It doesn't matter how hard you throw. If you leave pitches over the middle of the plate in the major leagues, you will be hit hard.

Pivetta surrendered a couple of early home runs Friday night as the New York Mets continued to ride the long ball to victories at Citizens Bank Park. The Mets hit three of them in this game, the biggest being rookie Amed Rosario's tiebreaking shot in the top of the ninth, as they pinned a 7-6 loss on the Phillies (see Instant Replay).

The Mets have beaten the Phils two straight nights. They hit four homers in Thursday night's 10-0 victory.

For the season, the Mets are 5-0 in Citizens Bank Park. They have out-homered the Phillies by a margin of 17-4 in those games. In a wider view, the Mets have hit 54 homers (and a total of 116 extra-base hits) in their last 24 games in Philadelphia, dating to the start of the 2015 season.

Yoenis Cespedes crushed a three-run homer against Pivetta in the third inning. It was his 13th homer in 35 career games against the Phillies.

Despite Pivetta's struggles, the Phillies were able to stay in the game because of some good bullpen work and they actually pulled into a 6-6 tie on a solo homer by Cesar Hernandez in the bottom of the eighth.

The tie was short-lived as Rosario smacked his first big-league homer in the top of the ninth inning against Hector Neris.

The Phillies left 11 men on base.

"We had opportunities," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We just couldn’t cash in."

Pivetta, 24, has the goods to make it in the major leagues. He's a big right-hander with a big fastball and secondary pitches that need polish. In 17 big-league starts, he is 4-7 with a 6.09 ERA. His last two starts have not been good — 14 hits and 14 runs in 7 1/3 innings — but his control is getting better. Control, however, is the ability to throw the ball over the plate. Pivetta still needs to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate, command it better. He did that June 2 when he pitched seven innings of one-run ball against these same Mets in New York. This time it was a different story.

"I pitched really well against them last time," Pivetta said. "I didn't make quality pitches, though, tonight. I got behind guys, walked a guy and they hit a home run. I have to learn from those mistakes and make better quality pitches."

Mackanin concurred.

"It's always about command," he said. "He didn’t command his fastball. He didn’t have command of his breaking stuff. It’s always mistakes out over the plate. He was behind a lot. The answer is always command and control."

The pitch that stood out for Pivetta was the 2-2 fastball, elevated and over the plate, to Cespedes with two outs and two men on base in the third inning. It came in at 96 mph and left at 107 mph. It landed 429 feet from home plate. A big boy home run, No. 150 of Cespedes' career.

"I probably should have went up and in on Cespedes," Pivetta said. "I have to make better pitches. It's all part of the learning curve. There's a lot I have to learn. There's still a lot of time, a lot of season left. We have a lot of guys here I can learn from.

"I have to keep the ball down and not leave breaking balls over the plate, fine-tune myself. It's a process. That all comes with these experiences I'm going through. It's no doubt that these last two starts haven't been the best but there are positives to take away from those starts and lessons to learn.

"When you get knocked down, get back up. I have confidence in myself that I'm going to get through this."