jake thompson

Phillies' bullpen deserves tons of credit for series win over Nats

Phillies' bullpen deserves tons of credit for series win over Nats

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They're heavily scrutinized whenever an inning goes wrong, so the Phillies' relievers also deserve a ton of credit for Saturday and Sunday.

The Phils don't win this series without nearly lights-out work from the bullpen.

On Saturday, the 'pen pitched seven innings after an injury ended Vince Velasquez's night. 

On Sunday, the 'pen pitched eight more scoreless innings to put the Phillies in position for Andrew Knapp's pinch-hit, walk-off home run in the 13th inning of a 4-3 win over the Nationals.

All told, the Phils' bullpen allowed one run in 15 innings Saturday and Sunday, an Anthony Rendon homer off Tommy Hunter early Saturday.

This was the first game in Phillies history in which they had eight relievers make a scoreless appearance.

And it's their first walk-off home run since Ryan Howard's on April 29, 2016.

Nick Pivetta earned the win in relief two days after getting rocked by the Nationals in a start.

Sunday's win means the Phillies are 6-4 this season vs. the Nats and 5-2 against them over the last nine days. 

At 45-37, the Phillies are three games behind the Braves and three ahead of the Nationals.

Good call

Gabe Kapler made a 50-50 decision in the bottom of the fifth inning and it paid off. Down 3-0, with two men on and nobody out, he pinch-hit for Arrieta with Carlos Santana.

Santana walked to load the bases. Cesar Hernandez walked to drive in a run. Rhys Hoskins hit a sac fly, and Odubel Herrera followed with an RBI single. Just like that, game tied, Arrieta off the hook.

Arrieta had thrown only 71 pitches, but it was the Phillies' first opportunity all game with multiple men on base or a runner in scoring position. 

Most managers wouldn't take out their $25 million pitcher in the fifth inning after the bullpen was needed for 14⅓ innings the previous two nights. But it made complete sense. Santana gives you a much better chance at a crooked number that inning than batting Arrieta, and if the move doesn't pay off ... well, you're down 3-0 anyway. Getting an extra inning or two out of Arrieta in a game you trail by three runs isn't nearly as important as scoring in a rare opportunity. 

It was clear, as well, that the Phils had Gio Gonzalez on the ropes. He completely lost his control in the fifth as a dominant outing turned into a mediocre one. If he's let off the hook there, you could be looking at a shutout.

Lefty reliever Austin Davis entered the following half-inning and struck out Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper in order in his most impressive big-league outing to date.

Arrieta's afternoon

After posting a 6.66 ERA in five June starts, Arrieta allowed three runs (two earned) in five innings Sunday. His season ERA of 3.54 didn't budge.

The key blow came from Adam Eaton with runners on second and third after Arrieta had kept them there with a strikeout of Pedro Severino and a soft groundout from Gonzalez. Eaton laced a groundball between first and second base to plate two runs.

Arrieta's rate of 6.17 strikeouts per nine innings is dead-last among National League starting pitchers.

He's completed six innings just twice in his last six starts.

More defensive issues

In the fifth inning when Arrieta allowed two runs, Hernandez couldn't field a sharply hit ball right at him. It didn't go down as an error because of how well it was struck, but it's a play a second baseman has to make. Instead of getting in front of it, Hernandez attempted to field it to the side and it skipped off his glove into the outfield, placing runners on the corners. It should have been a 4-6-3 double play.

The inning before, Jorge Alfaro made an errant throw, which allowed Trea Turner to advance to second base after a bunt single. Turner came around to score, marking the 15th unearned run behind Arrieta. Arrieta's allowed more unearned runs this season than the Red Sox.

Neshek debuts

Pat Neshek made his season debut, allowing a single to Mark Reynolds and a groundout to Severino before being taken out for Tommy Hunter to face a couple lefties.

It's July 1 and Neshek has a 0.00 ERA — crazy, right?!

Struggling with southpaws

Aaron Altherr got a big hit Saturday, a pinch-hit RBI double that gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead. 

It earned him a start Sunday against lefty Gonzalez but Altherr again couldn't deliver vs. a southpaw. He's 9 for 61 (.148) this season with 20 strikeouts against lefties. 

The Phillies need more from him, there's no two ways about it. They certainly didn't expect him to be hitting .175 on July 1.

Up next

The Phillies are off Monday and again Thursday. In between, they host the lowly Orioles in a two-game series.

How bad have the O's been this season? At 23-59, they're 10 games worse than the team with the worst record in the NL, the Mets. Baltimore is on pace to finish 45-117 and it might actually turn out that bad given the widespread expectation that the club trades Manny Machado by the deadline.

Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. — Zach Eflin (6-2, 3.02) vs. Alex Cobb (2-9, 6.75)

Wednesday at 4:05 p.m. — Aaron Nola (10-2, 2.48) vs. David Hess (2-5, 5.94).

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This win as wild as it gets for Phillies ... with tons of questions, too

This win as wild as it gets for Phillies ... with tons of questions, too

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No doubt, there will be a lot of Tuesday morning quarterbacking after this one.

And arguments can certainly be made that the Phillies need a legitimate ninth-inning closer — did you notice that the Washington Nationals traded for a good one in Kelvin Herrera on Monday? — and that maybe it’s simply time to give Seranthony Dominguez a sustained look there.

But if you think about it, the bullpen really wasn’t the problem Monday night. Sure, Adam Morgan and Jake Thompson gave up big hits, but that was after the game should have been over, after the Phillies should have already been in the clubhouse with the music blaring, the lights flashing and the fog machine turning the room into something that resembles the inside of Jeff Spicoli’s VW bus.

What was looking like a terrible, inexcusable loss for the Phillies turned into a dramatic, 6-5, walk-off win over the St. Louis Cardinals when Aaron Altherr drilled a two-run double to left with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning (see first take).

Altherr’s hit got a lot of people off the hook. The offense scored four runs in the first inning then got nothing, and just two hits, before the extra inning. Morgan, who gave up a game-tying base hit in the ninth, and Thompson, who gave up a go-ahead homer in the 10th, benefitted from Altherr’s hit.

But catcher Andrew Knapp was the big beneficiary of Altherr’s clutchness.

With two outs in the top of the ninth, runners on second and third, the Phillies up, 4-2, and Yairo Munoz at the plate, Knapp called for a 1-2 slider from Victor Arano. The pitch was effective. It bounced in the dirt in front of the plate and Munoz swung. Third out. Game over.

Not so quick.

Knapp did not stay down on the ball in the dirt and it passed between his legs for a wild pitch. A run scored and Munoz reached first base safely, keeping the game alive for Kolten Wong to tie it against Morgan and the Cardinals to take the lead on a homer by Tommy Pham against Thompson in the 10th.

“I’ve got to make that play,” Knapp said afterward. “I’ve got to block it. I’ve blocked that pitch a million times. This one just got under my glove. It was a little shorter than I thought it was going to be. I just misplayed it.”

In the dugout, manager Gabe Kapler looked down for a second after Munoz’s swing.

"I thought the game was over,” he said. “But I think that's the natural reaction. I think that's a play that Knappy probably makes 99 out of 100 times. Kind of a fluky thing that happened there and I think if you ask Knappy, he knows he can catch that ball."

If the ball is blocked and the out recorded at first base, Nick Pivetta gets a much-deserved win on a night when he struck out a career-high 13 in 7 1/3 innings. In all, Phillies pitching registered 19 strikeouts, 18 in the first nine innings. Edubray Ramos pitched out of trouble in the eighth and Arano survived a couple of hits and actually had the game over until it wasn’t in the ninth.

“Ramos and Arano, those guys were awesome,” Kapler said.

Dominguez, Kapler’s favorite bullpen weapon, was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches the previous two games.

After the game, Kapler was asked the daily questions about the way he uses his bullpen. In short, he believes he has multiple pitchers who can get high-leverage outs and he praised Ramos and Arano for doing that Monday night. He did not rule out one day using Dominquez as his go-to ninth-inning guy, but did qualify that by saying matchups would be taken into account.

So, basically, you’ll know who is pitching the ninth inning when the bullpen door swings open and Kapler’s choice of the moment runs to the mound.

The Phillies are 38-32 and an NL-best 23-12 at home. They have not won a series against the Cardinals since 2014. They have two games to do it after a win turned into a loss and back into a win again Monday night.

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Phillies get 13 strikeouts from Nick Pivetta, luck in 10th inning for win

Phillies get 13 strikeouts from Nick Pivetta, luck in 10th inning for win

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From a terrible and inexcusable loss to a dramatic win ... what a night for the Phillies.

They rallied for a 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Aaron Altherr's two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning Monday night.

Altherr's hit got a lot of people off the hook.

The Phillies led, 4-0, after the first inning and had only four hits the rest of the way.

The Cardinals came all the way back in a bizarre ninth inning and went ahead on a solo homer by Tommy Pham against Jake Thompson in the top of the 10th.

The Phillies should have won this one earlier (see story).

With two outs in the top of the ninth, Victor Arano registered the team’s 18th strikeout of the game. It should have ended the game and given the Phils a 4-2 win. The pitch, however, a slider in the dirt, got by catcher Andrew Knapp, scoring a run from third and keeping the inning alive for pinch-hitter Kolten Wong to tie the game with a single against Adam Morgan.

Rhys Hoskins started the Phillies' rally in the bottom of the 10th inning with a single.

The win improved the Phillies to 38-32 and a NL-best 23-12 at home.

The Phils came out of the chute with four runs in the first inning against Miles Mikolas. 

Nick Pivetta struck out a career-high 13 in 7 1/3 innings of work. Right-handed reliever Edubray Ramos picked up Pivetta with runners on second and third and one out in the eighth. With the game on the line, Ramos registered two huge strikeouts to preserve a two-run lead.

Arano was called on to pitch the ninth. He, too, faced a second-and-third jam with one out. He essentially pitched out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts but the one that would have ended the game went for a wild pitch. It gave the Cardinals life and they capitalized.

In case you’re wondering, bullpen ace Seranthony Dominguez was not available after throwing 52 pitches the previous two days.

Pivetta had struggled in his previous three starts this month. He’d lost all three and given up 13 runs in 14 innings.

This one was a different story. The right-hander had dominant stuff from the beginning. He threw 108 pitches and got 21 swinging strikes, 11 on his curveball and seven on his four-seam fastball, which topped out at 97.6 miles per hour.

A day after scoring 10 runs in Milwaukee, the Phillies scored four times in the first inning. Three of the runs came on a home run by Odubel Herrera after Mikolas allowed a leadoff single to Cesar Hernandez and a walk to Hoskins.

Herrera’s bat has really come alive after a hellacious slump that dropped him from a league-best .361 to .283 in a 23-game span. Over his last five games, he has nine hits, including three home runs.

Knapp drove in the Phillies’ fourth run.

Rightfielder Nick Williams was forced to leave the game in the eighth inning when Matt Carpenter’s double clanged off the wall and struck Williams in the face, drawing blood (see video).

Vince Velasquez will look to follow up last week’s gem against Colorado in the second game of the series on Tuesday night.

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