Jared Hughes

Phillies turned to mediocre vets over and over last 2 seasons and got the expected results

Phillies turned to mediocre vets over and over last 2 seasons and got the expected results

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Phillies' acquisition of Jason Vargas two days before the trade deadline was a salary dump by the Mets, but it at least initially looked like a move that could provide the Phils another rotation option for 2020.

It was problematic that they even needed to turn to Vargas as a rotation upgrade, but the 2019 Phillies were ravaged by injuries after wholly misevaluating their starting pitching in the offseason. The topic of injuries came up a few times in the clubhouse after Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Nationals, which completed a five-game sweep for Washington and dropped the Phillies under .500 for the first time all season.

"I don't think we expected it to go this way," catcher Andrew Knapp said. "I think there's a lot of factors that go into that. Injuries and stuff where guys are being put in situations that they normally wouldn't be in if we had a lot of those bullpen arms. Who knows what would've happened? ... I think a healthy Phillies team is definitely in (the race). Everyone in this clubhouse thinks the same thing."

Vargas' last start was not a good one. He allowed five runs and walked five in 4⅓ innings, finishing with a 5.53 ERA in his 11 starts as a Phillie. Keep in mind, he had a 3.27 ERA in his prior 16 starts when he was traded to the Phillies.

Vargas' contract contains a club option for $8 million next season that can be bought out for $2 million. Because the Phillies were going to be on the hook for a couple million bucks, it seemed like Vargas might be able to carve out a spot on the 2020 staff by eating innings. But it hasn't gone well. He allowed four runs or more in seven of 11 starts and the Phillies went 4-7.

The Phillies simply can't keep going to this well of mediocre veteran placeholders. Over the last two seasons, the Phils' front office has been aggressive in the offseason but hesitant to trade any decent pieces for help during the season. This year, GM Matt Klentak timed the Jay Bruce trade well and acquired Corey Dickerson in a shrewd move, but every other trade was for a marginal upgrade and few of the deals worked out.

Of the players the Phillies acquired in-season in 2019, Brad Miller, Bruce and Drew Smyly have the best chances to return. Bruce is under contract next season and Miller has hit his way into a bench role if both sides can figure out a deal. Smyly has been decent as a Phillie with a 4.45 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings in a dozen starts.

But Vargas, Jared Hughes, Mike Morin, Blake Parker, Nick Vincent, Logan Morrison, Sean Rodriguez, Jose Pirela ... all eminently replaceable pieces. Seems unlikely any of them will be back.

"I think a fully healthy Philadelphia Phillies is an entirely different ballclub than we have right now," Gabe Kapler said. "I don't think anybody can dispute that."

Vargas might have been a fit on the 2020 Phillies if they didn't already have Jake Arrieta occupying a rotation spot. It is unrealistic to expect much more than No. 5 starter production from Arrieta. It is probably unrealistic to expect more than No. 4 starter contributions from Zach Eflin. The starting pitching upgrades need to come somewhere and the ideal places are the Nos. 2 and 3 spots. The Phillies need more horses around Aaron Nola, whether that means a $200 million arm in Gerrit Cole, an aging lefty like Madison Bumgarner or Cole Hamels, or an intriguing, 29-year-old, high-reward option like Zack Wheeler.

“I'd love to be back," Vargas said. "Selfishly, of course, I want to come back. I feel like it is a special group and is just really a few pieces away from having a chance to win the last game of the year. And it would be nice to have another crack at that with these guys. Hopefully, that happens, but it is a business and I understand what goes on. And baseball is going to keep going on.”

Rhys Hoskins made a comment earlier in the week that one of the major reasons the 2019 Phillies fell short was that when the lineup was clicking, the pitching wasn't and vice versa. But in truth, the Phillies' pitching was rarely "on" this season. It's why they played an entire season without winning five straight games. It's why they've lost nine times to the lowly Marlins, who were not at a pitching disadvantage any time they faced a Phillies starter other than Nola.

The Phillies need to win two of their final three games to finish with a better record than last season. They must sweep for their first winning record since 2011.

"I'm not trying to color this rosy," Kapler said. "We just lost five games straight to the Nationals. They kicked our ass. That's the cold, harsh reality of this."

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Phillies steal a win from the Pirates in series opener with a walk-off from Sean Rodriguez

Phillies steal a win from the Pirates in series opener with a walk-off from Sean Rodriguez

Box Score

The Phillies began a six-game homestand with a dramatic 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in 11 innings on Monday night.

Sean Rodriguez won it for the Phillies with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the 11th.

Rodriguez had previously been 1 for 20 with 11 strikeouts in the month of August.

Rodriguez hit a 1-2 slider from reliever Michael Feliz. Rodriguez had swung through the previous two pitches, both sliders.

The Phillies entered the day 1 ½ game back in the NL wild-card race. They are 68-62.

What a miss

The win came after some wasted chances late in the game.

The Phillies got two walks and a base hit from pinch-hitter Andrew Knapp to load the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning for the top of the order.

A fly ball would have won the game, but Rhys Hoskins popped up to second base against reliever Chris Stratton.

Bryce Harper then came up, worked a full count and struck out swinging to end the threat.

In the 10th, the Phillies got the first two runners on base and came up empty after J.T. Realmuto was doubled off second on liner to centerfield by Jean Segura. Segura’s liner looked like a potential game-winning hit off the bat, but Pirates’ center fielder Starling Marte made a terrific catch at his shoe tops and fired to second to get Realmuto.

Hoskins hears it

Hoskins is in a hellacious slump. He is just 9 for 78 (.115) this month and 23 for 140 (.164) since thee All-Star break. He was 0 for 5 in this game with three strikeouts. He heard a smattering of boos after striking out in the eighth. He heard a lot of loud boos after popping out in the ninth.

Yo, daddy

The Phillies worked some two-out magic in coming from two runs down to take a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Harper, just back from paternity leave, homered and Corey Dickerson belted a two-run homer against his former team to give the Phils the lead.

The lead did not last long as Hector Neris gave up a solo homer to Josh Bell in the top of the ninth.

Big impact

The lefty-hitting Dickerson has made a huge impact with his bat recently for the Phillies. He has 11 RBIs in the last six games.

Big impact II

Realmuto legged out an infield hit to keep the eighth inning alive for Dickerson and his two-run homer. The Phillies’ catcher also gunned down two Pirates trying to steal second in the late innings. Realmuto has thrown out 32 runners this season.

Vargas’ night

Phillies starter Jason Vargas pitched one-run ball over the first six innings and took a 2-1 lead to the mound in the seventh. He allowed the first three batters of the inning to reach base on a single, an RBI double and a walk. Manager Gabe Kapler went to the bullpen and Jared Hughes gave up two-run single as the Pirates took a 4-2 lead.

Musgrove tough again

Pittsburgh starter Joe Musgrove held the Phils to two runs over six innings, both coming on a long homer by Brad Miller. Musgrove has given up just two earned runs in 12 innings against the Phils this season.

Benched

Cesar Hernandez did not start. The move was “a response, not a punishment,” to Hernandez’ not running out a ball in Sunday’s game (read more). Hernandez did enter the game in the top of the seventh inning when Scott Kingery exited with what the team called abdominal soreness.

Health check

Jay Bruce’s elbow strain has improved to the point where he’s taking batting practice. He took some big swings and showed power in early hitting Monday. Manager Gabe Kapler said Bruce would play for Double A Reading in Trenton on Friday and Saturday. He could be activated from the injured list as soon as Sunday. Bruce will likely be used just as a bat off the bench, and DH, in September. That bat could be valuable.

Up next

The Phillies send another lefty to the mound on Tuesday night when Drew Smyly (2-6, 6.99) takes on Pittsburgh lefty Steven Brault (3-3, 3.98). Smyly pitched six innings of one-run ball against the Pirates in July.

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Phillies cannot afford letup in Miami after collection of castoffs stands tall in Boston

Phillies cannot afford letup in Miami after collection of castoffs stands tall in Boston

BOSTON — Raise your hand if you saw this coming.

Keep it up if you saw it coming like this.

Not many of you, huh?

The Boston Red Sox might not be having the season they envisioned as they languish in third place in the American League East, but they are still the defending World Series champions and they still have plenty of thunder sticks in their bat rack. They entered Wednesday leading the majors in batting average (.276) and were third in runs per game (5.78) and fourth in OPS (.827).

This was the offense the Phillies had to stop during a two-day visit to Fenway Park.

This was the offense the Phillies did stop.

The Phils completed a rousing two-game interleague sweep of the Sox with a 5-2 win on Wednesday night. The Phils beat the Sox, 3-2, on Tuesday night.

Two wins while scoring just eight runs. Take a bow, pitching staff.

“I remember what it's like to play here and how difficult it is for a team to come in and beat this team in the middle of the summer,” Phillies manager and former Red Sox player Gabe Kapler said. “Defending world champions. More specifically, it's one of the best lineups in baseball and something we're really paying close attention to. Our pitchers did a good job for two days straight. Our bullpen, in particular, was excellent.”

The Phillies’ bullpen has been ravaged by injuries. Just rattle off the names — Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Edubray Ramos, Victor Arano — of those who have gone down. In their stead, the team is using starters who’ve lost their spot in the rotation, guys who have spent significant time in the minors this season and a handful of castoffs from other organizations.

So many of them came up big in this series. So many of them came up big Wednesday night. The bullpen delivered 7⅓ scoreless innings in the two games, including 5⅓ in relief of Drew Smyly on Wednesday night.

Jared Hughes, Ranger Suarez, Mike Morin and Jose Alvarez all delivered scoreless work in setting up Hector Neris for his 23rd save.

Hughes got a huge ground ball from defending AL MVP Mookie Betts to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth. Morin struck out Betts (for the second night in a row) in the seventh, Alvarez got the game’s biggest out (a strikeout of Chris Owings) with runners on second and third in a two-run game to end the eighth.

So many big performances from the often-maligned Phillies bullpen. And so many of these guys weren’t even a twinkle in Kapler’s eye a few weeks ago. 

Morin, who has pitched scoreless ball in 11 of 13 appearances with the Phils, was on his way to going on waivers before the Phillies snagged him in a cash deal from Minnesota. Hughes was plucked off waivers from the Reds last week. Suarez is a rookie working as a reliever for the first time in his career. Alvarez joined the Phillies from Anaheim in a nondescript trade for Luis Garcia over the winter.

These unheralded relievers, castoffs from other clubs in some case, were the Phillies' lifeline in this series.

“I think that when that happens, players can get a chip on their shoulder,” Kapler said. “They can have something to prove. They can say, 'I'm going to prove you wrong for either trading me, DFAing me, sending me down.' And that can bring out the best performance, especially with guys who have done it for several years in the past like Morin has, like (another castoff Blake) Parker has, like Alvarez has. And like Hughes has.”

Is getting let go by another club a motivator?

“I try to not be vindictive,” Hughes said. “I try to focus on winning today. At the same time, it is eye-opening because it lets you know there’s things you need to work on to get better. That’s where I need to be. When you’re vindictive, you lose focus.”

Alvarez is one of the few Phillies relievers who has withstood the test of time this season. He has been an unsung difference-maker in the bullpen.

“I don’t care if I get noticed,” he said. “I’m just trying to help the team. When they need me, I’ll be there.”

The Phillies didn’t hit a ton in this series. They had just 13 hits, but they made them count. Bryce Harper (two-run homer) and Corey Dickerson (RBI triple and RBI single in the final three innings) had big hits Wednesday night. Harper also made a huge play in the field. Red Sox fans heckled him mercilessly. Kapler even took note of it before Harper’s two-run homer in the fifth.

“They were on him pretty good up until that moment,” Kapler said. “That was a pretty explosive moment for the dugout celebration. I'm really happy for Bryce to be able to come up big in that moment.” 

The Phillies are six games over .500 and two back in the NL wild-card race.

Now they face a very interesting weekend — three games in Miami against the NL’s worst team. The Phils are just 6-7 against the Marlins this season.

With just 36 games left, the Phils need to clean up on the Marlins. A poor showing in Miami after a sweep in Boston would be like drowning in the bathtub after a successful swim across the English Channel and the Phils can’t afford for that to happen.

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