Kurt Suzuki

Phillies 4, Nationals 2: Phils' hot homestand rolls on with win over weakened Nats

Phillies 4, Nationals 2: Phils' hot homestand rolls on with win over weakened Nats

The Phillies did not tear the cover off the ball Friday night, but they got a pair of long balls, including a big one from Rhys Hoskins, in rallying for a 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.

Hoskins’ second homer in as many games was a three-run shot in the bottom of the sixth. It put the Phils up by two runs.

Hoskins leads the Phillies with 10 homers. He has 62 homers since his big-league debut on Aug. 10, 2017. That is the most in the National League over that span and third-most in the majors behind Oakland’s Khris Davis and Boston’s J.D. Martinez, both of whom entered Friday with 70.

Thirty-four of Hoskins' 62 career homers have either tied the game or given the Phils a lead.

The Phillies are in the midst of putting together a nice homestand. They are 5-2 with two games to play. They are 13-6 at home and lead the NL East at 18-13.

The keys

• With his team up, 2-1, in the bottom of the sixth, Washington manager Dave Martinez brought in lefty Dan Jennings to face Bryce Harper with a man on first base. Jennings walked Harper on five pitches. Jennings then had to face the right-handed hitting Hoskins with two men on base. Hoskins unloaded a 1-1 pitch, a sweeping breaking ball, and sent it into the left-field seats to give the Phillies a 4-2 lead.

The Phillies were happy to see starter Jeremy Hellickson leave the game. He allowed just four hits and struck out nine over 5⅓ walk-free innings. The soft-serving Hellickson has 15 strikeouts in 13⅓ innings against the Phillies this season.

• Jean Segura hit an opposite-field homer in the first inning, his second of the season. He added an infield hit to start the sixth-inning rally in front of Bryce Harper and Hoskins. Segura is hitting .345 with a .931 OPS.

• Phillies manager Gabe Kapler lifted starter Jerad Eickhoff after just five innings and 87 pitches. The score was 1-1 at the time. It did not stay that way long as Seranthony Dominguez gave up a one-out homer to Kurt Suzuki in the sixth. Dominguez had Suzuki, 0-2, but could not put him away. Dominguez threw Suzuki all fastballs and the Washington catcher hit the fourth one in the seats to break the tie.

• Good job by Phillies relievers Adam Morgan, Pat Neshek and Hector Neris. They combined for three scoreless innings to protect a two-run lead.

Morgan has 16 straight scoreless appearances, a team record to open a season.

Eickhoff’s night

The right-hander pitched well again. He went five innings and allowed just one run. He walked three and struck out five. Eickhoff appeared to have another inning in him, but Kapler went to the bullpen in the sixth. Dominguez gave up a tie-breaking homer in that frame, but the Phils’ bats got the lead back in the bottom of the inning and Dominguez vultured the win. Eickhoff once again featured a pair of good breaking balls, curveball and slider, to complement a fastball that topped at about 91 mph.

Harper’s night

He snapped an 0-for-14 skid with a leadoff double in the bottom of the fourth. He died on third. His walk before Hoskins’ homer in the sixth was his 24th, tops in the NL.

Weakened opponent

The Nationals have three key players — Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon — on the injured list and Juan Soto did not play because of back spasms. The Phillies are 3-3 against the Nats this season. Washington is 13-18, five games behind the first-place Phils.

Up next

Pretty good pitching matchup at the yard Saturday night as Jake Arrieta (4-2, 3.46) faces Washington lefty Patrick Corbin (2-1, 3.58). The Phillies tried to sign Corbin in the offseason.

The Phillies will honor Jimmy Rollins with a retirement ceremony before the game.

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Phillies' chances of re-signing Wilson Ramos increased this week

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AP Images

Phillies' chances of re-signing Wilson Ramos increased this week

Overshadowed by the James Paxton trade was the Nationals' signing Monday of catcher Kurt Suzuki to a two-year, $10 million contract — his second stint in Washington.

Suzuki leaves Atlanta, where he had the two best seasons of his career, hitting .276/.341/.485 with averages of 16 homers and 50 RBI in just 348 plate appearances. In 2017, four of his 19 homers came in 10 games against the Phillies.

Aside from the NL East change of scenery, what does this have to do with the Phillies?

It helps the cause in re-signing Wilson Ramos, if the Phils are indeed as interested as they should be. 

Ramos spent seven seasons with the Nationals, and the Nats tried in 2018 to reacquire him before the Phillies did. Had they not inked Suzuki, they likely would have again explored a reunion with Ramos.

Yasmani Grandal, because he is a year younger than Ramos and has less of an injury history, is viewed as the top free-agent catcher, even after the ugly postseason. However, Grandal declined the $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers, meaning the team that signs him will forfeit a high draft pick — either a pick preceding or following the second round, based on the signing team's revenues and market size.

That is meaningful. It could make a catching-needy team think twice about prioritizing Grandal over Ramos.

The teams that stick out in the race for catching — i.e. Grandal or Ramos — are the Phillies, Braves, Mets, Rockies, Red Sox, Astros, Angels and Twins. Removing the Nationals from the equation helps. 

The Phillies could, perhaps unrealistically, talk themselves into thinking they don't need Ramos in 2019, that they're seeing enough improvement from Jorge Alfaro. Many inside the Phils' organization remain high on Alfaro because of things like exit velocity, arm strength and pitch-framing. But there is obviously so much more that goes into being a productive major-league catcher. Alfaro in 2018 struggled in all phases of receiving other than framing. He struggled to block balls, and in some befuddling moments struggled to catch strikes. He also has struck out nine times more than he's walked as a major-leaguer.

Could Alfaro be a productive catcher if he fixes a few major deficiencies? Sure. Will that happen in 2019, which figures to be a win-now year for the Phillies? Tough to bank on.

If the Phillies feel comfortable with where Ramos is physically, they should bring him back on a two- or three-year deal. They may have to slightly overpay to get a deal done quickly, but it's worth it at a position that offers as little offense leaguewide as catcher. It probably makes more sense for Ramos to go to the AL, where he can be preserved as a designated hitter at times, but 31-year-olds eying their last big payday tend to follow the money.

When Ramos was actually able to bat in the middle of the Phillies' order in the second half of 2018, he was awesome. He hit .337/.396/.483 with 10 extra-base hits and 10 walks and 101 plate appearances. 

Even if the Phillies make the big Bryce Harper splash, it would still be nice to have Ramos in the five- or six-hole.

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Despite loss in finale, Phillies finish with successful road trip

Despite loss in finale, Phillies finish with successful road trip

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies won four out of six games on their road trip through the South and manager Gabe Kapler was happy with that. He said so in word after Wednesday night’s trip-ending, 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park (see first take). He said so in action in the eighth inning.

“All in all, you go on the road and you go 4-2, you feel good coming home,” Kapler said. “That's the biggest positive from this. We're going to go home stronger than when we left on this road trip. It's not an easy thing to do in baseball. I'm proud of our guys for doing that.”

Kapler’s satisfaction with the trip was evident even before the game ended. Lefty specialist Hoby Milner entered the game with one out in the eighth inning and the Phils down by two runs. His job, ostensibly, was to retire lefty hitters Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. He retired neither. Up came right-handed hitting Kurt Suzuki. The situation screamed for a right-hander but Kapler stuck with Milner and he allowed an RBI single as the Braves pulled away with three runs in the inning to salt the game away.

Entering the game, Milner had allowed a .375 batting average (21 for 56) to right-handed hitters and a .158 (12 for 76) average to lefty hitters for his career. Despite this, Kapler did not even have a right-hander up in the bullpen. In fact, no one was up. Kapler indicated that he had faith that Milner could get the job done.

But there was more to it, as well.

“At that point it was time to look, in part, to save our bullpen,” Kapler said. “That was the right time to save our bullpen and put them in a good position to succeed going forward.”

Kapler’s thinking was not unheard of. Ask any manager and he’ll tell you, some nights you have to give the bullpen a break, take one step back for the chance to take two forward in subsequent days, and that’s just what Kapler did. After all, the ‘pen did pick up five innings the night before. But the flip side to this was the Phils were down only two runs with the middle of the order due up in the ninth. Keep the difference at two runs and maybe you can rally. Five runs — different story.

All this made one wonder if Kapler didn’t believe his offense could pull it out in the ninth.

“We always have full confidence that the guy on the mound can get outs,” Kapler said. “So this, at least, was as much about our belief in Hoby to be able to get outs in that situation, and, also, preserve arms in the bullpen. And, also, we believe in our offense to be able to come back and put a big number up. Always.”

The Phils ended up scoring a run in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. Vince Velasquez gave up a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth when he allowed a walk, a single and a three-run homer to new Phillie killer Ryan Flaherty. The Braves were in control the rest of the way. They have beaten the Phillies in four of six meetings this season.