Ranger Suarez

Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin and Gabe Kapler on a 15-inning Phillies loss we'll be talking about for years

Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin and Gabe Kapler on a 15-inning Phillies loss we'll be talking about for years

When you're fighting for the playoffs, you should probably never find yourself in a situation where you have to use a position player to pitch two innings in a tie game, or a starting pitcher to man left field.

That happened to the Phillies Friday night in a 15-inning, 4-3 loss to the White Sox.

Vince Velasquez had been waiting a long time to show off the full scope of his athleticism. It has been evident in the way he fields his position on the mound and runs the bases, but Friday was an entirely different story.

As the meek offenses of the Phillies and White Sox continued to make outs and a tie game reached the 14th inning, the Phillies ran out of pitchers and extra men. Ranger Suarez, new to pitching out of the bullpen, could not get loose. Zach Eflin, also new to the bullpen, felt soreness in his triceps after completing two scoreless innings.

It left Phillies manager Gabe Kapler with limited options and he chose to pinch-run for Eflin with Velasquez after Eflin had reached base in the top of the 13th. As a result, Velasquez stayed in the game in left field and out came Roman Quinn, again, to pitch. Except this time it wasn't mop-up duty.

Quinn worked a scoreless 14th inning with a major assist (literally) from Velasquez. Playing left field for the first time since he was between 12 and 14 years old, Velasquez threw out Jose Abreu at the plate trying to score from second on a single. The throw was 94.7 mph.

In the 15th, Velasquez nearly made an even more impressive throw, firing another perfect strike from deep left field that was just barely late of nailing speedy Leury Garcia. The play was reviewed and Garcia got his hand just around the tag. On the next play, Velasquez made a diving catch to end the inning.

It was a surreal final hour at Citizens Bank Park but it did not result in a win. The Phillies' offense was anemic most of the night, with Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Scott Kingery combining to go 2 for 24 in the loss.

"It was a horses--- situation," Kapler said. "It sucked. But the boys fought, all the way through to the end. I really thought the team stepped up in a major way, with everything on the line. They played their asses off."

Phillies fans were left with many questions after the bizarre way the game ended.

Why didn't Velasquez just pitch? 

The answer was that Velasquez had thrown a bullpen session earlier in the day. Pitching was not an option after his 90-pitch effort Wednesday and the bullpen session Saturday.

When did Kapler know he was removing Eflin from the game? 

The answer was before Eflin even went to the plate in the 13th inning. Kapler pressed him to make sure he was feeling OK, and Eflin admitted to feeling soreness in his triceps. Remember, this is a guy who has been a starting pitcher for most of his life. This role, pitching multiple times per week, is new to him. The Phillies are not going to push Eflin, nor Suarez for that matter, because of how new they are to these roles.

"I didn't feel it was right to put him at risk," Kapler said of Eflin. "He had pitched a lot for us. He had given us a lot. At that point, given the amount of injuries that we've had recently, I thought it was best to protect our player even at the expense of using a position player to pitch."

Again, it highlights the Phillies' depth issues. They were playing with 24 players on this night because Hector Neris is serving a three-game suspension.

The Phillies almost got away with all of it, thanks to two perfect innings from Blake Parker and two perfect innings from Eflin. If the offense could have just come up with one big hit, so many of the late-game shenanigans could have been prevented.

"I’ve never really seen something like that before," said Jason Vargas, who pitched well, allowing two runs in 6⅓ innings in his Phillies debut. "We were pretty sure [Velasquez] threw out the second guy as well. To throw out somebody with a guy on the line and make two crazy throws and then make a crazy catch that the best outfielder would be proud to make in a big situation, the effort was more than there.

"A pretty crazy first day. I can’t say that I’ve seen a better effort given to try to win a ball game."

The effort was there, on the mound and in the field. Guys weren't trying to make outs at the plate, but for whatever reason, this Phillies offense just goes in the tank a few times every week. At one point in extra innings, the two teams went 24 consecutive batters without a hit.

The loss is what matters most because every game counts in the race for a wild-card spot. But Phillies fans have long memories and this game will probably be remembered most for Kapler’s decision-making and Velasquez's efforts in left field.

"Vince might be one of our best all-around players," Kapler said. "He's a freaky athlete. We knew that about him. If there was a silver lining tonight — nobody's going to want to hear it — but it was Vince Velasquez performing like a superstar athlete. And Roman Quinn basically doing anything you could possibly do on a baseball field. And, s---, let's point to those things. Because why not?"

There are reasons why not, but the Phillies report back to the ballpark in about 12 hours and can move past this incredibly strange Friday night with a win behind Aaron Nola Saturday.

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Drew Smyly's outstanding debut, fearless Ranger Suarez help Phillies beat Pirates

Drew Smyly's outstanding debut, fearless Ranger Suarez help Phillies beat Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Despite a second straight day of little offense, the Phillies were able to escape PNC Park on Sunday with a series win. The Phillies had just three hits through eight innings and just six for the day. Ultimately, they got the game’s biggest hit — a solo homer from Rhys Hoskins with one out in the 11th — and that was enough to secure a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates heading into an off day Monday and a two-game set with the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.

This is what happens when you get outstanding pitching. You can do little at the plate and still win a ballgame with one swing of the bat.

Make no mistake: The Phillies won this game because of their pitching. Even Hoskins admitted that.

“It was pretty incredible,” he said.

The Pirates scored a run in the first inning and nothing after that.

That first-inning run came against Drew Smyly, the veteran lefty who opted out of his minor-league contract with the Brewers on Thursday after the Phillies had reached out with a chance to be a starter in the big leagues. Smyly spent several days in roster limbo and did not get to join his new teammates in the clubhouse until Sunday morning. He signed his contract before the game then proceeded to pitch six innings of one-run ball. He scattered four hits, walked two and struck out eight. He got 16 swing and misses, eight on a curveball that catcher Andrew Knapp said was like no other he’d ever caught because it had screwball action.

“It's definitely a great one to start off on,” Smiley said. “Just try to build off of it. It was a lot of fun being out there with a new group of guys, a fresh start. I'm very grateful to the Phillies for this opportunity and just going to try to roll with it.”

Smyly, 30, missed 2017 and 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He was released by Texas in late June after recording a 8.42 ERA in 51 1/3 innings.

“I feel like once Texas designated me and then I went and signed with the Brewers, I really started to figure out some things about myself and kind of a new game plan, a new approach on how to attack hitters,” Smyly said. “I instantly saw results and I only think it's going to get better. I just feel like I'm a different pitcher than I was with Texas right now.”

Smyly would not offer specifics about the changes he made after Texas.

“I don't want to give away my secrets,” he said with a laugh. “Still have a lot of games to play. But it's just the way I'm attacking and the way I feel like I'm mixing it up. I was pretty predictable in Texas. I wasn't good. I didn't perform well. I know what I'm capable of. I've had a lot of good seasons in the past before my Tommy John surgery. So I just need to get back. The game has changed a little bit in the last two years and I just have to get back to attacking hitters and keeping them off balance. I think I have a good idea of how to do that now.”

After Smyly departed, the Phils got five shutout innings from the bullpen. Most impressive was rookie Ranger Suarez’ two scoreless innings after Hector Neris hit two batters and got a bases-loaded line out to left to survive a ninth-inning scare.

The lefty Suarez survived a leadoff double in the 10th and a hit in the 11th. He struck out the final two batters of the game. Eight of his last nine appearances have been scoreless. Not bad for a guy working out of the bullpen regularly for the first time.

Manager Gabe Kapler called Suarez’ work “gutsy” and “courageous.” The 23-year-old from Venezuela does pitch with a fearless swagger.

“I don’t need any fear,” Suarez said through translator Diego Ettedgui. “I need outs. And I was able to get them."

And the Phillies, still hoping to snap a seven-year playoff drought, were able to clinch a series win on a day when they scored just two runs.

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Phillies 2, Pirates 1 (11 innings): Drew Smyly, Rhys Hoskins, bullpen deliver series win

Phillies 2, Pirates 1 (11 innings): Drew Smyly, Rhys Hoskins, bullpen deliver series win

BOX SCORE 

PITTSBURGH — Rhys Hoskins smacked his 21st homer — and just his second of the month — with one out in the top of the 11th inning to propel the Phillies to a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon.

The Phils (52-48) took two of three in the series despite their offense producing just three runs in the final two games — and one of those runs was unearned.

The Phillies had just three hits through eight innings so the pitching had to be good. It was. Newcomer Drew Smyly delivered a strong start and the bullpen pitched shutout ball for five innings — though it was not easy. Hector Neris survived two hit batsmen and a bases-loaded line out to left in the ninth inning.

Rookie Ranger Suarez got the final six outs. He has allowed just one run in his last nine outings. He showed impressive composure in getting three outs after allowing a leadoff double in the 10th. Suarez struck out the final two batters of the game and earned the win.

Solid debut

The veteran Smyly, who opted out of his minor-league deal with Milwaukee on Thursday, did not sign his contract with the Phillies until three hours before first pitch. Pitching in front of teammates he’d just met, the lefty gave the Phillies six innings of four-hit, one-run ball. He walked two and struck out eight.

Smyly threw 96 pitches and got 16 swing and misses, eight on his curveball.

So far, a pretty good pickup for the Phils.

Can't help but think …

That Smyly pitches six shutout innings if third baseman Brad Miller makes a play on Kevin Newman’s leadoff double inside the bag in the first inning. Miller was playing close to the line and the ball, hard hit but probably playable, got past him.

Miller got the start at third over Maikel Franco. Pirates starter Dario Agrazal has a good sinker and manager Gabe Kapler often looks to keep Franco away from tough sinkerballers. The Phils prefer Franco to elevate the ball. His lack of speed does not play well on ground balls.

Demon on the bases

Bryce Harper made a couple of daring base-running plays. He turned what should have been a single into a hustle double in the first inning and in the fourth tagged from first and moved to second on a fly ball to deep left by Hoskins. Harper dived into second base safely as the throw eluded the second baseman. Good thing for the wide throw or Harper may have been out. Harper’s aggressive base-running play set up Cesar Hernandez for a game-tying RBI single with one out.

Big D

Kapler rested starting catcher J.T. Realmuto and gave Andrew Knapp the start behind the plate. Knapp made a huge defensive play when he gunned down Newman trying to steal second for the third out in the bottom of the eighth. The Pirates were looking to steal a run with dangerous Starling Marte at the plate.

Earlier, centerfielder Adam Haseley gunned down Marte trying to stretch a single into a double.

Sights and sounds

The game was delayed by rain for 25 minutes in the fourth inning.

In a bizarre moment in the the top of the sixth inning, a fan casually wandered onto the field and approached home plate with his cell phone outstretched. Security did not pursue the man and home plate umpire Ben May and Phillies hitter Miller backed away from the man, who may have been seeking a handshake. The intruder was apprehended and cuffed by police as he approached the Phillies’ dugout.


(AP Images/Keith Srakocic)

Health check

Shortstop Jean Segura left the game with a sore left heel.

Up next

The Phils are off on Monday. They open a quick, two-game series against the Tigers in Detroit on Tuesday night. Pitching matchups:

Tuesday night — RHP Aaron Nola (8-2, 3.77) vs. RHP Matthew Boyd (6-8, 4.13)

Wednesday afternoon — RHP Vince Velasquez (2-5, 4.87) vs. TBA.

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