Sean Rodriguez

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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Sean Rodriguez says sorry to Phillies fans, admits he used the wrong word

Sean Rodriguez says sorry to Phillies fans, admits he used the wrong word

Sean Rodriguez admitted Wednesday night that he misspoke when he referred to some Phillies fans as "entitled" Monday night.

Rodriguez has been booed loudly since making those comments after his walk-off home run. He was booed when he was announced Tuesday night and before each of his plate appearances. The crowd cheered when he was hit by a pitch Tuesday.

He was booed again Wednesday during a pinch-hit plate appearance. After the game, he clarified what he meant. 

"I wasn't trying to insult anybody with what I said," Rodriguez told reporters. "I'm very similar to the Philly fan base. I'm a very passionate person. I'm a passionate player. I show up every day and I don't leave anything in the tank.

"Could I probably have used different words? Yeah, absolutely. I could've said 'love over hate.' I do agree that the fans obviously pay to come watch a game and they feel entitled to want to say something. 

"And again, like I said, I thought I was pretty clear: The boos aren't anything I'm actually opposed to. When they're properly directed, that's fine. It's some of the other stuff that was being said underneath that."

Some Phillies fans understood what Rodriguez meant Monday night. There was a small contingent of fans actually giving him a standing ovation when he stepped to the plate Wednesday, perhaps in an attempt to take the high road.

"I'm not opposed to the passion," Rodriguez said. "If we don't hustle, absolutely get on us. So, was 'entitled' something that no doubt offended a lot of people? Yeah. For that, I'm sorry. The offense isn't something I was trying to do. But to stand on what I was trying to put out, love over hate, that I can't back down from."

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Rhys Hoskins' untimely error costs Phillies vs. Pirates

Rhys Hoskins' untimely error costs Phillies vs. Pirates

BOX SCORE 

Rhys Hoskins’ struggles spilled over onto the field Tuesday night. The Phillies’ first baseman dropped a throw that would have completed a double play and ended the top of the ninth inning. The error allowed the Pittsburgh Pirates to score the go-ahead run and claim a 5-4 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Hoskins entered the game hitting .164 since the All-Star break.

The Phillies entered the game just a game back in the NL wild-card race. They are 68-63 with 31 games to play.

While Hoskins’ error was costly, it was not the Phillies’ only self-inflicted wound in the late innings.

Hector Neris walked two batters with one out in the top of the ninth to put the eventual go-ahead run on base.

And the Phillies’ offense could not capitalize on leadoff doubles in the seventh and eighth innings. J.T. Realmuto died on third in the seventh and Cesar Hernandez never advanced from second in the eighth. Those were two big wasted chances in a tie game.

The amazing Realmuto

The Phillies catcher threw out another would-be base-stealer. That’s four in two games and 34 this season, by far the most in the majors.

Stay hot

Corey Dickerson, who had just nine hits in 42 at-bats against left-handed pitching this season, had a double and a single in his first two at-bats, both against lefty Steven Brault. Dickerson’s single in the third drove in his 12th run in the last six games.

Smyly’s night

For the second straight start, lefty Drew Smyly did a pretty good job limiting damage and keeping his club in the game. Yeah, he gave up a triple, a homer and a single to open the game, but he kept the damage to two runs and picked up some easy innings after that before giving up a two-run homer in the sixth. Smyly left trailing, 4-3. The Phillies tied the game in the bottom of the sixth on a pinch-hit homer by Logan Morrison.

Coming around at the plate?

Hoskins may have made some progress with his swing. He has appeared pull-happy lately. But after striking out in the first inning (he took three fastballs and struck out on five pitches), he scorched a single up the middle. Later, he flied out to right field twice. Hoskins is at his best when he’s waiting on pitches and using the whole field, so his at-bats were promising.

Fan favorite

A day after winning the game with a home run in the bottom of the 11th then taking a few verbal jabs at Phillies fans, Sean Rodriguez got the start at third base. He had a nice game, reaching base twice on a hit by pitch and a double. He also scored a run and made a nice play in the field.

Rodriguez was booed in pre-game introductions and before both at-bats (see story). A mixture of boos and cheers rained down on Rodriguez as he stood on second base after his double in the fourth inning. Rodriguez took it all in, shook his head and muttered something to himself.

Health check

Scott Kingery had some pre-game tests on his aching abdomen and did not start the game, but he was cleared to pinch-hit in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out to strand a runner at second base.

Up next

The series concludes on Wednesday night. Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.93) pitches for the Phillies against Pittsburgh right-hander Mitch Keller (1-2, 7.24).

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