Phillies-Marlins: What you need to know

Phillies-Marlins: What you need to know
May 4, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Phillies (14-16) vs. Marlins (8-22)
7:05.m. – CSN

It’s true, it’s said often and it’s nothing but common sense, but when Ryan Howard is hitting the Phillies just look like a completely different team. Howard started the scoring Friday night with a solo homer – his fifth – and also doubled and walked.

Howard’s hitting .288 with a .519 slugging percentage. His slugging percentages the last three seasons were .505 in 2010, then .488 and .423. If the Phillies want to be comfortably over .500 in 2013, Howard’s slugging percentage must be comfortably over .500.

Chase Utley and Domonic Brown also homered off Ricky Nolasco, who just can’t retire lefties with regularity. Lefties are hitting .303 against him with an .895 OPS; righties are at .190 with a .515 OPS.

The early runs and a nice sinking fastball from Jonathan Pettibone helped the rookie improve to 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA (see story). Now the Phillies turn to two of their high-priced veterans to try to win or sweep this four-game series vs. the lowly Marlins.

Hamels must attack
Cole Hamels (1-3, 4.78) tied a career-high last Sunday with six walks in a win over the Mets. New York has a very patient lineup that grinds out at-bats, so it wasn’t all Hamels. But tonight against the Marlins, Hamels has to work ahead, stay ahead and not worry about being too fine.

The Marlins are an embarrassment to baseball. Competitive balance in the National League is greatly altered by Miami being so bad. Teams like the Phillies, Braves and Nationals have an advantage on other NL teams because they get to play the Marlins 12 or 13 more times.

Juan Pierre is a tremendous person and base-stealer, but he’s off to a horrid start (.261 OBP). Placido Polanco is not a three- or four-hole hitter. At this point he wouldn’t even be an everyday player for most teams. Greg Dobbs in the cleanup spot? Even Justin Ruggiano has come back to earth after a breakout 2012. And catcher Rob Brantly might be a part of Miami’s future, but he’s 0 for 16 against the Phillies this season and is hitting .218 overall with no home runs.

This won’t be one of Hamels’ tougher challenges. He needs to go into “Get out of my way” mode – a gear he hasn’t yet shifted into in 2013 – and deliver something like: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K.

Hamels has allowed two runs in his last 24 innings against the Marlins. And Miami is hitting .198 with 80 strikeouts in 10 games against left-handed starters.

Finish them off
To do that, Hamels must either get hitters out early in counts or get a little more oomph on his two-strike pitches. Hamels is averaging 18.2 foul balls per game. The foul balls are adding an extra inning to his pitch count. It’s one of the main reasons he’s averaging less than 6.3 innings per start a year after averaging nearly 7.0.

Another crack at Fernandez
The Phillies made Jose Fernandez look like Felix Hernandez on April 13. It was the 20-year-old Cuban’s second major-league start, and he allowed just two hits over six scoreless innings.

Fernandez has electric stuff, no doubt. But he’s unpolished, and since that game he is 0-2 with a 7.62 ERA. He’s made starts of four, five and four innings.

The Phillies now know what they’re getting from Fernandez: A high-90s fastball and a sharp, power curve. Lefties have to be ready for his high-80s changeup. Fernandez has allowed just one hit on a changeup to a left-handed batter.

Sneaking up on the NL East
The Phillies haven’t truly gotten going yet, but that’s fine because over the last 14 games the Braves are 4-10 and the Nationals are 6-8.

The Phils, as of Saturday morning, are one game behind the Nationals and just 3½ back of the Braves.