Phillies-Royals: What you need to know

Phillies-Royals: What you need to know
April 7, 2013, 10:30 am
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Phillies (2-3) vs. Royals (2-3)
1:35 p.m. – PHL17

Despite riding a 3-for-46 team-wide slump over the last 15 innings, the Phillies pulled out a dramatic win against Royals closer Greg Holland Saturday night thanks to Kevin Frandsen’s walk-off, bases clearing double (see game story).

Patience at the plate set the stage for his heroics. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Michael Young all walked to start the inning, and when hope looked lost after back-to-back strikeouts, Frandsen stepped in to deliver yet another clutch hit for the Phils. In 212 plate appearances with the Phillies, Frandsen is hitting .345 with an .851 OPS.

But, as they say, Saturday’s win is only truly meaningful if the Phils can win on Sunday. A victory would get them to .500 in time for two ostensibly easy series against the Mets and Marlins, and prevent opening the season with consecutive series losses.

Hamels vs. Shields
It’s a battle of aces Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Cole Hamels (0-1, 9.00) looks to get back on track after allowing three homers on opening day, while James Shields (0-1, 1.50) aims for his first win as a Kansas City Royal.

Hamels has struggled in his first start of the season every year since 2009, pitching to a 9.55 ERA by allowing 23 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings. But his second starts of the season have been much better – 3.86 ERA, 28 strikeouts, four walks.

Hamels has never faced the Royals, but has seen plenty of two K.C. players in particular, Jeff Francoeur and Miguel Tejada. Francouer is 14 for 50 (.280) with a pair of homers, 13 strikeouts and no walks. Tejada is 9 for 15 (.600) with three doubles.

Shields was great against the White Sox in the Royals’ opener, scattering eight hits and a homer in six innings of one-run ball. Interestingly, 16 of the 20 balls put into play against him were flyballs. Shields’ 29 percent flyball rate last season was a career low.

Shields has quite a resume and the Royals traded the top prospect in minor-league baseball – Wil Myers – for situations exactly like this. From 2011-12 he was 31-22 with a 3.15 ERA in 477 innings for Tampa Bay, averaging an impressive 7.22 innings per start.

He pitched against the Phillies last year and took a no decision despite allowing two homers and five earned runs over five innings at CBP. Jimmy Rollins and Juan Pierre took him deep on that Saturday afternoon.

Scouting “Big Game”
He earned the nickname in 2008 with the Rays, when he went 14-8 with a 3.56 ERA on his way to the World Series, where he shut the Phillies out over 5 2/3 innings in Tampa’s lone win of the series.

Shields has a 90-94 mph fastball, a low-90s sinker, a cutter, a spike curveball, and throws more changeups than any pitcher in baseball.

Shields isn’t afraid to throw the change to righties or in any count, but he best utilizes it with two strikes. Since 2010 the pitch has generated a swing-and-miss three out of every eight times he’s thrown it. And opposing batters have hit .214, .175 and .183 off the changeup.

The Phillies also need to look out for Shields’ move to first. In 2011 he picked off 12 runners, the most by a right-handed pitcher in 23 years.

Active Phillies have not had much success against Shields, hitting a combined .216 with just the one homer (Rollins’) in more than 50 at-bats.

Taking pitches and bases
Despite being 2-3 and struggling to hit lately, the Phillies have been successful thus far in two offensive areas: working counts and stealing bases.

The Phils are averaging 4.00 pitches per plate appearance through five games, sixth-most in baseball. Last season they saw 3.78 P/PA, which was 22nd in MLB.

And, for another year, they’re stealing bases with tremendous efficiency. The Phils lead the game with six steals and have yet to be caught.

Poised to rebound?
Since 2009, Hamels has a 2.87 ERA in the start directly following a five-run outing.