Eagles Play Musical Chairs With Linebackers

Eagles Play Musical Chairs With Linebackers

Well, that lasted all of two weeks.

After two subpar games as the starting middle linebacker, the Eagles have thought better of the Casey Matthews experiment, and will relocate the overwhelmed rookie according to Birds' Eye View. Stepping into his role will be Jamar Chaney, who struggled to cover Tony Gonzalez on Sunday night, but shined at his true position on the inside late last season.

Matthews slides over to the weakside, while Moise Fokou will shift back to strongside, where he's spent time in previous seasons.

This is closer to the lineup most observers envisioned before the lockout ended and training camp began.

Chaney drew rave reviews for his play in the final three games last season while filling in for Stewart Bradley after he succumbed to a dislocated elbow. Expectations were high for the second year player out of Mississippi State, who showcased his speed, physicality, and instinct during the limited opportunity. It was assumed that was one reason they let Bradley walk.

However, Chaney's talent had not translated to his new role through the first two games.

Meanwhile, it was suspected Matthews could come in and compete this summer for a job at one of the outside positions, where nothing was nailed down. Instead, the fourth round pick wound up in the middle where his limitations were painfully obvious, especially defending the run. He failed to shed blocks and was pushed around with ease far too often.

Matthews has great football IQ though, and has flashed ability in coverage, so he could still have some value this season.

With all of that in mind, the Eagles will likely draw criticism for not making this decision in the first place. They had one guy who looked like a natural MIKE linebacker, and another less athletic, less experienced player who was forced to learn on the fly after the shortened off-season.

In this case, it's difficult to defend the process. Had the usual off-season programs been in place, maybe the coaching staff would have reached this conclusion earlier, but since those practices weren't held, that's no excuse. The team could have stuck to conventional thinking from the beginning, or at the very least, made these moves following the preseason, not unlike what they did with the offensive line.

But the change has been made, and thankfully before too much damage was done. The linebackers clearly were a big reason for Sunday night's meltdown though, and while they were far from the only players with a role in that loss, the Eagles aren't waiting for more disaster to unfold.

>> Chaney to MLB; Matthews to WLB [BEV]

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

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