Always known for his defense, Peter Bourjos turning heads with hitting streak

Always known for his defense, Peter Bourjos turning heads with hitting streak

Peter Bourjos has never really been known for his hitting.

It's always been his fielding that has set him apart, as he’s been considered one of the best defensive centerfielders in MLB. While he’s played mostly right field for the Phillies, his fielding has remained top notch.

Yet, that’s not what has gotten him recent praise. His hitting has finally come alive, helping to fuel a recent four-game win streak.

Bourjos was batting a measly .199 coming into the month of June, but then his performance completely changed. He hit .410 (25 for 61) in June, which was the second-highest average in the majors and first in the National League. He’s pushed his season batting average up to .262, recording at least one hit in his last 10 games.

At home on Friday against the defending champion Kansas City Royals, Bourjos stretched his hit streak to double digits with a single in the bottom of the fifth. He scored on the next at-bat when Cody Asche drove him in on an RBI double to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. The Phillies went on to an eventual 4-3 win at Citizens Bank Park (see game recap).

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said the difference in Bourjos' hitting was to just not swing the bat so hard.

“According to what I read, he just decided that he didn’t have to swing as hard, which makes a lot of sense,” Mackanin said. “It takes a lot of tension out of your body. You just go out there and react to the ball instead of trying to drive the ball.”

Mackanin mentioned how Pete Rose, who holds the record for most hits in MLB history, didn’t worry about trying to hit a home run each time, which resulted in a lot of groundball hits. He added that so few of a player’s at-bats are going to result in extra-base-hits, so just focusing on getting on base is most important.

Even though Bourjos' defense is what sets him apart, this isn’t the first time in his career he’s found himself hitting the ball well. In 2011 with the Angels, Bourjos hit .271 with 26 doubles, 11 triples and 12 home runs in 147 games. Mackanin said he’s definitely capable of replicating those numbers.

“You see when he takes batting practice he has power,” Mackanin said. “I think what happened to him over the years was he never really knew what kind of hitter he was. He has the power to hit a home run to the opposite field. He can hit 15, 20 home runs.”

Bourjos said it’s never really bothered him that he’s been branded mostly as a defensive player.

“I’ve had that label since I’ve probably signed,” Bourjos said. “It didn’t matter how well I hit in the minor leagues, it was always glove first. You can’t shake that label, it’s just there. You start going and having good at-bats, and hopefully they recognize that you’re an all-around good player.”

If his hot streak continues, Bourjos could find himself as an attractive trade piece to a playoff contender.

The non-wavier trade deadline is just one month away, and with the All-Star break even closer, teams will soon begin to determine if they need a boost in talent to make a playoff run. With the Phillies still rebuilding, they may want to capitalize on an opportunity to continue to build their farm system and deal a veteran.

The situation would be even more favorable for the Phillies considering Bourjos, 29, is playing on just a one-year deal. And taking advantage of this red-hot streak could be something to consider.

However, Bourjos says he’s unsure if that’ll happen.

“I’m not too sure about that, that’s a question for other general managers,” he said. “Obviously, I just want to go out and play as well as I can for this team, and hopefully I’m here the whole year.”

Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

usa-dbacks-clinch.jpg
USA Today Images

Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

PHOENIX -- J.D. Martinez lined a two-out RBI single to deep left field with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Miami Marlins 3-2 on Sunday to clinch the top wild card in the National League.

The Diamondbacks, who won only 69 games a year ago but are 90-66 this season, were assured a playoff berth in the fourth inning after St. Louis and Milwaukee lost. The comeback victory ensured Arizona will host the NL wild-card game Oct. 4.

Fernando Rodney (5-4) pitched a perfect inning for the win.

A throwing error by Justin Nicolino (2-3) on Kristopher Negron's sacrifice bunt helped load the bases with no outs in the ninth (see full recap).

Cubs close in on NL Central title behind Quintana's 3-hit shoutout
MILWAUKEE -- Jose Quintana pitched a three-hitter for his second big league shutout, and the Chicago Cubs beat Milwaukee 5-0 Sunday to close in on a second straight NL Central title and damage the Brewers' playoff hopes.

Coming off its first World Series title since 1908, Chicago (87-68) won three of four in the weekend series and opened a 5-game lead over the second-place Brewers (82-73) with seven games remaining. Milwaukee began the day one game behind Colorado for the NL's second wild card.

Quintana (7-3 with Cubs, 11-11 overall) struck out 10 and walked one in his second complete game in 182 starts. He threw 116 pitches, his most since Sept. 7 last year.

He did not allow any extra-base hits and retired his final 11 batters after walking Domingo Santana in the sixth (see full recap).

Rockies beat Padres to open 2-game lead for last wild card
SAN DIEGO -- Gerardo Parra hit a tiebreaking single in a two-run third inning, Pat Valaika and Charlie Blackmon hit consecutive home runs in the ninth and the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres 8-4 Sunday to open a two-game lead over Milwaukee for the second NL wild card heading into the final week of the regular season.

St. Louis trails the Rockies by 2 games. Seeking its first postseason appearance since 2009, Colorado opens a six-game homestand Monday, playing Miami and then the Los Angeles Dodgers. At 41-40, the Rockies tied their record for road wins, set in 2009.

German Marquez (11-7) allowed two runs, five hits and three walks in five innings. He had been 0-2 in six starts since beating Milwaukee on Aug. 18. Colorado starters have a 2.52 ERA in their last nine games (see full recap).

Twins top Tigers for 4-game sweep, close on wild card
DETROIT -- Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar homered, and Minnesota beat the Detroit Tigers 10-4 on Sunday to complete a four-game sweep that moved the Twins closer to securing a wild-card berth in the playoffs.

Polanco hit a solo homer in the first off Buck Farmer (4-5), and Escobar welcomed Victor Alcantara with a three-run drive in the sixth.

Minnesota (82-74) began the day 4 games ahead of Kansas City, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels for the second AL wild card. The Twins outscored the Tigers 39-12 in the sweep.

Detroit has lost seven straight and 14 of 16. At 62-94, the Tigers will finish with their worst record since going 43-119 in 2003 (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."