Asche shines, but Phils find 'shifty' way to lose

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Asche shines, but Phils find 'shifty' way to lose

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The Phillies trudged out the door of Citizens Bank Park late Tuesday night for a flight to Toronto, where they will continue a home-and-home series with the Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

Good thing it’s a short flight to Toronto because this couldn’t have been a fun one. They seldom are when a team digs itself a five-run hole, battles back to tie the game, then loses it in extra innings.

That’s what happened in this one. Cole Hamels struggled for the second game in a row. (He has allowed 18 hits and 11 runs in 10 2/3 innings in those games -- see story.) Cody Asche bailed Hamels out with a game-tying grand slam in the sixth inning. But the Phils eventually lost to the Blue Jays, 6-5, when Antonio Bastardo allowed a couple of hits and Juan Francisco lifted a sacrifice fly to weak-armed centerfielder Ben Revere in the 10th (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies have lost two in a row to the Blue Jays to fall to 15-16 on the season.

A couple of things to keep an eye on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre in Toronto:

• Will manager Ryne Sandberg reward Asche for his grand slam and four-hit night with a start against lefty Mark Buehrle? Asche, who has struggled much of the early season, has not started against a lefty since April 4.

• Will Sandberg continue to employ a defensive shift in the infield when it cost the Phils a couple of runs Tuesday night?

Early indications are that Asche will get the start.

“I look at this as a possible breakout game for Cody,” Sandberg said. “I’ll give [starting him against Buehrle] a lot of consideration. We could give him some continued play and let him build on this.”

As for the shift, the Phils have had mixed results while using it against the Jays. The Phils lost, 3-0, to Toronto on Monday night. The score would have been more lopsided if the Phils hadn’t employed the shift in their infield. Losing pitcher Kyle Kendrick said as much.

But Tuesday night, the shift led to some miscommunication between shortstop Freddy Galvis and second baseman Chase Utley in the fourth inning. No one “took charge,” in Sandberg’s words, on a ball hit between the two fielders and Edwin Encarnacion ended up with a hit that sent a runner to third and set up a run.

In the decisive 10th inning, the Jays got a leadoff hit from Melky Cabrera. That brought up dangerous Jose Bautista. The Phillies shifted him to the left side of the infield in both games. This time, Bautista made an adjustment and singled through the area vacated by Utley, who was playing just on the other side of second. If Utley is in his usual position, it is a double-play ball. Then again, if Utley is in his usual position, Bautista probably doesn’t hit it there. He probably takes his normal big hack to the pull side.

Whatever the case, you live by the shift; you die by the shift.

“We had Bautista as a dead-pull hitter on the ground and he hit one away from the defense,” Sandberg said.

The Phillies were fortunate to even be in the game so late.

They made defensive miscues and baserunning gaffes -- the struggling Galvis was involved in both -- and failed to move runners or do much of anything offensively against Drew Hutchison in the early innings.

“We did not play a good fundamental game,” Sandberg said. “We made baserunning mistakes, didn’t get a man over from second, coverage on defense. A lot of little things came back to haunt us.”

Sandberg didn’t mention the fact that Revere had no shot to throw out Cabrera at the plate on a fly ball to medium center in the 10th.

He did mention that Hamels, who gave up 10 hits, including two home runs, was not sharp.

“He fell behind in some counts and they didn’t miss his fastball,” Sandberg said.

The Phillies' offense went 21 innings (back to Sunday) before finally scoring in the sixth. Ryan Howard’s RBI hit was the first of five in the inning against Hutchison, who was otherwise nasty on the Phillies.

Asche’s game-tying grand slam was the big blow against Hutchison. It came with two outs and brought to life the crowd of 26,057, which demanded (and received) a curtain call from Asche.

The first month-plus of the season has been difficult on Asche, who entered Tuesday night hitting .214. His four hits raised his average to .257.

“It felt good to produce and help the team out,” Asche said. “There have been a lot of games where I haven’t done that.

“But this is still a loss, a missed opportunity.”

The 23-year-old third baseman was asked whether he believed his big night would earn him a shot in Wednesday night’s lineup.

“If I’m in there, I’m in there,” he said. “If I’m not, I’ll be on the bench, ready to go.

“There’s a lot of mental turmoil in this game over the course of a long season. The good ones weather the storms. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Best of MLB: Mike Trout (thumb) leaves early as Marlins crush Angels

Best of MLB: Mike Trout (thumb) leaves early as Marlins crush Angels

MIAMI -- Mike Trout sprained his left thumb stealing second base Sunday, and the Los Angeles Angels took a thumping without him, losing 9-2 to the Miami Marlins.

Trout yelled in pain as he rose after sliding headfirst in the fifth inning. He was examined by a trainer, stayed in the game, but was replaced in the sixth. X-rays were negative, and there was no immediate timetable regarding his return.

The reigning American League MVP was 0 for 2 when he departed with the Angels trailing 4-2. He finished 2 for 9 in the series to drop his average to .337 (see full recap).

Aaron Judge hit first-career grand slam in Yankees' win
NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge hit his first career grand slam and the New York Yankees took full advantage of Oakland's shoddy defense Sunday in a 9-5 victory over the Athletics.

Michael Pineda (6-2) tossed six innings of three-hit ball to win his third straight start. Aaron Hicks and Chris Carter each had an early sacrifice fly as the AL East leaders scored five unearned runs and took two of three in a well-pitched series.

Judge connected with two outs in the third for his 16th home run, tying Mike Trout of the Angels for the big league lead. The drive landed in the right-field seats, not far in front of The Judge's Chambers cheering section installed by the Yankees for the start of this 4-2 homestand.

Khris Davis hit his 15th home run for the A's, who committed two more costly errors to raise their season total to 49. They began the day with 10 more than any other team in the majors.

The fielding failures put starter Andrew Triggs (5-4) in tough situations. He went six innings and gave up one earned run (see full recap).

Miguel Gonzalez loses perfect game in seventh, but pitches White Sox to win
CHICAGO -- Miguel Gonzalez took a perfect game into the seventh inning, Todd Frazier hit a two-run homer and the Chicago White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 7-3 on Sunday.

Melky Cabrera and Matt Davidson also connected, helping the White Sox take three of four in the series. David Robertson got two outs for his seventh save.

Gonzalez (4-5) allowed three runs and six hits in 7 2/3 innings while snapping a five-start losing streak. The right-hander struck out six and walked none.

Gonzalez retired his first 18 batters before Andrew Romine led off the seventh with a hard one-hop liner to shortstop Tim Anderson, who couldn't field the ball cleanly and was originally charged with an error. Alex Avila followed with a single into to right field, and Romine's ball was later changed to a hit (see full recap).

Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

Phillies conclude miserable homestand with new low as Zach Eflin demoted to Triple A

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For a moment Sunday afternoon, Citizens Bank Park sprung to life as the Phillies strung together five hits in a four-run second inning.

But four home runs off starter Zach Eflin sent the Phillies to another defeat and Eflin to Lehigh Valley.

Eflin was optioned to Triple A following the Phillies' 8-4 loss to the Reds, in which he allowed seven runs on nine hits in just five innings of work (see Instant Replay)

"His first two-three outings were really good," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was keeping the ball down, but his last three, including today, he's elevating his sinker and once you elevate that sinker, it doesn't have the effect that you'd like to have."

The Phillies have now lost nine consecutive series for the first time since 1997. The loss was their 22nd in 28 games and handed the Reds their first series win at CBP since August 2006.  

Eflin got off to a rocky start Sunday with three first-inning singles, allowing one run. He escaped further damage but then proceeded to give up a home run in each of his final four innings. The final home run — Adam Duvall's second on the day — came on an 0-2 pitch and extended Cincinnati's lead to 7-4. All of the Reds' hits off Eflin came on fastballs as their potent lineup feasted on his pitches high in the zone.

Two weeks ago, Eflin's ERA stood at 2.87 as he kept opponents in the ballpark with his hard sinker. However, starting with a May 17 outing in Texas, Eflin has allowed 22 runs in his last 15 innings. He's given up seven homers in his last two starts and at least nine hits in five consecutive outings as his ERA ballooned to 6.13. With Sunday's results, the Phillies were left little choice but to option the 23-year-old righty while he deals with a rough patch.

"There are some things I need to work on," Eflin said. "I need to do a better job of pitching backward, especially in fastball counts. There's a lot of things I need to work on, but at the end of the day, I'm not worried about it. I'm going to go down there, work on everything I need to work on and get back as soon as possible."

The Phillies will reinstate Howie Kendrick (oblique) off the 10-day disabled list Monday, Mackanin said, in a corresponding move after the veteran IF/OF completed a four-game rehab stint (see story)

Kendrick could help boost an offense that is scuffling. After a four-run second inning highlighted by Andrew Knapp's 434-foot three-run home run, the Phillies' bats fell silent. They strung together five more hits. However, three double plays and a few untimely strikeouts killed any further rallies.

The Phillies left a potential run stranded on third base in the fifth inning as Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr struck out against starter Scott Feldman, who waded into and out of trouble in five innings of work. Herrera went 0 for 4 with that strikeout, continuing to slump. His average has fallen to .217.

With Kendrick returning, Mackanin indicated he would give Herrera some days off soon to help him relax amid mounting pressure to hit.

"He's scuffling. A couple guys scuffling," Mackanin said. "I'll probably move him down in the lineup. I can't keep him in the two-hole. But he has to fight his way out. 

"We'll see when Kendrick gets here. We're going to have another outfielder. I'm going to mix and match and try to get everybody in there. Kendrick, I'm going to bring along slowly because I want to make sure he's healthy.

"In other words, I don't have a set outfield. I'm going to mix those guys up."

On the infield, Maikel Franco continued his slide Sunday, going 1 for 4 with a strikeout and a double play. The slugger is hitting .213 this month, just as he did in April, but his power is down with just two home runs. Kendrick, who only played left field in April, played third base while at Triple A, so he could potentially spell Franco as well.

"He hit a ball hard today but he's not giving us consistent at-bats," Mackanin said. "He's searching both physically and mentally. It's not easy for him. I can tell he's down on himself. He's not happy about what's going on."

The Phillies came into this week struggling and were unable to rebound against the Rockies and Reds, losing five of seven. They averaged just 2.42 runs during the homestand.

However, the bigger problem comes in the rotation. The team gave up 5.71 runs per game in their last seven despite a 23 2/3 inning scoreless streak from the bullpen. The rotation's struggles continue to plague the team as they carry the worst record in baseball into Miami for a three-game set starting Monday.

"I certainly expected more out of our starters," Mackanin said. "We've had some issues with [Aaron] Nola's arm and Clay Buchholz going down. Although [Jerad] Eickhoff is going to end up having a good year in my opinion. He's been a little bit hot and cold.

"And Eflin, I counted on him to have a big year this year. I think if he gets himself straightened out down in Triple A, I think he's going to come back strong. But certainly, I can't sit here and say I'm happy with [his performance]."