Bad offense, bad 'pen, bad trip; Phils lose again

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Bad offense, bad 'pen, bad trip; Phils lose again

BOX SCORE

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Phillies’ tour of the upper Midwest is turning into a disaster.

They suffered another loss to a last-place club Tuesday night when they were beaten by the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, in an interleague game at Target Field (see Instant Replay).

The Twins broke a 2-2 tie against relievers Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo in the bottom of the eighth inning for the win.

Some of the ugly facts:

The Phils have been held to two of fewer runs in 23 of 65 games.

They have lost four in a row to last-place clubs Milwaukee and Minnesota.

The four losses have come after the Phils briefly poked their head above .500. They are now 31-34 and are eight games back of division-leading Atlanta in the NL East.

“It’s not good,” said Cole Hamels, who once again received little run support on a night he allowed just two runs over six innings. “It’s really not great. When you think you’ve finally got momentum and then you get the results we’ve been having, it’s not good.

“If [losses] add up, it’s not going to put us in a good situation. Losing four in a row makes it add up real fast, especially when we just got over .500. Now we have to start back over again.”

The Phillies are 2-12 in Hamels’ 14 starts. That’s mind-blowing considering Hamels entered this season on everybody’s short list of Cy Young candidates.

Hamels had a little hiccup in this game. He appeared a little unnerved by home-plate umpire Paul Emmel’s strike zone in fourth inning and got hit hard by four consecutive batters. Three of them doubled and one singled as the Twins took a 2-1 lead. Hamels did not give up a run the rest of the way but was out of the game earlier than he liked because the Twins fouled off a slew of pitches that pushed his count to 108.

Hamels would not admit to being frustrated with Emmel, even though he pointedly turned his back on the umpire at one point in the fourth inning.

“I have the utmost respect for umpires,” he said.

All right, on to where this game was lost. Obviously, the Phillies didn’t score enough against a pitcher -- P.J. Walters -- who entered the game with a .329 opponents’ batting average. Phillies hitters had typically poor plate discipline. Domonic Brown, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins all made outs with men on base by swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

“Yeah,” manager Charlie Manuel said when asked about those at-bats. “But that’s who they are. Tomorrow night they might hit some pitches. That’s how our offense runs. That’s why you look there and see a .248 batting average. You can start right there. That’s inconsistency. We talk about it every night. Tomorrow night it might be there and the following night it won’t be. That’s kind of how it comes and goes.”

Howard did come up with a big hit for his club with two outs in the eighth when he benefited from the Twins’ decision not to employ a shift and slashed a single to right, through the hole between first and second. The hit scored Kevin Frandsen, who had led off with a pinch-hit single, with the tying run.

The game didn’t stay tied long.

Manuel went to Adams for the eighth. Adams had spent the previous four days nursing shoulder soreness caused by biceps tendinitis, but he felt good enough to go and Manuel said he felt confident in using the right-hander because “he was ready to pitch and I wanted to bring him in.”

Jamey Carroll, who entered the night hitting .202, was the first batter Adams faced. He walked on four pitches. Adams then allowed a single before getting two outs.

With runners on the corners, two outs and lefty-hitting Justin Morneau coming up, Manuel went to the lefty Bastardo. The count was 1-and-1 when Morneau fouled off two fastballs and two sliders. With the count 1-and-2, Bastardo threw a fastball down the middle -- he said he was trying to throw it to the outside part of the plate -- and Morneau drove it up the middle for the go-ahead run.

“We had two outs and Antonio just couldn’t get him,” Manuel said. “He had him 1-and-2 and it looked like he threw a fastball low down the middle of the plate or something. Antonio has to get Morneau. That’s why he’s there.”

Adams took the loss, his fourth. His ERA is 4.22. He has allowed 19 hits and 11 walks in 21 1/3 innings. The Phillies signed Adams to fix the eighth inning that was such a problem last year. He hasn’t.

“I’m disappointed I’m letting my teammates down,” Adams said. “I’m frustrated. It seems like it has been one at-bat, one hitter that’s been kicking my butt and I need to fix that.”

Adams had offseason surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. Doctors removed the rib under his collarbone in the surgery. Earlier this season, Adams missed time with a bad back and recently was sidelined with the sore shoulder. He would not use health as an excuse for his performance Tuesday night.

“I’m good enough to go out there,” he said. “I’m just not pitching like I need to right now.”

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens stopped by the winter meetings on Monday and left with a little something extra in his wallet.

Cozens was honored with the Joe Bauman Award, given annually to minor league baseball’s home run king. The award came with an $8,000 check — $200 for each homer he hit in 2016.

“That will make shopping this holiday season a lot easier,” Cozens joked.

Cozens, a left-handed-hitting rightfielder, hit .276 with 40 home runs and 125 RBIs for the Double A Reading Fightin Phils. He was named Eastern League MVP. During his acceptance speech at Monday’s awards luncheon, Cozens thanked his Reading teammate, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, for pushing him to his power heights. Hoskins also had a huge season with the bat. He hit 38 homers and had 116 RBIs on his way to becoming the Eastern League’s Rookie of the Year. Night after night in Reading, Cozens and Hoskins staged a friendly power competition. At the end of the season, they shared the Paul Owens Award, given annually to the Phillies’ minor-league player of the year.

Cozens, 22, recently finished a 25-game hitch in the Dominican winter league. Despite hitting just .165 for the Aguilas club, he had four home runs — all against lefty pitching, which has been a nemesis.

Cozens, a 6-6, 250-pound behemoth, made some off-the-field news in the DR when he was involved in a pregame fight with teammate Boog Powell, a Seattle Mariners prospect. Cozens downplayed the incident.

“Just a little boys-being-boys type thing,” he said. “I feel like it was blown out of proportion like almost everything is these days. But, after it happened we became good friends. It was more the level of respect there and I’d say we’re still friends, so it’s good.”

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said the incident was in the past and would have no long-range ramifications for Cozens.

“There is no concern,” Klentak said. “Dylan is an intense kid and he plays the game really hard. That is a good thing. If you’ve watched that, you can see that in his at-bats and when he runs the bases and is running around in the outfield. That’s just his style of play. That aggressive nature at times can boil over. You hope that it doesn’t boil over into altercations with teammates. But we have no long-term concerns with that at all.”

Cozens was recently added to the 40-man roster and will be in big-league spring training camp. Though he projects to open the 2017 season at Triple A, he’s conceding nothing.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to get better, turn some heads and make people notice and hopefully get called up as soon as possible,” he said. 

Plate discipline and strike-zone management are the areas in which Cozens needs the most improvement. He struck out 186 times and walked 61 times in 134 games in 2016. Phillies officials would like to see the strikeouts come down.
 
“I’m learning how to take my walks more often, having better strike-zone judgment, maybe not chase after as many pitches,” Cozens said. “I want to be aggressive, but if they don’t want to pitch to me, just take a walk. I feel like I did not do a good job of that and it’s something I can improve on next year.”