Bats and bullpen push Phillies to win at Wrigley

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Bats and bullpen push Phillies to win at Wrigley

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO – The Phillies came into Wrigley Field on the heels of two losses in Texas in which the bullpen could not protect a late lead.

So pretty much the last thing Phillies fans wanted to see Friday afternoon was Ryne Sandberg popping out of the dugout with one out in the sixth inning to remove a starting pitcher who was pitching with a lead and doing quite well.

Really? You’re entrusting this bullpen to get 11 outs, Ryno?

Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, Antonio Bastardo, Mario Hollands and Jeff Manship made Sandberg’s decision to go to the ‘pen early a good one, as they combined for 3 2/3 shutout innings in the Phillies’ 7-2 win over the Chicago Cubs at the 100th season opener at Wrigley Field (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies are 2-2 on the young season.

They’d be 4-0 if the bullpen had pitched as effectively in Texas as it did Friday at chilly Wrigley, where the game-time temperature was 38 degrees with a wind chill of 28.

The offense, a major concern in spring training, continued to click as the Phillies out-hit the Cubs, 11-3. Chase Utley belted a two-run homer to give the Phils the lead in the fifth inning and added an RBI single in the seventh. Utley is 7 for 18 (.389) on the young season. John Mayberry Jr. came off the bench with a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the eighth to push the Phillies’ lead to four runs. Mayberry has four RBIs in two pinch-hit at-bats so far.

The extra cushion made life a little less stressful on the relievers, but there was no denying their effectiveness: None of them gave up a hit. Bastardo walked two batters in the eighth, but kept it together and rolled an inning-ending double play ball.

Roberto Hernandez became the second Phillies’ starter to get a win as he held the Cubs to two runs over 5 1/3 innings.

Hernandez was at 73 pitches when Sandberg came out to get him after he struck out the first batter in the bottom of the sixth.

The decision to remove Hernandez immediately raised eyebrows, but the manager had his reasons.

“I had an eye on him,” Sandberg said. “He hadn't really thrown to hitters in nine days because of rain. He had a simulated game in the cage in Florida, which wasn't real life at all. His velocity went down to 85, 86 (mph). He still had movement on the ball, but they had the middle of the lineup -- the left-handed bats -- coming up so I elected to go with Diekman there.”

The lefty Diekman made quick work of two lefty hitters and De Fratus, who hadn’t pitched since spring training, got the third on opening the bottom of the seventh.

The lefty hitters were a big concern to Sandberg because the wind was blowing out to right at 23 mph. He figured Diekman had a better chance of neutralizing them than Hernandez, a right-handed sinkerballer.

Sandberg said it took no extra nerve to go to his bullpen, though he would have been second-guessed all the way back to Philly if the ‘pen didn’t come through.

“The guys in the bullpen need to pitch,” he said. “It's early in the season. They need that experience. To see them come through, like Hollands two days in a row, that's all part of it. The guys are going to pitch. I've already seen improvement.

“They all chipped in and did a good job with matchups.”

Sandberg managed as if this was a must-win and for him it probably was, though he wouldn’t admit it. These are the Cubs, after all, the team with which he enjoyed a Hall of Fame playing career, the team he dreamed of managing until he had to go to Philadelphia to find managerial upward mobility. Sandberg was part of a Hall of Fame foursome, joining Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins in throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.

“Well, it was Opening Day and that’s a big deal out here,” Sandberg said. “It’s a big deal at Wrigley Field today. It’s good to take the first game and set the tone for the series. We’ll get after it again tomorrow.”

By going deep into his bullpen, Sandberg could have manpower issues in the coming days. The Phils are scheduled to play Saturday, Sunday and Monday before their next off day. However, none of the relievers who worked Saturday were extended much. Diekman threw 12 pitches, De Fratus 13, Bastardo 18, Hollands 10 and Manship 2.

Sandberg heard a few boos from the chilly crowd when he brought Manship in to face the final batter of the game. Sandberg just wanted Manship to get some work before cobwebs developed on his body. Brad Lincoln still has not appeared in a game. Sandberg said Lincoln was healthy. The right-hander was acquired from Toronto in the offseason and was a shoo-in to make the team because he is out of minor-league options.

Tonight's lineup: Phillies load up with righties vs. White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon

Tonight's lineup: Phillies load up with righties vs. White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon

The Phillies are loading up with right-handed hitters for Tuesday's series opener at U.S. Cellular Field against White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon.

Odubel Herrera is out of the lineup and Aaron Altherr takes his place in center field. Peter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel are in the outfield corners. 

Carlos Ruiz serves as the designated hitter against Rodon, who has huge platoon splits. Righties have hit .305/.365/.484 against Rodon; lefties have hit .220/.268/.286.

Rodon has a changeup to stave off right-handed hitters, but he's used it only eight percent of the time this season. He's thrown his 94 mph fastball, sinker or slider with 92 percent frequency (see game notes).

Emmanuel Burris gets a start at second base.

Ryan Howard is out of the lineup. U.S. Cellular Field is the only active stadium in which he's never played. The Phillies haven't been there since 2004.

1. Peter Bourjos, RF
2. Aaron Altherr, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Carlos Ruiz, DH
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Tyler Goeddel, LF
9. Emmanuel Burris, 2B

Suspended Phillies pitcher Alec Asher to begin rehab assignment

Suspended Phillies pitcher Alec Asher to begin rehab assignment

Phillies right-handed starting pitcher Alec Asher, who was suspended 80 games in late May for PEDs, will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday in the Gulf Coast League.

Asher, 24, was 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in four starts with Triple A Lehigh Valley before the ban was handed down.

The Phillies will likely stretch him back out and get a look at him again in September. They've dealt with various injuries to starting pitchers, including Aaron Nola (elbow) and Zach Eflin (knees, foot). Plus, there's the possibility Vince Velasquez is shut down at some point in September. He is five innings shy of matching his career high. That could open up a spot in the rotation for Asher.

Asher debuted with the Phils last Aug. 30 after being acquired from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade. He went 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA in seven starts last season but pitched well in the minors early this year thanks to the addition of a two-seam fastball.

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: First trip to Chicago's South Side since 2004

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: First trip to Chicago's South Side since 2004

Phillies (58-67) at White Sox (59-64)
8:10 p.m. on CSN

After going 2-4 on a six-game homestand against the Dodgers and Cardinals, the Phillies visit the White Sox for a brief two-game series. Rarely does interleague play take the Phils to the South Side of Chicago. 

How rarely?

1. The last time ...
The last time the Phillies were in Chicago to take on the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field was 2004. 

The series was so long ago that Ryan Howard hadn't yet made his major-league debut. Chase Utley was still a part-time player. Carlos Ruiz was wrapping up his first full season at Double A.

It was so long ago that Ricky Ledee, Tomas Perez and Doug Glanville were in the Phillies' lineup, and Frank Thomas was the White Sox DH. 

Since interleague play began in 1997, the only other park the Phillies have visited as sparingly as U.S. Cellular Field is Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Phils are 1-2 at both AL Central fields. 

At the beginning of the season it looked like this would be another reunion for the Phils and Jimmy Rollins, but the shortstop was designated for assignment by the White Sox after hitting .221 through 41 games.

2. Thompson's turn
Jake Thompson makes his fourth big-league start after going 1-2 with a 8.79 ERA in his first three. 

It's been a true struggle so far for Thompson, who has allowed 14 runs in 14⅓ innings on 14 hits and nine walks. He's walked multiple batters each game, and so far just 57.5 percent of his pitches have been strikes. 

Thompson keeps falling behind hitters with men on base, which is a recipe for disaster. It just seems like he's not finishing pitches out of the stretch. Or maybe he's tried too hard to evade solid contact and has nibbled instead. Whatever the case, it hasn't worked and Thompson will need to fix it to figure out what kind of pitcher he needs to be in the majors. 

Thompson had a 1.21 ERA in his final 11 starts at Triple A. The talent is there. The execution just hasn't been. A lot of times, young pitchers come up and struggle before figuring it out. The early successes of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and even Zach Eflin (after his first start) may cause you to forget that.

3. The book on Rodon
The Phillies for the first time face 23-year-old White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon, who was drafted third overall in 2014, four picks ahead of Nola.

Rodon is one of the only players in that entire draft who made it to the majors faster than Nola. He came up last season and went 9-6 with a 3.75 ERA for the White Sox, striking out 139 batters in 139⅓ innings but walking 71. 

This season, Rodon is 3-8 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 20 starts. It's been a rocky season, but he's been much better of late. Rodon missed almost all of July with a sprained wrist he suffered falling down the dugout steps. He's returned to pitch well in August, giving up four earned runs in 18 innings.

Rodon's control has improved significantly this season — he's walked 3.0 batters per nine innings after walking 4.6 as a rookie.

Rodon is a four-pitch pitcher with a four-seam fastball and sinker that average 94 mph, a slider at 87 and a changeup at 84. He throws the changeup just eight percent of the time.

Right-handed hitters have pounded Rodon this season, hitting .305/.365/.484. Lefties have hit just .220/.268/.286. Expect to see Tommy Joseph at first base and perhaps Tyler Goeddel in the outfield.

4. Scouting the Sox
The White Sox got off to a fast start this season, going 23-10 through May 9. They're 18 games under .500 since.

That early-season surge was built on timely offense and lights-out work from the bullpen. It probably inflated expectations for what is really just an average American League team.

Leadoff man Adam Eaton and veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera have had solid years for the Sox. Eaton has hit .276 with a .357 OBP and 37 extra-base hits. Cabrera has hit .295 with a .778 OPS.

The White Sox needed and still need more out of Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier, though. Abreu is hitting a respectable .283/.338/.447 but has just 16 home runs. And that's with Abreu heating up this month, hitting .361 with five homers. The big Cuban slugger has declined in each of his three seasons in the majors, his OPS dropping from .964 to .849 to .785. He hit 36 homers as a rookie and 30 last season.

Frazier, per usual, has hit for power with 31 homers and 76 RBIs. But he's hitting just .212 with a .295 on-base percentage, and those 31 homers account for one-third of his hits. He's also striking out a lot, on pace for 160.

The White Sox are too top-heavy a team. Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are a solid one-two punch atop the rotation. On paper, Abreu and Frazier should be a productive middle-of-the-order pairing. Eaton and Cabrera are adequate table-setters. And high-priced closer David Robertson still has great stuff. But the formula just hasn't led to wins in 2016.

5. This and that
• This is the only week the rest of the season the Phillies have two off days (Monday and Thursday).

• The Phils face the White Sox in another two-game series Sept. 20-21 at Citizens Bank Park.

• The Phillies have the fifth-best interleague record in the NL this season at 8-8. 

• The Phils are 14-14 against left-handed starting pitchers.