Confident De Fratus ready to return to majors

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Confident De Fratus ready to return to majors

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- For a ballplayer, there can be no worse feeling than being demoted to the minors. But for Justin De Fratus, a righty who figured to have a role in the Phillies’ bullpen this season, being sent back to the minors was particularly tough.

With his hard slider and above-average fastball, De Fratus was ready to step into a meaningful role for Ryne Sandberg with the Phillies. The problem was Sandberg didn’t seem to trust De Fratus, using his just four times during the first month of the season.

“The season did not go how I planned and it did not go how the Phillies planned,” De Fratus said.

De Fratus, 26, didn’t give Sandberg much reason to go to him. In five innings in the big leagues, the right-hander allowed four runs on a pair of homers. One of those long balls came in an April 12 game against Giancarlo Stanton and the Marlins with the Phillies clinging to a narrow, two-run lead in the seventh inning.

That was De Fratus’ last game in the majors. It was also when he was forced to take a bit of personal inventory.  

“The answer I give is I never lost any confidence,” De Fratus said after Lehigh Valley’s 7-1 victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday at Coca-Cola Park. “The thing was I had more confidence this year than any other year.”

There was no reason why De Fratus shouldn’t have felt confident. In parts of three seasons in the big leagues, De Fratus posted a 3.67 ERA in 76 games with 53 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings. A hard thrower, De Fratus sometimes struggled with his command, issuing 33 walks. However, he was good at keeping the ball in the park, allowing just three homers and holding the opposition to a .236 batting average.

With those numbers it was easy to be optimistic about De Fratus holding down a significant role in the Phils’ 'pen. But when Sandberg didn’t use De Fratus in certain situations, one had to wonder how the pitcher was dealing with issue.

De Fratus figured out quickly that he was a mess mechanically.

“I was just lost mechanically,” De Fratus said. “I didn’t know what was going on or what was happening.”

The problem was De Fratus was watching and copying other pitchers. But what worked for others didn’t always work for him.

“I was watching too much of other pitchers, and you see pitchers do well and you try to emulate it and sometimes you forget what you do well,” De Fratus said. “Some of those things were unintentionally implemented and I got out of whack. I had to stop trying to be someone else and do what comes naturally. Once I came to that realization, it’s been back on track.”

Regaining his confidence as well as perspective about the demotion was a task the pitcher jumped into headfirst. His first order of business was to dig up video of his good outings to study how he pitched when things were going well. The idea, De Fratus said, was to get those performances “burned in my head.”

If De Fratus was lost when he was sent down, he found himself pretty quickly. In 12 games for Lehigh Valley, De Fratus has a 2.05 ERA with three saves, four holds and 11 strikeouts in 13 innings. Better yet, he’s allowed just three walks and is riding a six-game, seven-inning scoreless streak in which he’s given up just two hits and no walks.

He’s ready to get back to Philadelphia.

“Mentally I have a better understanding of what it takes to pitch [in the majors] and it’s just something I just had to go back and do some self reflection on my career and find some answers,” he said.

Still, even though the Phillies have the second-worst bullpen ERA in the National League, De Fratus isn’t campaigning to get his old job back. He’ll be back when the time is right.

“No one wants to be sent down, but I feel I’m ready and I’m back to a good spot mechanically,” De Fratus said.

Phillies place Vince Velasquez on 60-day DL; call up reliever Yacksel Rios

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Phillies place Vince Velasquez on 60-day DL; call up reliever Yacksel Rios

The Phillies have made a flurry of moves ahead of Tuesday's doubleheader vs. the Marlins.

Vince Velasquez (finger) is heading to the 60-day disabled list, effectively ending his season. Velasquez left his last start after just one inning on August 10 after surrendering three runs.

In a corresponding move, the Phillies have called up RHP Yacksel Rios from Triple A. The 24-year-old has a combined 1.92 ERA in 37 games while splitting time between Reading and Lehigh Valley. 

Nick Pivetta was officially recalled from the minors to start Game 2 of today's doubleheader, while Zach Eflin (shoulder) was placed on the 10-day disabled list. 

More coming...

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Let's play two; Nola tries to slow down Stanton

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Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Let's play two; Nola tries to slow down Stanton

Phillies (45-77) vs. Marlins (60-62)
Game 1 - 4:05 p.m., Game 2 - TBD on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Let's play two!

The Phillies come back from the West Coast to play a doubleheader with the Marlins tonight. The Phils send their ace to the mound in Game 1 and he'll try to keep the best slugger in baseball in the yard.

Here are five things to know for the games.

1. Slugging it out
Giancarlo Stanton hits baseballs very hard and very far. 

The major league leader in home runs (45) has been especially hot since July 5. The numbers are just insane. In a 39-game span, he has 24 homers and 47 RBIs with a slash line of .333/.453/.908. His OPS in that span is a ridiculous 1.361. At his current pace, the 27-year-old outfielder — who just cleared waivers ... wink, wink —  is projected to hit 60 homers.

For the Phillies, their own promising young slugger has emerged. After struggling during his first few MLB games at Citizens Bank Park, left fielder (?) Rhys Hoskins had a torrid road trip in his native California. After hitting his first big league homer in San Diego, Hoskins went off. In 25 at-bats, Hoskins went 8 for 25 (.320) with five homers and eight RBIs. 

He also showed off his impressive plate discipline, walking five times with just three strikeouts. It's a small sample size, but Hoskins' minor league skills are manifesting with the big club. 

2. Ace in the deck
Aaron Nola came back down to earth in his last appearance against the Giants, but he'd been stellar his previous 10 starts. His ERA dipped below three in San Francisco before the Giants tagged him for five runs over five innings. It ended a string of 10 straight starts going six innings and allowing two runs or less for Nola. 

Nola struggled with his command last Thursday, walking three batters. It was just the third time this season Nola has walked three or more hitters in 20 starts. Overall he's 9-8 with a 3.26 ERA, but the most promising thing about Nola is the feel he's getting for his changeup and recent ability he's shown to strike people out. He has 128 strikeouts in 124 1/3 innings.

The Marlins send righty Dan Straily to the mound. The 28-year-old has been Miami's most consistent starter this season. In 25 starts, he's 7-8 with a solid 3.80 ERA in 139 2/3 innings. 

Straily isn't going to wow you with his stuff. He throws a four-seam fastball in the low 90s which he'll throw more than half the time. He'll mostly throw a slider (27.1 percent) off his fastball but will mix in his changeup (15.4) and the occasional curveball (3.4)

3. Welcome back, Nick
Coming off an impressive 11-strikeout performance against the Padres, rookie Nick Pivetta was sent down to the minors. It wasn't a performance issue. The team just needed to create roster flexibility before deciding to put Odubel Herrera on the DL.

Pivetta clearly has big-league stuff, but he's struggled with consistency and hasn't been able to give the Phils length in his starts. Even in his last outing against the Padres, he lasted just five innings, throwing 96 pitches. Pivetta has flashed plenty but he's struggled with the long ball. He's given up 19 home runs in 18 starts. Stanton and Marcell Ozuna will be licking their chops after having to face Nola in Game 1.

Conversely, the Marlins' Game 2 starter has been excellent over his last four starts. Jose Urena is 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. Opponents are hitting just .211 off the 25-year-old righty in that span. Urena started the season as the Marlins' long man out of the bullpen, but his last 20 appearances have been starts.

Urena will mostly throw a mid-90s four-seam fastball but isn't a strikeout pitcher (76 punch outs in 109 1/3 innings). He'll throw his slider and changeup at about the same rate. He has a curve in his arsenal but rarely throws it.

4. Player to watch
Phillies: Since it's a doubleheader, let's pick two players. Hoskins and Nola are the obvious choices, so let's go with Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro

Both rookies have shined at times. Williams has tapered off a tad since a hot start, collecting just one extra-base hit in his last 42 at-bats. Alfaro had a solid road trip, going 5 for 16 with his first big league homer. The free-swinging catcher has yet to walk since his call up.

Marlins: It's Stanton. How could it be anyone else? He has a legitimate chance to be the first non-PED enhanced player to hit 60 home runs since Roger Maris hit 61 in 1961. As mentioned, he's also cleared waivers and could be part of a blockbuster trade by the end of this season or this winter. Could the Phillies be one of the teams bidding for his services? Stay tuned.

5. This and that
• Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford has played the last two games at third base. A shortstop by trade, Crawford has been scorching hot since returning from an injury and could get a look at the hot corner in September.

• The reason for Crawford's possible move to third base? Maikel Franco has been in a horrendous slump. Franco is hitting just .203 in August with just one homer and four RBIs. For the season he's hitting just .224 with a paltry .277 OBP.

• Lost in Stanton's laser show is the phenomenal play of outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Ozuna has a slash line of .306/.368/.539 with 27 homers and 93 RBIs.

• The Phillies and Marlins have split eight games this season. After four games at CBP this week, they'll meet for a four-game set in Miami and a three-game series back in Philly in September.