Hamels hurt by location issues in Phils' loss to Tribe

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Hamels hurt by location issues in Phils' loss to Tribe

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As far as anyone can tell, there is nothing physically wrong with Cole Hamels. He isn’t injured and his mechanics are just fine. Manager Charlie Manuel said Hamels’ repertoire of pitches still have the same zip on them like always.

Stuff-wise, Hamels still has it.

It’s just that he doesn’t always know where it’s going.

Hamels needed 106 pitches to get through five innings of the Phillies’ 10-4 loss to the hard-hitting Cleveland Indians on Wednesday afternoon. The loss snapped the Phillies’ season-best three-game winning streak and sent Hamels to 1-6 with a 4.61 ERA in nine starts (see Instant Replay).

Sure, the Phillies have scored just 17 runs in the 56 2/3 innings Hamels has been on the mound this season. But if the Phillies were going to give Hamels the run support he needed on Wednesday, they would have had to score a season-high in runs.

And obviously Wednesday wasn’t the Phillies’ best game of the year.

In the meantime, Manuel and Hamels are left to ponder why the pitcher has had such a difficult time this year. Compounded with Roy Halladay’s injury that will sideline him for the majority of the season, the Phillies are having trouble in the one area where they were set up the best.

Now, the Opening Day starter is having trouble throwing strikes.

“If you look, the way he’s throwing the ball, I don’t think there’s nothing with his arm or nothing, because his velocity is good, he’s using his pitches,” Manuel said. “Right now, the last few games, he’s having trouble locating his pitches, commanding his pitches, commanding the strike zone.”

Hamels allowed five runs on six hits, a pair of walks and a hit batsman on Wednesday. Of those six hits, five of them went for extra-bases, including two homers. Against the first 12 hitters he faced, Hamels was strapped with seven three-ball counts. Though the Phillies’ offense answered with three runs to make it a 5-3 game when Hamels departed, the bullpen couldn’t keep it close.

Still, Hamels agrees with Manuel that his problems this season are related to his inability to throw strikes consistently. His 24 walks lead the National League and the nine homers he has allowed are tied with Halladay for the third-most in the league.

Headed into Wednesday’s game, Hamels’ strike percentage was the lowest and his home-run rate is the highest it’s ever been.

Hitters are being patient against Hamels and he hasn’t been able to make them pay.

“I’m constantly making adjustments. I feel healthy, I feel strong. I’m able to throw all four pitches for strikes at times, but I’m not able to do it nine out of 10 times,” Hamels said. “Especially when you’re not able to do it right off the bat to get ahead of the hitter, you’re not putting them in an uncomfortable at-bat and then you have to nibble away and that’s not what you want to do.

“That’s especially true with certain teams and hitters like Cleveland. They’re very patient hitters. Shoot, they’ve been hot for six weeks, so I just have to keep tinkering until it finally locks in and I feel comfortable with what I’m doing and confident in what I’m doing … and I’m able to go out there and get the results.”

For now, the results haven’t been good. The Phillies are just 1-8 in games started by Hamels, compared to 21-10 in his outings last year. Combined with Halladay, the Phillies are 3-13 when the first two starters of the rotation take the mound.

Don’t cast all the blame on Hamels (or Halladay), though. In the last six games leading into Wednesday’s start, Hamels had allowed just 11 runs and the Phillies were still 1-5 over that span.

“It’s not all on Cole. I mean, he’s gone out and thrown some great games,” said Ryan Howard, who went 0 for 4 with a strikeout in the loss to the Indians. “Today was one of those games that it just wasn’t in his favor today. But we’ve had times where the offense, we haven’t been able to pick him up. You can’t put it all on him.”

The Phillies look to bounce back on Friday when they open a three-game series against the hard-hitting Cincinnati Reds. Here’s how the pitching lines up for the series:

Friday -- Cliff Lee (4-2, 2.86) vs. Tony Cingrani (2-0, 2.89)

Saturday -- Kyle Kendrick (4-1, 2.47) vs. Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 3.76)

Sunday -- Jonathan Pettibone (3-0, 3.41) vs. Homer Bailey (2-3, 3.51).

Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

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Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

With eight games left in the Phillies' season, Pete Mackanin is still playing to win.

After dropping the series opener in Atlanta, 7-2, Friday, Mackanin made several changes to his lineup for Game 2 tonight. His first change is at the top of the order, as Cesar Hernandez sits and Odubel Herrera moves up to the leadoff spot.

The decision to rest Hernandez appears based on his poor career numbers against Atlanta's starter, Julio Teheran. Hernandez is 3-28 against Teheran, while Herrera is 5-23. Teheran is 1-2 this season against the Phillies. He won his previous start against them on Aug. 30, allowing just one run and striking out eight in 6 2/3 innings pitched. 

Herrera has no hits and six strikeouts in his last 12 at-bats. He's also been chasing a lot of pitches outside of the strike zone and has only one walk since Sept. 9. At .281, his batting average is the lowest it has been since Aug. 6.  

J.P. Crawford, who has looked smooth at third base, shifts to second base to accommodate the change. Maikel Franco slots back in at third.

Mackanin's final change is swapping catcher Jorge Alfaro for Cameron Rupp. With the Phillies getting an extended look at Alfaro, Rupp's playing time has recently decreased. This is his first start since Sept. 17 against Oakland.

In his second start for the Phillies, Henderson Alvarez won't have to do much to better Ben Lively's outing Friday night. Lively conceded six hits and five runs before recording an out. Alvarez's start Sunday, when he allowed four runs in five innings, was his first major league game in the past 28 months. An All-Star in 2014, Alvarez's career was derailed by injuries. 

Below is Saturday's lineup:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, LF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. J.P. Crawford, 2B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Henderson Alvarez, P

And the Braves' lineup:

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Ozzie Albies, 2B
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Tyler Flowers, C
5. Matt Adams, 1B
6. Dansby Swanson, SS
7. Rio Ruiz, 3B
8. Jace Peterson, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

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Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella drew a bases-loaded walk off All-Star closer Corey Knebel with one out in the 10th inning, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 on Friday night to tighten their grip on the NL Central.

The Cubs hold a five-game lead with nine days left in the regular season after winning their second straight tense game over the Brewers. Milwaukee dropped into third in the division, 5 1/2 games behind Chicago, after St. Louis beat Pittsburgh earlier Friday.

The Brewers had the tying run at first with one out in the bottom of the 10th, but Eric Sogard was called out at second trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. Shortstop Addison Russell appeared to hold the tag as Sogard's foot lifted off second for a split-second, and the call was confirmed on review (see full recap).

Ryan Goins' hidden-ball trick, grand slam lead Blue Jays over Yankees
TORONTO -- Ryan Goins successfully pulled off a hidden ball trick and hit his second career grand slam, leading the Toronto Blue Jays over Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees 8-1 Friday night and ensuring New York had to wait at least one more day to clinch a playoff berth.

With Todd Frazier on base following a leadoff double in the third, Jose Bautista made a running catch just in front of the right field warning track on Jacoby Ellsbury's one-out drive. Goins caught Bautista's throw while standing near second base, then pretended to toss the ball to pitcher Marco Estrada while slipping in into his glove.

Goins turned his back to Frazier, who had returned to the base, and when Frazier briefly lifted his left foot off the base, Goins tagged him on the left thigh. Frazier insisted he had maintained contact with the base, but umpire Mark Carlson called him out to end the inning (see full recap).

Red Sox rally for win over Reds, extend AL East lead
CINCINNATI -- Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Boston Red Sox extended their AL East lead to four games by overcoming Scooter Gennett's fourth grand slam of the season for a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 (89-64).

Their AL Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam -- a Reds' season record -- in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games -- most in the majors -- after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young (see full recap).

Cardinals rally past Pirates in 9th
PITTSBURGH -- Randal Grichuk scored after an error by Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, capping a frantic ninth-rally that lifted the surging St. Louis Cardinals over Pittsburgh 4-3 on Friday night.

The playoff-chasing Cardinals won their fifth straight, despite trailing by a run entering the ninth.

Stephen Piscotty led off with a double to right against closer Felipe Rivero (5-3), and Jedd Gyorko followed with a pinch-hit RBI single. After Tommy Pham's single, Grichuk pinch-ran for Gyorko at third. He scored when Mercer misplayed Dexter Fowler's sharp groundball.

Former Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio (4-5) got the win after working the eighth and ninth. Fowler and Piscotty had two hits each.

David Freese had an RBI double for the Pirates, who have dropped eight of nine. Rivero blew a save for only the second time in 20 chances this season (see full recap).

Twins stay on track in postseason race with win over Tigers
DETROIT -- Max Kepler and Brian Dozier homered, Byron Buxton had three hits and the playoff-chasing Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 7-3 on Friday night.

Buxton's two-run double in the fourth put the Twins ahead to stay against a Detroit team that announced before the game that manager Brad Ausmus will not be back in 2018.

Minnesota came into the night leading the race for the American League's second wild card by 2 games over Texas and the Los Angeles Angels.

Kyle Gibson (12-10) allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings for the Twins. He struck out six and walked two.

Daniel Norris (4-8) allowed five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Nicholas Castellanos and Ian Kinsler homered for Detroit, but the Tigers dropped to 4-18 in September (see full recap).