Hamels struggles in Phillies' opening-day defeat

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Hamels struggles in Phillies' opening-day defeat

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ATLANTA -- It’s now safe to say there’s something about the first start of a season that just doesn’t sit right with Cole Hamels.

The 29-year-old lefty made his first career opening-day start on Monday night and it was not a good one. After a brilliant spring training in which he allowed just two earned runs and did not give up a homer in 19 innings, he was pounded by the Atlanta Braves in a 7-5 loss at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Hamels gave up seven hits and five runs in five innings. Five of the seven hits he allowed were for extra bases and three were homers -- booming homers -- accounting for four runs.

In his last five season debuts, Hamels has allowed 23 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings (9.55 ERA).

What gives?

“I don’t know,” he said. “You don’t want to (pitch poorly). You want to be able to pitch your best. It’s not like I go out there and try to lose.

“I try to win every game and get the team headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that.

“I have to bear down in my next start and execute pitch after pitch after pitch.”

Can Hamels do that?

Of course, he can. After losing his debut to Miami last season, he won 10 of his next 12 decisions, including eight in a row.

Pitch execution was Hamels’ downfall on this night. He made a number of mistakes over the heart of the plate and paid for them.

“He wasn’t as sharp as he usually is,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “He had trouble getting the ball out of the big part of the plate. At the same time, you have to give (the Braves) credit. They hit some balls hard.”

In the first inning, Hamels walked Jason Heyward with one out and then allowed a cannonading two-run homer to right to Freddie Freeman on a 2-1 fastball down the middle.

The home run brought the huge crowd of 51,456 to its feet. The crowd was loud and spirited all night and it definitely gave the Braves a lift.

In the second inning, Hamels grooved a 3-0 fastball to the first hitter, Dan Uggla, and he drove it out to left as the Braves took a 3-0 lead.

Hamels was surprised that Uggla had the green light.

“A little bit,” he said. “But if I make the right pitch then he rolls over on it and he looks bad. But unfortunately I guess I look bad in that case.”

Hamels gave up a double and an RBI single in the third and a solo homer to newcomer Justin Upton on a 1-2 cutter in the fifth.

Upton’s homer came after the Phils had made it a 4-3 game and chased Atlanta starter Tim Hudson in the fifth. Chase Utley’s two-run single was the big hit in the inning. The Phils had a chance to keep pouring it on after Hudson left, but lefty reliever Luis Avilan struck out Ryan Howard with two men in scoring position. Avilan then walked Michael Young intentionally before getting Domonic Brown on a ground ball to preserve the lead.

Atlanta cushioned its lead with two runs off Chad Durbin in the sixth. Durbin did not retire any of the three batters he faced.

“Every time we got close they pulled away and we couldn’t catch them,” Manuel said.

“We had opportunities to tie the game and we didn’t get the big hit,” Utley said. “The Braves are a good team. They have some power in their lineup and they showed it tonight.”

Playing for the first time on opening day since 2010, Utley was a bright spot in defeat. He had three hits, including his 200th career homer, and a triple, and drove in three runs.

“I’ve worked hard to get to this point,” said Utley, who constantly battles a degenerative knee condition to get on the field.

Another bright spot: Ben Revere’s magnificent 11-pitch at-bat, which helped wear down Hudson in the fifth. Revere batted leadoff (see story). He singled, walked and scored a run.

And so opening day is over. The Phillies are 0-1 with a day off Tuesday and Roy Halladay, coming off a shaky spring, on the mound Wednesday night.

“Obviously you want to win the first game,” Utley said. “But I think we have a few more to go. We’ll try to learn from this one and move on.”

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Jake Thompson aims to follow Mark Leiter Jr.'s lead

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Jake Thompson aims to follow Mark Leiter Jr.'s lead

Phillies (46-79) vs. Marlins (62-63)
1:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies got back in the win column on Wednesday night after a pair of losses during Tuesday's doubleheader. The Phils aim for their second straight four-game split with Jake Thompson getting called up for the start. Former Phillies right-hander Vance Worley will take the hill for the Marlins.

Here are five things to know for the series finale on Thursday afternoon:

1. Calling on Thompson
Thompson returns to the rotation for the first time in three weeks after a lackluster outing in Anaheim on Aug. 2.

Thompson has made only five appearances this season, including two starts. Before allowing seven runs (two earned) on nine hits in five innings against the Angels, he threw five shutout innings in a spot start against the Braves at home. 

In 15 innings this year, he's allowed 12 runs on 20 hits (and seven walks). He's struck out 10 batters and allowed four home runs, three of which came against the Angels. 

The 23-year-old righty has made three starts in Triple A Lehigh Valley in the last few weeks. He had one quality start against Charlotte, the White Sox's Triple A team, but in 17 1/3 innings he has given up 21 hits and 10 runs. He's even walked 10 compared to just 14 strikeouts. 

He has a 4.20 ERA this season, but his peripherals suggest he's been much worse than that, particularly with his high walk and low strikeout rates. He has yet to face the Marlins in his career before Thursday.

2. Unleash the Vanimal
Worley, who spent his first few seasons in Philadelphia, returns to Citizens Bank Park for just the third time as an opposing player.

He's spent the entire season in the Marlins' system and has faced the Phillies twice in relief earlier this season, both times at Marlins Park. In four innings, he's allowed three runs, all of which came in one outing.

The "Vanimal" is back in the Marlins' rotation after spending over a month in relief. The 29-year-old righty has a 3.08 ERA in his last five starts and the team is 4-1 in his starts. His peripherals aren't ideal with just an 11-9 K-BB rate while allowing 23 hits in 26 1/3 innings. However, he's allowed only one home run, though all five starts came in pitcher's parks.

He has a 4.82 ERA in 56 innings this season and his strikeout rate is near his career low. Worley has been able to cut down on both his walks and home runs. He is not close to his 2011 rookie campaign with the Phils, but he's still been a serviceable pitcher in the Marlins' rotation.

Worley's fastball sits around 90 mph and he throws it 90 percent of the time. He throws three different fastballs — a sinker, cutter and four-seamer — while mixing in an occasional curveball.

In 13 career innings against the Phillies, he has a 4.85 ERA. Freddy Galvis is 4 for 6 with a BB against him. Tommy Joseph is 2 for 2 while Maikel Franco is 1 for 2 with a double.

3. Dog days of the rotation
While the Phillies are 33 games under .500, there is plenty to watch down the stretch, particularly in the team's rotation. 

After Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin were placed on the 60-day and 10-day disabled list, respectively, there are now a few rotation spots up for grabs surrounding Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff, now the longest-tenured members of the rotation. Even Eickhoff is getting an extra day between starts after his velocity drop last time around, so there is plenty of flux surrounding this staff.

It's hard not to be reminded of last season, when nearly every member of the rotation saw their season end early of Eickhoff and Jeremy Hellickson. That led to plenty of young starters, including Thompson, getting the chance to show off their stuff in the last month or two of the season. 

That is the benefit and curse of the Hellickson trade. The team no longer has a veteran innings eater, so the last 40 days of the season is a chance for pitchers like Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Thompson to sink or swim. Mark Leiter Jr. kept his hat firmly in the ring with seven shutout innings of one-hit ball on Wednesday (see story).

An interesting wild card in all of this is Henderson Alvarez, who the Phillies signed to a minor-league deal. The former All-Star underwent shoulder surgery for the second consecutive year in 2016 and couldn't find a deal in affiliated ball this season. He was solid for the Long Island Ducks in seven starts and one report had him hitting 98 mph with his fastball. 

You can laugh at independent ball like the Atlantic League all you want, but Rich Hill has made a pretty impressive comeback also starting with the Ducks and there are other success stories to point to.

While Rhys Hoskins and the other hitting prospects will likely grab the headlines for the Phils in the last month or so, how the rotation shakes out will also have a strong affect on next season and even the offseason. If pitchers like Thompson and Leiter don't impress down the stretch, the team may feel compelled to sign more veteran starters to take the innings next year.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Hoskins drilled another homer on Wednesday, his seventh of the year, and is now batting .271/.407/.729 through 14 career games. That's Aaron Judge/Cody Bellinger-esque right now.

Marlins: Another guy hitting like Judge and Bellinger is the man to whom Judge is most often compared: Giancarlo Stanton. He went 0 for 4 on Wendesday but he's up to 46 home runs this year, including 13 in August alone.

5. This and that
• Hill threw nine no-hit innings on Wednesday for the Dodgers before allowing a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. The last pitcher to throw 10 innings in a game? Cliff Lee on April 18, 2012, with the Phillies. 

Before Lee, the last two to do it were both former Phillies, although they each did it before they came to Philadelphia. Both Roy Halladay and Aaron Harang accomplished the feat in 2007.

• The Phillies are 5-6 against the Marlins this season, but they're 3-2 against the Fish at CBP. The Phils went 10-9 last season against Miami, the only team they had a winning record against in division. 

• After facing the Cubs for three games this weekend, the Phillies play 17 straight games in the division. Believe it or not, the team is actually 25-24 against NL East opponents this year, buoyed by an 11-2 mark against the Braves.

Phillies rookies Mark Leiter Jr., Rhys Hoskins star in shutout

Phillies rookies Mark Leiter Jr., Rhys Hoskins star in shutout

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There were two great storylines in the Phillies' 8-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

One of them was Rhys Hoskins. The hard-hitting rookie drove in five runs with a three-run homer and a two-run double. The homer, 445 feet into the second deck in left, was his seventh, all in the last 10 games. This game is obsessed with power and if the 24-year-old from Sacramento keeps this up, this town will soon be obsessed with him.

But as compelling as Hoskins' performance was in this game, it might have ranked second best on the night, especially when you look at it this way: Hoskins has been a top Phillies prospect for a couple of years now. He hit 38 homers in Double A last year and 29 more in Triple A before coming up earlier this month. He averaged 99 RBIs over his first three full minor-league seasons. People were eagerly awaiting his arrival and his early results in the major leagues aren't a complete surprise.

That brings us to the other great storyline in Wednesday's win. The top storyline.

Mark Leiter Jr. does not have Hoskins' minor-league credentials. He never made one of those top-10 prospects lists or was considered for the Futures Game. Heck, he didn't even get an invite to big-league spring training camp this year. He was a 22nd-round draft pick out of that baseball powerhouse known as the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He was an underdog, just a kid looking for a chance, from the moment he signed.

But in addition to being an underdog, he's a grinder, a determined bulldog who exudes Jersey toughness, pitching savvy and a full menu of pitches that he knows how to execute.

"Every day you come in and try to prove yourself," Leiter said. "You've got to believe in yourself, and when you get opportunities, you have to try to do your best."

Leiter was the story of Wednesday night's win because of what happened on Tuesday. The Phillies were swept by the Marlins in a doubleheader. Phillies pitching gave up 27 hits and 19 runs in the doubleheader, and the bullpen had to pick up 7 2/3 innings in the nightcap.

So Leiter had to be really good against a lineup that featured three big bats in Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. And he had to stick around a while to help a beat-up bullpen.

He succeeded on all fronts, pitching seven innings of shutout ball and giving up just one hit.

"I don’t know who my favorite player is, either Leiter or Hoskins right now," a pleased manager Pete Mackanin said after the win. "I’m trying to make a decision on that. Right now they’re about tied.

"Mark saved the bullpen. It was a sorely needed outing."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998.

After Wednesday's game, the younger Leiter checked his phone.

"Great job," was the text message from his dad.

Leiter opened the game with five no-hit innings. He struck out five in the first two innings. He got big run support thanks to a five-run third inning when the Phils hit for the cycle and Hoskins clubbed a three-run homer after actually asking Mackanin if he should simply try to move the runners. Mackanin laughed and told Hoskins, "We're paying you to drive in runs." Hoskins obliged.

"Rhys is a great hitter having a great year," Leiter said. "It's fun to see him come up and having that success and contribute to us scoring a lot of runs."

Leiter watched from the dugout as the Marlins lit up Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta on Tuesday. That did not create any anxiety in the 26-year-old right-hander. The guy doesn't get rattled.

"I just tried to command the strike zone and get ahead early," he said. "They have a great lineup over there. The key is getting ahead and keeping guys off balance as much as you can. It's the big leagues, so you have to be good every time. Every lineup can hurt you. You have to execute.

"The most important thing was going deep into the game and giving the guys in the bullpen a blow. You can't go out there and chase strikeouts. You have to try to say within yourself and get outs."

Leiter retired Stanton — owner of a majors-best 46 homers — three times.

"He's locked in," Leiter said. "You know he's in the lineup. You have to try to make sure no one is on base when he comes up and then keep him off balance. He's having a special season, and as a fan of baseball, it's fun to watch. I don't want to see me on too many of those highlights, but he's having a great year. He's got a chance at 60 or 61 homers. It hasn’t been done in a long time."

Leiter's role remains undefined. Basically, he is a swingman, someone who can pitch as a long reliever or make spot starts, like this one. Those guys are valuable to clubs.

Either way, Leiter has put himself on the map this season. Not bad for a guy who was so far off the radar that he didn't even get an invite to big-league camp in the spring.

"He's made a great impression," Mackanin said.