Has run started? Hamels, Phils win third straight

070913_cole-hamels.jpg

Has run started? Hamels, Phils win third straight

BOX SCORE

Cole Hamels was kickin’ you-know-what and taking names. The crowd was electric. And the home team won for the third straight day.
 
Yes, it felt a little like old times at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night. With the ballpark in a full roar, Hamels stared down a big threat from the Washington Nationals in the eighth inning and pitched the Phillies to an important 4-2 win (see Instant Replay).
 
“That was the most exciting eighth inning I’ve had in a long time,” Hamels said. “The energy and the intensity were great. It felt like there were 60,000 fans here even though it wasn’t a sellout. That’s what playing in Philly is all about.”
 
The crowd was just 33,502 -- more than 10,000 shy of what the Phillies were drawing during their 257-game sellout streak that ended last August. If they keep playing the brand of ball that they have this month, the crowds will swell again. And, of course, if the Phils keep playing this brand of ball, management will hang on to the veteran players that it has threatened to trade if this team doesn’t make a quick move toward serious contention.
 
The Phils have won six of eight games this month, all against clubs with superior records. They are a game shy of .500 as they send Cliff Lee to the mound on Wednesday night. In the standings, the Phils are 7½ behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East and just 1½ behind second-place Washington.
 
Are the Phillies buyers?
 
Are they sellers?
 
Right now, they are stand-patters. Though GM Ruben Amaro placed huge importance on this 10-game homestand -- the Phils are 4-1 at the halfway point -- there are still three weeks to go before the trade deadline. There’s plenty of time to keep monitoring this team and gauging what it really is, plenty of time to turn this mini-surge into a legitimate run, plenty of time for this mini-surge to prove to be fool’s gold.
 
Michael Young doesn’t want to hear any talk about what lies three weeks ahead.
 
For him, it’s all about the now.
 
“There was so much talk about going on a hot streak and I think that put too much on our plate,” Young said. “We were thinking about games that were a week down the road and that can be counterproductive. We’re doing a much better job bearing down on that night’s game now.”
 
Where did that change in approach come from? A team meeting?
 
“No,” Young said. “No one had to say anything. That just comes from having a veteran team. The vibe we have now is execute that night rather than the big picture.”
 
Young had a big two-run double in support of Hamels in the sixth inning. He was also on the mound with the rest of the infielders when manager Charlie Manuel walked to the mound to speak with Hamels after the Nats loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning. The Phils were up, 4-1, at the time and the game was in the balance.
 
“We knew he wasn’t going to take Cole out,” Young said. “He was just giving him a breather. Cole was the story tonight. It was his game to win for us. He stepped up and did a great job.”
 
With the bases loaded, Hamels struck out Ryan Zimmerman on three pitches, then won a head-to-head battle with Jayson Werth, getting the former Phillie on a full-count fly ball to center.
 
“He threw a heck of a game,” Manuel said. “Absolutely outstanding. I liked everything about it.”
 
Hamels has rebounded from his little mental health break with two straight gems. The pitcher still doesn’t believe the respite was necessary -- he jokingly called Manuel’s trip to the mound in the eighth “a mental breather” -- but pitching coach Rich Dubee’s brainchild may have worked. Hamels has delivered two straight gems and posted back-to-back wins for the first time since last September. He has allowed just three runs over 15 innings in those two starts, walked one and struck out 12.
 
“I have to be accountable,” Hamels said. “I didn’t get the job done early. I need to take it up a notch from here on out. That’s what I’m trying to do, push myself to the highest level I can.”
 
Hamels doesn’t believe management has reached the point where it’s ready to sell, but he’s taking no chances as July 31 approaches.
 
“We have to give it all we can and we’ll rest at the all-star break,” he said. “We know the caliber of team we have. We’ve been underachieving.
 
“I still think we’re one click away from rolling. We’ve got a couple of weeks to really get going.”

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule.