Helton denies tagging Rollins in Phillies' loss

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Helton denies tagging Rollins in Phillies' loss

BOX SCORE

In three of the five games Ryne Sandberg has managed for the Phillies, the offense has produced just three hits.

Obviously, all three of those games ended up being losses.

Tuesday night’s three-hitter resulted in a 5-3 loss to end a modest two-game winning streak for the Phillies (see Instant Replay), but maybe if Jimmy Rollins was able to get one hit the result would have been different.

With two on and two outs in the seventh inning, Rollins ripped a 1-2 pitch from reliever Rex Brothers down the third-base line that seemed to be rolling to the corner for a two-run double. Even when third baseman Nolan Arenado made a sensational diving stab to keep the ball in the infield, it looked like Rollins had a single at the very least.

But along with the great stop, Arenado also made a great throw. With his momentum carrying him into foul ground, Arenado made a strong, one-hop throw that pulled Gold Glove first baseman Todd Helton off the bag. With a quick downward swipe, Helton made what replays seemed to show a whiff on the tag to get Rollins at first. Still, first-base umpire Jim Wolf called Rollins out.

Apparently, Helton sold the tag well enough to fool both Wolf and Rollins. That’s because afterwards, Helton says he never touched Rollins.

“I didn’t tag him,” Helton said of the bang-bang play. “I tried to, but I didn’t tag him.”

That admission differed from Rollins’ reaction and his explanation to Sandberg. After running past first base -- and never touching it -- Rollins did not argue the call. It seemed as if everyone in the ballpark thought he was safe but him. And because Rollins did not react other than to wait for someone to bring him his glove and cap before taking his position in the field, first-base coach Wally Joyner didn’t argue the call.

Neither did Sandberg.

“It looked like a close play at first, but J-Roll felt some contact over there, he felt like a tag was applied,” Sandberg said.

“That was the biggest thing, Jimmy had no argument. He told me later he felt something over there on his back. From my angle, I just saw a throw that was slightly up the line with a swipe tag. I based it on Jimmy’s reaction.”

Had Rollins beat the throw, the bases would have been loaded with two outs and Carlos Ruiz at the plate. Or if Arenado’s glove had been an inch lower or higher, the game could have been tied with Ruiz at the plate.

“That was a game-saving play,” Sandberg said. “Two men on and a possible double, who knows?”

That was the Phillies’ best chance to score, and that even includes the three runs in the third inning when they got two singles, a walk and an error by Helton to rally to within two runs. But Rockies’ lefty Jorge de la Rosa held the Phillies in check on three hits and three walks into the seventh, making the five early runs stand up.

Nevertheless, spot starter Tyler Cloyd gave the Phillies a chance despite allowing three in the first highlighted by a long homer from Troy Tulowitzki and one in each of the second and third innings. After the second inning, Cloyd retired 13 of the final 16 he faced and had just two three-ball counts.

“I was just trying to do too much, trying to be too fine,” Cloyd said. “Mechanics wore down a little bit. Later on, I settled down and started trusting that my stuff was going to go where I wanted it to go.”

Sandberg lauded Cloyd for pitching through six innings after such a shaky start. However, Sandberg explained, starting pitching sets the tone for the game and with five runs before the bottom of the third, the hitters were at a disadvantage.

Then again, starting pitching has put the Phillies at a disadvantage a lot during the second-half swoon. Since the All-Star break, the Phillies’ starters are 6-17 with a major-league worst 5.79 ERA. The next closest team, Toronto, is nearly a full run a game better than the Phils’ starters with a 4.82 ERA since the break.

“Starting pitching really sets the tone for the game and letting the offense do the things,” Sandberg said. “When the pitcher can put up some early zeroes, I think the offense feels better about that. And then the offense can work on getting some runs on the board. But we needed some innings out of Cloyd and he put the three zeros up there at the end, which helped the bullpen and it gave us a chance to come back. We were still in the game for the last three or four innings.”

The series continues on Wednesday night when Cliff Lee (10-6, 3.19) faces right-hander Juan Nicasio (7-6, 4.94). Lee goes into the game searching for his first win since July 5.

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.

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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

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