Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 4

Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 4

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NEW YORK -- Jay Bruce singlehandedly beat the Phillies on Wednesday night. The New York Mets' right-fielder hit a pair of home runs and drove in all of his team's runs in a 5-4 win over the Phils at Citi Field.

Bruce put his team up 3-2 with a three-run shot off Vince Velasquez in the sixth. Two innings later, he broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run shot against Edubray Ramos.

Bruce has six homers on the season, four against the Phillies.

The Mets are 30-13 against the Phils since the start of 2015. They have out-homered the Phils, 81-35, since the start of 2015.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez survived traffic on the bases in the first two innings and turned in 1-2-3 innings in the third, fourth and fifth innings. He took a shutout into the sixth inning and that's where the walls came tumbling down. He allowed four hits and a walk in the inning and the Mets took the lead on the three-run homer by Bruce.

Mets starter Robert Gsellman pitched into the eighth inning. He gave up three runs on six hits and a walk. He struck out seven. Gsellman faced one batter in the eighth. That was Aaron Altherr, who doubled and scored the tying run.

The Phillies have scored six runs in the eighth inning the last four games, three times to tie the game and once to take the lead.

Bullpen report
Ramos took the loss. He gave up a leadoff single to Yoenis Cespedes in the eighth, then the two-run homer to Bruce on a 94-mph fastball down the middle.

Addison Reed survived a run in the ninth and got the save for the Mets.

At the plate
The Phils scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings on an RBI ground out by Maikel Franco and an RBI single by Velasquez.

The Phils tied the game in the eighth on a leadoff double by Altherr and a two-out single by Michael Saunders. They cut the Mets' lead to 5-4 in the ninth on a triple by Freddy Galvis and a sacrifice fly by Daniel Nava.

Franco is hitless in his last 21 at-bats.

Bruce has 11 RBIs in five games against the Phils this season.

In the field
Rightfielder Saunders and first baseman Tommy Joseph combined on a 9-3-2 relay to the plate to cut a run in the first inning.

Third baseman Franco collided with Velasquez on a pop up in the sixth and the ball dropped in. Franco was charged with an error. He had called the ball. Velasquez should have cleared out.

Transactions
The Phillies added their second rookie pitcher in 24 hours when Ben Lively was called up to replace reliever Pat Neshek, who was placed on paternity leave. Neshek could be gone for three days. On Tuesday, the Phils added Mark Leiter Jr. Coming to the majors is a dream come true for both pitchers (see story).

Up next
The series concludes on Thursday night with Aaron Nola (1-0, 3.27) opposing Mets' fireballer Noah Syndergaard (1-0, 0.95).

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

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When Aaron Nola pitches like he did Thursday, there aren't too many teams capable of beating him.

Nola was locked in against the Cardinals in the Phillies' 5-1 win, allowing just one run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings with a season-high eight strikeouts (see Instant Replay). His first seven innings were scoreless and his pitch count was at just 89, so he had the chance for his first-ever complete game and the Phillies' first of the season.

But Paul DeJong greeted Nola in the eighth with a solo homer, and after a one-out walk to Matt Carpenter, Nola's day was done. He left to a loud ovation from Phillies fans who have been waiting a long time to see this guy again.

"Well that's the Nola we all have come to know and love," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was outstanding today. ... He was painting on both sides of the plate. Real good curveball. Threw a lot of good changeups. I think he got tired in that eighth inning, but it was great to see him rebound from the struggles he's been going through."

Nola had elite command of his two-seam fastball and curveball on this day. Five of his eight strikeouts were looking as he continuously froze Cardinals hitters with two-seamers that started outside and darted back over the outside corner. Everything was low in the zone. The curveball was sharp and biting with late life and St. Louis' hitters kept swinging over top of it.

This was the Nola worth drafting in the first round. This was the Nola who can legitimately be a top-of-the-rotation arm.

"I know what I'm capable of and I know what I can do and today was me," Nola said. "I felt confident in all my pitches today and commanding all my pitches when I wanted to. It was all good in those areas.

"I always try to visualize [success]. I know what I'm capable of doing and what pitches I can command, it's just those days where you feel really good about it and you're really confident about executing to both sides of the plate."

Last year during spring training, Mackanin compared Nola's skill set to that of a pitcher he managed in 1985 in the Class A Midwest League. That pitcher was Greg Maddux. 

"I'll just say this and I probably shouldn't, but I'm just gonna say it: Aaron Nola reminds me a bit of [Maddux]," Mackanin said last February.

"He shows no fear, he's very confident in his abilities and he has the uncanny ability to locate his fastball down in the zone on both sides of the plate. And he really believes in himself."

On Thursday, Nola fit every piece of that description. And just like Nick Pivetta built confidence with his nine-strikeout performance last week against the Red Sox that carried over into a 10-K night against the Cardinals (see story), this has a chance to be a real building block for Nola.

Throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of 24 hitters will get you a long way.

"He got ahead of almost every hitter I guarantee you, he was strike one," catcher Cameron Rupp said.  

"And when you do that, that opens up so many doors with your pitch sequence, being able to pitch and get in on guys, maybe throw a purpose pitch for a ball, maybe they swing and you're 0-2 and that opens up the outer half even bigger. He threw strikes, he pounded the zone, and when you do that, you're going to have so much success. 

"That's what he did his first year-and-a-half up here. He got away from locating his pitches and the injuries, I'm sure, didn't help, but he attacked the zone and did a great job for us. ... When you do that, the sky is the limit, and he showed that today."

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Phillies reliever Pat Neshek is having a tremendous, All-Star season, but the restrictions on his usage have become a real concern.

Neshek, who has a 0.63 ERA and 30 scoreless appearances out of 31, induced an inning-ending double play Thursday to get the Phillies to the ninth with a two-run lead. He threw just five pitches in the 5-1 win (see Instant Replay).

But even if the Phillies didn't tack on two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, Neshek was not going back out for a save situation in the ninth, Mackanin said.

"I asked him to go back out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He said he would rather not, he didn't feel like he had it. 

"I would have liked to have sent him back out, obviously, because he's been so effective. However, we've got a good thing going there and if he can only pitch one inning for us, I'll take it. 

"He's been that good and I don't want to disrupt that. That's one area that I don't have to worry about. So, I did ask if he could go back out, he just thought it was better that he didn't."

Moments later, Neshek said he was not asked to go back out for the ninth.

It's the second straight day there have been conflicting messages when it comes to Neshek's availability. Wednesday night, when the Phillies blew a five-run lead and allowed runs in both the eighth and ninth innings as Neshek stayed in the bullpen, Mackanin said that Neshek had told him earlier he was unavailable. But then Neshek said that he was the one told he'd have the day off.

Whichever order of operations has actually occurred the last two games, these restrictions on Neshek's usage are affecting the Phillies late in games and they're sure to have an impact on his trade value as well.

The trade value is the more important thing here long-term because the Phillies are 25 games under .500. Neshek and Howie Kendrick are their two best trade assets, but if you're a contending team, why give up anything of substance for a half-season of Neshek if you don't even know if you can send him out two games in a row?

"He gave me the off day when I showed up," Neshek said Thursday about the middle game of the series. "I don’t know. You guys (the media) are making a big deal out of it."

Did he feel better Thursday?

"Yeah," he said. "I went out there and got the double play.

"We’ve been used a lot this week. I was kind of hoping that I might get a day today. But I understand the state of the bullpen. You have to suck it up and go out there."

Neshek has been used five times in the last seven days, so he does have a point, he has been used a lot. That's the byproduct of being your team's most reliable reliever.

At this stage, Neshek is a safe bet to be the Phillies' All-Star representative, especially because he'd serve an actual purpose in the All-Star Game as a right-handed specialist capable of retiring the best of the best.

"It could happen," he said. "There’s a couple other guys. It’s going to come down to who Joe Maddon wants for his bench. Is it going to be an extra pitcher? Is it going to be an extra hitter? They usually don’t stick with middle relief guys. Yeah, I have the numbers. But the All-Star Game is kind of a hairy thing if you’re not the star guy, if you’re not the save guy. It’s going to come down to do we need a pitcher or do we need a hitter.

"It’s really tough to make it as a middle reliever. It’s hard to get excited about anything that hasn’t happened yet."