Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Braves 2

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Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Braves 2

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA -- Kyle Kendrick solved his first-inning problems and Ryan Howard homered again as the Phillies made it two straight wins over the Atlanta Braves with a 5-2 victory Tuesday night at Turner Field.

The win ensured the Phillies of being no more than five games out of first place in the NL East at day’s end. They are 31-38 on the season.

Starting pitching report
Kendrick (3-6) allowed two runs over seven innings and none of them came in the first inning. He had been tagged for 13 earned runs in the first inning over his first 13 starts and opposing batters were hitting .393 in the frame.

Kendrick opened this start with two three-pitch strikeouts. He allowed a two-out double in the first but pitched out of trouble.

Kendrick struck out six and walked just one. He is 8-2 with a 3.23 ERA in 22 career games (16 starts) against Atlanta.

Ervin Santana (5-4) gave up eight hits and four runs (three earned) over six innings. Half of the hits he allowed were for extra bases.

Santana beat the Phillies in April in Philadelphia. He pitched six innings of one-run ball in that game and struck out 11.

Bullpen report
The Phillies’ bullpen continued to shine with Jake Diekman and Jonathan Papelbon combining on two scoreless innings. Papelbon picked up his 16th save one night after blowing the save in the Phillies’ 13-inning win. The bullpen allowed just one run in six innings in that game.

Papelbon needed just seven pitches for the save. He threw 28 in getting three outs the night before.

The Phils’ bullpen has a 2.53 ERA in the last 33 games. The bullpen’s ERA was 4.95 over the first 36 games of the season.

At the plate
Howard homered for the second straight night. This time, he gave the Phils a 2-0 lead with a two-run homer in the first inning. His 13th homer scored Jimmy Rollins, who had doubled to increase his hitting streak to 12 games.

Cesar Hernandez singled home Reid Brignac in the fourth. Brignac had two hits and he continues to give the Phillies’ offense a lift at third base.

Howard has 46 homers and 126 RBIs in 143 career games against the Braves.

Lineup notes
Chase Utley, whose batting average has dropped from .347 to .301 in a month, got a rest. He was not in the starting lineup but walked as a pinch-hitter. “It’s just a day to catch up,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “His bat looks a little sluggish.”

Hernandez started at second base and played well.

Ben Revere banged his knee on the wall making a catch Monday night. That provided Sandberg with the opportunity to use John Mayberry Jr. in center field.

Minor matters
The Phillies signed lefty Matt Imhof, their second-round pick.

First-rounder Aaron Nola threw two innings (28 pitches) and allowed a hit while striking out two in an intrasquad game at the minor-league complex in Clearwater on Tuesday. He is expected to make his pro debut in the next two to three weeks for one of the Phillies’ clubs in Florida.

Up next
The series concludes with a 12:10 p.m. start Wednesday afternoon. Roberto Hernandez (2-5, 4.26) opposes Braves right-hander Aaron Harang (5-5, 3.20).

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The likelihood of the Phillies going with a rookie backup catcher in 2017 increased dramatically when the Miami Marlins signed free agent A.J. Ellis on Wednesday.

Ellis spent the final month of the 2016 season with the Phillies after coming over from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade. Ellis, 35, got high marks for his work with the Phillies’ young pitching staff and the Phils had some interest in bringing him back. The interest, however, was complicated by a tight 40-man roster, which already includes three catchers — starter Cameron Rupp and minor-league prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.

With Ellis out of the picture, the Phillies will likely use either Alfaro or Knapp as the backup catcher in 2017. Knapp spent a full year at Triple A in 2016 and could end up being the guy as Alfaro moves to Triple A for another year of seasoning.

General manager Matt Klentak spoke earlier this week of the possibility of going with a rookie at backup catcher.

“Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A,” Klentak said. “He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

It’s not all that surprising that Ellis ended up with the Marlins on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. He played for Marlins manager Don Mattingly during the latter’s time as manager of the Dodgers.

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.