It's time for the Phillies to start planning ahead

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It's time for the Phillies to start planning ahead

In nine years as manager of the Phillies, it’s rare that one will ever hear Charlie Manuel call out a player for a mistake by name.

Oh, Manuel will express disappointment with a player -- or tout great play -- behind the scenes. But the Phillies skipper is known for defending his guys. That’s just his style. Manuel is unfailingly positive, and it’s a trait that has endeared him to players across baseball.

However, after Sunday night’s 4-1 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park, Manuel was at a loss for words to the point that he couldn’t come up with a positive spin for the way the fifth inning ended. After John Mayberry Jr. reached on an error to lead off the inning, followed by a five-pitch walk for Carlos Ruiz, it looked as if the Phillies were in business.

But pinch-hitter John McDonald couldn’t get a bunt down, Michael Young struck out and then, inexplicably, Mayberry was picked off second base with Chase Utley waiting for the 2-1 pitch.

Picked off second base with Utley at the plate in a hitter's count? How does that happen?

“You’ll have to talk to him about that because I can’t explain to you how the guy can be holding him on, how he can have a short lead that he doesn’t have what you call a lead at all, and he gets picked off,” Manuel offered. “I’m not throwing him under any bus or nothing like that. That’s what I saw.”

Truth is, Manuel has seen a lot of weirdness like Mayberry’s blunder. Phillies baserunners have been picked off second base five times this season. Two of those pickoffs came as the second out in the ninth inning and twice the pickoff ended innings. Even more odd is the fact that the Phillies have been picked off all the other bases just once this year.

Wonder why the Phillies are having trouble scoring runs this season? Look no further than the lack of focus and concentration. And no, it hasn’t been young players like Darin Ruf or Cody Asche that have been caught napping. Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, Delmon Young and Mayberry, all veterans, have had the lapses on the bases.

When the margin for error is so small, the Phillies have seemingly run toward trouble. It’s enough to make a manager go crazy.

“That becomes inexcusable,” Manuel said. “When you’re playing like we are now, you’ve got to really be concentrating on staying focused and playing the game right and cutting down and eliminating mistakes. But at the same time, the more that you see mistakes and the more you see somebody keep making mistakes over and over and over and over, that might tell you what kind of player that he is. If I’m going to be responsible, I think other people have to be responsible too, especially the ones that play the game.”

It’s enough to make one wonder how much longer Manuel can continue to watch the Phillies run themselves out of innings and swing at pitchers’ pitches to make outs at times when they are threatening to score. Moreover, how much more of Mayberry, McDonald, Michael Martinez and Delmon Young do we need to see?

With Ruf (left field) and Asche (third base) settled into their positions and All-Star Domonic Brown headed back to the lineup this week, perhaps Manuel will lobby for some wholesale changes to the roster. At Triple A Lehigh Valley, the team has been experimenting with prospect Cesar Hernandez in center field. Infielder Freddy Galvis has also spent some time in the outfield and veteran Josh Fields is an outfielder sporting a .297 batting average and .343 on-base percentage.

At Double A Reading, veteran minor leaguer Jim Murphy has 19 homers and 42 extra-base hits, while outfielder Albert Cartwright has 20 stolen bases, 24 extra-base hits and a .330 on-base percentage.

What’s the hold up? Why is the front office so attached to players like Mayberry, Martinez, McDonald and Delmon Young? Why not get the up-and-comers some experience until Brown, Ryan Howard, Ben Revere and Roy Halladay return?

When the veterans can’t get the job done and the team is going in the tank, maybe it’s time to make some changes. After Sunday’s game it sounded like Manuel was ready for the kids to get a chance.

With 13 losses in the last 14 games and a 17–game deficit in the standings, now is the time to start planning ahead.

“I wish I could sit here and tell you’re we’re way better than that, but that’s what I’m trying to see if they are better than that,” Manuel offered. “You’re looking to see how good players are, I know I am.”

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

Nick Pivetta excited for big-league debut — even if rainout delays it a few days

The Phillies' starting pitching rotation, for the time being, features four arms that were acquired in trades that have coincided with the team's rebuild, which started after the 2014 season.

Nick Pivetta will become the latest to join the group when he is officially activated. He was in the Phillies' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, but those plans changed when Tuesday night's game against the Miami Marlins was postponed because of rain.

No makeup date was announced.

The rainout means Pivetta's big-league debut will be pushed back. Vince Velasquez, Tuesday's scheduled starter, will pitch Wednesday night against the Marlins and Jeremy Hellickson will start the series finale Thursday. Jerad Eickhoff and Zach Eflin are likely to stay on turn and pitch Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles. That means Pivetta's debut will likely happen Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. Not a bad venue for an unveiling. He does not have to be activated until that day. In the interim, the Phils are carrying an extra reliever in Mark Leiter Jr.

Even with the weather-related change in plans, Pivetta was thrilled to be in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"I've achieved my goal of getting here eventually," the 24-year-old right-hander said. "I'm happy to be here. I want to get my feet on solid ground right now and just take it one step at a time.”

Pivetta is a Canadian from Victoria, British Columbia, about 100 miles northwest of Seattle. As a kid, he watched Toronto Blue Jays' games on television and idolized Roy Halladay. (see story).

Victoria must now be Phillies territory. Michael Saunders, the team's rightfielder, also hails from the town.

"You see it more and more, more Canadians getting into the game of baseball, so it’s always nice to see another one in the locker room," said Saunders, 30. "Clearly he’s pitched well enough to earn his way up here and I’m looking forward to seeing him play."

Pivetta is 6-5, 225 pounds. He was originally selected by the Washington Nationals in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. The Phillies acquired him for Jonathan Papelbon and cash in July 2015.

Pivetta will take Aaron Nola's spot in the rotation. Nola is on the disabled list with tightness in his lower back. He could be back as soon as early next week.

Nola said he probably could have pushed himself and stayed in the rotation, but the team chose to be cautious.

"I don’t think it's any big thing," Nola said.

With Pivetta on board, the Phillies now have four pitchers in their rotation that came over in "rebuild" trades.

Eflin arrived in the December 2014 deal that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers.

Eickhoff came in the July 2015 deal that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers.

Velasquez came in the December 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

Pivetta did not immediately pitch well upon joining the Phillies organization. He had a 7.31 ERA in seven starts for Double A Reading in the summer of 2015. In 28 1/3 innings, he struck out 25 and walked 19.

Pivetta was a different pitcher last season. He registered a 3.27 ERA in 148 2/3 innings between Double A and Triple A, struck out 138 and walked 51. That performance earned him a spot on the team's 40-man roster.

“In 2016, he showed us the potential to be a really good major-league pitcher,” said Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development. “He was a little excitable after the trade in 2015, but he came back calm and confident last year. His stuff is legit — 93 to 96 (mph) with life on the fastball, good breaking ball and good feel for the changeup.”

His control continued to improve this season as he got off to a 3-0 start at Triple A. He pitched 19 innings, gave up just two earned runs, walked just two and struck out 24.

"Just getting ahead with my fastball," said Pivetta, explaining the early-season success that put him in line for the promotion. "First-pitch strikes are big. Even if I get into that 0-1 count or that 1-1 count, getting back to that 1-2 count is big. So being able to even up those counts have been really big for me, as well, and being able to finish off with my off-speed later in the counts, too.”

Pivetta pitched for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. He made one start and took a no-decision in the team's 4-1 loss to Columbia. Pivetta worked four innings and allowed one run.

“That helped me," Pivetta said. "It was awesome. It was like having playoff baseball in March."

It's not clear how long Pivetta will stay in the big-league rotation. But he has more than put himself on the map, and if he continues to pitch well, he'll make more starts with the big club this season.

“I did not expect to be here this early in the season," he said. "I am happy to be here right now. I'll see how long I stay and just have fun while I am here.”

Phillies-Marlins rained out Tuesday; makeup date to be determined

Phillies-Marlins rained out Tuesday; makeup date to be determined

Tuesday night's Phillies-Marlins game at Citizens Bank Park has been postponed because of rain.

Details for a makeup date will be announced at a later time.

The Phillies, winnners of four straight, were set to open a three-game set against Miami.

Following this series, the Phillies head out on a seven-game road trip starting Friday night against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Vince Velasquez, who was scheduled to pitch Tuesday, will now start Wednesday night's game, while Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound Thursday afternoon.