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.”

MLB Notes: Nationals place Stephen Drew on DL

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MLB Notes: Nationals place Stephen Drew on DL

CLEVELAND -- Unable to figure out what's making Stephen Drew dizzy, the Washington Nationals placed the veteran infielder on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.

Drew has played just once in the past week, delivering a walk-off triple to give Washington a win over San Diego on Saturday. Manager Dusty Baker said the 33-year-old Drew has been experiencing vertigo-like symptoms and the team is sending him back to Washington for more medical tests.

"He wasn't getting any better," Baker said before the Nationals concluded their two-game interleague series with the Indians. "He was dizzy. He was kind of worried and didn't know what it was because he's had two concussions, but he hadn't had anything that would have caused another concussion. Whenever you feel woozy and dizzy and don't get any better, that's a pretty good indication that something's wrong."

Drew sat out several days last week because he was feeling ill. He's in his first season with the Nationals, who signed him as a free agent in January (see full story).

Padres: Solarte placed on family leave list
TORONTO -- The San Diego Padres made a few roster moves before Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays, recalling utilityman Alexi Amarista and left-hander Buddy Baumann from Triple-A El Paso.

The newcomers replace outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., who was traded to Toronto on Tuesday, and third baseman Yangervis Solarte, who was placed on the family leave list and will miss from three to seven days.

Solarte is batting .290 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs.

This is Amarista's fourth stint with the Padres this season. The six-year veteran is batting .239 with no homers and seven RBIs in 45 games.

Baumann joins the Padres for the second time. He made his major league debut with 1-3 of an inning against San Francisco on July 16, retiring Brandon Crawford on one pitch.

Peter Bourjos 'still sore,' likely headed to DL with right shoulder injury

Peter Bourjos 'still sore,' likely headed to DL with right shoulder injury

MIAMI – A stint on the disabled list looks likely for Peter Bourjos, who injured his right shoulder running into the outfield wall while making a catch Tuesday night.

“It’s not any worse, but it’s still sore,” Bourjos reported Wednesday morning.

Bourjos sounded pessimistic when asked if he thought he could avoid a trip to the disabled list.
 
“I don’t know,” he said.
 
Bourjos indicated that he has some range of motion issues.
 
Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said the team would continue to evaluate Bourjos and provide further word Thursday.

Bourjos’ injury comes with outfielder Aaron Altherr’s minor-league rehab stint expiring on Wednesday. Altherr is expected to be activated Thursday. Bourjos could end up going on the DL to make room for Altherr.

Phillies officials had been considering a number of ways to make room for Altherr. One of them was trading Bourjos. That option is now on hold, though Bourjos could still be moved in a waiver deal in August if he's healthy.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Zach Eflin looks for 7th straight quality start

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Zach Eflin looks for 7th straight quality start

Phillies (46-56) at Marlins (54-46)
12:10 p.m. on CSN

A night after shutting out the Marlins, the Phillies were blanked themselves, falling to the Fish, 5-0, on Tuesday. The Phils look to claim a series win this afternoon in the rubber match. Let's take a look:

1. Zach Eflin, quality start machine
Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) allowed nine runs in 2⅔ innings in his MLB debut in Toronto in early June. Things unraveled quickly for him, and the outing made you wonder whether he had the stuff to get major-league hitters out.

He has the stuff to get major-league hitters out.

In seven starts since that debut, Eflin has a 2.08 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and an opponents' batting average of .207. He's struck out only 24 batters in 47⅔ innings, but walked just five. The control he showed in the minors has translated to the majors. With 1.43 walks per nine innings, Eflin has the fourth-best walk rate in the majors among starting pitchers with at least 50 innings, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Josh Tomlin and Mike Leake.

Eflin, who is 6-foot-6, has the look of a future workhorse. He's been one lately for the Phils, pitching two complete games and completing six innings in six straight starts. 

Eflin has not yet faced the Marlins in his young career.

2. Offense needs a spark
Not sure what it is about Tom Koehler that proves so troublesome for the Phillies. He throws in the low-to-mid-90s and has a decent curveball, but the rest of the league has hit him around. Koehler has faced the Phils four times this season and held them to a .149 batting average while posting a 1.64 ERA. Against all other teams, Koehler has a 5.13 ERA and .302 opponents' batting average.

The Phillies' offense has been anemic since the All-Star break, averaging fewer than 3.0 runs per game and hitting right around .200. The players who were so hot before the break — Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos (who was hurt Tuesday) — have cooled significantly. 

The only players who have hit for the Phillies since the break are Carlos Ruiz (7 for 13, two doubles) and the first basemen. Tommy Joseph is 9 for 29 (.310) with a double, two homers and four RBIs, while Ryan Howard has hit .263 with a pair of homers. 

3. Scouting Conley
The Phillies this afternoon face 26-year-old Marlins left-hander Adam Conley, who is 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA in his first full big-league season. 

Conley is a lanky, 6-foot-3 lefty with a whipping arm motion that creates some deception and can't be too comfortable for a hitter to face. He can be truly dominant at times, like he was on April 29 when he no-hit the Brewers over 7⅔ innings. 

Conley has been especially effective over the last month, going 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA in seven starts and allowing more than two earned runs just once.

The Phillies faced him on May 16 at Citizens Bank Park and scored one run on eight hits in six innings. 

Conley is a three-pitch pitcher: fastball, slider, changeup. He throws his 92 to 94 mph heater 66 percent of the time. The changeup is such an effective pitch for him because of the aforementioned whip-like delivery. It's hard for a hitter to diagnose the change in speeds when he has wiry arms and legs coming at him.

Conley has reverse platoon splits: Lefties have hit .287 against him while righties have hit just .221.

4. The lineups
The Phillies are going with an unconventional lineup Wednesday. Cesar Hernandez gets his first start of the season at shortstop. Taylor Featherston makes his first start at second base after striking out as a pinch-hitter in his Phillies debut Tuesday. And seldom-used outfielders Tyler Goeddel and Jimmy Paredes are in the corners.

1. Cesar Hernandez, SS
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. Taylor Featherston, 2B
8. Jimmy Paredes, RF
9. Zach Eflin, P

And for the Marlins:

1. J.T. Realmuto, C
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Marcell Ozuna, CF
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Miguel Rojas, 2B
8. Don Kelly, 1B
9. Adam Conley, P

5. This and that
• This is the 13th game between the Phillies and Marlins this season. They've split the first 12. It's been a competitive head-to-head matchup between these teams the last three years, with the Phillies going 26-24 against the Fish since 2014.

• The Phillies are 10 games under .500. They haven't been 11 games under since June 28. They're on pace to finish 73-89, which would be a 10-win upgrade over last year.