Jerad Eickhoff, Phillies burned by lack of offense in 1st loss of season

Jerad Eickhoff, Phillies burned by lack of offense in 1st loss of season

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CINCINNATI -- The Phillies pounded the ball all over the lot in beating the Cincinnati Reds on opening day.

In the second game of the season, they barely hit it out of the infield.

The Phils were held to just four hits -- and three of them did not leave the infield -- in a 2-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

Jerad Eickhoff delivered a strong start in his season debut, but ended up with the loss when he gave up a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Joey Votto's solo homer leading off the frame was the game's big blow.

"Not enough hits," said manager Pete Mackanin, sounding like he did often last season when the Phillies finished last in the majors with 610 runs.

"We played a clean game. The bats just weren't going."

Cincinnati lefty Brandon Finnegan had something to do with that. For seven innings, he hooked up in a fast-moving pitchers' duel with Eickhoff. Both pitchers were really good in their season debuts. Finnegan was just a little better, holding the Phillies to one hit over seven innings. He struck out nine. For the game, Phillies hitters struck out 13 times.

"You've got to give Finnegan credit," Mackanin said. "He was tough."

Finnegan actually labored through a 25-pitch first inning in which he gave up a hard-hit, two-out single to left-center by Maikel Franco. After that, he set down 19 Phillies hitters in a row.

"In that first inning, I thought we were going to set the tone of the game but then he settled down after that," Mackanin said. "We just couldn't do anything against the guy. I credit him for a well-pitched game."

Eickhoff breezed through the first six innings on 66 pitches. He gave up the game's first run when Votto led off the bottom of the seventh by swatting a 1-0 curveball into the right-field seats. Eickhoff then allowed a double to Adam Duvall on another curveball and was chased from the game on a two-out, RBI hit by Zack Cozart.

Three of the five hits Eickhoff gave up came in that seventh inning.

"It was up, a hanging curveball," Mackanin said of the pitch to Votto. "As well as [Eickhoff] pitched, some of his curveballs had tight spin and others were just kind of rolling. Those two [to Votto and Duvall] were kind of rolling. It happens. He only gave up two runs and pitched a heck of a good ballgame."

Eickhoff admitted that the curveball to Duvall was not sharp.

But, in his view, the one to Votto was not bad.

"The homer to Votto, the 1-0 curveball, it's kind of one of those things where I threw one of my better pitches," Eickhoff said. "You just tip your cap. I think it might have fooled him a little but he was able to keep his hands back and put the barrel on it and he's strong enough to put it out of the park."

Eickhoff made 33 starts last year. He delivered a quality start -- six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs -- in 20 of them.

He already has his first quality start this season.

But he also has his first loss.

Run support continues to be a problem for Eickhoff. He has made 42 big-league starts since coming up in August 2015. His mates have scored one or zero runs (while he's been in the game) in 18 of those starts.

"It's a shame," Mackanin said. "But he can't control that. He always gets after it and does his part."

Eickhoff is one of the most levelheaded guys in the clubhouse. Sure, he'd like to get eight runs every time out. But he's not about to complain about the situation.

"I can't control that," he said. "Those guys are busting their butt every day to get hits, working in the cage. I can't control it. I'm just trying to get outs and when I walk off the mound hopefully I kept us in the game."

He did that in this one.

The Phils actually got a little something going in the eighth, after Finnegan departed. Aaron Altherr and Cameron Rupp both had infield singles with no outs against hard-throwing Michael Lorenzen. Up came Freddy Galvis.

Mackanin thought about bunting, but decided to play for the big inning.

"To play for a tie there with the way we swung tonight, I just thought that maybe Freddy could hit a double or something like that," Mackanin said.

Lorenzen struck out Galvis and pinch-hitter Michael Saunders before ending the threat by getting Cesar Hernandez on a ground ball.

There was some unexpected excitement in the ninth when Odubel Herrera reached on an infield hit and, with his team down two runs and the first baseman not holding him tight, decided to steal second with two outs and Tommy Joseph at the plate. At first, Herrera was called out and it looked like the game had ended in ignominious fashion for the Phillies. The call was overturned moments later and Herrera was off the hook. Joseph ended up striking out to end the game.

Mackanin was not thrilled with Herrera's move and said he would speak to the player.

"He made it," Mackanin said. "That's all I'm going to say."

Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

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Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's time for the 2017 Cleveland Indians to be introduced to the one and only 1884 Providence Grays.

They share some unlikely history, the two teams, which played a mere 141 years apart, are the only two clubs to have ever won 27 out of 28 games.

The Indians joined the Grays on Thursday when Francisco Lindor's three-run homer led Cleveland to a 4-1 victory and three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Grays ended up winning 28 of 29, leaving the Indians one game shy of matching the record (see full recap).

Cubs rally in 9th, beat Brewers to open big series
MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez grounded a tying single with two outs in the ninth inning, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Chicago Cubs widened their NL Central lead over Milwaukee, beating the Brewers 5-3 Thursday night.

The Cubs now are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers after winning the opener of a four-game series.

Milwaukee was in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. But Wade Davis (4-1) struck out Domingo Santana and then, after falling behind 3-1 in the count to Orlando Arcia, came back to retire him on an easy comebacker on a full-count pitch.

The Cubs trailed 3-2 when Ian Happ led off the ninth by hitting a grounder that first baseman Neil Walker fielded wide of the bag. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress covered first and Happ was called safe in a close play, a ruling upheld on replay (see full recap).

Twins rout Tigers, lead AL wild card by 2½ games
DETROIT -- With a postseason berth tantalizingly close, the Minnesota Twins snapped out of their mini-slump in emphatic fashion.

Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each, and the Twins extended their lead for the American League's second wild card by beating the Detroit Tigers 12-1 on Thursday night. Minnesota is 2 games ahead of the Angels in the race for the AL's final postseason spot. Los Angeles lost earlier in the day to Cleveland .

The Twins had lost five of six coming into the night, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, but they routed a depleted Detroit team that is 4-17 in September after trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.

"As a whole in this season, it's been pretty impressive," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "Staying away from the long losing streaks, coming back from some tough losses and some tough stretches and getting back to playing winning baseball, for the most part,” (see full recap).

Fowler delivers again as Cardinals beat Reds
CINCINNATI -- The St. Louis Cardinals rinsed the bad taste of being swept by the Chicago Cubs the best way they could -- sweeping the Cincinnati Reds.

Dexter Fowler delivered again, hitting two doubles and a single as St. Louis overcame Scott Schebler's two home runs to beat the Reds 8-5 Thursday night.

The Cardinals began the day 2 games behind Colorado for the second NL wild-card spot and five games behind the Central-leading Cubs.

Fowler drove in two runs. He went 7 for 13 with two home runs and six RBIs in the three-game series (see full recap).

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

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In the end, things reverted to form: The Dodgers won and the Phillies lost.

The Dodgers are headed to the playoffs, the Phillies to who-knows-where.

Los Angeles scored twice in the seventh inning Thursday afternoon to beat the Phils, 5-4, and salvage the finale of a four-game series (see observations).

The Dodgers, the majors’ best team at 97-56, lowered their magic number to one for clinching a fifth straight NL West championship. The Phils, baseball’s second-worst team at 61-92, were left with a lovely parting gift: hope.

“I think it’s a good lesson,” J.P. Crawford, the rookie shortstop-turned-third baseman, said of the series as a whole. “It showed us, or showed me, we can compete with the best teams in the league. Just can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Crawford, the 16th overall pick in 2013, drew three walks in four plate appearances and fielded eight chances flawlessly, at least four of which could be described as moderately difficult.

In addition, Mark Leiter Jr. pitched six strong innings, Rhys Hoskins did another Rhys Hoskins thing — i.e., hit a two-run double in the fifth — and Nick Williams launched a two-run homer.

So it was that the Phillies finished the homestand with a 7-3 record. They have won eight of their last 12, and are 32-34 since the All-Star break, after going 29-58 beforehand.

There are those who question how much it means for an also-ran to excel in September, when the pressure is off. It would appear that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not among those people. He mentioned in particular how valuable it is for his young relievers to face teams in the thick of the race.

“To get this kind of experience is worth a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of this year.”

One of those relievers, Ricardo Pinto, faltered Thursday, allowing those two seventh-inning runs to take the loss. But Leiter, who had pitched to a 9.39 ERA in three previous September starts, allowed just one earned run on five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three and walked one.

So it’s one for his résumé going forward. And he said a strong finish to the season — the Phils have nine games left — is “important for everybody.”

“I don't know if it's more important for us than other teams,” he said, “but you want to finish strong and start strong. Those are the goals. That's baseball. You're going to have some ups and downs, and to take a series is a good thing.”

Crawford, called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 5, hit .200 without a walk in his first six major-league games. In his last nine, he is slashing .296/.474/.481, with 10 walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

“Just a matter of getting my feet settled down,” he said, “and just being comfortable in the box.”

“It’s good to see,” Mackanin said. “He was advertised as someone who controls the strike zone and he’s proven that he can do that. Walk’s as good as a hit — the old saying. He keeps innings alive and he doesn’t expand the strike zone, he makes the pitcher get him out and he’ll take a walk, which is important.”

Speaking generally about such an approach (and not about Crawford in particular), Mackanin had only one small reservation.

“One of the problems with a guy who walks too often is you’d like him to be a little more aggressive at times,” he said, “but in general it’s good to see.”

Crawford made his eighth start at third base, and while he doesn’t possess the power bat normally required of someone who plays the position, he certainly looks like he can hold his own with the glove.

“There’s not really much transition,” he said. “I’m just going over there, reacting, catching the ball, throwing the ball.”

If nothing else, he gives the Phillies a possible alternative to Maikel Franco, who has struggled all year.

And if nothing else, the team as a whole has shown there is some reason for hope.