J.P. Crawford continuing to hit his way toward a promotion

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J.P. Crawford continuing to hit his way toward a promotion

READING, Pa. — J.P. Crawford has met every challenge the Phillies have thrown his way thus far. Why should Double A be any different?

The answer is it hasn't. The 21-year-old shortstop is doing at Reading in 2016 what he's done at every other level of the Phillies organization: produce. Through 17 games, Crawford is tied for seventh in the Eastern League in runs (12) and hits (19) as well as tied for fourth in on-base percentage (.418). His batting average (.292) is 27 points higher and his OBP a whopping 64 points better than last season at this level.

If this keeps up, Crawford is fast headed for another promotion. The Phillies' top prospect could be on his way to Triple A Lehigh Valley — and only one step from the majors — in a matter of weeks. Yet despite his continued success, he isn't concerning himself with what comes next.

"You don't worry about that," said Crawford. "You just gotta go out there every day and focus where you're at, focus on that nine, trying to help your team get a W. That's all I'm worried about right now."

And aid his team in a win is exactly what Crawford did on Monday at First Energy Park in Reading, crossing the plate twice in a 7-4 victory.

"I'm sticking with the plan, I'm seeing good pitches, and I'm just executing on the pitches I want to swing at, finding the barrel and just going with it."

It was an otherwise inconspicuous line for Crawford, who went 0-for-3 with a walk in the contest. Still, he often finds ways to make his presence felt even when he isn't tearing the cover off of the ball.

Though he has just five extra-base hits, Crawford has reached base safely with a hit or walk in all but two games this season. The free pass was his 14th, which is good for third in the league. He works deep counts, is comfortable hitting with two strikes and shows tremendous patience, seeing five or more pitches in three of his four at bats on Monday.

"You've gotta know what the pitcher is throwing that day and just stick with the plan," Crawford said of his approach. "If it's a pitch you can't handle early in the count, you just don't swing and wait for your pitch."

Plate discipline has long been a calling card of Crawford's. He's walked (174) more than he's struck out (173) in his four-year minor-league career. At his age and experience level, that's also partly what makes him such a unique prospect.

"It's outstanding for a young hitter," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said. "He's patient at the plate, he's aggressive when he needs to be, when he wants to be. He just knows how to hit his pitch and put the barrel on the ball.

"He's a special player. He's got a special knack for being able to do that. That's why he is where he is right now."

Crawford demonstrates remarkable poise for a young athlete who's risen through the Phillies' farm system as quickly as he has. His path to the majors has been practically inevitable and he's all but been anointed one of the saviors of the franchise. Cousin of four-time MLB All-Star Carl Crawford, son to four-time Canadian Football League All-Star Larry Crawford, J.P. could choose to view professional baseball and future accolades almost as a birthright.

Instead, the 2013 first-round draft pick comes across as humble and dedicated. Asked whether he envisions himself as a fixture on the Phillies' 25-man roster this time next year, Crawford spoke as if that were an attainable goal for anybody in his situation.

"I'm pretty sure everybody does, but I just keep putting in the work I'm doing every day, just keep getting stronger, keep getting better, something everyday and I think I've got a good shot."

No doubt, Crawford's teammates in Reading would love to be on the same fast track to the big leagues. As it turns out, he's the only of them who is widely considered one of the top five prospects in all of baseball right now. He's also the only one who's drawn comparisons to longtime Phillies shortstop and franchise all-time hits leader Jimmy Rollins.

"Yeah, but you've gotta put in the work, put in the work everyday, and just go about your business so maybe one day I can be that guy," Crawford says, deftly batting away such lofty parallels.

Crawford seems as patient for his moment in the spotlight as he is standing in the batter's box waiting for his pitch. The reality is he probably won't have to wait long, with a September call-up well within sight at his current rate.

In fact, Crawford already got his first small taste of the show this year as a Phillies spring training invitee, culminating with the futures game at Citizens Bank Park, describing the experience and fan ovation as "unreal."

"You've been dreaming of that day since you got drafted, and just finally being on that field and playing over there — I can't wait to get up there."

It was a rare moment of impatience for Crawford. Fortunately, he probably won't have to wait a whole lot longer.

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Cardinals 1

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Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Cardinals 1

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola had everything working Thursday in his most impressive start of the season,  allowing just one run on four hits over 7⅓ innings with a season-high eight strikeouts.

Nola had remarkable, Greg Maddux-like movement and command of his two-seam fastball, especially with two strikes. He fooled the Cardinals all afternoon by starting it outside to hitters from both sides of the plate and having it run back over the outside corner for called third strikes. Of his season-high eight strikeouts, five were looking.

He also had his good, tight curveball working. When Nola pitches like this, he looks like a legitimate No. 2 starter or perhaps even more.

Leaning on Nola, the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1, to avoid a sweep. It was still a series loss, though, their 17th in 24 series this season.

The Phils are 23-48; the Cards are 33-38.

Starting pitching report
Nola consistently worked ahead and stayed ahead of Cardinals hitters, throwing 20 of 27 first-pitch strikes.

Nola improved to 4-5 on the season with a 4.32 ERA. It's been an up-and-down season for him but this was the kind of start that can really get a starting pitcher into a groove.

His most impressive sequences came against Cardinals leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, who may be the most selective hitter in the majors after Joey Votto. In Carpenter's second at-bat, Nola froze him with a two-seam fastball that darted back over the plate at the last second. The next time up, Nola struck out Carpenter swinging on one of his best, sharpest curveballs of the day.

Nola was on his way to potentially the first complete game of his career before running into some trouble in the eighth inning. He allowed a leadoff homer to second baseman Paul DeJong and walked Carpenter with one out before being lifted for Pat Neshek.

Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez had just an OK afternoon by his standards. He allowed three runs (two earned) over six innings with four strikeouts. Both earned runs came on solo home runs. Martinez was also a victim of poor infield defense in the fifth inning when the Phils scored an unearned run.

Martinez is 6-6 with a 2.87 ERA. He entered Thursday with the fifth-highest strikeout rate among NL starting pitchers.

Bullpen report
Neshek has been money in the bank all season, even if there are frustrating restrictions with his usage. He entered for Nola in the eighth inning and needed just five pitches to induce an inning-ending double play from Tommy Pham. 

In 31 appearances, Neshek has a 0.63 ERA. He's one of only two pitchers in baseball this season to allow two runs or fewer in 20-plus innings. Neshek has allowed two in 28⅔ innings. Dominant Yankees setup man Dellin Betances has allowed two in 22⅔.

Luis Garcia got the final three outs in a non-save situation, but he was set to enter even before the Phillies tacked on their final two runs in the eighth.

Garcia on June 7 in Atlanta allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning in a 14-1 Phillies loss. Aside from that game, he has a 1.65 ERA in 24 appearances. He might be the Phils' closer for a little while with Hector Neris scuffling.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis (7) and Tommy Joseph (11) each hit solo home runs. 

Galvis' homer was his 21st of the last calendar year. The only National League shortstop with more over that span is MVP candidate Corey Seager (23).

Joseph added a two-run single for insurance with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth. It was the kind of hit he needed — entering that at-bat, Joseph was hitting .204 in 122 chances this season with men on base.

In the field
Cardinals second baseman DeJong had a rough fourth inning. He dropped a throw from Martinez which could have started a double play but instead placed runners on first and second with no outs.

Three batters later, DeJong couldn't handle a flip from shortstop Aledmys Diaz which would have resulted in an inning-ending forceout. Instead, everyone was safe, and the dropped ball allowed a heads-up Andres Blanco to score all the way from second. The error on the play was charged to Diaz.

On the bases
Odubel Herrera committed a baserunning gaffe for the second straight game. He was picked off of third base with one out in the fourth inning, erasing an RBI opportunity for Daniel Nava.

This just 17 hours after Herrera ran through Juan Samuel's stop sign and was thrown out at the plate by about 30 feet in the ninth inning of a tie game.

Up next
The Phillies head out West for four games in Arizona followed by two in Seattle.

They will face left-handers Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray, and then right-handers Zack Greinke and Taijuan Walker. 

The Phillies haven't yet named a starter for Friday's game.

Phillies promote outfielder Andrew Pullin to Triple A after strong run with Reading

Phillies promote outfielder Andrew Pullin to Triple A after strong run with Reading

Cameron Perkins' call-up to the majors opened up an outfield spot at Triple A Lehigh Valley and Andrew Pullin was the beneficiary, earning a promotion Thursday.

Pullin's success at Double A Reading has been somewhat overshadowed by Scott Kingery's eye-popping first three months but Pullin has nearly kept pace with the second baseman all season. In 67 games with Reading, the 23-year-old Pullin hit .308/.368/.556 with 22 doubles, 14 home runs and 46 RBIs.

The left-handed hitting Pullin has been locked in for the better part of the last two years. He hit .322 with an .885 OPS last season, splitting time between Clearwater and Reading.

Pullin is not on the 40-man roster and in December was exposed in the Rule 5 draft. For whatever reason, he went unclaimed. It's difficult to imagine that happening again this winter if he's not protected on the 40.

As for Kingery, expect his promotion to come soon. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said last week that the next challenge for Kingery is looming. Don't be surprised if that promotion from Double A to Triple A occurs Monday when the IronPigs return to Lehigh Valley. With Reading home this weekend, it would be just a short trip for Kingery.