Kendrick's 2nd-half slide continues in Phils' loss

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Kendrick's 2nd-half slide continues in Phils' loss

BOX SCORE

WASHINGTON -- Throwing to contact for a pitcher can be a double-edged sword. On one side, a pitcher can avoid big innings with groundballs and double plays. By working quickly, he can keep the defense on its toes and dictate the rhythm of the game.

But on the other side, a ball put in play can be a dangerous thing.

For Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies on Friday night at Nationals Park, all of those balls put into play came back to bite them as the Nats rolled to a 6-1 victory (see Instant Replay).

It was the Nationals’ seventh straight win, which could move them to 4½ games of the Reds for the second wild-card spot. Meanwhile, the Phillies inched ever closer to that losing season. At 68-79, the Phillies can afford two more defeats in order to avoid their first losing season since 2002.

Kendrick, whose outing on Friday night exemplified his second half, will start at least three more of those remaining games.

Kendrick was charged with six runs on eight hits and a pair of walks in 4 1/3. He also allowed two solo homers to Wilson Ramos and the white-hot Ryan Zimmerman. Moreover, there wasn’t an inning in the five Kendrick started in which he did not allow at least one hit. After Ian Desmond bounced one off the plate to knock in a run and load the bases, manager Ryne Sandberg gave him the hook.

“I just didn’t do my job tonight,” Kendrick said. “I didn’t give us a chance to win and didn’t pitch deep into the game. The whole thing has been a rough second half.”

But has it been simply bad luck for the veteran righty? At 10-13, Kendrick has posted a 6.91 ERA since the All-Star Game and leads the National League in hits allowed. In his last nine starts covering all of August and September, Kendrick is 1-6 with a 6.90 ERA and has allowed 64 hits in 45 2/3 innings.

What happened to the guy who was 8-6 with a 3.68 ERA before the break?

According to Sandberg, Kendrick has lost his sinker. For a contact pitcher with no sinker, that means big trouble.

“The second half of the season, he hasn't had that two-seam fastball that has really good sinking action. It results in groundball outs or double-play opportunities,” Sandberg said. “It seems to be a little bit of a flatter pitch right now. Tonight, on the flip side, it seemed like they were on top of his pitches and he wasn't catching a break. They weren't hit hard enough.”

Kendrick would like to argue with that assessment, but he can’t. The two pitches that he threw to give up the homers were grooved over the plate. Sure, those choppers off the plate may have been bad luck, but sometimes a pitcher makes his own luck, too.

“I gave up a couple of homers and they were pitches up,” Kendrick said. “But other than that I gave up some groundballs in the hole. The walks aren’t good -- I walked a couple of guys and they ended up scoring. I have to keep going out there and making pitches. One pitch at a time.”

Then again, it wasn’t like the Phillies gave Kendrick much support. Facing Ross Ohlendorf, who was an emergency starter for righty Stephen Strasburg, the Phillies had a run and two on base with one out in the first.

After that, they didn’t cross the plate again.

The Phillies had runners on third and one out in the first, fourth and fifth innings. They also got the leadoff man on base in the sixth. Even that wasn’t enough to jumpstart the offense.

“Through five innings, we had men on third base with less than two outs and didn't get anybody in,” Sandberg said. “They got some guys on base and balls that didn't leave the infield were getting runs in. That was the big difference. It added up.”

With three more scheduled starts, Kendrick is pitching for a job next season. He gets high marks for making all 30 of his starts with a career-high 182 innings pitched and two complete games. Still, there is much to salvage for Kendrick in the remaining starts.

“At this point you want to throw better,” Kendrick said. “That’s the way it’s been in the second half, so I’ll just keep going out there.”

The series continues on Saturday night with a pair of lefties squaring off. Cole Hamels (7-13, 3.45) faces Gio Gonzalez (10-6, 3.31) in a battle of former Phillies’ prospects. Hamels is 1-1 with a 2.11 ERA in three starts against the Nats this season and 14-6 with a 2.52 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 178 2/3 innings against Washington in 27 career starts.

Gonzalez is 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA in seven career starts against the Phillies.

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

Tonight's Lineup: After hitting 6th Friday, Odubel Herrera moves up to 2-hole

After watching his club get smacked around in a 9-4 loss to the Mets on Friday, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has tinkered with his lineup for Saturday's game at Citi Field.

Odubel Herrera moves up to the two-hole after hitting sixth Friday, while Aaron Altherr goes from second to third and Jimmy Paredes gets the start in left and bats seventh. Ryan Howard starts again at first base and bats fifth.

Herrera, who has been struggling since the All-Star break with a .257 average, has lost his leadoff spot to Cesar Hernandez but is starting to find his swing again.

In the last seven days, Herrera is 5 for 17 with a double and a run scored. In August, the centerfielder is hitting .288 two homers and five RBIs.

Altherr, who played left field Friday, moves over to right field and Peter Bourjos gets the night off. Altherr is hitting .255 with four home runs and 19 RBIs on the season.

Here is the full Phillies lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

For more on tonight's's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes.

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

As expected, the Phillies on Saturday optioned prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading after a one game stint with the big club.

Alfaro was called up for Friday's series opener in New York against the Mets because newly acquired veteran backstop A.J. Ellis had yet to arrive with the team. Ellis was acquired Thursday from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the trade that sent Carlos Ruiz to L.A.

The 23-year-old Alfaro is expected to return to the Phillies once Reading's season is over and MLB rosters expand in September. The Fightin Phils, at 83-48, are the Eastern League's top team and very much could make it to the championship series.

Alfaro, acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last summer, has a .279 average with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in 90 games with Reading this season. He did not get play Friday night against the Mets.

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson, Phils have chance to play spoilers

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson, Phils have chance to play spoilers

Phillies (59-69) at Mets (65-63)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

Both the Mets and Phillies go into the second game of the series with their best (healthy) starter on the mound. Noah Syndergaard, known by many as "Thor," takes the hill while trying to keep the Mets' playoff hopes alive, while Jeremy Hellickson makes the 26th start of his rebound season. 

Here are five things to know before Saturday night's matchup.

1. Playing spoilers
If the Mets want to make the playoffs in 2016 and reprise 2015's run to the World Series, they're gonna have to go through the Phillies. 

Not in the playoffs of course. But in the regular season.

After losing Friday night, the Phillies are six games back of the Mets and 10 games back of a playoff spot. They're not going to the postseason, barring a miracle.

But the Mets still have every intent to compete for a wild-card spot despite injuries all over the place (see point No. 2). They have the second-easiest schedule the rest of the way (Nationals have the easiest) and that is in large part thanks to games remaining against the Braves … and the Phillies.

Including Saturday night's game, the Mets and Phillies have nine games left against each other this season. That's more than enough to affect the Mets' postseason chances. The Mets are just 6-4 against the Phillies so far this year and will need to be much better in the final nine games to make a legitimate run.

But the Phillies can also spoil other teams' postseason chances. They have six games left against the Marlins and four games vs. the Pirates. This doesn't even mention the seven games with the Nationals, who are fighting for homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs while holding a comfy lead in the NL East. 

2. Laying down the hammer
Matt Harvey is out for the year. Steven Matz is having shoulder issues and is on the disabled list. Jonathon Niese, newly reaquired, was injured four batters into his Tuesday start. Zack Wheeler seems far away from returning from Tommy John surgery. And to top all of it, Jacob deGrom's next start will be skipped to work on mechanical issues.

So that leaves Friday's starter, Bartolo Colon, and Syndergaard as the Mets' only experienced starters still on turn in the rotation at the moment. Certainly not how the Mets drew it up.

While this shows the perils of building around pitching, there is still the one shining ray of hope: Syndergaard. The righty flamethrower had his bumps in the road, his non-ace like starts, but for the most part, he's been just as advertised. 

Here's a telling stat: Syndergaard has made 24 starts and only in three has he given up more than three runs. As electric as he was as a 22-year-old rookie last year (3.24 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 24 starts), he's been even more so this year. He's given up more hits in almost the same number of innings, but he's limited home runs and struck out more batters. 

Overall, he has an 11-7 record and a 2.61 ERA. His 5.53 strikeout-to-walk ratio is one of the best marks in baseball and so is his 0.5 home runs per nine innings this year. With a hit-or-miss offense and a struggling middle relief corps, Syndergaard continues to carry the Mets to some modicum of playoff contention.

3. Hellickson re-established
It's been said and written plenty of times, but Hellickson was a clear reclamation project when the Phillies acquired him in the offseason. 

He hadn't pitched to an ERA below 4.52 since 2012, his second full season in baseball. His velocity had fallen after a shoulder injury and the righty based mostly on command was beginning to give up way too many hits. The Tampa Bay Rays, the team that drafted him, dealt him and after one year, the Diamondbacks gave up on him, too.

But in five months with the Phillies, Hellickson has re-established himself as the pitcher he was before. His hits per nine innings have improved back to their 2012 numbers and he has lowered his walk rate while keeping his strikeouts at a career high rate. 

So for the first time in four years, Hellickson is an above-average MLB pitcher. Besides pushing back his last start, he's been consistently pitching every fifth game, one of the few constants for the Phillies' rotation. He's thrown 150 innings, his most since 2013 and he has a month left.

And he's now won four straight decisions. The Phils have won his last six starts and he's given up three or fewer runs in each one. While he is putting himself in line for a big payday in the offseason, the Phillies are certainly happy with the production they've gotten from the 29-year-old righty.

4. Battle of the bullpens
Based on ERA, the Phillies and Mets have had two of the five worst bullpens in baseball since the All-Star break. Yet it's been for very different reasons.

For the Phillies, it's simple: The rotation has been in disarray. Even the guys who've been healthy have simply failed to get far into games. Hellickson is the only starter to complete at least seven innings since the break and even he hasn't done it more than the one time. 

If the starters weren't giving length but were giving the bullpen leads on a consistent basis, Pete Mackanin could go to his top relievers like Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez, who have been pretty steady despite a recent hiccup by Gomez against the Cardinals. But they haven't been given many leads and that has meant mop-up relievers. 

So with the long reliever getting more of the innings, it's easy to see why the Phils' pen has the fifth-worst ERA (4.52) of any MLB bullpen since the break. 

But what's been the Mets' problem to cause a 4.74 ERA, second worst in the second half? It's a little more complicated. First, they've had some of the same issues as the Phillies. Starters either getting hurt (Niese) or struggling and having to exit early leads to same results as the Phillies. 

Yet it's also the back-end relievers struggling. Although he's had a good August, Jeurys Familia has blown three saves since the break after none before the break. Jerry Blevins has been slightly worse since the break. And Hansel Robles, a key cog in middle relief, has a 6.41 ERA in the second half. 

The mop-up relievers have done a lot of the damage, but the Mets' back end isn't as steady as it needs to be. 

5. This and that
• Syndergaard beat the Phillies in April at Citziens Bank Park. He held the Phils to just one run over seven innings and struck out eight batters. He gave up just five hits and two walks.

• Hellickson has made three starts against the Mets this year and is 1-1. He got a win at Citi Field on April 10 by allowing just two runs in 5⅔ innings. He got a no-decision after allowing 10 hits and four runs in 4⅓ 10 days later. Hellickson was beat up in his first start after the break, losing to the Mets in a six-inning start on July 15. He gave up four runs on seven hits and two home runs in that game.

• Ryan Howard is 2 for 7 against Syndergaard with a home run and two walks in nine plate appearances. Odubel Herrera is 1 for 9 with an RBI single. 

• Curtis Granderson has faced Hellickson more than any other Mets batter thanks to their time with the Yankees and Rays, respectively. In 29 plate appearances, he is 5 for 25 with a home run, two walks, seven strikeouts and two hit-by-pitches.

• Yoenis Cespedes is 5 for 12 against Hellickson with two home runs and a walk.