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

slideshow-phillies-sandberg-kendrick-uspresswire.jpg

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.

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Phillies rookie Nick Pivetta outpitched Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara Sunday afternoon as the Phils salvaged the final game of a three-game series with a 2-0 win at steamy SunTrust Park.
 
Maikel Franco smacked his 21st homer and Aaron Altherr had an RBI double for the Phillies' two runs.
 
Pivetta (7-10) pitched six shutout innings and the bullpen did the rest.
 
The Phillies ended up with a 13-6 record against Atlanta this season, their best against any team.
 
• Pivetta has mostly struggled in 25 starts in his rookie season, but he's also had some very nice outings where his potential has really shined. This was one of them. His last start, in which he gave up two runs in six innings against the Dodgers, was a good one, too. So the right-hander seems to be finishing on a high note. He will have one more start before the end of the season. In a perfect world, Pivetta would have gotten more time at Triple A this season, but there was a need in the majors. Ultimately, he should benefit from his baptism by fire.
 
• Atlanta lefty Gohara was very good in his fourth big-league start. The 21-year-old from Brazil gave up just five hits, walked two and struck out nine. The only run he gave up came on Franco's homer.
 
• Pivetta did a good job pitching around trouble. He got two outs in the second inning after an error by Franco put a runner on second. He also pitched around sloppy infield play in the fifth. In the sixth, Pivetta knocked down a ball back to the box but was unable to start a double play. He stayed calm and got two outs to get out of the inning.
 
• The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by Franco in the top of the fifth. Franco turned on a first-pitch changeup from Gohara. The pitch was on the inside half of the plate — right in Franco's happy zone. Franco pulls off pitches away in the zone, but he kills mistakes inside. Franco will work on this flaw in winter ball this season (see story).
 
• Altherr doubled home an important insurance run for the Phillies in the eighth inning. Altherr has 61 RBIs on the season and 27 have come in the seventh inning or later.
 
• Good job by the Phillies' bullpen. Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan pitched scoreless ball in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Morgan has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Hector Neris survived two hits in the ninth and picked up the save. He is perfect on is last 18 chances since June 28.

• The Phillies' first two hits of the game were singles to right field and both runners, Cesar Hernandez and Jorge Alfaro, were out trying to stretch at second base. Braves rightfielder Nick Markakis made two perfect throws. Hernandez needed to come out of the box quicker.
 
• The Phillies have a 35-40 record at home. They will play their final six games of the season at home beginning Monday night with the opener of a three-game series against the NL East champion Washington Nationals. Aaron Nola (12-10, 3.56) pitches against right-hander A.J. Cole (2-5, 4.43) on Monday night. Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14) opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.69) and right-hander Tanner Roark (13-10, 4.41) close out the series Wednesday night. The Phillies need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses.