Lannan struggles in Phils' loss to MLB-best Bucs

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Lannan struggles in Phils' loss to MLB-best Bucs

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PITTSBURGH – Roy Halladay isn’t coming back for six more weeks at the earliest. Carlos Zambrano is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. Tyler Cloyd has a 7.79 ERA at Lehigh Valley.

And then John Lannan pitches like this, and you can’t help but wonder what options the Phillies have.

"We need five starters, and he's one of them,” Charlie Manuel said in a somewhat less than ringing endorsement of the veteran right-hander. “I'm trying to think who we have who's better than him."

Lannan was hit hard for the third time in his last five starts Tuesday night, allowing 14 base runners -- 11 hits, three walks -- in just five innings in the Phillies’ 6-5 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park (see Instant Replay).

“I thought he was in trouble most every inning,” Manuel said. “They left nine guys on base [while he was in the game] and got 11 hits on him. That just shows you how many base runners they had.”

The big blow was Pedro Alvarez’s three-run bomb far over the wall in right-center in the fifth, his 21st homer of the season.

“If I make a different pitch to Alvarez, it’s a different ball game,” Lannan said. “That’s what it comes down to.”

But Lannan was hit hard all night. The 11 hits are the most he’s allowed in a game since June 27, 2011, with the Nationals, and they matched the most he’s allowed since 2008.

The last Phillie to allow 14 base runners in five or fewer innings was Joe Blanton against the Red Sox in 2010.

Not good company.

“He was trying to battle and keep us in the game,” Manuel said.

Lannan is now 1-3 in seven starts this year with an unsightly 5.15 ERA.

In his last five starts, he’s given up 17 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings -- a 6.46 ERA. And that’s with a seven-inning, one-run effort Friday in the Phillies’ 16-1 win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Asked about his inconsistency, Lannan shrugged it off.

“I felt good today,” he said. “When you give up hits like that, you just have to keep on going. Felt good coming into it from the Dodgers start. Just giving up hits. That’s it.”

The Pirates stranded two in the first, three in the second, two in the third, one in the fourth and one in the fifth while Lannan was in the game.

“You have to keep going out there and making pitches,” Lannan said. “Up until [the Alvarez homer], I was able to battle through it. I left a ball up to Alvarez and you pay for it.”

What options do the Phillies have if they’ve had enough of Lannan, who was 42-52 in six years with the Nationals and has never won more than 10 games in a season?

The best option might be Ethan Martin, the 24-year-old right-hander who’s 9-3 with a 4.57 ERA at Lehigh Valley but has walked 52 batters in 86 2/3 innings.

But it’s clear that the Phillies, now 40-45 and 8½ back in the wild-card standings, can’t afford to keep running Lannan out there every fifth day too much longer if things don’t change.

Asked about Lannan’s lack of consistency, Manuel answered in general terms about the entire team’s lack of consistency.

“We talk about that all the time,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been all season. That’s how we play. It is kind of what our team so far has been. That’s why we can’t put a winning streak together, and we have a hard time staying above .500 and stuff like that.”

Lannan also hurt the Phillies by failing to score from first on a two-out double by Chase Utley in the third.

“I’m pretty slow,” Lannan said. “I don’t know what else to say. I got thrown out.”

The Phillies actually had a decent night at the plate, with 11 hits and five runs, two on Domonic Brown’s 22nd homer with two outs in the top of the ninth off National League save leader Jason Grilli.

“Just looking for a ball up to drive, that’s it,” Brown said. “I knew I took a good swing at it. Tough loss. Kind of frustrating.”

The bullpen once again failed the Phils, with Phillippe Aumont allowing two runs in the sixth after the Phillies had closed to within one run at 4-3 in the top of the inning.

The big blow was Andrew McCutchen’s triple, one of five times the brilliant 26-year-old outfielder reached base.

“I left a couple of pitches over the plate -- the sinker wasn’t running enough, especially on McCutchen,” Aumont said. “It was just a battle, trying to keep it up. It was one of those situations where I was battling and just tired from the start. The heat got to me a little bit.

“It was one of those nights where I was in my own way. I didn’t make the quality pitches I need to make. It was a tough night.”

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The difference was striking.
 
When Mickey Moniak arrived in Philadelphia to sign his first professional contract six months ago, he was rail-thin and 170 pounds.
 
On Tuesday night, Moniak made a quick visit to the winter meetings to be honored as Baseball America’s high school player of the year for 2016. 
 
He’d added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame.
 
“It’s all muscle,” Moniak said proudly.
 
The Phillies selected Moniak with the first pick in the June draft and signed him for $6.1 million. Just a few months of professional baseball convinced the 18-year-old centerfielder that he needed to get stronger. He recently capped off his first year of pro ball with a three-week stint at the Phillies’ strength and conditioning camp in Clearwater.
 
“It’s something the Phillies wanted me to do and I knew I definitely needed it, too,” Moniak said. “I really enjoyed my first year. I got a taste of what it was like to play baseball for a job and it was a good time.
 
“There were a lot of positives that came out of the first year. I felt like I jumped in there and really competed. I hit well in July. In August, I started to fatigue and I wasn’t prepared for that, being my first season. But it was a good learning experience. I needed to get stronger.”
 
Moniak hit .284 with a .340 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 28 RBIs in 46 games for the Phillies’ prospect-stacked Gulf Coast League team. That club, loaded with young Latin players and first-year talent from the 2016 draft, went 41-17 and advanced to the finals of the league playoffs before losing to the Cardinals.
 
After the playoffs, many of the players from that club participated in the Florida instructional league. Moniak played sparingly, however, after dealing with some soreness in his right hip. He was checked out by doctors in Philadelphia and there are no more concerns.
 
“It was just tightness,” Moniak said. “Everything is good. I’m 100 percent. They said it was either a growing pain or just tightness. I just have to stretch more.”
 
Moniak is an athletic centerfielder with speed and a good left-side bat. He has been compared favorably to former All-Star Steve Finley.
 
"Collectively, we believe Mickey was the best player available in the draft," Johnny Almaraz, the Phillies head of amateur scouting, said on draft night in June. "He's a true centerfielder with incredible offensive ability and the potential to be a perennial All-Star."

Moniak hit .476 with seven homers, 12 triples and four doubles at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California, during his senior season. He impressed a rival scout who saw him play five times during the season.

“The bat is good,” the scout said. “He’s going to hit and hit for average. He’s a good centerfielder. He can run. The question is how many home runs will he hit? If he ends up getting stronger, he could be a corner bat that’s unbelievable. There’s no negative here. It’s a good pick.”
 
Now, Moniak is stronger. He looked sturdy in a dress shirt and tie at the winter meetings Tuesday night. He is eager to see how it all translates on the field in 2017.
 
“I’m excited for the season,” he said. “I’m just going to go to spring training and compete and hopefully end up in (Single A) Lakewood, stay healthy and hopefully have a winning season and win a championship. That’s the ultimate goal and if personal stats come with that, too, that’s great.”