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.”

Tonight's lineup: Has the Ryan Howard showcase come to an end?

Tonight's lineup: Has the Ryan Howard showcase come to an end?

Showcase time for Ryan Howard has apparently come to an end.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin will go with Tommy Joseph rather than Howard at first base for Monday's series opener against Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark. It's an interesting decision because it likely means Howard will sit until at least the weekend. On Tuesday, the Phils face Max Scherzer, against whom Howard is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts. On Wednesday, they draw lefty Gio Gonzalez.

Howard is 1 for 10 with four strikeouts in his last three games. He was hot after the All-Star break but the Phillies were still unlikely to be able to find a suitor for him because of the scarcity of American League teams in need of a DH. With just three days before Sept. 1, it seems extremely unlikely Howard will be moved. A player is not postseason eligible unless he's on a team's roster by Aug. 31. Thus, Joseph should get more playing time in September.

Jimmy Paredes gets another start in left field after striking the ball well three times on Sunday. Paredes has been productive lately, going 10 for 27 (.370) with two doubles and two homers in his last 14 games. He could be designated for assignment by the Phils soon if they need to clear a spot to add a prospect to the 40-man roster for a September call-up.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (.895 OPS in last 230 PA)
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Jimmy Paredes, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, LF
9. Jake Thompson

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Crucial night for struggling Jake Thompson

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Crucial night for struggling Jake Thompson

Phillies (60-70) vs. Nationals (75-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

After salvaging the weekend series at Citi Field against the Mets with a win Sunday, the Phillies move on to face the NL East-leading Nationals for three games at home. 

Let's take a look at the series opener:

1. East Coast bias
The Phillies' series against the Mets was the first of five straight series against division opponents. The Phils have a total of 16 straight games vs. NL East teams through Sept. 12.

They host the Nationals and Braves this week, then have three in Miami and four in D.C. next week. 

Of the 32 remaining games on the Phillies' schedule, only six are against teams outside the NL East. The Pirates come to town for four games Sept. 12-16 and the White Sox are at Citizens Bank Park for a two-game series Sept. 20-21.

Overall, the Phillies have mostly held their own against the NL East this season, going 23-27. They're 8-5 against the Braves, 6-7 vs. the Marlins, 5-7 vs. the Mets and 4-8 vs. the Nationals. 

Despite trailing the Marlins by seven games, the Phils' division record is one game better.

2. Important night for Thompson
All eyes will be on Jake Thompson Monday night in his fifth major-league start. The first four have been disastrous, with Thompson going 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA. He's allowed 35 baserunners and 21 runs in 19⅓ innings. He's walked 13 and struck out 13.

A consistent theme in Thompson's first four starts has been an inability to get hitters out with men on base. His opponents have a .386 on-base percentage, three homers, two doubles and a triple in 45 plate appearances with men on base. Thompson just hasn't been able to throw strike one out of the stretch.

After Thompson's last start, Phils manager Pete Mackanin said that he'd talk with GM Matt Klentak about the plan the rest of the season for Thompson. Nobody wants to see the 22-year-old pitching prospect go out there and get shelled every fifth day. It could do some long-term damage to his confidence. Hitters and pitchers are different in that way. A 22-year-old position player can come up and try to correct his mistakes on a nightly basis. A 22-year-old pitcher who comes up and struggles has to sit and think about it for four nights before having an opportunity to bounce back.

The Nationals are another tough offense so this could be another short night for Thompson. Washington is second in the NL in home runs and in the top-four in runs, walks, OBP and slugging percentage. And the Nats have been hot in August, hitting .287 with an .817 OPS as a team.

3. Underrated Roark
The Phillies face 29-year-old Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark, who's had an excellent season, going 13-7 with a 2.99 ERA in 168⅓ innings.

Roark had a solid year in 2014, going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, but was moved to the bullpen last season when the Nats lengthened their rotation by signing Max Scherzer. Roark, perhaps undeservedly so, was the odd man out. But after doing what he's done this season, he won't be demoted again any time soon.

Roark has shut the Phillies down three times this season, going seven innings in all three starts and allowing no runs in two of them. Roark is actually tied for the MLB lead with Jake Arrieta with seven games of seven-plus innings and no runs. 

Roark has approached the Phillies differently each time he's faced them this season. In the first start, he threw a ton of sinkers and mixed in curveballs and changeups. In the next start, he tripled his usage of the slider and threw fewer sinkers. In the third start, he doubled the frequency of four-seam fastballs. 

His heater averages about 93 mph.

4. Harper heating up
Bryce Harper broke out last year and won an MVP, then hit to start this season before going into a lengthy slump. His numbers are still nowhere near where they were at this time in 2015, but he is finally on a hot streak.

Over his last 20 games dating back to July 31, Harper has hit .342/.433/.579 with seven doubles, a triple, three homers and 18 RBIs. On the year, he's hitting .254/.387/.471 with 23 homers and 74 RBIs. He had 81 extra-base hits last season and has 43 this season.

Harper is still being pitched around. He has 92 walks and 89 strikeouts. He leads the majors with 16 intentional walks. 

He's destroyed the Phillies the last two seasons, hitting .341 with 11 homers, 24 RBIs, 24 walks and 24 strikeouts in 27 games.

5. This and that
• Cesar Hernandez has hit .345 with a .417 on-base percentage over his last 230 plate appearances, but also has a .478 slugging percentage over that span. He's given the Phillies pretty much everything from an offensive perspective for more than two months.

• It's incredible that Hector Neris has made a National League-leading 65 appearances this season, 31 with the Phillies leading by between 1-3 runs, and has just two blown saves. (Keep in mind a pitcher is given a blown save even if he appears earlier than the ninth inning. Setup men often have a handful or more.)

• Neris has 84 strikeouts. Based on his current pace, he's projected to finish with 105, which would be second-most ever by a Phillies reliever. Dick Selma had 153 in 1970, albeit in about 50 more innings than Neris will finish with.

• Daniel Murphy does not stop. He's hitting .343/.387/.607 in his first year with the Nats with 37 doubles, 25 homers and 98 RBIs. 

Tales of Carlos Ruiz’s generosity still coming out of Phillies' clubhouse

Tales of Carlos Ruiz’s generosity still coming out of Phillies' clubhouse

NEW YORK — A.J. Ellis started (and starred in) his first game for the Phillies on Sunday afternoon (see game recap).
 
Carlos Ruiz has already been in the Dodgers’ lineup.
 
Initial reactions to the swap of backup catchers on Thursday has subsided, but there are still anecdotes worth sharing as it pertains to Ruiz’s impact in the Phillies’ clubhouse.
 
Here are a couple, compliments of Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis.
 
According to Franco, Ruiz viewed it as his responsibility to help young Latin players learn the ropes in the big leagues.
 
When Franco, a native of the Dominican Republic, came to the big leagues for the first time two years ago, Ruiz, from Panama, immediately reached out to him. Franco was just 22. Ruiz was 35 and had eight major-league seasons on his résumé and a World Series ring on his finger.
 
The Phillies were on a road trip and Ruiz told Franco to meet him in the hotel lobby one morning. They got in a cab and ended up at a stylish mall where Ruiz proceeded to purchase Franco some road attire — a suit, some nice shirts and a couple of ties.
 
“It was a beautiful thing he did for me,” Franco said. “Chooch was so good to me. I will never forget that day.
 
“The day he got traded, I called him. He had trouble talking because he was emotional. He almost cried. That boy is different. He’s special.
 
“I still have the suit. It is even more special now.”
 
Galvis also felt the warmth of Ruiz’s generosity.
 
He unexpectedly made the big club out of spring training in 2012 as a fill-in for injured Chase Utley.
 
There’s a lot of learning in your first season in the majors. Ruiz became Galvis’ tour guide.
 
“Every time we went to a new ballpark, he made sure to go with me on the first day so I would know where the entrance was, how to get to the clubhouse, things like that,” Galvis said. “He was always looking out for you.”
 
When Galvis broke camp with the club, he told Galvis, ‘You’re in the major leagues, you have to look good.’
 
“He took me out and bought me four suits, eight shirts and eight ties,” Galvis said with wide eyes.
 
That’s better than Franco did.
 
“Well, I was the only young guy on the team at that time,” Galvis said. “Chooch was good to me. That’s why I was sad to see him go, but also happy because he has a chance to win another World Series.”
 
Galvis, from Venezuela, and Ruiz were like brothers. At the all-star break in 2015, Galvis traveled to Panama with Ruiz for a few days of R&R.
 
In January, Galvis is planning to travel back to Panama. Ruiz and his wife are expecting a child.
 
“I am going to be the godfather,” Galvis said proudly.