Lee allows four homers in Phillies' loss to Nats

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Lee allows four homers in Phillies' loss to Nats

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Is it possible for a pitcher to throw too many strikes?

According to Cliff Lee and manager Charlie Manuel, the answer is no.

But in the Phillies’ 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, Lee’s pinpoint control could have been his downfall (see Instant Replay).

Lee threw a remarkably efficient 76 pitches in seven innings in the loss to the Nats and of those only 12 of them were called balls. That means nearly 85 percent of the time, the Nationals had a pretty good idea where Lee was going to put the ball.

As a result, the Nationals pounded a pair of back-to-back homers off Lee. The first set of homers came in the fifth when No. 7 hitter Anthony Rendon clubbed an 0-2 pitch over the fence in left. The eight-hole hitter, Wilson Ramos, followed by stroking another homer just two pitches later.

To open the sixth inning, Ryan Zimmerman drove an 0-2 pitch to deep left-center field followed by a first-pitch blast to left by Jayson Werth. Against Lee, the Nats got four runs on four homers over a span of nine pitches.

Did Lee throw too many strikes?

“Not really. Occasionally it can seem that way,” Lee said. “Over the course of a season if you’re throwing strikes, good things are going to happen. I feel like as a starting pitcher it’s my job to throw strikes and keep the defense on their toes. That’s what I did tonight. As far as throwing strikes, that might have been the best I’ve done in a while. And they weren’t just strikes, they were quality strikes.”

Lee was uncanny with his control on Wednesday night. In his seven innings he faced 29 hitters and threw 25 first-pitch strikes. He had three two-ball counts and zero three-ball counts. He got seven hitters to put the ball in play on the first pitch and six others to put the second pitch in play. Of those 13 hitters to put the first or second pitch in play, eight made outs.

Meanwhile, Lee had six strikeouts with four of them coming on three pitches. Another whiff came on the fourth pitch and only one hitter got as many as six pitches in a plate appearance.

That’s a lot of strikes.

But was it too many strikes?

“I don’t know. I’ve seen him when he’s like that and nobody hits him,” Manuel said.

“As far as throwing too many strikes, if you get them out ain’t nobody going to say nothing. Once they hit you, you say just don’t make them too good.”

Still, the Nationals did not get a hit with runners in scoring position off Lee and had two runners on base in an inning just once. In other words, unless the Nats went deep, they weren’t going to get a run off Lee.

That’s what they did.

“They hit four solo home runs. I feel like I was throwing strikes and working ahead in the count -- locating,” Lee said. “Actually, all four of the home runs I felt like were decent pitches. It was just one of those deals that when it’s hot this time of year the ball carries. I have to do a better job of inducing ground balls. They put some good swings on some decent pitches and hit them out of here.”

Added Manuel: “When you’re pitching that good it’s kind of hard to criticize him. He was that good.”

The Phillies’ hitters were not very good against Nats lefty Gio Gonzalez. The former Phillies farmhand allowed a run on six hits and two walks in seven innings. The only run came on a two-out homer from Darin Ruf in the seventh inning.

The Phillies had more than enough chances to score, though. They got the leadoff man on base in the third and fifth innings, and left men in scoring position in the second, third, fifth and seventh innings. However, the Phillies stranded seven runners -- five of them in scoring position -- and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

As a result, the Phillies fell to 11-36 this season when scoring three runs or less.

“We had some chances,” Manuel said. “But we just couldn’t get the big hit.”

The Phillies also had a chance to improve to .500, too. At 45-47, the Phillies have had 12 chances to improve their record to .500 and they are 3-9 in those games.

The Phillies and Nationals close out the four-game series on Thursday when Kyle Kendrick (7-6, 3.90) looks to bounce back from a rough outing against Nats righty Jordan Zimmermann (12-3, 2.57).
 
Last time out, Kendrick gave up six runs on 12 hits and a pair of walks in a 13-4 loss to the Braves. Kendrick is 0-1 with a 4.26 ERA in two starts against the Nats this season and 4-6 with a 4.63 ERA in 21 appearances during his career.
 
Zimmermann beat Kendrick and the Phillies at Nationals Park on May 24, allowing just two runs and six hits in seven innings.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."