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.

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies got the good health they were looking for from Aaron Nola this spring.

But the overall results weren't so good.

Nola struggled in his sixth and final Grapefruit League start Tuesday night. He was roughed up for seven hits, including two home runs, and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning in the Phillies' 10-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nola finished the Grapefruit League portion of his spring with an ERA of 8.38 after giving up 18 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He gave up 28 hits, walked seven and struck out 23.

"People say it's spring training but nobody wants to go out there and give up runs," Nola said.

While he wasn't happy with the numbers he put up in camp, Nola was pleased with his health. He missed the final two months of last season with an elbow strain. He said that is completely behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand really good.

"Tonight was the best I've felt all spring. I just left some balls up and they took some good swings. It was a tough night."

Manager Pete Mackanin weighed in on Nola's spring.

"One thing I like is that his velocity is way up," Mackanin said. "I think his arm is healthy and that's good to see more than anything.

"He hasn't shown the command that makes him a good pitcher, but I think that will get there."

Nola gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr.

Nola lines up to pitch the fifth game of the regular season a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

He only threw 51 pitches Tuesday night so he has room for a good bullpen session and another start before that outing. The start will come at the minor-league complex on Sunday. He will then join the team in Cincinnati for Monday's season opener.

Murray injured
Reliever Colton Murray ran his scoreless string to 10 1/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer in his third inning of work. Murray left the game with what looked like a lower back injury. He fell to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch. Earlier in the day, Murray was told that he would open the season in Triple A.

Minor matters 
Infielder Cole Stobbe, 19, the Phillies' third-round pick in last year's draft, and 18-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez were named winners of the Bill Giles and Larry Rojas awards for their standout work in minor-league camp. Both are among the organization's most highly touted young prospects.

Up next
The Phillies will split the squad and play two games on Wednesday. One team will go to Lakeland to play the Tigers. The other will go to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

The battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen will take center stage as Luis Garcia starts in Lakeland and Joely Rodriguez in Bradenton.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening-day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League Rookie of the Year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we're going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster, so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday, so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that, so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."