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 manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just pitch.
 
Don’t worry about the role.
 
Just pitch.
 
That’s Adam Morgan’s mindset this spring.
 
“I’m just trying to show whoever needs to see it that I can be an asset to this team,” the left-hander said after his spring debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday (see story). “I’m just keeping it simple that way. I’m not trying to go out for that fifth (starting) spot. If the fifth spot opens up, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want me to be the backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher.”
 
The Phillies have plenty of candidates for backup catcher.
 
And the top five spots in their starting rotation, barring an unforeseen development, are accounted for.
 
But there is a way for Morgan to make this team.
 
“He’s definitely a bullpen candidate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin is on record as saying he’d like to have two lefties in what likely will be a seven-man bullpen. It might not work out that way, but that would be Mackanin’s preference.
 
Morgan is one of what appears to be four candidates along with Joely Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett. Ramos and Burnett are experienced major-league veterans in camp on minor-league contracts. Rodriguez is the only pure lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Morgan, of course, is on the 40-man roster, but he’s mainly been a starter in his career.

There’s a long way to go in spring training and it would not be surprising to see general manager Matt Klentak add to the list of lefty relief candidates with some type of pickup before the end of camp.
 
But for now, it’s just these four.
 
Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, started and pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday and will likely continue to have his innings stretched out throughout the Grapefruit League season, just in case he’s needed as a starter.

Ramos and Rodriguez both pitched an inning Saturday. Ramos allowed a hit and a run. Rodriguez had a clean inning. Burnett was tagged for two hits and two runs on Friday.
 
Morgan made 21 starts for the Phillies last season. He also made two relief appearances and finished the season with a 6.04 ERA. He was sent to Triple A in July and returned in mid-August. He made nine starts after returning and pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer earned runs in four of them.
 
During his time in Triple A, Morgan started throwing a two-seam fastball or sinker. He’s continued to throw it this spring and believes it will help him.
 
“I learned to trust the two-seamer last year and that’s what I hope to keep moving forward with,” he said.
 
Will it take him to the Phillies’ bullpen?
 
He hopes so. He got a taste of relieving last season and liked it.
 
“Oh, yeah, I loved it,” he said. “Every time the phone rang down there, I was on high alert. It was awesome. It’s a rush.
 
“But wherever I land, I land. I’d be willing to play anywhere on this team.”

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin assembled what will probably end up being his opening day lineup for Saturday’s spring home opener against the Yankees.

He liked what he saw.

Especially from cleanup man Maikel Franco.

Franco’s big challenge in becoming a more complete player is to improve his selectivity at the plate. The 24-year-old third baseman looked pretty good in that area in three at-bats.

Franco fell behind 0-2 in his first at-bat then battled back to a full count before popping out in the second inning.

He smacked a homer to left on a 2-2 slider in the fourth and then in the sixth, he stroked a first-pitch gapper to left-center that went for an inside-the-park homer. The ball got stuck under the padding on the outfield wall and the umpire did not rule it a ground-rule double.

“Hey, you see my speed?” the not-so-fleet-footed Franco said with a laugh after coming out of the game. “It’s like Cesar’s (Hernandez) speed.”

Mackanin liked the totality of Franco’s at-bats, not just the results.

“He had two long, deep-count at-bats,” Mackanin said. “He worked the count deep and that was good to see.”

There are many miles to go before opening day, and Franco still has many miles to cover before he’s the complete player he wants to be and the selective hitter the front office wants to build around.

Franco vowed to keep working on it under new hitting coach Matt Stairs.

“He told me my focus should be when I stay to the middle of the field, I'll have a lot of success,” Franco said. “I am trying to work on it and put focus on it. I talked to (Howie) Kendrick about hitting and he's helped me. I'm going to stay on it every single day. I'm trying to do my job, trying to do the best I can.

“When I stay in the middle, when I try to hit the ball up the middle, something is going to happen. That's what I want to do, what I want to keep doing.”

Franco hit .255 with 25 homers and 88 RBIs last season, but his on-base percentage was just .306.

He was asked whether he had any personal goals for the season.

“The first thing is to try to be healthy,” he said. “I just want to play in 162 games. Other than that, I'll just do everything I can do.

“Every single day I want to do my best and not try to force the situation. I think I can do better than last year. This year should be very good and much better than last year.”

The game 
The Phillies won it, 6-5, on a walk-off RBI single by Brock Stassi in the bottom of the ninth inning. The hit scored Rhys Hoskins, who had doubled. Hoskins drove a homer to deep center earlier in the game.

Hoskins, who turns 24 in March, has 55 homers and 206 RBIs the last two seasons. He will move to Triple A this season and play first base.

Stassi is a candidate to win a job on the bench (see story). He hasn’t hurt himself in the first two games. He homered Friday and had the game-winning hit Saturday.

“I’m feeling pretty good early on,” he said. “Gotta keep it going.”

Pitching in
Adam Morgan pitched two scoreless innings. Prospect Ricardo Pinto pitched a scoreless inning. It’s not out of the question that he transitions to the bullpen at some point this season.

Mark Appel showed his big stuff with three strikeouts in two innings of work, but his control problems also surfaced as he threw a wild pitch that resulted in two runs.

Up next
Probable opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson makes his spring debut Sunday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Here is the Phillies’ posted lineup for that game:

1. Cameron Perkins CF
2. J.P. Crawford SS
3. Daniel Nava LF
4. Cameron Rupp DH 
5. Andres Blanco 2B
6. Dylan Cozens RF
7. Ryan Hanigan C
8. Brock Stassi 1B
9. Taylor Featherston 3B

Right-hander Joe Biagini will start for Toronto.

Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies against Tampa Bay on Monday. Clay Buchholz will start against Baltimore on Tuesday. Both of those games are in Clearwater.