Lee proves steady for Phils again in win over Nats

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Lee proves steady for Phils again in win over Nats

BOX SCORE

Every five days when Cliff Lee takes the mound, the Phillies know what they are going to get. That’s seven to eight innings, a scattering of hits and runs and a lot of strikes.

Along with that comes a quick game and a very little time to daydream. In Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), Lee got nine strikeouts and didn’t walk a single batter.

In fact, Lee had just one three-ball count all night while improving to 9-2 with a 2.53 ERA.

“He takes the game and he absolutely controls it,” manager Charlie Manuel said after the victory. “He runs it at his tempo. He sets the speed and everything about the game. He can speed it up and he can slow it down, and when he gets the ball he knows he has three pitches and he wants to throw them. I love the way he pitches, especially on nights like tonight.”

With Roy Halladay recovering from surgery and Cole Hamels struggling through a rough season, Lee also controls the vibe in the clubhouse.

Yet as the one sure thing on the 25-man roster, Lee may draw a little more attention about his future with the Phillies in the next month or so. With two more years left on his five-year, $120 million contract, Lee could be on the trading block if general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to “blow it up.”

Lee addressed his future with the Phillies after beating the Twins on three hits over seven innings in his last start. After beating the Nationals by scattering five hits through eight innings, the topic was broached again.

And once again, Lee did not change his tune.

He wants to win with the Phillies. But more than that, Lee wants to win. That’s it. If people want to believe that it means Lee wants to get traded to a contender, go ahead and believe that. Lee isn’t going to lose any sleep over it.

“I don’t really care how it’s interpreted to be honest with you. I want to win. I signed here to win and that’s never going to change no matter who asks me,” Lee said after his seventh straight win and his sixth start this season with at least eight innings pitched. “I think it's misconstrued in thinking I wanted to play somewhere else and that’s not the case. I want to win and I want to win here and that’s it.

“I’m going to continue to answer questions honestly and that’s how I’m going to do it.”

Lee also just keeps gobbling up innings and winning ballgames.

“Cliff pitched like Cliff. He’s been unbelievable,” said Kevin Frandsen, who went 1 for 4 with a clutch two-run single in a three-run sixth inning. “Cliff is a ballplayer. He’s what you want from a baseball player and he’s a starting pitcher.”

Perhaps Lee’s pitching can lift a team the way a big home run or a clutch hit can. As Lee tore through the Nats’ lineup, retiring 11 of the first 12 he faced and 13 of the final 15, the Phillies’ hitters seemed to take their cues from him. When Jayson Werth slugged a solo homer with two outs in the fourth inning, the Phillies quickly manufactured a run with Michael Young setting the table.

Young went 3 for 4 with three doubles, two runs and an RBI. He would have gone 4 for 4 if Nats starting pitcher Ross Detwiler hadn’t luckily grabbed a screaming liner headed back through the box.

In the fourth, Young doubled, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Jimmy Rollins and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Howard. In the sixth, Young drove home Ben Revere with another double after the leadoff man started the inning with a bunt single. Later, Young scored from third when Frandsen singled with two outs in the inning.

With Young swinging the bat well at the top of the lineup, the Phillies’ hitters have had plenty of chances to score runs. Since the calendar flipped to June, Young has been one of the team’s hottest hitters, going 22 for 58 (.379) with five doubles, six runs and a .390 on-base percentage.

This comes after a month of May in which Young batted .172, struck out 13 times and grounded into six double plays.

“I think he was trying too hard. He expects a lot out of himself and he wants to do good for us,” Manuel said. “He started to relax a little and his bat looks quicker to me.”

Meanwhile, Lee has been making the opposition’s bats look a lot slower this season. Sporting a 0.95 WHIP with just 17 walks and 98 strikeouts in 110 innings this season, Lee has been the one thing the Phillies can always count on all year.

But for how much longer?

“I’m confident we can win,” Lee said. “If we can get all the guys on the field I think we can beat anyone. And I’m confident that the organization is going to do everything they can to field the best team. Those are all the reasons why I came here and that’s what I expect and I think that’s what everyone here should expect.”

Tonight's lineup: Cody Asche starts in place of injured Roman Quinn

Tonight's lineup: Cody Asche starts in place of injured Roman Quinn

With Roman Quinn's season over with an oblique strain, Freddy Galvis moves up to second in the Phillies' lineup Wednesday night against the Braves.

Quinn's showing in the majors this month was a microcosm of his pro career to this point — he showed his speed with four steals and several infield hits, posted a .373 OBP in 69 plate appearances, but suffered another injury. Health has always been his roadblock.

With Quinn out, Cody Asche gets a start in left field against Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who he's homered off of. The presence of Quinn and Aaron Altherr has limited Asche's playing time — he's started only three games since coming back from Triple A on Sept. 10.

Asche bats seventh, a spot ahead of Aaron Altherr, who is 7 for 52 (.135) in his last 18 games and has four extra-base hits in his last 133 plate appearances.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Adam Morgan, P

Matt Kemp, who sat last night, returns to the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Matt Kemp, LF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Dansby Swanson, SS
7. Mallex Smith, RF
8. Daniel Castro, 2B
9. Mike Foltynewicz, P

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Ryan Howard's earned a job somewhere

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Ryan Howard's earned a job somewhere

Phillies (70-87) at Braves (64-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The last two games for the Phillies have been about as ugly as it gets. After losing 17-0 on Sunday, they blew a six-run lead Tuesday as the bullpen continued to stumble toward the finish line.

1. No relief in sight
Pete Mackanin was peeved after last night's game and rightfully so. His relievers have an 8.03 ERA this month. Who can he even trust at this point?

The Phils have used 12 different relievers this month and only three — David Hernandez, Michael Mariot and Joely Rodriguez — have an ERA below 4.76. And even Hernandez, who has a 1.08 ERA in September, has allowed 16 baserunners in 8⅓ innings. 

Hector Neris, who Mackanin was saving last night for a save situation, is the most trustworthy option in the current bullpen. He's gotten outs most of the year, posting a 2.53 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with 100 strikeouts in 78⅓ innings. But even he has struggled lately, allowing runs in five of his last 10 appearances and walking 10 batters in his last 10 innings.

The Phillies will have money to spend this offseason and even if they don't spend it on A-list names, they could allocate some of it toward relievers who have better stuff than this bunch. Excluding closers like Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon, the free-agent reliever class includes decent veteran options like Brad Ziegler, Sergio Romo, Jim Johnson, Neftali Feliz, Fernando Rodney, Joe Smith and Brett Cecil, among others.

Giving one of those guys $6-8 million wouldn't stunt anyone else's development.

2. Stay a while
With the way these relievers have been batted around the last two games — 20 earned runs allowed in eight innings — the Phillies badly need some length out of Adam Morgan tonight. He hasn't given it to them in his last two starts, going just 9⅓ innings combined because of high pitch counts.

Morgan has been pretty good lately, though. Since returning to the majors on Aug. 14, he's allowed more than three runs only once in eight starts. He has a 3.86 ERA over that span, and if you exclude his poor outing against the Mets on Aug. 26, it's 2.92.

Morgan has missed more bats lately than we're accustomed to seeing. He matched a career-high with eight strikeouts in his last start, five starts after K'ing eight Mets. He's induced 25 swinging strikes in his last two starts. Over his last six outings, Morgan has a swinging strike rate of 12 percent; the MLB average for starting pitchers is 9.5 percent.

Morgan has faced the Braves twice this season. Both games were in May and he pitched well in each of them, allowing one run over seven innings and two over six. 

Morgan's season numbers are still ugly (2-10, 5.57 ERA), but it's pretty clear he's been a different pitcher since learning a two-seam fastball and coming back to the majors. Whether that holds up long-term remains to be seen, but Morgan is the rare Phillies pitcher finishing 2016 better than he started it.

3. Piece of the action
Ryan Howard continues to produce in his final days with the Phillies. He hit a grand slam last night for his 24th homer of the season and third in his last five games. 

Howard has homered 12 times since the All-Star break, equaling his output from the first half. And look at his numbers since July 7, a span of 44 games and 136 plate appearances: .266/.331/.621, 13 homers, 31 RBIs. He's locked in.

Howard can still do damage against right-handed pitching. He has 23 homers off of them in 313 plate appearances. Over the last 11 seasons, the only other player in baseball with that many homers off righties in so few plate appearances was Mark Teixeira in 2015. 

You mean to tell me an American League team can't use him next season in a role that only accentuates his strengths and mitigates his weaknesses?

Howard will play again tonight and likely in all of five of the Phils' remaining games. He's 3 for 4 with a homer off tonight's opponent, Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz.

4. Scouting Folty
Foltynewicz, a power-armed 24-year-old, was the Braves' return in the Evan Gattis-to-Houston trade prior to 2015. He's a classic case of a big, straight fastball not translating to success.

In 223⅔ innings in the majors, Foltynewicz has a 4.99 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. He's allowed 1.5 homers per nine innings (bad) and his opponents have hit .289.

Foltynewicz has a 7.62 ERA in three career meetings with the Phillies. They jumped him the last time they saw him, July 5, homering four times in his 5⅔ innings. 

Current Phillies are 15 for 43 (.396) off Foltynewicz. Howard, Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco, Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos have all taken him deep.

Foltynewicz (8-5, 4.41) hasn't pitched since Sept. 12, when he allowed five runs on 11 hits to the Marlins in just 3⅔ innings.

5. This and that
• Roman Quinn's season is almost certainly over after he suffered an oblique strain last night. If that's the case, he'll finish his first taste of the majors with a .263/.373/.333 batting line, five steals and four doubles in 69 plate appearances. Quinn looks like a significant part of their future, but the Phillies really can't move other pieces around for him because of his lengthy injury history.

• Freddie Freeman in 17 games against the Phillies this season: .381 BA, five doubles, six homers, 11 RBIs, 17 runs, 10 walks. He's had a tremendous season in all aspects, but the most impressive stat might be that he's hitting .307 against righties and .307 against lefties. Prior to this season he was a .300 hitter vs. righties and a .260 hitter vs. lefties.

• Last night's two-hour rain delay probably cost Jerad Eickhoff a chance at reaching 200 innings. He's scheduled to start the final game of the season but would need to pitch 8⅔ innings to reach that plateau.

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