Papelbon blows it for Phils in tough loss to Texas

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Papelbon blows it for Phils in tough loss to Texas

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ARLINGTON, Tex. – After being beaten down by all the losing in 2013, Jonathan Papelbon came back this season with a new, positive, upbeat attitude.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, he has the same tired fastball, and the team still has the same haunting questions at the closer position.

Three outs were all that stood between Papelbon and his first save of the new season Wednesday night. More importantly, three outs were all that stood between the Phillies and a season-opening series win against the Texas Rangers.

Once upon a time, Papelbon would have stuffed those three outs into his back pocket and the Phillies would have boarded their charter flight to Chicago in the highest of spirits.

Instead, that flight to Chicago must have been miserable.

Papelbon couldn’t get the three outs the team needed. In his first save chance of the new season, he failed to protect a two-run lead in the ninth inning. The Rangers rallied for three runs against Papelbon and danced off the field with a 4-3 win, their second walk-off victory against the Phillies’ bullpen in 24 hours (see Instant Replay).

“That was a tough one,” Carlos Ruiz sighed in the somber losing clubhouse, moments after Papelbon walked in the winning run with the bases loaded.

It was a tough loss and an alarming one, as well, because the Phillies are counting on the highly-paid Papelbon -- $13 million this season and next –- to nail down wins. However, when he was called on to nail down this one, he looked no better than the guy he was last year when he blew seven saves and had a career-worst 81 percent save percentage while striking out a career-low 8.3 batters per nine innings.

Papelbon faced seven batters in the game and retired just one. He allowed four hits and walked two. His best fastball was between 90 and 92 mph. In his prime, it was 95.

After the game, the 33-year-old closer blamed his problems on a mechanical flaw.

“I was definitely flying open a little and coming out of my delivery,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a disappointment.”

Without the pop he once had, Papelbon now has to mix pitches and, for the first time in his career, concede to some contact. In this game, he relied on his low-octane fastball and left it up in the strike zone, where hitters feasted.

“They were on his fastball and he was elevating it,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “He can’t rely on contact up in the zone. He needs his secondary pitches and he needs to be down.”

Papelbon allowed hits to three of the first four batters he faced in the ninth. The third hit was an infield squibber by Jim Adduci that scored a run and put runners on the corners with one out.

With the pressure building and the Phils’ lead down to one, pitching coach Bob McClure visited Papelbon and told him to get a ground ball. Papelbon did get Leonys Martin to hit a ground ball to the first-base side of the second base bag, but it got by Chase Utley, who was playing about three steps off the grass because his priority was to cut the tying run at the plate. The middle infield would have only gone for a double play on a sharply hit ball right at the second baseman or shortstop. The Phillies call that “Three Depth.” The defense is called from the bench.

Papelbon did not appear to be thrilled with the defensive call. In fact, he threw his arms up in the air when Martin’s hit traveled into center field, driving in the tying run.

“Obviously I don’t know whether that’s called from the bench or by the middle infielders,” Papelbon said. “But less than two outs, I’m thinking ground ball and I’m thinking let’s get this double play and go home.

“Obviously I’m not going to second-guess my teammates or my coach. Whatever they decide, I’ve got to run with it and go with it and do my best to do my job. But it’s just one of those weird innings, man.”

Sandberg did his best not to look worried about Papelbon. He mentioned how he was pleased with the offense during the series. He praised reliever Mario Hollands for bouncing back after taking the loss Tuesday night and pitching a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday night.

But when the conversation turned back to Papelbon and whether he thought his closer was trending downward, all Sandberg could say was, “We’ll see how it goes.”

So far, it doesn’t look good.

The Phillies are 1-2 and they have the same old haunting questions at the closer position.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

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PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.

Best of MLB: Padres score 4 off Papelbon in 9th, take series from Nationals

Best of MLB: Padres score 4 off Papelbon in 9th, take series from Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The San Diego Padres' three-city road trip didn't begin well. Earning their first series victory against the Washington Nationals since 2011 is helping to turn it around.

Alex Dickerson and Ryan Schimpf hit back-to-back homers off Shawn Kelley in the eighth inning and the Padres added four runs off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth to beat the Nationals 10-6 on Sunday.

"We've been on the road for a little bit, and it's definitely good to come here against a team like this and get two wins out of it," said Schimpf, whose team suffered a four-game sweep in St. Louis before winning two of three in Washington.

Ryan Buchter (2-0) pitched a scoreless eighth to earn the victory.

With the game tied at 6, Wil Myers drew a one-out walk off Papelbon and moved to second on a wild pitch before Yangervis Solarte's RBI single. The Padres added two more singles to load the bases, setting up Alexei Ramirez's three-run double (see full recap).

Matz earns 1st win since May as Mets beat Marlins
MIAMI -- Helped by a couple of small victories against Giancarlo Stanton, Steven Matz earned a big win for the New York Mets.

Matz pitched six innings Sunday for his first win since May, twice escaping trouble by getting Stanton to ground out with a runner in scoring position, and the Mets took the rubber game of their series against Miami, 3-0.

"It was good to go out there and put up zeroes and get a win," Matz said.

The Mets won two of three games in the series and returned home trailing second-place Miami by half a game in the NL East.

"This was crunch time for us," manager Terry Collins said. "We couldn't lose any more ground. This was a good series for us to win."

Matz (8-6) allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six. Pitching despite a bone spur in his elbow, he had been 0-5 in his past nine starts with an ERA of 4.73 (see full recap).

Reimold's HR helps Orioles beat Indians 5-3 for 3-game sweep
BALTIMORE -- This is how good things are going for the Orioles at home this season: After blowing a late-inning lead, Baltimore launched the game-winning uprising with a third strike.

Pinch-hitter Nolan Reimold hit a decisive two-out homer in the ninth inning after Pedro Alvarez reached on a strikeout, and the Orioles beat the Cleveland Indians 5-3 Sunday for a three-game sweep.

Cody Allen (2-4) began the ninth by striking out Alvarez, but the ball eluded catcher Roberto Perez. After fielding the bouncing ball off the backstop, Perez hit Alvarez in the helmet with the throw for an error.

"As long as I have been playing baseball the rule is you run down the baseline," Alvarez said. "I saw the ball get away from him and I just ran down to first base."

A sacrifice bunt and a strikeout followed before Reimold lined a 2-0 pitch into the left-field seats (see full recap).

DeShields homers as Rangers top Royals
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Delino DeShields is known for his speed, stealing 101 bases in 2012 in the minors, not for his power.

DeShields homered in the seventh inning to break a tie and the Texas Rangers defeated the Kansas City Royals 2-1 on Sunday.

DeShields, who was recalled Thursday from Triple-A Round Rock, walked and doubled before leading off the seventh with his third home run. DeShields hit a 2-1 pitch from Luke Hochevar out to left.

"It so happened that today I was the guy that got us the go-ahead run," DeShields said. "I was just trying to hit the ball hard. I wasn't looking for anything specific. I wanted to get on base. Before I had gotten on base in every at-bat.

"With the game tied and if I get myself in scoring position, there's a good chance for me to touch home plate. I got into it pretty good and got it over the fence, but the main focus was just putting the barrel on the ball and try to get on base."

The loss dropped the Royals to 48-49, the first time the World Series champions have been below .500 since May 15 when they were 18-19. The Royals have lost 13 of 19 games in July (see full recap).