Papelbon blows save, debates Phils' fundamentals

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Papelbon blows save, debates Phils' fundamentals

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Every time you think the Phillies are about to turn the corner and put something together they trip over their own feet.

They were one out away from completing a three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night when Jonathan Papelbon blew his second save of the series. Unlike Monday night, the boys with the bats couldn’t bail out Papelbon. The Nats went on to win, 6-2, on a grand slam by Ian Desmond against Mike Stutes in the top of 11th inning (see Instant Replay).

There were a lot of reasons the Phillies lost this game -- afterward Papelbon spoke at length about the team’s poor fundamental play -- and Charlie Manuel’s decision to go to his bullpen after Kyle Kendrick delivered 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball was not one of them. Antonio Bastardo got the out Manuel was looking for in the eighth, and Manuel did the right thing in going to his $50 million closer for the ninth. Yeah, Papelbon had pitched the previous two nights but he’d thrown just 24 pitches. With an off day Thursday, he belonged in this game.

He just didn’t get the job done. He allowed a pair of baserunners before Jayson Werth tied the game on a first-pitch single with two outs in the ninth.

“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Papelbon said. “As a closer, it’s important for me to be able to finish off those wins for our starters. Unfortunately, the bullpen wasn’t able to do it tonight. I’ve got to be able to make a pitch to Werth there. I have to get into more of a battle with him.”

While the bullpen took ultimate blame for the loss, there were other culprits.

The offense was a big one.

The Phils’ first two batters of the game -- Ben Revere (single) and Michael Young (homer) -- got hits off Gio Gonzalez and scored runs. After that, the Phillies went 32 plate appearances waiting for their next hit, a single by Carlos Ruiz with two outs in the 10th. That’s the equivalent of being no-hit -- and then some.

The defense was another culprit.

The Nationals got the tying run on base in the top of the ninth on a ball that was flubbed around the infield by the Phillies’ defense and ultimately ruled an infield hit. Denard Span, Washington’s leadoff man, hit the ball to the right of first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard, playing even with the bag because Span was a drag-bunt threat, dove and got a glove on the ball, but couldn’t come up with it. The ball ricocheted to second baseman Freddy Galvis, who had entered the game for defense, but his throw to Papelbon at first, though catchable, was low and Papelbon couldn’t make a play.

Paplebon then got two outs before allowing a walk to Adam LaRoche and the game-tying single to Werth.

After the game, Papelbon talked about fundamentals and how the Phillies are coming up short in that department.

In particular, he talked about Howard’s positioning on Span’s infield hit and that led to a broader discussion of the topic.

“I was thinking on a 3-1 count our infield would be back and I was expecting to turn around and run to first base and catch a underhand throw,” Papelbon said.

So he was surprised Howard was even with the bag?

“Yeah,” he said.

Howard declined to speak with a reporter after the game. Regardless of his positioning, if he had managed to snag Span’s ball, the inning could have been different.

Then again, the same thing could be said for Galvis’ feed or Papelbon’s attempted catch.

Papelbon kept coming back to fundamentals.

“This is a game of fundamentals and we’ve got to do fundamentals right and keep grinding,” he said. “It’s a game of who grinds the most and who plays the best fundamental baseball. That’s pretty much it.”

Papelbon said the Phillies needed to do everything better.

“Everything from the pitchers making the correct pitches, to pitchers backing up the right bases, to the outfield moving on counts, to the infield moving on counts. Everything that goes into every pre-pitch. We’ve got to do better.

“I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. It’s a team effort here. To be able to win and be in the forefront of the playoff race, you have to play good fundamental baseball and do the little things, and the little things are before the pitches are thrown. There’s 150 pitches thrown by our pitchers and before every one of those we have to make sure we’re putting ourselves in a position to be the best we can before each pitch.

“I’m seeing some of the same mistakes. I think for us we have to make the fundamental plays were supposed to make.”

Despite the Phillies’ treating the .500 mark as if it were a disease -- the Phils are three games under -- Papelbon believes this team can put a run together.

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “With that being said, playing less than .500 baseball and not doing the little things right is not going to get it done. I blew this game, but it takes everybody involved to lose a ballgame, and it takes everyone involved to win a ballgame.”

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- A tempestuous three-game series between the Red Sox and Baltimore wound up with Matt Barnes being ejected for throwing a fastball behind the head of Orioles star Manny Machado in Boston's 6-2 victory Sunday.

Barnes' ejection was the latest facet of this tense rivalry between AL East rivals. His high, very inside pitch came two days after Machado took out Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-high slide.

Pedroia watched from the dugout for a second straight day Sunday with knee and ankle injuries. Machado apologized with a text message on Friday night, but that evidently wasn't the end of it.

When Machado batted in the sixth inning, Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches down and in near the knees. He came up again in the eighth and Barnes' pitch whizzed behind Machado and hit his bat. The ball hit Machado and rolled foul, and plate umpire Andy Fletcher tossed Barnes (see full recap).

Bour's 3-run homer lifts Marlins past Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Justin Bour hit a three-run homer to cap the six-run sixth inning and help the Miami Marlins to a 7-3 victory Sunday against the San Diego Padres.

The first six Marlins batters reached and scored in the sixth, helping Tom Koehler (1-1) to his first win of the season.

San Diego's Luis Perdomo came off the disabled list and shut down the Marlins through five before hitting the wall in the sixth. Martin Prado hit a leadoff single, Christian Yelich walked and Giancarlo Stanton hit an RBI single to chase Perdomo.

Craig Stammen (0-1) came on and allowed Marcell Ozuna's RBI double just past the glove of first baseman Wil Myers and J.T. Realmuto's RBI single to left before Bour hit a no-doubter to right field, his third.

Kevin Quackenbush relieved and got three straight outs (see full recap).

Astros use 2-run 10th to beat Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel both had RBI singles in the 10th inning, and the Houston Astros rallied from an early four-run deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 on Sunday.

Carlos Beltran opened the 10th by drawing a walk from Ryan Garton (0-1) and went to second on Jose Altuve's single. After reaching third on Carlos Correa's fly to center, Beltran scored to make it 5-4 on McCann's hit to right.

Gurriel's two-out single put Houston ahead 6-4.

Luke Gregerson (1-1) went a scoreless ninth before Ken Giles got three out for his fifth save.

The Astros tied it at 4 on pinch-hitter Evan Gattis' sacrifice fly off closer Alex Colome, who was bidding for a two-inning save, in the ninth.

Brad Miller had an RBI triple, Steven Souza Jr. hit a two-run homer, and Jesus Sucre added a run-scoring single as the Rays went up 4-0 in the first (see full recap).

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

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A constant theme during the Phillies' playoff run from 2007-11 was that even when the offense was sputtering, it never felt like they were out of a game. That group of players picked up so many late hits and mounted so many comebacks that even a five-run deficit heading into the final three innings felt like a winnable game.

The 2017 Phillies are a much different, much less experienced, much less powerful team, but their late-game offense has been a surprisingly fun development this April.

The Phillies used back-to-back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning Sunday to pick up a 5-2 win over the Braves and a series sweep (see Instant Replay). Cesar Hernandez hit a go-ahead, two-run shot off hard-throwing reliever Arodys Vizcaino. Aaron Altherr followed with a solo shot on the next pitch. The Braves switched pitchers, then Odubel Herrera hit a solo homer of his own.

Just like that, ballgame.

The Phillies lead the majors with six home runs in the eighth inning. That's more than the Cubs, Red Sox, Rockies, Angels, Mariners, Pirates, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Giants and Astros have combined.

They've scored 14 runs in the eighth inning and 27 in innings 7-9. Both figures rank third-best in the National League behind only the Diamondbacks and Nationals.

Unexpected late-game heroics and unexpected power from some unlikely sources.

"It's always a bonus to have a team like that," manager Pete Mackanin said. "These guys pull for each other. We have a good bench, we have some interchangeable players that can step in and do a good job. ... They're fighters and it's good to see."

Hernandez continues to open eyes with his developing power. He has four home runs through 18 games after hitting six all of last season. He has more extra-base hits (nine) than Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt and Robinson Cano, among many others.

And he's done it without sacrificing his eye at the plate and slap-hitting ability. Hernandez is hitting .338 through 80 at-bats.

Hernandez gained muscle over the winter and reported to spring training looking noticeably bigger, but Mackanin credits the power surge to a change in his swing plane.

"He had an uppercut swing," Mackanin said. "He worked underneath the ball, which made him a low-ball hitter. I think the fact that we convinced him to level out his swing and stay on top of the ball -- work above the ball and work your way down through the strike zone -- I think has not only given him more power but also (the ability) to hit more line drives and use the whole field."

Makes sense. Managers, hitting coaches and players talk all the time about how you don't hit a home run when you're trying to hit a home run, you hit one when you're thinking up the middle and catch the ball with the barrel.

Hernandez hasn't lofted more balls because he's trying to loft them, he's done it by getting stronger and developing a more consistent swing.

"He's an on-base guy and a leadoff hitter and now I'm starting to think of him as a cleanup hitter as well," Mackanin said jokingly. "It is nice. It's good to see. He's not trying to hit home runs. He's trying to hit line drives and when you work above the ball and level your swing out and you hit the bottom half of the ball, the ball is going to go up with a line-drive swing. Because of that, he's hitting more gaps and hitting for more power."

In a way, it's similar to what Herrera did last season, jumping from eight home runs as a rookie to 15 as a sophomore as he continued learning the strike zone, learning major-league pitchers and learning of his own capabilities.

"I love watching Cesar hit the ball," Herrera said. "He has a beautiful swing and he makes great contact on the ball. It's great to be behind him."

With Hernandez leading off and Herrera batting third, the top of the Phillies' lineup has gotten on base a ton. They've gotten a .384 on-base percentage from the 1-3 spots in the order. Just imagine how many additional runs the Phillies would have produced to this point if Maikel Franco or Tommy Joseph were hitting consistently.

"I like all three right there," Mackanin said. "I like Howie Kendrick, also. I'm anxious for him to get back (from the DL) and then we'll go from there. We've got some good things going. We've got a good bench. We've got Altherr, (Daniel) Nava, (Andres) Blanco. We've got (Andrew) Knapp who's doing a good job behind the plate. I think we're in pretty good shape that way."

It's not going to be an explosive, league-leading offense, but it's certainly a deeper offense than it was a year ago. An addition like Nava, for example, has proven to be underrated and pay early dividends. Remember, he was one of the last men chosen for the opening day roster. So far this April, he's succeeded in every role in which the Phillies have used him.

Despite not playing regularly, Nava has reached base in 16 of his first 31 plate appearances, something no first-year Phillie has done since Jeremy Giambi in 2002.

"Nava is really valuable to us," Mackanin said. "He's a part-time player that gives you good at-bats, quality at-bats. He works the count, obviously the first game of the season he showed us he's got power. Gap power and the occasional home run from both sides of the plate. 

"Watching a guy like that, you can't help but notice. If it was me and I was a free swinger, I'd go up to him and ask him, 'How do I tone it down a little bit?' He just doesn't get himself out."