Papelbon blows save, debates Phils' fundamentals

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Papelbon blows save, debates Phils' fundamentals

BOX SCORE

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.”

The end is near: Pete Mackanin to cut back Ryan Howard's playing time

The end is near: Pete Mackanin to cut back Ryan Howard's playing time

Pete Mackanin has picked his spots with the pitchers he has let Ryan Howard face in recent months and that helped Howard carry post-All Star break numbers like a .306 batting average and .653 slugging percentage into Tuesday’s night game against the Washington Nationals and their right-handed ace, Max Scherzer.

Scherzer is the type of power arm that Mackanin often protects Howard from.

But despite awful career numbers — 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts — against Scherzer, Howard was in the starting lineup at first base over Tommy Joseph on Tuesday night.

Listening to Mackanin explain his reasoning, one came away with the impression that Howard’s playing time is about to nosedive as he and the Phillies begin their last month together.

“Just to get him in there,” Mackanin said when asked why he was starting Howard against a pitcher who’d dominated him in the past. “I’m going to start using Joseph more. I’ll play [Howard] today and [Joseph] tomorrow and then I’ll lean on Joseph a little bit more the rest of the way.”

Why?

“To see him more,” Mackanin said. “I’m not saying I’m going to strictly play Joseph, but I have to get him as many at-bats as possible through the end of the season.”

Makes sense. The Phillies will part ways with the 36-year-old Howard after the season. Joseph, 25, has not won the first base job long term, but he has a chance to, especially if he can improve his on-base skills. His power numbers — 17 homers and a .500 slugging percentage in 250 at-bats — are excellent.

Mackanin was asked whether the decision to pull back on Howard’s playing time was his or whether it came down from above.

“It’s my own,” he said. “I think it makes sense to see Joseph as much as possible. Howie was swinging the bat extremely well. I’m just going to see if he can put something together against Scherzer. A lot of people don’t have good numbers against Scherzer anyway. Lefties at least hit him better.”

Mackanin said he wants to make sure Joseph gets plenty of at-bats against right-handed pitching down the stretch.

“I don’t want to happen to him what happened to [Darin] Ruf, where we didn’t have opportunities to get him at-bats,” Mackanin said.

While Mackanin wants to look at Joseph more, he has no intention to look at 23-year-old Rule 5 outfielder Tyler Goeddel more as the season winds down. Reserve Jimmy Paredes continued to get outfield reps with the start in left field on Tuesday night.

“I’ve seen enough of Goeddel to know — we’ve kept him this long and we’re going to keep him and we’ll see where we go next year with him,” Mackanin said. “I don’t see a need to play him, especially after he hasn’t played so much. What’s the point?

“Paredes, he’s an extra player. That’s why we got him. I’m trying to put some offense into the lineup and he’s been swinging the bat pretty well. Peter Bourjos is coming off his wrist injury; I’m just trying to get Paredes as many at-bats as possible to see if he can help us win games. But he’s not an everyday player right now here for us.”

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts despite awful numbers vs. Max Scherzer

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts despite awful numbers vs. Max Scherzer

Despite having awful career numbers against Max Scherzer, Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup against him Tuesday night.

Howard, 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against the Nationals' ace, bats fourth. 

Howard seems to be coming back to Earth. He hit .357 with seven home runs, four doubles and 16 RBIs in his first 20 games out of the All-Star break, but has gone 2 for 16 with two singles and eight strikeouts since.

Jimmy Paredes gets another start in left field. Peter Bourjos is out of the lineup for a fourth straight game.

The rest of the lineup is standard. Odubel Herrera, who bats second, is 6 for 19 with five walks in his career against Scherzer (see game notes).

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

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Updated: 5:20 p.m.

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, surprisingly in the lineup (see story), is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.