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.”

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."