Papelbon likes what he sees out of his, um, wrestlers

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Papelbon likes what he sees out of his, um, wrestlers

It’s not usual to see a player or two running sprints in the outfield three or four hours before a major league baseball game. But this routine pre-game exercise had a little different look to it Saturday afternoon in St. Louis.

Five young Phillies relievers -- Jake Diekman, Ethan Martin, Mario Hollands, Justin De Fratus and Kenny Giles -- ran a dozen sprints together on a virtually empty field.

When the workout was over, they assembled in a huddle and exchanged a group high-five.

You may have noticed that the Phillies’ bullpen has been on a pretty good roll the last month.

There are a lot of reasons for this:

Talent is a big one.

So is the experience that has been gained by the bullpen’s young core.

Togetherness is another.

This togetherness was on display during pre-game sprints Saturday in St. Louis.

“It’s fun to do it together,” said Diekman, who at 27 is the oldest of the aforementioned group of relievers. “Everyone down there has each other’s back. We have fun. We pull for each other.”

Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen, who spent 17 years in big-league bullpens, says this togetherness is crucial to a bullpen’s success.

“You become a family within a family,” he said. “You root for each other. You want to come through for each other. One guy allows a couple of baserunners, you want to get him out of it.”

The closer a bullpen is, the more fun it can have.

During last Friday night’s game in St. Louis, Phillies relievers were dive-bombed by swarms of moths throughout the game.

“It was crazy,” Diekman said with a laugh. “I was trying to whip them with a towel. De Fratus was trying to shank them.”

Having fun is important, Andersen said.

“You need to have fun,” he said. “It relaxes you. When you’re relaxed you pitch better.”

Closer Jonathan Papelbon is the leader of the good-times squad in the bullpen -- at least until it’s time to get his game face on. That’s one thing about a bullpen. The first few innings of a game can be fun, but when the later innings come, it’s time to focus. This Phillies group has learned how to do that.

Papelbon likes to play the role of villain in some of his dealings with the media, but beneath his prickly exterior is a character who likes to laugh. He’s not the bad guy some people think he is.

“That’s 100 percent false,” Diekman said. “He’s very supportive of the guys in the bullpen. He’s always asking, ‘How do you feel?’ He gives you advice. He wants to see you do well. He’s happy when you do well. He wants you to do well so he has a chance to get in the game.”

So he’s not a bad guy?

“Nope,” Diekman said. “I just think he feeds off it.”

Manager Ryne Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure both credit Papelbon for being a mentor to the young relievers.

Papelbon is a pro wrestling aficionado. Over the last few weeks, he has given his mates in the bullpen nicknames to go along with pro wrestlers.

Diekman is Jake the Snake Roberts.

De Fratus is Goldust.

Giles is Diamond Dallas Page.

Martin is the Iron Sheik.

Hollands is Eddie Guerrero.

Mike Adams is The Hulk.

Antonio Bastardo is Rey Mysterio.

B.J. Rosenberg is Stone Cold.

Jeff Manship is Mankind.

Bullpen catchers Jesus Tiamo and Bob Stumpo are The Bushwhackers.

Bullpen coach Rod Nichols’ nickname is a classic -- Vince McMahon.

Papelbon, of course, is Ric Flair. He enters games to a sound track of Flair’s booming voice at Citizens Bank Park.

These aren’t just nicknames to Papelbon. He wants to see the real-life wrestling personas on the mound.

“I gave Diekman the nickname Jake the Snake,” Papelbon said. “When he takes the mound, I want to see Jake the Snake out there.

“When I take the mound, I don’t want Pap out there. I want Ric Flair out there.

“When Martin is out there, I want to see the Iron Sheik.”

There’s a lot of rough-edge attitude in wrestling. Papelbon thinks it can help out of the bullpen, too.

“Find your inner warrior,” he said. “If you think you’re a bad ass, there’s a better chance you’ll be a bad ass.”

Back in spring training, Papelbon predicted that the Phillies would have a top-five bullpen in the majors this season. At the time, a lot of folks snickered at his prediction because the Phillies’ bullpen ranked fourth-worst in the majors last season with a 4.13 ERA. Through June 2 of this season, it ranked second-worst in the NL with a 4.30 ERA.

Thanks to recent success that includes Bastardo allowing just one earned run in his last 19 1/3 innings, and Hollands and De Fratus riding scoreless streaks of 15 2/3 and 14 innings, respectively, the Phils’ bullpen is the best in baseball since June 3. Two more scoreless innings Wednesday night left it with an ERA of 1.25 since June 3.

“The experience was there coming into the season,” Papelbon said. “Now we’re getting the consistency. A big reason is because they’ve found their inner warrior. You have to believe it in your head and these guys are believing it.

“I’ve seen guys with great stuff who didn’t have the warrior attitude and they couldn’t make it. These guys are getting it and I love it. I can see it in their eyes. It’s a look that says: ‘Get me in there. I can get us out of this thing.’

“They want the ball. The phone rings, they want to hear their name and if it’s not their name, they’re ticked off. It wasn’t that way before.”

Confidence will do that for a reliever.

It can make you want the ball.

“We feel super-confident down there,” Diekman said. “Everyone has gotten experience. There’s talent and also a little bit of cockiness. It’s a good cockiness, like not being scared.”

Talent. Experience. Togetherness.

Warriors and wrestlers.

Whatever it takes. The Phillies bullpen is coming of age.

Jerad Eickhoff pitches well in beating White Sox, but why the quick hook?

Jerad Eickhoff pitches well in beating White Sox, but why the quick hook?

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — From the season-ending injuries to Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin to the on-the-mound struggles of Vince Velasquez and Jake Thompson, the Phillies have had some unwelcomed issues with their prized young starting pitchers recently.
 
Jerad Eickhoff has been a most pleasant exception.
 
The 26-year-old right-hander delivered six innings of two-run ball in leading the Phillies to a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).
 
Eickhoff came to the Phillies organization in July 2015 as part of the trade that sent Cole Hamels to Texas. He rose to the majors a year ago this week and has now made 34 starts at the game’s highest level. His performance has been pretty encouraging as he has racked up a 3.57 ERA in 206 2/3 innings, basically a full season of work.
 
“He's been the guy who has been the most consistent,” said manager Pete Mackanin, referring to the team’s group of young starters. “He's given us what we wanted. He's had some hiccups, but I expect him to pitch well every time he goes out. I feel confident in him.”
 
At 6-4, 250 pounds, Eickhoff has a workhorse body. He is the only Phillies’ starter to remain healthy this season and the club clearly wants him to stay that way, both for the remainder of the season and the future.
 
That was the explanation that Eickhoff received in the dugout from Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure when he was removed from Wednesday night’s game after just six innings. Eickhoff had a 4-2 lead at the time and had thrown just 71 pitches thanks to his cruising through the first five innings on one hit.
 
“A little bit, yeah,” said the pitcher when asked if he was surprised by the quick hook. “But once Mac and Pete made it clear what was going on, it’s a no-brainer. It’s part of the game. I was just happy to get through it and be done and be healthy.
 
“What they said is they want me to make every start this year and be healthy. You can’t complain about that. I’m very lucky and very fortunate to be healthy this year.”
 
So the Phillies are managing Eickhoff's workload. Makes sense with this being a rebuilding season.

But Mackanin had a different explanation for his decision to remove Eickhoff. The pitcher gave up a two-run home run in the sixth inning as his problems in that inning (12.32 ERA as opposed to 2.64 in the first five) continued. Mackanin said he yanked Eickhoff because he wanted to make sure that nothing “snowballed” on the pitcher and he left the game with a good vibe.
 
“He pitched well,” Mackanin said. “I got him out of there after the sixth because I wanted him out on a positive note. He's been struggling in the sixth inning and after that, so I didn't want him going back out there. We have three guys I have confidence in in (Edubray) Ramos, (Hector) Neris and (Jeanmar) Gomez, so it worked out for us.”
 
Mackanin was asked whether the Phillies have Eickhoff on an innings limit. He is up to 155 2/3 innings. He threw 184 1/3 innings last season.
 
“No, no, not at all,” Mackanin said. “I don't know how many pitches he threw. Did he even have 80 pitches? I wanted him out on a positive note. We won, so I guess I made the right move. That's how it works, right?”
 
Ramos, Neris and Gomez protected the lead, though Gomez walked a tightrope and gave up a run in garnering his 34th save.
 
Neris allowed a leadoff walk in the eighth then got three quick outs. Since the All-Star break, he has pitched 18 1/3 innings and given up just one run. He has walked two and struck out 26. Pretty good.
 
After being outscored 18-1 in their previous two games against the White Sox and Cardinals, the Phillies’ bats finally produced some timely hitting. Tommy Joseph had a double, his 17th homer and scored two runs. Aaron Altherr had a pair of RBI singles and scored a run. Freddy Galvis doubled home a run and Cesar Hernandez homered.
 
Joseph’s homer in the top of the sixth against James Shields gave the Phils a 4-0 lead. Eickhoff hasn’t had many of those.
 
“He gets no run support,” Joseph said. “To be able to do that for him is huge.”
 
Eickhoff gave up three hits, including a two-run homer to Dioner Navarro in the bottom of the sixth, but he did limit the damage and got out of the inning with the lead. His handling of adversity in that inning was encouraging but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the game.
 
Mackanin said he wanted Eickhoff to go home with a good feeling.
 
Eickhoff said the team was looking out for his health.
 
Whatever the real reason was, they both made sense in a rebuilding season.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez sets K's mark, helps Marlins snap Royals' win streak

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez sets K's mark, helps Marlins snap Royals' win streak

MIAMI -- Jose Fernandez pitched seven innings and appeared to avoid a serious injury when he tweaked his right leg on his final pitch Wednesday night, helping the Miami Marlins beat Kansas City 3-0 to snap the Royals' nine-game winning streak.

Fernandez (13-7) pulled up after striking out Christian Colon to end the seventh, and rubbed his right knee before limping to the dugout.

The Marlins pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the seventh, and no injury was announced. Fernandez was laughing with teammates in the dugout in the ninth inning and joined in the postgame celebration on the field.

His nine strikeouts increased his season total to 213, breaking the Marlins record of 209 set by Ryan Dempster in 2000. Fernandez ended a career-worst three-game losing streak.

He also had the Marlins' first two hits, hiking his average to .286, and improved to 27-2 at Marlins Park.

Fernando Rodney pitched around two singles and walk for his 25th save and eighth with Miami.

Dillon Gee (5-7) took the loss (see full recap).

Cardinals tag deGrom in win over Mets
ST. LOUIS -- Matt Carpenter, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty homered off Mets starter Jacob deGrom, powering the St. Louis Cardinals past New York 8-1 Wednesday night.

Carpenter set the tone, hitting a leadoff home run in the first inning. The Cardinals went on to win for the seventh time in nine games.

Piscotty and Yadier Molina each had three of the Cardinals' season high-tying 19 hits.

Carlos Martinez (12-7) gave up one run and four hits over eight innings. He also got two hits himself.

Roughed up for the second straight start, deGrom (7-7) allowed five runs on 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings. He was tagged for a career-worst eight runs and 13 hits in his previous outing against San Francisco (see full recap).

Rays overcome Ortiz's 30th HR in comeback win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- David Ortiz hit his 30th home run in the first inning, but the Tampa Bay Rays came back from a three-run deficit to beat Boston 4-3 in 11 innings Wednesday night and prevent the Red Sox from taking sole possession of first place in the AL East.

Luke Maile doubled with two out in the 11th and scored after Red Sox pitcher Heath Hembree (4-1) dropped a throw to first base on Kevin Kiermaier's grounder.

Brad Boxberger (2-0) got the win after one inning of relief.

Boston has won 10 of its last 13 games and remained tied in first with Toronto after the Blue Jays lost 8-2 to the Angels.

Bidding to become the majors' first 18-game winner, Rick Porcello allowed Evan Longoria's tying homer in the eighth before leaving with 7 2/3 innings pitched. It was Longoria's 30th homer (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Phillies got a nice start from Jerad Eickhoff, mostly good bullpen work and plenty of timely hitting in posting a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox in interleague play Wednesday night.
 
The Phils had been outscored 18-1 in losing their previous two games to the White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
 
The Phillies are 59-68. They are four wins shy of last year’s majors-low total of 63.
 
Starting pitching report
Eickhoff (9-12) pitched six innings of two-run ball and left with a 4-2 lead after throwing just 71 pitches. Eickhoff scattered four hits, walked nine and struck out two. The sixth inning has been a problem for him this season. He has allowed 26 earned runs over 19 innings for a 12.32 ERA in the frame. Eickhoff did hold it together and limited the damage to two runs in the sixth before handing off to the bullpen.
 
Eickhoff’s ERA in the first five innings of a game this season is 2.64.
 
White Sox right-hander James Shields gave up four runs over six innings. He is 5-16 with a 5.98 ERA.
 
Bullpen report
The trio of Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out for the Phillies.
 
Gomez survived a run in the ninth for his 34th save.
 
Ramos and Neris both pitched a scoreless inning.

Since the All-Star break, Neris has pitched 18 1/3 innings and allowed one run and two walks while striking out 26.
 
At the plate
Tommy Joseph had a nice game with a double, his 17th homer and two runs scored. Aaron Altherr had a pair of RBI singles and scored a run. Freddy Galvis doubled home a run and Cesar Hernandez homered.
 
Dioner Navarro smacked a two-run homer off Eickhoff in the sixth.
 
Trade talk
There’s interest in Carlos Ruiz (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series against the Mets in New York on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night — LHP Adam Morgan (1-7, 6.21) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (11-7, 3.36)
 
Saturday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-7, 3.60) vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard (11-7, 2.61)
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.31) vs. RHP Robert Gsellman (1-0, 0.00).