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.

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A

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Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci promoted to Triple A

Phillies outfield prospect Carlos Tocci, who it seems like has been in the organization forever, was promoted Thursday from Double A Reading to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Tocci, who turns 22 on Aug. 23, has been in the Phillies' organization since he was 16 years old. He's taken some pretty big steps forward offensively the last three seasons as he's gained muscle and experience, and this season he's hit a career-best .307/.362/.398 in 474 plate appearances.

Recent promotions to the majors of Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and Cameron Perkins have created openings in the Lehigh Valley lineup. Tocci will likely play center field, where he's committed just one error in 801⅓ innings this season.

Tocci will likely be added to the Phillies' 40-man roster this winter to prevent another team from plucking him away in December's Rule 5 draft. The Phils may have to make a decision between Tocci and oft-injured Roman Quinn (see story), though there are several other replaceable players on the 40.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

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Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

Phillies (43-75) at Giants (48-74)
10:15 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After a rather pathetic series in San Diego, the Phillies move on to San Francisco for their final non-NL East road series of the season.

The Giants have had an unbelievably disappointing season, getting very little from key pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore and Mark Melancon and key hitters like Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence.

On most nights, the Giants struggle to score. This is shaping up to be another one of them.

1. Nola night
Aaron Nola's starts have become must-watches over the last two months. He's on a historic run of 10 straight starts with at least six innings pitched and two or fewer runs. 

It's the longest streak in Phillies history, and it's a longer streak than the following pitchers have ever had: Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Sandy Koufax, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Max Scherzer, and countless others.

This is a great matchup for Nola. On top of the Giants' offensive futility, AT&T Park is just an extremely difficult place to hit home runs. There have been just 82 homers hit there this season, which is 23 fewer than any other park and 70 fewer than the league average.

Nola (9-7, 3.02) has faced the Giants only once, last June when he was in the midst of a rough summer. Buster Posey, Denard Span, Crawford and Jarrett Parker went a combined 5 for 9 off of him, but Nola is a much different pitcher these days.

2. Outfield help wanted
The Phillies are in a precarious position heading into San Francisco. They don't know whether Odubel Herrera (hamstring) will be available to start this weekend, and Aaron Altherr remains on the DL with a hamstring injury of his own.

AT&T Park is the most difficult outfield to defend in all of baseball. It's 404 feet to left-center field and 421 feet to right-center. A centerfielder must have above-average range to succeed there.

In right field, there's the high brick wall that a rightfielder must learn. If a ball hits high off the wall and caroms past the rightfielder, it's an inside-the-park home run waiting to happen.

The Phillies cannot expect to play Rhys Hoskins in left field and Hyun Soo Kim in right field and get away with it in this series. Look for them to help Nola out tonight by putting a more experienced outfielder like Cameron Perkins in one of the corners, even though his bat is a liability.

3. Shark attack
The Phillies tonight face 6-foot-5 veteran right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who's having an interesting season. Samardzija is 7-12 with a 4.74 ERA, but he also has 160 strikeouts and just 23 walks in 155⅔ innings. Roy Halladay had only one season with a better K/BB ratio.

The issue usually with Samardzija is that he throws a lot of hittable pitches early in counts because he hates falling behind hitters. Two seasons ago, he allowed the most hits, earned runs and home runs in the league. And yet he's still regarded as a very good pitcher because on a pitch-by-pitch basis, he can be tough to solve.

Samardzija, like pretty much any pitcher who goes to San Fran, has been much better at home than on the road. He has a 4.35 ERA at AT&T Park and has allowed 0.79 home runs per nine innings. On the road, he has a 5.05 ERA and has allowed 1.65 home runs per nine.

Samardzija has faced the Phillies 10 times in his career but his numbers (26 runs in 27 innings) are immaterial because no current Phillie has ever faced him.

Samardzija has six different pitches: sinker, slider, four-seam fastball, curveball, cutter and splitter. His sinker and fastball average about 95 mph. A right-handed hitter rarely knows what's coming on the first pitch — Samardzija has thrown four different pitches at least 17 percent of the time on the first pitch.

4. Nothing from the corners
Any major-league team needs offense from first base and third base. That has been true as long as this game has been around. They're both premium offensive positions where you typically see a power hitter.

The Phillies have gotten so little this season, especially lately, from their corner infielders. Maikel Franco is hitting .223 and his .276 on-base percentage and is 70th out of 71 National League players. (Only Brandon Crawford is worse.)

In August, Franco has hit .186 with one home run and zero walks. Franco has 17 home runs, but it seems like everyone in the majors has 17 home runs this season. There are 89 players with more home runs than Franco this year, so the 17 homers are little solace.

Tommy Joseph is hitting .102 in 49 at-bats since Aug. 2. Combined, the two of them have two home runs in their last 190 plate appearances.

5. This and that
• I dug up a depressing stat Wednesday on the Phillies' struggles this season against bad starting pitchers. Clayton Richard, Brandon Finnegan, Martin Perez, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, J.C. Ramirez, Edinson Volquez, Adam Conley, Tim Adleman, Patrick Corbin and Ricky Nolasco have a 0.93 ERA vs. the Phils this season. They have a collective 5.22 ERA against the rest of baseball.

• The Giants' disastrous season hasn't affected Posey, who is having another dynamic season, hitting .316/.406/.473 with his typically elite defense.

• The Phillies' 6-20 record against the NL West is the worst record by any major-league team against any division this season.

• After sending Nick Pivetta to Triple A after his start Wednesday, the Phillies called up shortstop Pedro Florimon. Florimon, 30, will be available off the Phillies' bench tonight.