Pettibone, Phillies can't climb out of early hole in loss

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Pettibone, Phillies can't climb out of early hole in loss

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It was just a matter of time until Phillies’ rookie pitcher Jonathan Pettibone had one of those nights.

In Thursday night’s 9-2 loss to the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park, it was just one of those innings that ruined his night (see Instant Replay).

In vying to become the first Phillies’ starting pitcher to begin his career with a 4-0 record since Randy Wolf did it in 1999, Pettibone was battered around for four runs in the first inning against the crafty Red Sox lineup.

Though he settled in and held the Red Sox scoreless after the first inning, it was a two-run, two-out double by Jarrod Saltalamacchia that sealed Pettibone’s fate. And strangely enough, Saltalamacchia hit the first pitch from Pettibone. If the Phillies were paying attention, they would have seen how the Red Sox made Pettibone and the club’s pitchers work during most at-bats.

That veteran approach knocked the rookie out of the game after throwing 98 pitches and drawing four walks in five innings.

“I didn’t finish the batters,” Pettibone said. “They were able to sneak some hits through and then (Saltalamacchia’s) double was up in the zone. He put a good swing on it and that was it.”

If there was something manager Charlie Manuel could steal from the Red Sox and inject into his team’s offense, it would be their patient approach at the plate. The Sox sent 46 hitters to the plate on Thursday night and 24 of them had at-bats that lasted four pitches or longer. In comparison, the Phillies had just 15 plate appearances that lasted four pitches or longer out of 34 hitters.

“They were very patient with Jonathan and they definitely made him pitch,” Manuel said. “They made him pitch and if you noticed, we swung at some bad balls, especially when we were ahead in the count. We didn’t use their wildness to our advantage tonight.”

It’s one thing to look at a lot of pitches or wear out pitchers, and it’s another to make things happen. In pounding out 14 hits and drawing five walks, the Red Sox had 10 different players get at least one hit. They had five hits with runners in scoring position, got five extra-base hits and had five stolen bases.

Leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury had all five of those stolen bases, setting a Red Sox record while becoming the first player since records were kept in 1916 to swipe five bags against the Phillies.

Ellsbury also reached base five times in three different ways. He had three hits, walked and got hit by a pitch.

If the Phillies wanted to stop Ellsbury, they didn’t do a very good job of it.

But as Manuel said after the game, wins are a struggle. Even when Pettibone, Cliff Lee or Kyle Kendrick turns in a quality start, the game is never a laugher for the Phillies. Though Pettibone struggled against the Red Sox, the Phillies still had a chance.

The problem is the offense just isn’t able to get much going unless the Phillies hit a home run.

“It’s a battle for us. To win a game is a battle,” Manuel said. “When we have [a pitcher] throw a really good game, it’s still a battle for us to win sometimes. We don’t blow anybody out. We don’t knock the cover off the ball.”

The Phillies got a pair of runs in the first on Delmon Young’s homer. After that, they put just two runners in scoring position. Meanwhile, the Phillies scored just 12 runs in the four games against the Red Sox and all but one of them came on homers.

Against spot-starter Franklin Morales, the Phillies went down in order in the second, third and fifth innings. During the fourth inning the Phillies loaded the bases with two walks and a single and looked poised to do some damage with just one out. However, catcher Erik Kratz bounced into an inning-ending double play.

From there, the Phillies had just three base runners the rest of the night.

“We didn’t muster enough offense,” Manuel said. “It’s kind of the same thing every day.”

The Phillies wasted a chance to move back to .500 for the first time since April 14. They have had three chances to get to .500 in the past seven games and have lost each time.

Nevertheless, Manuel says the Phillies’ goal isn’t simply to get back to .500.

“We want to get beyond .500. There’s no doubt about that,” the manager said. “We’re not looking at .500 as some great championship move.”

The Phillies look to bounce back on Friday night when they open a three-game series against the last-place Milwaukee Brewers. The pitching matchups for the weekend are:

Friday: Cole Hamels (1-8, 4.43) vs. Yovani Gallardo (3-5, 4.79)
Saturday: Tyler Cloyd (1-1, 5.74) vs. Mike Fiers (1-3, 6.62)
Sunday: Cliff Lee (6-2, 2.34) vs. Wily Peralta (3-6, 6.35).

Tonight's lineup: Tommy Joseph's last start of the year?

Tonight's lineup: Tommy Joseph's last start of the year?

Tommy Joseph, who has been missing from the lineup lately, starts at first base and bats fourth.

Joseph will most likely be making his final start of the season with Ryan Howard expected to start the final games of the season. He is batting just .235 against the Braves this season, but does have two homeruns. The rookie first baseman has 21 home runs and 15 doubles in 104 games during his first season in the majors. Howard will be playing what are almost definitely his final games in a Phillies' uniform vs. the Mets this weekend.

Howard will be playing what are almost definitely his final games in a Phillies' uniform this weekend vs. the Mets.

Maikel Franco bats fifth and plays third base. Franco, who has been hot lately, has three homeruns and is batting .320 over his last 25 at bats. He will look to continue his success against the Braves, as five of his 25 homeruns this season have come against them.

Cameron Rupp gets a day off behind the plate and will be replaced by veteran catcher A.J. Ellis. Ellis has exceeded expectations in a short sample since coming over in the Carlos Ruiz trade last month. Ellis has is 8 for 28 with a home run and nine RBI in 10 games with the Phils. He's batting .285, which is astronomically better than his paltry .194 mark with Dodgers. 

Part of the reason for Ellis' start could be his history against Braves' starter Josh Collmenter. He is 4 for 11 with two home runs and four walks against the former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher.

Here is tonight's lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Maikel Franco, 3B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

And for the Braves:

1. Mallex Smith, CF
2. Dansby Swanson, SS
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Matt Kemp, LF
5. Nick Markakis, RF
6. Anthony Recker, C
7. Jace Peterson, 2B
8. Rio Ruiz, 3B
9. Josh Collmenter, P

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

• Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

• Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

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