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).

Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

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Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

CHICAGO -- Paul DeJong hit a tiebreaking two-run double in St. Louis' nine-run eighth inning, and the Cardinals cooled off the Chicago Cubs with an 11-4 victory on Friday.

Chicago carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth, looking for its seventh consecutive win. But St. Louis sent 14 batters to the plate in its highest-scoring inning of the season, taking advantage of a combined six walks by three relievers while improving to 4-4 since the All-Star break.

Carl Edwards Jr. (3-2) was pulled after the first three batters reached. Hector Rondon then walked Jedd Gyorko, tying it at 3, and DeJong followed with a drive into the ivy in right-center for a ground-rule double. The Cardinals were off and running from there.

Matt Bowman (2-3) got the final out of the seventh for the win.

The Cubs played without third baseman Kris Bryant, who sprained his left little finger on a headfirst slide on Wednesday. X-rays were negative, but Bryant is experiencing soreness and there is some concern about gripping a bat (see full recap).

Andrus' hustle gives Rangers win in 10th inning
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Elvis Andrus homered early, and then snapped a 10th-inning tie with a two-out infield single that gave the struggling Texas Rangers a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

Andrus, who homered in the first inning, hit a sharp grounder off Brad Boxberger (2-1) that forced Evan Longoria to make a diving stop. Pinch runner Delino Shields scored when the third baseman to was unable to complete the throw to first base.

Alex Claudio (2-0) pitched two innings in relief of Yu Darvish to get the win. The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Steven Souza Jr. in the 10th, but avoided further damage by getting Adeiny Hechavarria to bunt into a double play and Mallex Smith to fly out.

Texas ended a five-game losing streak.

Rays starter Alex Cobb took a three-hitter and a 3-1 lead into the ninth, but couldn't finish off the Rangers, who erased their deficit with Joey Gallo's double and Shin-Soo Choo's 14th homer within a three-pitch span (see full recap).

Encarnacion powers Indians past former team
CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion homered and drove in four runs against his former team, and the Cleveland Indians broke open a close game with an eight-run seventh inning to rout the Toronto Blue Jays 13-3 on Friday night.

Encarnacion, who played the last six seasons with Toronto before signing a three-year, $60 million contract with Cleveland in January, hit a leadoff home run in the second, broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a two-run double and added an RBI single in the seventh.

Encarnacion was 3 for 4 with a walk and nearly added to his total later in the seventh, but center fielder Kevin Pillar tracked down his fly ball on the warning track with two runners on.

Abraham Almonte hit a three-run homer and rookie Bradley Zimmer added a two-run single in the seventh as the Indians won for just the second time in eight games (see full recap).

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

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Once upon a time, Cole Hamels was a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and changeup. The changeup was so good so consistently that it didn't matter that Hamels' curveball command was often shaky. Two very good pitches were enough.

It wasn't until Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay arrived that Hamels began incorporating a fourth pitch, the cutter, and along the way, his curveball command improved substantially. Suddenly, a two-pitch lefty had a legitimate four-pitch mix and it took him to another level.

Watching Aaron Nola dominate the Brewers in Friday night's 6-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay), Hamels' evolution came to mind. Nola allowed one run and struck out nine over seven innings, at one point whiffing eight of nine Brewers. And he did with a four-pitch mix that included 31 sinkers, 27 fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs.

It's no longer sinker-curveball only with Nola. He's now giving his opponents more to worry about in the form of additional velocity on the fastball and a changeup that is becoming a money pitch.

"Nola was outstanding. He's been working on that changeup all year and it's really one of his better pitches right now," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

With a four-seam fastball that has been maxing out at 95 mph lately, a curveball that buckles hitters from both sides of the plate, a sinker with wicked two-seam movement and a changeup that he's beginning to feel comfortable throwing to righties and lefties alike, Nola may be making his jump to the next level before our very eyes.

"No question about it," Mackanin said. "That changeup, he threw a ton of them tonight to righties and lefties. I talked to him when we took him out of the game and he was real excited about throwing the changeup not just to lefties but to right-handers as well. If he can do that with the rest of the arsenal that he has, I expect a real good performance from him every time out."

The win made Nola 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA, which essentially means he's given up three runs every eight innings. Any team will take that from a starting pitcher. 

Over his last six starts, Nola has been lights-out — 1.70 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, 50 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Perhaps most impressively, he's held his opponents to a .118 batting average with runners in scoring position, second in the National League over that span to only Clayton Kershaw.

"My changeup ... I'm feeling consistent with it right now," Nola said. "It's evolved. I really didn't have much of a feel for my changeup [when I first came up]. It's a thing I worked on in spring training a lot this year, threw it in counts when I usually wouldn't. That's what spring training is for and I think it helped."

The changeup is a feel pitch and its success is usually dictated by the pitcher's arm angle and speed. If he throws it the same way he throws a fastball, that's where the deception of the slower speed comes into play. Nola has worked hard on those aspects of the pitch and it's clearly paying off.

Nola induced 15 swinging strikes on the night, six of them on changeups and five on curveballs. His strikeout numbers stand out because he was not billed as this kind of pitcher when he was drafted or was coming up through the Phillies' system. In the minor leagues, Nola struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings. In the majors, he's struck out 277 in 275 innings (9.1 per nine).

"I'm real happy about the way he's come along, especially after the elbow issues," Mackanin said. "He has increased velocity. His pitches are crisper. He's better now than before. It's really a nice jump for him to make."

Indeed it is. Perhaps Nola's ceiling is higher than No. 2 starter.