On the Pharm: Gillies looking to regroup after demotion

052213-gillies-slideshow-uspw.jpg

On the Pharm: Gillies looking to regroup after demotion

READING, Pa. -- Sometimes a guy needs to take a step back in order to move forward. Other times, a man needs to have something taken away from him in order to have his eyes opened.

By now one would assume that Phillies outfield prospect Tyson Gillies would have figured all of that out. After a brush with the law, a spate of injuries and a suspension, it would seem that Gillies would understand not to take anything for granted.

But sometimes a guy gets into a slump.

At least that’s what happened to Gillies during the first month of the 2013 season. Following a well-publicized stint with Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, in which Gillies started alongside major league All-Stars Joey Votto of Cincinnati and Justin Morneau of Minnesota, the 24-year-old opened the season with his first stop at Triple A.

It didn’t last long.

“It hit me and it surprised me to be back here so soon,” Gillies said. “But I’m going to make the best of it. It’s not like there’s easy pitching down here, either. I’ve seen a lot of great arms down here and I can still get better as a baseball player.”

Gillies batted just .148 with 13 strikeouts in 18 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. This came after he went 0 for 14 for Team Canada in the WBC and played a prominent role in a brawl with Mexico. Or, as Gillies called it, “some Canadian bonding experience.”

Still, the brawl didn’t project a great image for Gillies, who has been arrested for cocaine possession -- the charges were dropped for lack of evidence -- and was suspended after an altercation with the team bus driver. Gillies also is legally deaf, though his handicap is unnoticeable to those not in the know.

However, in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game against Altoona at FirstEnergy Stadium, Gillies was doubled off first base on an infield pop up. Running on the pitch to Edgar Duran, Gillies never heard the crack of the bat. By the time he realized that the ball was in play, Gillies was sliding into second with what he thought was a stolen base.

But it’s hitting and not base running that Gillies has focused on this season. A strong finish to the 2012 season following a promotion to Reading paved the course to Triple A.

Now he’s back at Reading looking to find his stroke.

“I’m trying some things hitting-wise,” Gillies said. “I'm trying to generate more power and hit to the left side of the field. But this has been the slowest start of my career.”

His manager at Reading, Dusty Wathan, says Gillies has to focus on his hitting mechanics.

“He’s done a pretty good job. The one thing he has to stay away from is getting that front side open,” Wathan said. “That’s when he has a tendency to roll over balls to the first-base side.  When he keeps that front shoulder in he can drive the ball.”

Though he says he is notorious for his slow starts, Gillies was demoted to Double A Reading. At first he was upset about not being able to stick with Lehigh Valley, but quickly saw the demotion as an opportunity.

“I’m really slow, but not this slow,” Gillies explained. “I usually take a while to adjust to pitching and getting my eye and seeing the ball well.”

Gillies went 1 for 4, reaching on an error and a single Wednesday night to lift his average to .246 since joining Reading. In the last 11 games, Gillies is 10 for 33 (.313), hitting mostly from the leadoff spot. Hitting at the top of the order may have re-energized Gillies a bit, but there are still many parts of his game that need work.

Though he has lots of speed, Gillies is 5 for 8 on steal attempts and just 1 for 3 at Reading. He also misplayed a fly ball at the warning track into a two-out RBI triple. For Gillies, acquired in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Seattle, there is plenty of raw talent.

The trick is going to be for the 24-year-old to hone it before he’s no longer considered a prospect.

“He has all the tools and it’s all there,” Wathan said. “He just has to trust himself.”

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies (70-86) at Braves (63-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After losing by three possessions on Sunday and getting an off day Monday to think about it, the Phillies are back in action Tuesday night to begin their final road series of 2016.

Let's take a look:

1. The finish line nears
Forty-nine down, two to go. The Phillies have just two series left this season, a three-gamer in Atlanta and then a set with the Mets at home to close it out. 

The Phils have a series record of 18-25-6. They have just six series wins in 21 tries since the All-Star break (6-12-3). 

The Phillies and Braves have played seven times in the second half and the Phils are 2-5 — they split a four-game series July 28-31 in Atlanta and were swept at home Sept. 2-4.

With 70 wins, the Phillies have already beaten their over-under by four victories. If they manage to split these final six games, they'll finish 10 games better than they did in 2015.

The Braves, meanwhile, will avoid 100 losses. That didn't look possible when they were 33-66 and on pace for 109 losses. But Atlanta has been much better the last six weeks, especially offensively.

2. Freeman's monstrous year
Whether it was the addition of Matt Kemp or just regression to his true talent level, Freddie Freeman has been a force of nature this summer.

Freeman started slowly. Through June 12, he was hitting .242 with a .750 OPS in 61 games. Since then? He's hit .347/.445/.673 with 33 doubles, five triples, 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 91 games. The Braves are just three games under .500 over that span at 44-47.

It's pretty amazing that Freeman has had an MVP-caliber season in a lineup that offers so little protection. This has been the best year of his seven-year career. In 669 plate appearances, he's hit .305/.402/.570 with 43 doubles, six triples, 32 homers and 87 RBIs. He's also walked 86 times. 

Freeman's best work this year has come against the Phillies. In 16 games, he's gone 22 for 60 (.367) with a .449 OBP, five doubles, five homers and 10 RBIs.

3. The push toward 200
Jerad Eickhoff makes his 32nd start of the season tonight and will likely have one more on the final day. He enters tonight's game with 187⅓ innings pitched, 12⅔ shy of the 200-inning benchmark every pitcher seeks.

Eickhoff said early in the summer that 200 innings would be meaningful to him and acknowledged it just sounds different than 195. It's taken health, stamina and consistency for Eickhoff to get to this point at age 26 in his first full big-league season.

Eickhoff (11-14, 3.75 ERA) has made six consecutive quality starts. He's steadied the Phillies' rotation for four months now. Since May 22, Eickhoff is 10-8 with a 3.52 ERA, but if you remove the one dreadful outing at hitter-friendly Coors Field, his ERA over that span is 3.13. He very well could be the opening day starter in 2017.

Eickhoff has faced the Braves five times in his career and gone 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. 

Freeman is 5 for 14 against him with a double and a homer, but all other active Braves have hit a combined .209 with no extra-base hits in more than 75 plate appearances.

Eickhoff won't have to deal with Kemp, who has been hot lately but is out of Tuesday's lineup.

4. Last look at Teheran
The Phillies take on talented Braves right-hander Julio Teheran for the third time this season and 15th time in his six-year career.

Could it be their last time seeing him in an Atlanta uniform? That's always a possibility for the rebuilding Braves with Teheran, who has long been an intriguing trade candidate. A 25-year-old with a 3.37 career ERA and one of the more team-friendly contracts in baseball, Teheran figures to have immense trade value this offseason. He's due $31 million over the next three seasons in a sport where pitchers half as talented now earn similar average annual salaries.

If Teheran is eventually dealt for a package of prospects, the Phillies won't be sad to see him go. He's 7-4 with a 2.31 ERA and has allowed just five home runs to them in 89⅔ career innings. His starts against the Phillies the last three years have been even better: 6-2, 1.39 ERA, 56 strikeouts, 13 walks, one homer allowed in 71 innings.

His last time out, Teheran allowed just one run over seven innings to the Mets but struck out only one batter. He hasn't missed many bats lately, generating just three swings-and-misses in his last start and six two outings before that.

Teheran has five pitches but mostly uses a four-seam fastball/slider combination. When he last faced the Phillies on Sept. 4, 90 of his 119 pitches were four-seamers or sliders.

Current Phillies have hit .219 collectively against Teheran in 169 at-bats. Freddy Galvis has seen him the best, going 7 for 18 (all singles) with three walks. Ryan Howard has two doubles and two solo homers off Teheran in 26 ABs.

5. This and that
• File this one under stats nobody would have predicted: The Braves have the highest on-base percentage in the majors since the All-Star break at .346. The Phillies are fifth-worst at .306.

• In 50 games with Atlanta, Kemp has hit .287/.341/.508 with 13 doubles, 10 homers and 35 RBIs. He had 16 walks in 100 games with the Padres and has 18 in half as many games with the Braves. His poor defense has still made him a net negative player this season (if you believe in WAR), but the Braves are 26-24 since acquiring him.

• If the season ended today, the Phillies would have the ninth pick in next June's draft. Based on the records of the teams around them, they are a near lock to pick either 8th, 9th or 10th.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule.