Phillies 11, Tigers 6: Sizzling Brock Stassi belts grand slam; Aaron Nola rusty but healthy

Phillies 11, Tigers 6: Sizzling Brock Stassi belts grand slam; Aaron Nola rusty but healthy

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brock Stassi's candidacy to win a spot on the Phillies' opening day roster seems to get stronger by the day.

The 27-year-old career minor-leaguer (see story) hit his third homer of the spring -- a grand slam -- to lead the Phillies' 11-6 win over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.

Stassi went 2 for 4 on the day and also walked and scored three runs. He is hitting .563 (9 for 16) with 11 RBIs and has played sound defense at first base and in left field. He is attempting to make the club as a backup at both positions.

"He's having a great spring," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's making a bid for making this team. He's really looked good and is making a real good impression. He's doing everything right."

Stassi, a lefty hitter, drew a walk against Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the second inning and scored on a base hit by Pedro Florimon.

The grand slam came in the sixth inning against lefty Blaine Hardy. Stassi turned on a 2-1 fastball and lined it over the right-field wall with a short, quick stroke.

"I knew he had to come in with something," Stassi said. "He threw me a couple of off-speed pitches early and I knew he didn't want to go 3-1 with the bases loaded. I was sitting fastball and got it."

Some folks don't put much stock in spring training stats. These are, after all, exhibition games.

But for Stassi, they count. Big time.

"Guys always talk about saving it for the season, but for me there are no guarantees," Stassi said. "It's life or death out there for me right now and I'm just trying to stay positive and have quality at-bats and keep things rolling.

"Today is over. Come back tomorrow and get back to work."

Stassi is scheduled to start in left field against the Braves on Wednesday as Mackanin and the coaching staff evaluate him at the position.

Nola rusty
Aaron Nola wasn't particularly sharp in his second spring outing, but the right-hander is not necessarily being graded on results.

What matters most is his health and after four spring innings, well …

"I really feel good," he said.

Nola missed the final two months of 2016 with an elbow strain, but he has no health-related limits this spring. He was scheduled to bump up to three innings on Tuesday, but a high pitch count in the first inning scuttled that. He ended up going two innings and giving up five hits, a walk and two runs. He struck out two. He threw 40 pitches.

"The plan was to go three, but I was spotty today and the pitch count got up pretty fast," Nola said.

"My command was off. I was missing over the plate on some pitches, but other than that I felt good. My arm felt good. My body felt good."

Mackanin was not alarmed by Nola's outing. He, too, is looking for good health.

"He looked a little rusty," Mackanin said. "He wasn't as bad as you think he was. He was just missing. (Catcher Ryan) Hanigan told me a lot of those pitches were pretty good pitches, so I was happy with that."

Nola pitched two scoreless innings against Toronto in his spring debut last week (see story).

The game
The Phillies' bats exploded for 13 hits. Bryan Holaday also homered for the Phils.

Colton Murray, Jeanmar Gomez, Ben Lively and Cesar Ramos all pitched scoreless ball. Michael Mariot had to close it out after the Tigers rallied for four runs against Pedro Beato in the ninth.

Eflin, Thompson ramp up
Pitchers Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson both threw to hitters for the first time this spring on Tuesday and they could be ready for some game action next week.

The team has taken things slowly with both pitchers. Eflin had double knee surgery in the fall and Thompson reported to camp with a sore right wrist. Both are healthy now.

"I'm head over heels better than I've ever felt in my life," said Eflin, who had battled knee tendinitis for years. "I can't remember the last time that I felt like this. It's just a blessing. There's no pain at all."

Both pitchers project to be in the Triple A rotation, though it's unclear whether they will be ready to open the season in a month. It's quite possible that the Phillies will give Eflin a little extra time as he continues to build strength in his legs.

Up next
The Phillies play the Braves at Disney on Thursday afternoon. Jeremy Hellickson will start for the Phils. Here is the Phillies' posted lineup for the game:

Cesar Hernandez, 2B
Freddy Galvis, SS
Daniel Nava, DH
Maikel Franco, 3B
Tommy Joseph, 1B
Cameron Rupp, C
Brock Stassi, LF
Dylan Cozens, RF
Roman Quinn, CF

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies (43-77) at Giants (50-74)
9:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped their sixth straight game Friday night and fell to 0-5 on their West Coast road trip. The last-place Giants raced out to a quick lead against Zach Eflin and beat the Phils handily, 10-2.

Jerad Eickhoff, who left with the Phillies leading Monday, looks to continue his recent success against Ty Blach and the Giants in a Saturday night affair.

Here are five things to know for the game.

1. Eickhoff quietly improving
You wouldn't know it just looking at his 4.33 ERA, but Eickhoff has put together a strong stretch in recent weeks.

In his last five starts, which dates back to July 23, he's thrown 28 2/3 innings with allowing just nine earned runs, good for a 2.83 ERA. In that span, he's notched three quality starts and has 25 strikeouts. While he's limited opponents to just one home run, he's still walked 12. He's lowered his ERA by half a run in this time.

You certainly have to factor in the level of competition. Beyond a struggling yet potent Milwaukee offense, he pitched against Atlanta twice, a weak Angels lineup (which does feature Mike Trout) and the lackluster Padres. The Giants aren't much better, so it's not hard to see him extending his recent success. 

Eickhoff's mini-roll has been easy to overlook with Aaron Nola's dominant summer and Eickhoff being a 27-year-old on a team looking toward even younger players. But you can't forget that he was their best starter last season and should be able to hit at least 150 innings, a year after throwing 197 1/3. 

He's no ace, but that's not what he's asked to be. He's an average to slightly above-average starter and there's plenty of value in that. And if you're comparing him to last season, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is actually better in 2017 than 2016, indicating he's been a little unlucky this year.

Eickhoff started against Blach in June and put together his worst start of the season, giving up 11 baserunners and five runs while recording just eight outs. He didn't give up any home runs, but he walked five batters and struck out just two. 

Denard Span went 3 for 3 vs. Eickhoff while Eduardo Nunez, who's since been traded, was 2 for 2 with a walk. Blach even walked twice in two plate appearances.

2. Back with Blach
While Eickhoff had his worst start of the year against Blach and the Giants, Blach had one of the best, if not the best, starts of his young career (the other option being eight innings of shutout ball vs. the Dodgers down the stretch last season). 

He threw a seven-hit shutout. He struck out four, walked none and needed 112 pitches to dispatch the Phillies in just five batters more than the minimum. He was the first of three pitchers (Carlos Martinez, Clayton Richard) to throw shutouts against the Phillies this season.

And the soft-tossing lefty started out the season in the bullpen. He made four appearances (two starts) down the stretch in 2016 and was filling a minor role in the Giants' bullpen this April. However, he was given a full-time spot in the rotation once Madison Bumgarner injured his shoulder, and he hasn't looked back.

He leads all rookies with 134 innings pitched. He's 14th out of 34 rookie starters in ERA (4.37) but he's fourth in wins above replacement (WAR), likely because of his durability and his innings total as much as his effectiveness.

Outside of his gem at Citizens Bank Park, he's been quite hittable on the road. Home is where he's been at his best with a 3.60 ERA compared to a 5.50 mark away from AT&T Park. That's because he doesn't strike many batters out, walks only a few, and really relies on his fielders. Therefore, he's a great beneficiary of playing at one of the most extreme pitcher's parks in baseball, where a fly-ball pitcher like Blach can truly excel. 

The 26-year-old southpaw works off a 90-mph fastball and 80-mph changeup, working in a 12-6 curve and occasional slider.

Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp each picked up two hits against Blach in June, while Maikel Franco had one as well (Howie Kendrick had the other two).

3. Don't go west, young men
When the Phillies have traveled to the opposite coast this season, their destiny has manifested itself in plenty of misfortune and poor play. 

After the 10-2 loss Friday night, they are now 4-16 west of Texas, suffering sweeps at the hands of the Dodgers, Angels and Padres. They also went 2-5 combined against the Rockies and Diamondbacks, salvaging a two-game sweep against the Mariners in their western escapades. 

A lot of it's easy to parse out: Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies are all playoff teams. Angels are currently tied for the second wild card in the American League. 

But the showing this week has been especially painful. The Phils took two of three from the Giants in June, one of their rare series wins, and the Padres are a team that isn't designed to compete in 2017. These aren't just the worst teams in the NL West, they're two of the worst in baseball and the Phillies are cementing themselves in the cellar of the National League with this poor trip out west.

In San Diego and San Francisco, they've been outscored, 33-14, by the teams that are 28th and 30th, respectively, in OPS. 

Luckily for the Phils, they've got no more West Coast trips left after this weekend and only 14 of their last 40 games are on the road. That's plenty of games at CBP, where they are a much more respectable 24-31 (compared to 19-46 on the road).

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Rhys Hoskins is just 2 for 12 with three walks against left-handed pitchers, but both hits are home runs. 

Giants: After going 2 for 4 Friday night with a double and home run, Hunter Pence has a six-game hitting streak going. He has six multi-hit games this month and is batting .351 in August.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have faced 19 teams this year and have a winning record against only one of them (Atlanta).

• Checking in with some recent former Phillies: Jeremy Hellickson allowed five home runs to the Angels on Friday night, including one to New Jersey's own Trout.

• Now with the Nationals, Kendrick has hit even better than he did with the Phillies. Going into Friday's action, he had a .353/.400/.667 batting line with four home runs.

• Pat Neshek has struck out seven batters in 6 1/3 innings, but he's allowed five runs (three earned). He's given up 10 hits, though he's yet to walk a batter.

• Lastly, Joaquin Benoit has had a rough go of it in Pittsburgh. He has an 11.81 ERA, giving up nine runs (seven earned) in just 5 1/3 innings. The 40-year-old reliever has as many hit-by-pitches as strikeouts with the Pirates.

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

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SAN FRANCISCO — The state of California has become the state of despair for the Phillies.

They fell to 0-11 in the state after a 10-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

The Phils suffered three-game sweeps against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Angels in Anaheim and the Padres in San Diego. They have now lost the first two of a four-game series against the Giants in the northern part of the state.

Friday night's defeat was the Phillies' sixth straight, dropping them to a season-high 34 games under .500. They are 19-46 on the road and 6-22 against the National League West.

The loss was embarrassing because the Phils were held to one hit over seven scoreless innings by the pitcher with the highest ERA in the NL. Giants lefty Matt Moore entered with an ERA of 5.71. The Phils finished with just four hits, all singles.

The loss may also have been costly because starting pitcher Zach Eflin, one of the young pitchers the Phillies would like to build around, gave up seven hits and six runs and had to leave the game after five innings with discomfort in the back of his right shoulder. Earlier this season, Eflin, 23, missed time with an elbow strain.

Eflin said he'd felt soreness in the back of this shoulder before.

"This is a little different than I've had before," Eflin said. "It's just kind of a steady tightness. It's something I wasn't comfortable continuing with. I don't think it's anything serious. It's more of a precautionary thing."

The shoulder tightness didn't affect Eflin's velocity. He threw breaking balls early in the game and gave up three runs in the first inning. In the fourth inning, he used his four-seam fastball and hit 96 mph on the radar gun while getting three quick outs. Manager Pete Mackanin said he'd like to see more of that from Eflin. Of course, now it's safe to wonder when Eflin will pitch again. The Phils will surely be careful with him.

The Phillies are already making some adjustments to their starting rotation. Right-hander Ben Lively will be recalled from Triple A to take Odubel Herrera's spot on the roster. Herrera went on the disabled list with a sore left hamstring (see story). Lively will start against the Giants on Sunday while scheduled starter Mark Leiter Jr. goes to the bullpen.

The Phillies were never in Friday night's game. They got three of their four hits and both of their runs (on a bloop hit by Freddy Galvis) in the eighth inning and the Giants came back and scored four in the bottom of the inning.

Rookie catcher Jorge Alfaro had the Phillies' first two hits of the game, the only two that Moore gave up. Moore (4-12) earned his first win since June 20.

In a span of three days, the Phillies have been held to two runs over 16 1/3 innings by a pair of lefties with high ERAs. They were shut out by Clayton Richard in San Diego on Wednesday. He entered that game with a 5.14 ERA.

"It's frustrating when you look up at the numbers and you see that," Mackanin said. "You kind of hope we can get to the guy. But for whatever reason, the bats are just silent right now."

The Phillies' offense has been bad all season, but it has been especially bad lately. Over the last nine games, they have scored just 25 runs, an average of 2.8 per game. The Phils are 1-8 in those contests.