Phillies 9, Braves 0: Brock Stassi shines -- so what else is new?

Phillies 9, Braves 0: Brock Stassi shines -- so what else is new?

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Brock Stassi's campaign to make the Phillies' opening day roster gained more steam on Tuesday.

In the very role that he is auditioning for, one that would have him come off the bench to offer some good glove work at first base and some timely hitting, Stassi did a little of both in the Phillies' 9-0 win over the Atlanta Braves at Spectrum Field.

The 27-year-old career minor-leaguer replaced Tommy Joseph in the field in the third inning and made two nice defensive plays and added two more hits, including a two-run home run. The homer was Stassi's fifth of the spring, moving him into a tie for the most in the majors this exhibition season.

"I think everybody likes him," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You have to like him. Not only has he had a good spring offensively, but the at-bats he gives us are quality at-bats versus righties and lefties. And he's a well-above-average defender. He's fun to watch play."

Stassi is 13 for 31 (.419) for the spring. He is bidding to win a spot on the Phillies' bench as a backup first baseman/outfielder.

Eick is sharp
Jerad Eickhoff, who lines up to start the second game of the regular season, was sharp and economical in his fourth start of the spring. He needed just 62 pitches to get through five shutout innings. He gave up three hits, a walk and struck out five. Eickhoff was so economical with his pitch count that he threw 13 pitches in the bullpen after the outing to stretch his total to 75.

Benoit ramping up
The Phillies wanted to improve their bullpen in the offseason. They hope the additions of veterans Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit will do that. 

Neshek is pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. 

The Phillies, meanwhile, have eased the 39-year-old Benoit into action. He made just his second appearance Tuesday and was rusty. He walked a batter and hit two others, but did not allow a run.

Benoit showed plenty of arm strength, pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth by striking out Emilio Bonifacio on a 95-mph fastball.

"He threw the ball hard," Mackanin said. "I was surprised. He had great velocity. He was rusty, but I liked what I saw coming out of his hand."

Williams improving
Plate discipline was a big problem for prospect Nick Williams at Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season. He drew just two walks over his final 66 games and had a woeful .236 on-base percentage over that span.

Williams, who will open back at Triple-A this season, is focusing on improving that aspect of his game this spring, and there have been signs of progress. He drew two walks on Tuesday and now has four in 29 plate appearances.

"Matt Stairs has been working on his approach, to soften his approach instead of jumping out after the ball," Mackanin said. "He seems to be showing improvement."

Up next
The Phillies play the Yankees in Tampa on Wednesday night. The team will get a look at utility man Chris Coghlan at second base in that game. Coghlan is bidding to make the team as a non-roster player.

Clay Buchholz will start on the mound against Michael Pineda.

Here is the posted lineup for the game, though there surely will be some changes after Joseph was hit on the left hand (see story) by a pitch Tuesday:

Chris Coghlan, 2B
Freddy Galvis, SS
Howie Kendrick, LF
Maikel Franco, 3B
Michael Saunders, RF
Tommy Joseph, 1B
Cameron Rupp, C
Aaron Altherr, CF
Andrew Knapp, DH

Tonight's lineup: Aaron Altherr to make 6th straight start

Tonight's lineup: Aaron Altherr to make 6th straight start

Aaron Altherr's audition continues Wednesday night.

The Phillies put out the same lineup on Wednesday as they were going to use on Tuesday before the game was rained out. 

For Altherr, it's his sixth straight start. Howie Kendrick's oblique injury has provided the 26-year-old outfielder another chance to play regularly, and so far, so good for Altherr. He's 9 for 21 with three doubles, a homer, four RBIs and seven runs scored over his last six games.

Altherr is also the Phillies' best defensive outfielder, so if he continues to hit it will be tough for Pete Mackanin to pull him out of the lineup when Kendrick is ready to return. That's where Kendrick's versatility comes into play — he could play first base or second base on any given night, opening up a spot in the corner outfield for Altherr.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Michael Saunders, RF
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: 48 hours after last win, Phils take the field

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: 48 hours after last win, Phils take the field

Phillies (9-9) vs. Marlins (10-8)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies will have had 48 hours off when they take the field Wednesday night against the Miami Marlins, the only division team they've yet to face.

The Phils and Marlins were rained out Tuesday with a makeup date yet to be determined. Aug. 21 seems like a safe bet — it's the next time the Marlins come here, and both they and the Phillies have an off-day before their scheduled three-game series Aug. 22-24.

1. Pitching plans
The rainout forces the Phillies to push back Nick Pivetta's major-league debut until the weekend in Los Angeles (see story).

It makes sense to try to keep the rest of the rotation on schedule. Jeremy Hellickson, who last pitched Friday, will start Thursday's series finale against the Marlins. There's no sense in messing with his rhythm too much because Hellickson has made four excellent starts to open the season.

So it looks like Pivetta will pitch Sunday at Dodger Stadium against Clayton Kershaw and an experienced lineup. That would mean Pivetta would be the lone Phillies starting pitcher not to face the Cubs in the ensuing four-game series at Wrigley Field.

The upcoming schedule is tough -- after hosting the Marlins, the Phillies have three in L.A., four in Chicago and then three at home against the Nationals, who own baseball's best record at 14-6.

2. Velasquez looks for two in a row
Vince Velasquez pitched much better than his line last Wednesday at Citi Field. After averaging a major-league worst 21.3 pitches per inning in his first two starts, he needed just 84 pitches to complete six innings.

He was through 5 2/3 scoreless before Bruce beat him for a three-run homer.

Velasquez just had everything working against the Mets. He threw more than twice as many sinkers (11) than he threw in his first two starts combined (five). He had three 1-2-3 innings.

It was surprising to see Velasquez strike out only two batters in a whiff-prone Mets lineup, but it was no coincidence that by getting quicker outs he was able to go deeper into a game. It was a rare performance for him last week — Velasquez induced just two swinging strikes after getting 17 in his season debut and averaging 10.5 per game as a Phillie.

Velasquez faced the Marlins three times last season and went 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA. He struck out 20, walked seven and allowed two homers in 18 innings. 

The only time he faced them in Miami, he allowed four runs in the first two innings before settling in to pitch four scoreless. (That was the game that ended with Giancarlo Stanton's titanic blast off Hector Neris.)

In the two other meetings, Velasquez pitched five shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and gave up just three hits and one run in seven innings two months later.

Christian Yelich has hit him the hardest, going 3 for 8 with a triple and two homers. Martin Prado is 3 for 9 with two doubles. Stanton is 0 for 6 with three strikeouts.

The Prados of the world can give Velasquez trouble because they don't swing and miss much.

3. Scouting the Fish
The Marlins are on the third and final leg of a rough road trip, travel-wise. They started out as far away from Miami as possible with a series in Seattle, then went to San Diego and wrap it up in Philly before heading home.

After losing three of the first four games of the trip, they ended the San Diego series with back-to-back wins.

Phillie-killer Marcell Ozuna is having a heckuva month, leading the majors with 21 RBIs. He's hit .306 with six homers and two doubles.

Stanton is heating up, which is bad news for the Phillies. He's 9 for 17 over his last four games with four homers, seven RBIs, two walks and one strikeout. He's obviously seeing the ball very well at the moment.

The book on Stanton, as always, is to beat him with low-and-away sliders. If the pitch starts in the middle of the plate he has a lot of trouble laying off of it. He's so big and extends his arms so far that he often thinks he can reach pitches he can't. In his career, Stanton has swung at pitches classified as low and outside off the plate 249 times and has one hit. One.

J.T. Realmuto has quietly become one of the game's most consistent offensive catchers. He's hit .344 in the early going.

Second baseman Dee Gordon is always a threat to swipe a bag when he reaches. He's hit .288 with a .313 OBP so far and has stolen four bases in five tries.

Yelich, who bats third, is always a tough out. 

The Marlins' lineup is deep.

4. A rare lefty starter
It seems like there are fewer left-handed starting pitchers than ever before, especially in the NL East. The Nationals have played all 19 games against right-handed starters. The Braves have faced only one, while the Phillies and Marlins have seen three.

On Tuesday, the Phillies face 31-year-old southpaw Wei-Yin Chen, who the Marlins signed away from the Orioles two offseasons ago with a five-year, $80 million contract. 

Chen disappointed in his first season in Miami in 2016, going 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA in 22 starts. He allowed 22 home runs, a surprisingly high mark at a ballpark as cavernous as Marlins Park.

In three starts this season, Chen is 2-0 with a 3.94 ERA. He's coming off seven no-hit (yes, no-hit) innings last Tuesday in Seattle. He gave up six runs and two homers in three innings the previous start.

The Phillies beat up on Chen the last time they saw him, scoring four runs on 11 hits over 5 1/3 innings. 

Current Phils have hit .378 off of him with five doubles and three home runs in 81 at-bats. Switch-hitting Daniel Nava is 7 for 17 with a homer and could get a start. Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 12 with two doubles. Freddy Galvis is also 5 for 12 with a double. Maikel Franco is 4 for 12 with a double and a homer.

5. This and that
• Monday was a much-needed day off for Hector Neris, who has labored through his last two outings, needing 49 pitches to get six outs. He's allowed runs in back-to-back games after starting the year with eight scoreless appearances.

• The Phillies' 1-2-3 hitters this season have a combined .384 on-base percentage. (This includes all players who have batted in one of those three spots.)

• In 58 career games against the Phils, Ozuna has hit .310 with 18 doubles, seven homers and 29 RBIs.

• We always notice it when they do, so let's also notice when they don't. Stanton has not been a Phillie-killer throughout his career, hitting just .252 against them with 19 homers and 44 RBIs in 86 games. Compare that, for example, to his numbers against the Nats: .301, 28 homers, 66 RBIs in the same number of games.

In four of his seven seasons, Stanton has hit .217 or worse against the Phillies.