Phillies 9, Twins 5: Adam Morgan impresses, offense rallies for 6 in ninth

Phillies 9, Twins 5: Adam Morgan impresses, offense rallies for 6 in ninth

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Phillies held what looked like an audition for the role of long reliever on Tuesday.

Adam Morgan acquitted himself quite well with three scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins.

Jake Thompson, a long shot for the role, also worked three scoreless innings and did a good job pitching out of trouble when his command abandoned him in the third inning.

Alec Asher, meanwhile, was hit hard. He allowed two homers and gave up five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning on his way to losing a three-run lead.

The Phillies came back with six runs in the top of the ninth inning to win, 9-5.

Five of the seven jobs in the Phillies' bullpen are basically set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit, Edubray Ramos and Pat Neshek (see 25-man projection).

Morgan, Asher, Luis Garcia and Joely Rodriguez are the top candidates for the remaining two slots. Thompson has received some light consideration, but he really needs to go to Triple-A and work as a starter. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos are also in the mix, but could end up on the outside looking in because they are not on the 40-man roster and the Phils have little flexibility there.

Morgan did not hurt his chances on being a lefty long man with his performance Tuesday. He allowed a leadoff double, but pitched out of trouble. In all, he gave up a hit, a walk and struck out two.

Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure want to see Morgan use more finesse -- soft stuff in fastball counts -- in his repertoire and the pitcher did that in this outing.

"He pitched the way we would like to see him pitch," Mackanin said. "He really had a good mixture of soft and hard. He kind of pitched backward today, which I think he's going to have to do to be successful. He showed us he can do that so that was encouraging.

"He upset the timing of hitters. That's why he was effective.

"I want to see him a few more times. He needs to pitch the remainder of the spring the way he pitched today."

Life on the bubble of a big-league roster in the final days of camp can be stressful. Morgan learned to handle it last year when he pitched well as a starter only to end up opening the season in Triple-A.

"I'm not getting too high or too low," Morgan said. "Last year I was like, 'I've got a shot, I've got a shot,' and then … So, really I'm just taking it one day at a time, trying to do my best out there. Just see how the chips fall.

"You have to check your ego at the door. In my case, you're never solidified into a spot. So I just come in and do the best I can."

The offense ...
Well, it was productive.

The Phils had 15 hits in the game, including a pair of homers by Freddy Galvis and Aaron Altherr. Altherr's homer started a six-run rally in the ninth. Roman Quinn tied the game with a pinch-hit double and Odubel Herrera singled home the go-ahead run with his second hit of the day (more on Herrera here).

"It was good to score a lot of runs," Mackanin said.

Mr. Versatility
Howie Kendrick started at second base.

He will likely get a start at third base before camp ends. He also might get some reps at first base.

"He's our primary left fielder," Mackanin said. "But we want to get him some time in the infield in case a need ever arises."

Kendrick has primarily been a second baseman during his 11 seasons in the majors. He played 94 games in the outfield with the Dodgers last season. The Phillies traded for him to be their left fielder.

Up next
Vince Velasquez opposes Masahiro Tanaka when the Yankees visit Clearwater on Wednesday.

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

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Before beginning their season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeout Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year (see story)”. 

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five (reliable) guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”

Phillies-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

Phillies-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

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Aaron Nola’s likely final appearance of 2017 was another good one, but also his 11th loss. 

The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits and struck out nine in six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the NL East champion Washington Nationals on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. 

With the Phillies using a six-man rotation and an off day Thursday, manager Pete Mackanin said Nola was “most likely” making his last start. He gave up a two-run home run on a 3-1 fastball to Michael A. Taylor in the second inning before getting into a groove with his curveball. 

Nola (12-11) retired eight of the final 10 batters he faced and left with a 3.54 ERA as the Phillies kicked off a season-ending six-game homestand with their fourth loss in five games. 

Odubel Herrera hit an 0-2 mistake fastball for a solo shot to right in the fourth for the Phillies’ lone run. They struggled against A.J. Cole (3-5), who allowed six hits over 5 2/3 innings and collected his first major-league hit.

• It marked the 18th time in 27 starts that Nola allowed two earned runs or fewer. He gave up only eight earned runs in four starts against Washington. 

• The Phillies have scored seven runs in the past four games. 

• Rhys Hoskins hit a nubber toward first in the fourth inning that Ryan Zimmerman fielded facing the mound and blindly flipped backward to Cole covering first for the out. Hoskins flied deep to center to end the fifth and finished 0 for 4. He’s 2 for 21 in the past four games and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14. 

• Nick Williams went 1 for 4 with a single and three strikeouts. 

• Maikel Franco popped out on the 11th pitch of his at-bat to lead off the ninth against Sean Doolittle (24th save). 

• Hoskins made two fine plays at first base. He made a nice scoop of Freddy Galvis’ low throw in the first and made a leaping grab of Cesar Hernandez’s high and wide throw and tagged Matt Weiters going by for the out in the fourth. 

• Nationals slugger Bryce Harper’s return from a left knee injury was delayed by illness. Manager Dusty Baker said Harper, out since Aug. 12, woke up feeling sick. He was at the park early to get treatment and could play Tuesday. “He probably doesn’t like to hit here,” Mackanin joked. Harper’s 12 home runs at Citizens Bank Park are the most he’s hit in any road stadium. 

• Nola twice came up with runners at first and second and two outs. He grounded to first in the second and fanned in the fourth. 

• Mackanin planned to give his team a pep talk. “If they think they’re tired and ready to go home — it’s been a long season — I’m going to remind them, ‘If you want to go to the World Series, you’re going to play another entire month,’” he said. 

• With Nola likely finished for the season, it’s lining up for Henderson Alvarez to start Saturday and Nick Pivetta to go in the season finale Sunday. 

• All players from both teams on the field before the game stood for the national anthem. Baker, who is black, said he opposes kneeling, but understands the frustrations of those athletes who do it. “We’ve been talking about the same problems I had when I was 18 or 19 years old, so have we made progress or have we regressed?” Baker said. “It’s up to us to try to figure out how to come up with a solution.” 

• The Phillies dropped to 33 1/2 games behind the Nationals. They must win one of their final five games to avoid 100 losses. The Nationals must finish 5-1 to win 100 games. 

• Right-hander Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14 ERA) will make his fourth start against the Nationals this season when he faces lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night.