Phillies battle back but Bryce Harper breaks their spirit -- again

Phillies battle back but Bryce Harper breaks their spirit -- again

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WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper is just 24 years old and already it seems as if he's been killing the Phillies forever.
 
He did it again Sunday with a two-run homer in the third inning and a spirit-crushing three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth.
 
Harper's second homer of the day came with two outs in the ninth on a full-count fastball from new Phillies closer Joaquin Benoit. It turned a hard-fought, one-run Phillies' lead into a deflating 6-4 loss (see Instant Replay).

Harper's bomb hadn't even landed when Benoit started walking off the mound. He's 39 years old and has pitched in 718 big-league games. He knows when he gives up a walk-off shot.
 
"Fastball count. I threw him a fastball. He hit it out," said Benoit, who took over as closer after Jeanmar Gomez blew a ninth-inning lead against these same Nationals last weekend in Philadelphia.
 
Previously in his career, Benoit had held Harper hitless with a strikeout in five at-bats.
 
"I believe every hitter is dangerous," Benoit said. "If you throw a pitch they can handle they will do damage. I've had some success against him, but I made a mistake and he made me pay. No excuses."
 
The Phillies trailed 3-1 after Harper's two-run homer in the third. The score stayed that way most of the day until the Phillies rallied for two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to take a 4-3 lead.

Benoit got the first out in the bottom of the ninth but walked the next batter then allowed a single. He retired dangerous Anthony Rendon before Harper came to the plate. Benoit went at Harper with fastballs and Harper fouled off the first two to fall behind, 0-2, but Benoit could not put him away.
 
"I was trying to battle, took two good swings right there 0-0 and 0-1," Harper said. "You never want to get behind on a guy like that, but I battled the best I could and got into a pretty good count right there and got a good pitch to hit."
 
Harper admitted that he thought Benoit might throw a changeup with a full count. Benoit threw a 96 mph fastball and Harper quickly adjusted.
 
"I don't like to double-guess myself," Benoit said. "I take full responsibility. I wanted to throw a fastball. He hit it out."
 
Harper's game-winning homer to dead center was his fourth of the season and third in six games against the Phillies in 2017. In 86 career games against the Phillies, he has 18 home runs and 49 RBIs.
 
At his age, he could torture the Phillies into the 2030s.
 
Unless, of course, the Phillies put him in red pinstripes when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. Early estimates have put a $400 million price tag on Harper. The Phillies have the money and will spend on a big bat. Time will tell if it's Harper that they will spend on. For now, he just kills the Phillies.
 
"He's a tough out," Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff said. "He fouls off good pitches and he's ready for a mistake. That's all you can ask for in a hitter -- just a guy who is going to go up and take professional at bats. You have to be careful with him."
 
Harper's first homer came against Eickhoff on a first-pitch slider in the third inning. Eickhoff got the first two outs of the inning then had Rendon down 0-2 in the count, but couldn't put him away. Rendon reached on an infield hit. The play was reviewed and after a 100-second delay, Eickhoff missed his spot with the slider that Harper hit out.
 
"The delay didn't hurt me," Eickhoff said. "I missed my location by inches."
 
Eickhoff allowed back-to-back doubles in the first inning as he let a 1-0 lead get away. The Phils got that lead on a leadoff homer by Cesar Hernandez against Gio Gonzalez. The Phils did not score again until the eighth when they got hits from Hernandez, Daniel Nava and Tommy Joseph in tying the game. Washington left fielder Jayson Werth also made a key error in that frame.
 
The Phils turned a leadoff double by Aaron Altherr into the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth and were looking at a sweet win and two-out-of-three in the series before Harper blasted Benoit in the ninth.
 
"We're competing and playing hard," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Pitching kept us in the game. You hold a team to three runs like we did most of the game, you have a chance of winning some of those games.
 
"It's always demoralizing when you blow a lead especially when you come from behind. That's always disheartening."
 
It gets no easier now for the Phillies. The next three games are in New York against the Mets. The Phils are 12-29 against the Mets since the start of the 2015 season.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, both struggling mightily through the first month of the season, will get Saturday night off when the Phillies take on the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Joseph is hitting .190 with one homer and 18 strikeouts in 18 games, while Rupp is batting .180 with one homer and 20 strikeouts through 15 games. Last season, Joseph had 21 home runs and Rupp 16.

Brock Stassi will spell Joseph at first base and bat seventh. Andrew Knapp takes over for Rupp behind the plate and will bat eighth.

Daniel Nava also receives a start, playing left field. The first-year Phillie is hitting .346 with a pair of homers and as many walks as strikeouts (seven).

Zach Eflin takes the mound in a meaningful start for the right-hander (see story). He opposes resurgent Dodgers righty Brandon McCarthy (see game notes).

Here are tonight's lineups:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Daniel Nava, LF
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Zach Eflin, P

Dodgers
1. Andrew Toles, CF
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Yasmani Grandal, C
5. Yasiel Puig, RF
6. Cody Bellinger, LF
7. Chase Utley, 2B
8. Chris Taylor, 3B
9. Brandon McCarthy, P

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies (11-10) at Dodgers (12-12)
9:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end out west Friday night. The beauty of baseball is that you have a chance to start a new streak a day later. Zach Eflin looks to avenge a poor performance from last season while the Dodgers send out veteran righty Brandon McCarthy at home.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening's game.

1. Two strong starts for Eflin
In his second season as a big-league starter, Eflin is off to a lot better start than last year. 

If you remember his MLB debut, he gave up eight runs and retired just eight batters against a Blue Jays team that could hit the snot out of the ball … and did. Through two starts, Eflin had a 10.80 ERA and two losses to his résumé before coming into his own over the next two months.

This year has been just about the opposite. Eflin clearly looks comfortable on a major-league mound. He's turned Clay Buchholz's spot in the rotation into a positive. He's allowed just three runs and one home run in 12 innings, good for a 2.25 ERA.

The modern thinking is that an ideal pitcher strikes out a lot of batters, avoids walks and home runs, and induces weak contact. Eflin has done all but the strikeouts. His sinker has been marvelous and the Mets/Braves had little chance to do damage against it. Pete Mackanin described the sinker as a bowling ball. That just about says it all. The sinker won't induce that many swings and misses — thus the lack of strikeouts — but he can throw it in the zone and keep hitters off balance.

The Dodgers kind of ended Eflin's season last year. In reality, it was dueling knee injuries that did Eflin in (see story), but the Dodgers were the last team to take advantage of an ailing Eflin, hitting three home runs and scoring seven runs in just three innings Aug. 8. Even the outs in that game were generally line drives. Chase Utley, Yasmani Grandal and Corey Seager — all of whom could be in the lineup Saturday — took the now-23-year-old righty deep.

Being a righty against the Dodgers isn't all that advantageous as the team boasts those three hitters and Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Toles and Cody Bellinger as lefties who can put up disruptive plate appearances. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have a rotation full of righties and are unable to take advantage of the Dodgers' platoon issues.

2. Dodgers send out resurgent righty
The first two seasons of Brandon McCarthy's deal with the Dodgers essentially went by the wayside. Now, the 33-year-old starter is picking up where he left off in 2014.

McCarthy has long been one of the more entertaining and thoughtful players in baseball, as evidenced by his Twitter account. The veteran righty has also been a steadily average to occasionally above-average pitcher in 12 MLB seasons, bouncing around teams mostly on the west coast. He posted career-worst numbers with the Diamondbacks in the first half of 2014, but he rebounded in the second half with the Yankees, pitching to a 2.89 ERA in 90 innings despite the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

He parlayed that second half into a four-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers and that was almost immediately derailed by Tommy John surgery. Going into 2017, he had thrown just 63 innings and made only 13 starts in the first half of his contract. McCarthy was one of many Dodgers pitchers on the disabled list during a 2016 with a record-setting number of injuries for the club.

But now he's apparently back to form and, perhaps most importantly, he's healthy. He's made it through four starts unscathed this year and is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA to boot. He's allowed just 18 hits in 24 innings. Similar to Eflin, he relies primarily on a dynamic sinker that sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He also features a low 90s cutter and an 80 mph curveball, both of which grade out well this season.

Only three current Phillies have any history vs. McCarthy. With his history in the AL West with the Mariners, Michael Saunders has faced McCarthy plenty with sub-par results, going 2 for 13 with five strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 3 for 3 off the righty while Andres Blanco is 0 for 1.

3. How does the Dodgers' bullpen stack up?
Going into Friday's action, the Dodgers' bullpen had a 3.15 collective ERA, good for eighth in all of baseball and second-best in the National League. As a whole, the crew strikes out 10.29 batters per nine innings and has the highest wins above replacement of any bullpen in baseball.

Any conversation about the Dodgers' 'pen starts with Kenley Jansen, one of the premier closers in the game today. He overwhelms hitters with a cutter many consider reminiscent of Mariano Rivera. It isn't quite up to Rivera's level, but it is still wildly effective. He has a 2.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season, locking down six saves in six chances. He dominated the Phillies on Friday night.

Setting up for him primarily is righty flamethrower Pedro Baez. Baez pitches with a dreadfully slow pace but great results, striking out batters at a similar clip and takes a 1.08 ERA into the weekend. Righty Josh Fields and lefty Grant Dayton each hadn't allowed a run this year before Fields let one up in the eighth inning Friday while lefty Luis Avilan has been effective primarily vs. lefties. 

While Chris Hatcher and Ross Stripling, both righties, each has a loss this season, they've still achieved OK results pitching often in low leverage situations. The biggest disappointment for Los Angeles has been the offseason signing of former Giants closer Sergio Romo. The 34-year-old has a 10.57 ERA through 10 appearances and has walked as many batters as he's struck out. If the Phillies get to face Romo in a big situation this weekend, it'll be a tremendous opportunity to do some damage.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis takes a 10-game hitting streak into action on Saturday night. Not only does he have good numbers off McCarthy, he's also simply off to the best start to his career. The Phillies' shortstop has traditionally been a better second half hitter but he has a career-best .269 average and .487 slugging percentage thus far.

Dodgers: While he is currently playing corner outfield, rookie Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers' first baseman of the future. Currently the No. 10 prospect in baseball, he had five home runs in Triple A Oklahoma City and is projected to have legitimate in-game power at the major league level. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies went 2-4 vs. the Dodgers last season and haven't won a series at Dodger Stadium since April 21-24, 2014, when they took three of four.

• Frequent trade partners in recent history, the Phillies and Dodgers have teamed up for eight trades since the 2012 trade deadline. Eflin himself came to the Phillies in the 2014 Jimmy Rollins trade.

• McCarthy is typically at his worst in April. He has a 5.01 ERA for March/April in his career, his worst for any month. However, he pitched well the two times he faced the Phillies. He threw eight shutout innings in 2013 and gave up two runs while striking out 12 in seven innings during the 2014 season.