Phillies' bullpen finds a way in win vs. Pirates

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Phillies' bullpen finds a way in win vs. Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Manuel just kept trotting them out there. One after another after another.

Jake Diekman for two batters, Phillipe Aumont for four, J.C. Ramirez for two, Antonio Bastardo for three, Justin DeFratus for one, Jonathan Papelbon for three.
 
Six relievers, 10 outs.
 
“I used 'em all, didn’t I?” Manuel said laughing. “I had [Joe] Savery left, I guess.”
 
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty.

Diekman, Aumont, Ramirez and Bastardo allowed a combined six of 11 batters to reach base, but the beleaguered Phillies' bullpen cobbled together 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Jonathan Pettibone Tuesday night, and the Phillies ended the Pirates’ nine-game winning streak with a 3-1 win at PNC Park (see Instant Replay).
 
The Phillies entered the day with the second-worst bullpen ERA in baseball, and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said before the game he’d like to acquire bullpen help.
 
“Very expensive, and a lot of people are looking for the same thing,” he said. “But I would have interest in proven bullpen, if I could.”
 
But for one night, the Phils’ young bullpen got it done. Somehow.
 
“The guys that are there, we do have limited experience, and so for us it’s more about just getting out there and keep getting the opportunities, keep getting the opportunities,” said De Fratus, who got a huge out with the bases loaded to end the eighth.
 
“We have some very talented arms down there, I firmly believe that, and it’s just a matter of getting those experiences, learning to bump our head.
 
“Sometimes, it’s not fun, those experiences, but you’ve got to have them to move forward, and the more we do that the better we’re going to become, because there’s a lot of talented arms down there, and we have the potential to be very good. There’s no reason we can’t be very good.”
 
It was DeFratus who took the loss on the Phils’ first three losses on their West Coast swing. He faced 15 batters in those three games, allowing 11 of them to reach base and four of them to score.

He only got four outs.
 
“When you failed before and you’ve felt that feeling, there’s nothing to be afraid of anymore, you know what I mean?” DeFratus said.
 
“It’s unfortunate that you do have to fail to learn that lesson, but I didn’t die. So there’s nothing to be worried about out there. You just go out there and throw the ball over the plate as hard as you can and let’s go.”
 
Tuesday night, facing the team with the best record in baseball, De Fratus entered the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth and struck out .285 hitter Jordy Mercer on five pitches.
 
De Fratus pumped his fist as he stepped off the mound and the several thousand Phillies fans who made the trip across the state stood and cheered.
 
“That feeling at the end of that inning, that’s why as relievers we play baseball,” he said. “That feeling. That’s the feeling we chase. The only way to get that feeling is to get out of a jam, so we invite those situations. It’s an amazing feeling.”
 
De Fratus had a 2.57 ERA before the West Coast trip. He came back east with a 4.50 ERA.
 
That’s what three straight awful appearances can do.
 
“Here’s a chance to redeem yourself, get it done,” he said. “I do feed off the fact that people have thought that they beat me. I’m not going to get angry, I just get it done.
 
“I’ve been beaten plenty of times in the minors and I got through it. So just see yourself through it. I’m going to go out there and I’m going to grind it out every time.”
 
Papelbon then worked a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his 16th save, and the Phillies handed the Pirates their first loss since June 19 in Cincinnati and evened their record at 4-4 on the 10-game road trip.
 
And the bullpen, lugging around an ungainly 4.60 ERA, had itself a rare effective if ugly line score: 3 1/3 innings, three hits, three walks and no runs.
 
“Yeah, we got it done,” Manuel said. “But it was kind of hard to watch.”
 
Manuel said he didn’t want to use Papelbon in the eighth but admitted, “It was tempting as hell.”
 
Pettitbone allowed only three hits in 5 2/3 but walked three and ran up a pitch count of 102 before running out of steam on a muggy day. Manuel yanked him after he allowed a solo homer to Garrett Jones with two outs in the sixth.
 
“They picked me up big time tonight,” Pettibone said of the 'pen. “Maybe the last couple of games haven’t gone their way, so it was good for them to get back on track.”
 
The Phils scored all their runs in the sixth on an RBI single by Ryan Howard, a sac fly by Domonic Brown and an RBI double by Delmon Young that scored Howard from first.
 
Howard said after the game his knee was quite sore after running the bases.
 
“It felt good to get out there and get a knock and pick the team up,” he said. “My knee hurts now.”

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."