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 push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

 

BOX SCORE

This is what the Phillies could look like some day, maybe in a year or two, when the rebuild has moved further down the road and the club is approaching contender's status.

Maikel Franco clubbed three hits, including a grand slam, and Vince Velasquez pitched his best game of the young season to lead the Phillies to a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

The win was the Phillies' fifth straight as they inched over the .500 mark at 10-9 and it offered a glimpse of the tantalizing tools of two of the team's most enigmatic young players — Franco and Velasquez. Both players are 24 years old. Both have had individual highs and lows in a Phillies uniform. Both have the ability to be cornerstone talents for the franchise — if they can put together more nights like this one.

"It's a long season and it doesn't happen overnight," said manager Pete Mackanin, acknowledging the ups and downs that each player has had in the early part of this season and before.

It was just last week that Franco was riding a career-worst 0-for-22 slump that dragged his batting average to .145.

On Wednesday night, he stroked three hits — he had two hard-hit singles to go with his grand slam — to push his average to .203, not good but moving in the right direction.

Even as he struggled, Franco continued to hit balls hard and produce runs. He now has 20 RBIs, which is just one shy of the NL leaders. He also has four homers, including two grand slams.

It's no secret that new hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to get Franco to stop pulling off the ball. From Day 1 of spring training, Stairs has had Franco working on driving the ball to the middle of the field. That's just what Franco did three times Wednesday night. His first hit, a single to center in the second inning, set the tone for his night. His grand slam came on a 2-2 fastball from lefty Wei-Yin Chen in the third inning.

"That was Matt Stairs' big rallying cry for Maikel — try to use the big part of the field and not pull everything," Mackanin said. "He still has it in him where he'll pull his head off the ball, but I think with his type of power, he can hit a ball to center field or right field out of the ballpark. Once that sinks in, he's really going to take off. He's starting to look a lot better." 

Two pitches before Franco lined the grand slam over the wall in left center, he lost his helmet while hacking at a slow breaking ball. It was the type of out-of-control swing that Stairs is trying to eliminate. Two pitches later, Franco gathered himself and hit the grand slam with a smooth swing.

That was progress.

And so is this: He's only lost his helmet on a swing one time this season.

"At the time, I just told myself, 'Calm down, relax, don't try to do too much. Just see the ball and put good contact on it,'" Franco said.

"I think last year I lost my helmet like 20 or 25 times," he added with a chuckle. "I'm working on it."

Velasquez is also working on things. He is trying to harness his power stuff and improve his economy of pitches so he can stay in games longer. He'd lasted just four, five and six innings, respectively, while running high pitch counts in his first three starts. He made some improvements in his last outing at New York last week and took another step forward in this one. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattered six hits and three runs, walked two and struck out three. The strikeout total was way down from the 10 he struck out in four innings in his first start of the season. But Mackanin was pleased with the results and the improved efficiency. Velasquez threw 97 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters and that was important to his success.

"Even though he's not striking people out like we know he can and will, he's using all of his pitches and he got us into that seventh inning, which was huge," Mackanin said. "I think he's trying to pitch to more contact and not trying to make perfect pitches and strike everybody out with perfect pitches.

"I think once he puts that all together, he'll have that total ensemble working for him and know when to pitch soft and when to throw hard. He's making good improvements."

And so are the Phillies as a group. They hit three home runs in the game and the bullpen did an excellent job, especially Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit, who combined on five outs (see story)

Five straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Phillies have suddenly become fun. They go for a sixth straight win Thursday.

Joely Rodriguez 'a real bonus' to Phillies' bullpen

Joely Rodriguez 'a real bonus' to Phillies' bullpen

Vince Velasquez might have had the best outing of his season Wednesday night, but the Phillies' bullpen delivered against a tough Miami Marlins lineup. 

Hector Neris nearly had a scoreless ninth inning until Adeiny Hechavarria whacked in a run off a single.

But Neris struck out Derek Dietrich swinging to end the game, 7-4, and extend the Phillies' winning streak to five games (see game story).

"We're going to continue to do the same thing we've been doing," relief pitcher Joely Rodriguez said. "We're not going to change nothing because we're doing well now."

Velasquez got the Phillies to the seventh inning, but manager Pete Mackanin pulled the right-hander once Hechavarria smacked a double that knocked in J.T. Realmuto to make the game 5-3.

Rodriguez replaced Velasquez to face Ichiro Suzuki. He retired Suzuki on a line drive to Maikel Franco and got another huge out on Dee Gordon to get the Phillies out of a squeeze late in the game.

"Joely has done a great job his last five outings, that's a real pleasant surprise," Mackanin said. "We knew that he had the ability to potentially do that. All he has to do with his stuff is throw strikes in the situations that he comes in. And he can be very effective as he should tonight. That's a real bonus for us."

In his past six games, including Wednesday night, Rodriguez has pitched six straight scoreless games. He also has a combined four strikeouts and threw less than nine pitches in four of those games.  

Prior to the six-game streak, Rodriguez gave up a combined seven runs and 10 hits in four appearances, but he said he's been working on his mechanics.

"I have more confidence to throw the ball to home plate with my glove in the chest," Rodriguez said. "That helped me a lot to throw the ball and have a more consistent strike zone." 

Even with Rodriguez getting the Phillies out of the seventh inning, they still had to overcome the Marlins' top of the lineup in the eighth. Miami ranks seventh in the majors in runs per game with 4.78. 

Giancarlo Stanton was just starting to find his swing entering the game. The Marlins' cleanup hitter was 9 for 17 over his last four games, including four homers and seven RBIs. 

But when he faced Joaquin Benoit in the top of eighth, Stanton grounded out to Freddy Galvis to retire the side. Stanton was 0 for 3 on the night in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, while Benoit threw five strikes on eight pitches in the eighth. 

"We are a group in the bullpen," Rodriguez said. "We talk to each other, support each other and do the best we can when we go to the mound and try to help the team get a win."