Phillies' bullpen slammed in wild loss to Braves

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Phillies' bullpen slammed in wild loss to Braves

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It was only 24 hours ago that the Phillies’ bullpen was being lauded for its part in a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins.

Suffice it to say that the bullpen did not continue its efficiency on Monday night.

What would have been the Phillies’ best win of the early season ended up as their worst loss when Jake Diekman couldn’t protect a one-run lead in the ninth inning. Atlanta’s Dan Uggla belted a grand slam with one out to lift the Braves to a wild 9-6 win at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies’ clubhouse was a morgue after the game.

The somber mood was understandable. Moments before Uggla’s grand slam, the Phillies, seemingly dead in the water, had rallied for five runs in the bottom of the eighth to take a 6-5 lead. Marlon Byrd drove in two runs in the uprising and Domonic Brown capped it with a three-run homer.

As it turned out, that spirited comeback went for naught.

“For the fans, a game like that, with the back and forth, is fun,” Byrd said afterward. “But for us, it’s just a loss. It’s tough.”

Manager Ryne Sandberg echoed that sentiment.

“It was nice to see the comeback,” he said of the Phillies’ eighth-inning rally (see story). “The guys battled. They showed character. They had good at-bats and we put a five-spot up there. We just weren’t able to close the door in the ninth. There were some big emotion swings there.”

All nine of the Braves’ runs scored on home runs. Evan Gattis gave his team a 2-1 lead with a two-run homer against Phillies starter Roberto Hernandez in the sixth inning.

In the eighth, the Braves went ahead 5-1 on consecutive home runs by Gattis, Uggla and Andrelton Simmons. All three homers came against reliever B.J. Rosenberg. According to baseball researcher Dave Smith of www.retrosheet.org, Rosenberg is likely the first pitcher ever to face just three batters in a game and give up a homer to each one. Smith’s data goes back to 1914 when home runs weren’t common.

Rosenberg was pitching for the third day in a row. He was part of the relief corps that went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in Phils’ weekend sweep of the Marlins.

Before the game, Sandberg said he hoped to stay away from Rosenberg, but the pitcher said he was ready to work.

“He said he felt fine,” Sandberg said. “He was throwing 94-95 [mph]. He was just behind in counts.”

Closer Jonathan Papelbon worked all three days against Miami and he was definitely getting the night off. Hence Sandberg’s use of Diekman as the closer.

Diekman walked two of the first three batters he faced. Another reached when Chase Utley couldn’t get an out on a fielder’s choice ground ball.

With one out and the bases full, Diekman threw Uggla an elevated slider and the Braves’ second baseman crushed it to left to pull his team from the jaws of defeat.

For Diekman, pitching in a ninth-inning save situation was a new experience. He didn’t handle it well.

“I tried to not overthink things,” he said. “I kept picking instead of going right after them. I can’t start hitters off 2-0 all the time.”

The Phillies’ bullpen entered the game with a 4.35 ERA. Seven runs later, it had an ERA of 5.53. High ERA isn’t the only problem for the Phils’ bullpen. The innings are already piling up. Only twice in 13 games have the Phillies gotten seven innings from a starting pitcher.

“We’d like to see that change to help our 'pen,” Sandberg said. “We’ve been utilizing out 'pen a lot.”

After the game, the Phillies sent reliever Luis Garcia to Triple A and activated reliever Mike Adams from the disabled list. The Phils hope he gives the bullpen a boost.

Beyond that, it’s getting difficult not to be tempted by what flame-thrower Kenny Giles is doing at Double A Reading. Giles can reach triple digits with his fastball, but control has been a problem throughout his minor-league career. It’s very, very early in his first experience above Single A ball, but Giles is making quick strides. He struck out the side in Reading’s win over Richmond on Monday night. In six innings over five games, Giles has allowed one hit and two walks while striking out 14.

If he keeps that up, he will eventually get a chance to help a Phillies bullpen that couldn’t get the job done Monday night.

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Manny Machado in center of bad blood as Red Sox beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- A tempestuous three-game series between the Red Sox and Baltimore wound up with Matt Barnes being ejected for throwing a fastball behind the head of Orioles star Manny Machado in Boston's 6-2 victory Sunday.

Barnes' ejection was the latest facet of this tense rivalry between AL East rivals. His high, very inside pitch came two days after Machado took out Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-high slide.

Pedroia watched from the dugout for a second straight day Sunday with knee and ankle injuries. Machado apologized with a text message on Friday night, but that evidently wasn't the end of it.

When Machado batted in the sixth inning, Eduardo Rodriguez threw three pitches down and in near the knees. He came up again in the eighth and Barnes' pitch whizzed behind Machado and hit his bat. The ball hit Machado and rolled foul, and plate umpire Andy Fletcher tossed Barnes (see full recap).

Bour's 3-run homer lifts Marlins past Padres
SAN DIEGO -- Justin Bour hit a three-run homer to cap the six-run sixth inning and help the Miami Marlins to a 7-3 victory Sunday against the San Diego Padres.

The first six Marlins batters reached and scored in the sixth, helping Tom Koehler (1-1) to his first win of the season.

San Diego's Luis Perdomo came off the disabled list and shut down the Marlins through five before hitting the wall in the sixth. Martin Prado hit a leadoff single, Christian Yelich walked and Giancarlo Stanton hit an RBI single to chase Perdomo.

Craig Stammen (0-1) came on and allowed Marcell Ozuna's RBI double just past the glove of first baseman Wil Myers and J.T. Realmuto's RBI single to left before Bour hit a no-doubter to right field, his third.

Kevin Quackenbush relieved and got three straight outs (see full recap).

Astros use 2-run 10th to beat Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Brian McCann and Yuli Gurriel both had RBI singles in the 10th inning, and the Houston Astros rallied from an early four-run deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 on Sunday.

Carlos Beltran opened the 10th by drawing a walk from Ryan Garton (0-1) and went to second on Jose Altuve's single. After reaching third on Carlos Correa's fly to center, Beltran scored to make it 5-4 on McCann's hit to right.

Gurriel's two-out single put Houston ahead 6-4.

Luke Gregerson (1-1) went a scoreless ninth before Ken Giles got three out for his fifth save.

The Astros tied it at 4 on pinch-hitter Evan Gattis' sacrifice fly off closer Alex Colome, who was bidding for a two-inning save, in the ninth.

Brad Miller had an RBI triple, Steven Souza Jr. hit a two-run homer, and Jesus Sucre added a run-scoring single as the Rays went up 4-0 in the first (see full recap).

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

With new body, new swing, Cesar Hernandez keying Phillies' late-game power surges

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A constant theme during the Phillies' playoff run from 2007-11 was that even when the offense was sputtering, it never felt like they were out of a game. That group of players picked up so many late hits and mounted so many comebacks that even a five-run deficit heading into the final three innings felt like a winnable game.

The 2017 Phillies are a much different, much less experienced, much less powerful team, but their late-game offense has been a surprisingly fun development this April.

The Phillies used back-to-back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning Sunday to pick up a 5-2 win over the Braves and a series sweep (see Instant Replay). Cesar Hernandez hit a go-ahead, two-run shot off hard-throwing reliever Arodys Vizcaino. Aaron Altherr followed with a solo shot on the next pitch. The Braves switched pitchers, then Odubel Herrera hit a solo homer of his own.

Just like that, ballgame.

The Phillies lead the majors with six home runs in the eighth inning. That's more than the Cubs, Red Sox, Rockies, Angels, Mariners, Pirates, White Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Giants and Astros have combined.

They've scored 14 runs in the eighth inning and 27 in innings 7-9. Both figures rank third-best in the National League behind only the Diamondbacks and Nationals.

Unexpected late-game heroics and unexpected power from some unlikely sources.

"It's always a bonus to have a team like that," manager Pete Mackanin said. "These guys pull for each other. We have a good bench, we have some interchangeable players that can step in and do a good job. ... They're fighters and it's good to see."

Hernandez continues to open eyes with his developing power. He has four home runs through 18 games after hitting six all of last season. He has more extra-base hits (nine) than Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Paul Goldschmidt and Robinson Cano, among many others.

And he's done it without sacrificing his eye at the plate and slap-hitting ability. Hernandez is hitting .338 through 80 at-bats.

Hernandez gained muscle over the winter and reported to spring training looking noticeably bigger, but Mackanin credits the power surge to a change in his swing plane.

"He had an uppercut swing," Mackanin said. "He worked underneath the ball, which made him a low-ball hitter. I think the fact that we convinced him to level out his swing and stay on top of the ball -- work above the ball and work your way down through the strike zone -- I think has not only given him more power but also (the ability) to hit more line drives and use the whole field."

Makes sense. Managers, hitting coaches and players talk all the time about how you don't hit a home run when you're trying to hit a home run, you hit one when you're thinking up the middle and catch the ball with the barrel.

Hernandez hasn't lofted more balls because he's trying to loft them, he's done it by getting stronger and developing a more consistent swing.

"He's an on-base guy and a leadoff hitter and now I'm starting to think of him as a cleanup hitter as well," Mackanin said jokingly. "It is nice. It's good to see. He's not trying to hit home runs. He's trying to hit line drives and when you work above the ball and level your swing out and you hit the bottom half of the ball, the ball is going to go up with a line-drive swing. Because of that, he's hitting more gaps and hitting for more power."

In a way, it's similar to what Herrera did last season, jumping from eight home runs as a rookie to 15 as a sophomore as he continued learning the strike zone, learning major-league pitchers and learning of his own capabilities.

"I love watching Cesar hit the ball," Herrera said. "He has a beautiful swing and he makes great contact on the ball. It's great to be behind him."

With Hernandez leading off and Herrera batting third, the top of the Phillies' lineup has gotten on base a ton. They've gotten a .384 on-base percentage from the 1-3 spots in the order. Just imagine how many additional runs the Phillies would have produced to this point if Maikel Franco or Tommy Joseph were hitting consistently.

"I like all three right there," Mackanin said. "I like Howie Kendrick, also. I'm anxious for him to get back (from the DL) and then we'll go from there. We've got some good things going. We've got a good bench. We've got Altherr, (Daniel) Nava, (Andres) Blanco. We've got (Andrew) Knapp who's doing a good job behind the plate. I think we're in pretty good shape that way."

It's not going to be an explosive, league-leading offense, but it's certainly a deeper offense than it was a year ago. An addition like Nava, for example, has proven to be underrated and pay early dividends. Remember, he was one of the last men chosen for the opening day roster. So far this April, he's succeeded in every role in which the Phillies have used him.

Despite not playing regularly, Nava has reached base in 16 of his first 31 plate appearances, something no first-year Phillie has done since Jeremy Giambi in 2002.

"Nava is really valuable to us," Mackanin said. "He's a part-time player that gives you good at-bats, quality at-bats. He works the count, obviously the first game of the season he showed us he's got power. Gap power and the occasional home run from both sides of the plate. 

"Watching a guy like that, you can't help but notice. If it was me and I was a free swinger, I'd go up to him and ask him, 'How do I tone it down a little bit?' He just doesn't get himself out."