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.

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's 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 up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.