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.

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The difference was striking.
 
When Mickey Moniak arrived in Philadelphia to sign his first professional contract six months ago, he was rail-thin and 170 pounds.
 
On Tuesday night, Moniak made a quick visit to the winter meetings to be honored as Baseball America’s high school player of the year for 2016. 
 
He’d added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame.
 
“It’s all muscle,” Moniak said proudly.
 
The Phillies selected Moniak with the first pick in the June draft and signed him for $6.1 million. Just a few months of professional baseball convinced the 18-year-old centerfielder that he needed to get stronger. He recently capped off his first year of pro ball with a three-week stint at the Phillies’ strength and conditioning camp in Clearwater.
 
“It’s something the Phillies wanted me to do and I knew I definitely needed it, too,” Moniak said. “I really enjoyed my first year. I got a taste of what it was like to play baseball for a job and it was a good time.
 
“There were a lot of positives that came out of the first year. I felt like I jumped in there and really competed. I hit well in July. In August, I started to fatigue and I wasn’t prepared for that, being my first season. But it was a good learning experience. I needed to get stronger.”
 
Moniak hit .284 with a .340 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 28 RBIs in 46 games for the Phillies’ prospect-stacked Gulf Coast League team. That club, loaded with young Latin players and first-year talent from the 2016 draft, went 41-17 and advanced to the finals of the league playoffs before losing to the Cardinals.
 
After the playoffs, many of the players from that club participated in the Florida instructional league. Moniak played sparingly, however, after dealing with some soreness in his right hip. He was checked out by doctors in Philadelphia and there are no more concerns.
 
“It was just tightness,” Moniak said. “Everything is good. I’m 100 percent. They said it was either a growing pain or just tightness. I just have to stretch more.”
 
Moniak is an athletic centerfielder with speed and a good left-side bat. He has been compared favorably to former All-Star Steve Finley.
 
"Collectively, we believe Mickey was the best player available in the draft," Johnny Almaraz, the Phillies head of amateur scouting, said on draft night in June. "He's a true centerfielder with incredible offensive ability and the potential to be a perennial All-Star."

Moniak hit .476 with seven homers, 12 triples and four doubles at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California, during his senior season. He impressed a rival scout who saw him play five times during the season.

“The bat is good,” the scout said. “He’s going to hit and hit for average. He’s a good centerfielder. He can run. The question is how many home runs will he hit? If he ends up getting stronger, he could be a corner bat that’s unbelievable. There’s no negative here. It’s a good pick.”
 
Now, Moniak is stronger. He looked sturdy in a dress shirt and tie at the winter meetings Tuesday night. He is eager to see how it all translates on the field in 2017.
 
“I’m excited for the season,” he said. “I’m just going to go to spring training and compete and hopefully end up in (Single A) Lakewood, stay healthy and hopefully have a winning season and win a championship. That’s the ultimate goal and if personal stats come with that, too, that’s great.”