Phillies defeat Nationals on Brown's walk-off hit

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Phillies defeat Nationals on Brown's walk-off hit

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Based on how things went on the Phillies’ 3-7 road trip against Milwaukee, Minnesota and Colorado, any way a win comes is a good thing.

That’s even the case for Monday night’s 5-4 victory over the Washington Nationals in which the Phillies were poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, only to come through with a walk-off win (see Instant Replay).

Fortunately for the Phillies, they aren’t being judged for style points.

“It feels good to come out and get a win, especially after this long road trip,” Monday night’s hero, Dom Brown, said.

Even in victory -- finally sealed on Brown’s two-out, walk-off single in the ninth -- the same old issues reared its heads, masking a lot of the good developments with frustration.

Perhaps it all starts with closer Jonathan Papelbon’s first blown save of the season, his first since Sept. 2, 2012 and just his fifth in 56 opportunities since joining the Phillies. Papelbon cruised through the bottom third of the Nats’ lineup and was one strike away from closing out the game on three different pitches until late-game replacement Chad Tracy popped a game-tying homer on an 0-2 pitch.

How rough was that one? Considering that the opposition was just 4 for 44 with 27 strikeouts and zero extra-base hits on 0-2 counts against Papelbon in the last two seasons, it was pretty rough.

Given how things had been going for the Phillies lately, Papelbon’s first blown save was an ominous sign.

That is until Brown told Papelbon the team was going to bail him out.

“Man, it’s very big, especially when Pap’s going out there and he’s been great for us,” Brown said. “[Tracy] got a tough pitch to hit and he hit it out. I told [Papelbon] that we’re gonna fight for him and we’re gonna come out and win.”

Brown and the Phillies had plenty of chances to give Papelbon some breathing room. In fact, lately the Phillies have been pretty good at getting men on base. Monday night’s game was no different.

The trouble, as has been well documented this season, has been getting those men on base home.

That refrain was again evident on Monday.

The Phillies had the bases loaded with one out in the third inning, two on and no outs in the eighth, and two on and one out in the ninth. In going just 3 for 12 with runners in scoring position, the Phils left seven runners on base in those situations.

If it hadn’t been for an upper-deck homer from Ryan Howard to lead off the second and Delmon Young’s seeing-eye double with two outs in the third, runs would have been even tougher to come by.

Luckily for the Phillies, the Nationals had a tough time pushing runs across, too. Give the biggest credit to starting pitcher John Lannan and reliever Mike Stutes for that.

Lannan, in his first appearance for the Phillies in two months, was solid through five innings. He got eight outs on the ground, notched four strikeouts and in allowing a pair of runs on six hits, Lannan was in line for his first win as a Phillie and his first win since Sept. 26, 2012, when he beat the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park while pitching for the Nationals.

“I wish I would have went a little deeper into the ballgame, but you just look for progress,” Lannan said. “In the fifth inning, I felt pretty good.”

Lannan looked good in the fifth inning, too. In retiring the side in order on 15 pitches, Lannan got three straight groundouts against the Nats’ No. 2, 3 and 4 hitters. That was especially important because it allowed Stutes to face the bottom portion of the lineup for two innings.

After retiring six straight hitters, Stutes turned a two-run lead over to Mike Adams in the eighth with Papelbon getting loose for the ninth.

What could go wrong?

“The two innings that Stutes gave us were very big,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “He’s pretty good. He’s been throwing good.”

At 34-37, the Phillies are one game behind the Nationals and eight games behind the Braves in the NL East.

The Phillies and Nats continue their series on Tuesday night when Cliff Lee (8-2, 2.55) faces lefty Ross Detwiler (2-4, 3.02).

Lee has not faced the Nationals this season, but in eight career starts against them, the Phils’ lefty is 5-3 with a 2.51 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings.

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."