Phillies fail to support Lee in loss to Reds

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Phillies fail to support Lee in loss to Reds

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CINCINNATI -- The Phillies are up to their frustrating old tricks again, not scoring enough runs to back solid pitching efforts from Cliff Lee.

Lee made 30 starts last season. The Phillies scored three or fewer runs in 20 of them.

So far this year, the run-support problem is even worse.

Lee has made three starts. The Phils have scored just two runs in two of those games. Lee was able to beat the Braves with that meager support in the third game of the season, but Monday night his strong effort against the Cincinnati Reds went for naught in a 4-2 loss (see Instant Replay).

“That’s baseball,” said Lee, who allowed just two runs in seven innings. “It happens.”

Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo joined Lee in a fast-moving pitchers’ duel. The right-hander didn’t allow a run for 7 2/3 innings until Chase Utley, getting a night off from the starting lineup, tied the game with a two-run pinch-hit homer with two outs in the top of the eighth.

Needing to keep things in check in the bottom of the inning, the Phillies put the ball in reliever Jeremy Horst’s hand, but that move didn’t work. Horst, who had started warming up when Lee was pinch-hit for, allowed a swinging-bunt hit and a flare double to right before Brandon Phillips put the Reds ahead with a two-run single against Mike Adams.

Adams was supposed to fix the Phillies’ leaky eighth inning, but he was not called upon to start the frame because Horst was warm and ready. Instead, Adams was brought in after Horst had issued an intentional walk to load the bases.

“Utley hit a home run with two outs,” manager Charlie Manuel explained. “We didn’t really have very much time to get someone in. Horst hadn’t pitched in five days and he was ready. Actually, with Adams, we’re using him a lot. I’m concerned about him. We were kind of hesitant [to use him]. Also, with the way their lineup was with left-handed hitters coming up at the top of the order, we wanted a lefty. When the guy hit the swinging bunt and then the flare into right field -- that broke everything loose. It wasn’t like Horst did badly. Actually, it was bad luck.”

After the Reds took the lead in the bottom of the eighth, it was ballgame time. Aroldis Chapman got the save. His final pitch was a 100-mph fastball by Ryan Howard.

The loss dropped the Phillies to 6-7.

The Reds are also 6-7.

The Phillies had just five hits in the game. Utley’s homer was the only extra-base hit.

Four games into this trip, the Phils have scored just eight runs. Maybe Carlos Ruiz and Delmon Young will help the offense when they are ready at the end of the month.

Leadoff man Ben Revere is down to .222 and his on-base percentage is a woeful .276. Revere could be moved to eighth when Ruiz and Young are ready.

While Revere has struggled lately at the plate, his defense remains top shelf. He made two sensational catches in the first three innings. The first was a running, twisting, diving, over-the-shoulder robbery of Todd Frazier in the second inning, the second a wall-climber on Ryan Hanigan in the third.

Lee called the catch on Frazier “the best I’ve seen in a while. He had to go up and out to get it. It was huge. It saved a run.”

Before the game, Phillies players watched television coverage of the horrific events in Boston where three people were killed in a bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Revere was so moved by the tragic event that he wrote "Pray For Boston" on a piece of tape on his glove. The glove had some magic in it during the game and Revere had seven putouts.

“I’d like to get a Gold Glove,” he said. “I’m busting my tail for that.”

Lee had a difficult inning in the seventh. He allowed two hits and his first walk of the season. He also threw a wild pitch that led to a run and made an error. With little run support, he couldn’t afford an inning like that. Utley eventually got him off the hook, but the Reds rallied against Horst and Adams to claim the win.

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

 

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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."