Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

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Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

Phillies (13-13) at Washington Nationals (16-9)7:05 p.m. on TCN

The Phillies took two of three in Atlanta to move back to .500 and can pick up more ground in the NL East this weekend when they visit the first-place Nationals. The Phils will get their first look at 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper, who is 6 for 16 with four doubles and three RBI since his promotion five games ago.

Starting Pitchers
In what Kyle Kendrick sarcastically billed as a battle of aces, KK takes on Stephen Strasburg in the first of a three-game set.

Kendrick, 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA on the season, is making his third start. His first start in place of Cliff Lee was disastrous, as he allowed seven runs on 11 hits over three innings in Arizona. His last outing was much better. Kendrick held the Cubs to three runs (two earned) in six innings Tuesday, striking out seven in a loss. Hell have to be careful with the lefty Harper.

Its hard to start a season better than Strasburg has. The all-world 23-year-old is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in five starts. Hes struck out 34 batters and has walked just six. His WHIP is 0.88. Hes among the top seven in the National League in ERA, WHIP and Ks.

Strasburgs success isnt fluky, its come as a result of possessing perhaps the best pure stuff of any pitcher in either league. His fastball averages, yes averages 96 miles per hour. His 89 mile per hour changeup (the same velocity as Kendricks fastball) dives and disappears, especially to lefties. And his 80 mile per hour slow curve is sharp with knee-buckling break. If he has all three of his pitches working Friday night... look out.

Head-to-head
The Phillies are 79-49 (.617) against the Nationals since they relocated to Washington from Montreal in 2005. The Phils were a remarkable 51-21 against the Nats from 2007-10 before losing the season series 10-8 in 2011.

The Nationals have a five-game winning streak over the Phils and have won two consecutive series at Nationals Park.

In 13 appearances (12 starts) vs. Washington, Kendrick is 2-3 with a 5.46 ERA. Current Nats are batting .318 with a .894 OPS off Kendrick, which is a bit scary given the sample size of about 130 plate appearances.

That said, Kendricks only allowed two homers to current Nats, and the man whos done the most damage, Ryan Zimmerman, is on the shelf with a shoulder injury.

Previous games
The Phillies scored 21 runs in three games against the Braves and took two of three. The standout game was the loss, where the Phillies blew leads of six and four runs and eventually lost, 15-13, in 11 innings.

The Nationals enter the series with a two-game winning streak after losing five straight. Washingtons offense is having a hard time scoring runs and it isnt hard to understand why when you look at the lineup, even with Harper. The Nats have averaged 2.0 runs per game over their last seven.

Whos hot
Laynce Nix has been a revelation. He went 5 for 9 in the Braves series with a solo home run and a three-run double. Hes batting .342 on the season with a 1.076 OPS. The offense was inconsistent for much of April, but Nix and fellow first base fill-in Ty Wigginton havent been the reason.

The leading factor in the Phillies' recent offensive success theyve averaged 5.4 per game over the last 10 has been the top of the order. Jimmy Rollins followed a 3 for 37 stretch by getting on base 10 times in the last six games. Shane Victorino has a homer, four RBI and two runs scored during his four-game hitting streak. Placido Polanco is up to .265 after bottoming out at .196 eight days ago.

And, of course, theres Carlos Ruiz, who set a single-game record for RBI by a Phillies catcher on Wednesday with seven.

Lineup
1) Jimmy Rollins, SS
2) Juan Pierre, LF
3) Placido Polanco, 3B
4) Hunter Pence, RF
5) Shane Victorino, CF
6) Laynce Nix, 1B
7) Carlos Ruiz, C
8) Pete Orr, 2B
9) Kyle Kendrick P

Sound off
What is your predicted final line for Strasburg?

E-mail Corey Seidman at cseidman@comcastsportsnet.com

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."