Phillies-Nationals: What you need to know

753930.jpg

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

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

Cesar Hernandez remains a person of interest as Phillies look to improve

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies have completed the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5 million contract (see story). The deal could be announced Tuesday and will require the club removing a player from the already-full 40-man roster.

Benoit is one of three additions that the Phils have made to their bullpen this offseason — the club traded for veteran right-hander Pat Neshek and picked up lefty David Rollins on waivers — and more will likely come, probably on minor-league contracts, before the team reports to spring training.

Now that the bullpen has been addressed, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Phillies this winter.

• The addition of Benoit could create enough back-end bullpen depth that GM Matt Klentak could look to trade either Jeanmar Gomez or Hector Neris. Gomez saved 37 games in 2016, but struggled down the stretch. Neris showed great promise in recording a 2.58 ERA and striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings in 79 games in 2016. The hard-throwing righty is young (27), talented and inexpensive so the Phils would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him. Last year, Klentak moved a young closer in Ken Giles for a significant return from Houston, so he has history in making these types of moves.

• In addition to more potential comings and goings in the bullpen, the Phils will look to add a backup infielder and maybe a backup catcher in the coming weeks. Andres Blanco could return as that extra infielder. A.J. Ellis could return as the catcher. But nothing is firm. In fact, Klentak hinted Monday that he’d be comfortable bringing Andrew Knapp up from Triple A to be the backup catcher next season.

“I don’t think we need a veteran backup catcher,” Klentak said. “If it works out, we’re open-minded to that. But Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A. He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and (Jorge) Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

• One of the biggest remaining issues facing Phillies management this winter centers around the outfield and the offense. Basically, Klentak and his advisers are weighing the merits of adding another veteran hitter — the club already traded for Howie Kendrick — to improve the offense or giving a significant playing opportunity to a promising youngster and potential future core piece such as Roman Quinn in what currently projects to be one opening in the outfield.

“That topic is the one that we have spent the most time discussing, not just here but this offseason, about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to this team to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time.

“That’s part of the dynamic that we have to consider there. Roman Quinn came up at the end of the year and, at times, looked like a legitimate major-league contributor. But we also have to be mindful of the fact that he hasn’t logged a single at-bat at Triple A yet.

“This doesn’t have an obvious answer. We are continuing to talk about trade acquisitions and talk to agents for free agents to see if the right opportunity exists to blend all those factors together. But what we do not want to do is bring in so many veterans that we are denying opportunities to our young players.”

This brings us to a situation that could potentially satisfy the team’s desire to improve the offense without taking away a playing opportunity from Quinn.

J.D. Martinez of the Detroit Tigers is an outfield bat that the Phillies like. They like his production and the fact that he’s signed for just 2017. In other words, he wouldn’t block a young prospect’s pathway to the majors, at least for long.

Martinez, owed $11.75 million, which is very affordable for the Phillies, is a serious trade candidate for the cost-cutting Tigers and the Phillies have spoken to Tigers officials, dating to the early part of the offseason.

According to sources, the Phillies and Tigers could be a trade fit if the Tigers were to deal second baseman Ian Kinsler. If the Tigers move Kinsler, they could look to move Martinez to the Phillies for second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Phillies officials have said they are in no hurry to deal Hernandez, but the team does have depth at second with a pair of prospects (Scott Kingery and Jesmuel Valentin) on the way and a ready-made stopgap in Kendrick at the position. 

So keep an eye on Kinsler. If he moves, the Phillies could pursue the veteran bat that would make their offense better. And it would not cost Quinn an opportunity as he could play left field with Kendrick moving to second.

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens honored with Joe Bauman Award

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens stopped by the winter meetings on Monday and left with a little something extra in his wallet.

Cozens was honored with the Joe Bauman Award, given annually to minor league baseball’s home run king. The award came with an $8,000 check — $200 for each homer he hit in 2016.

“That will make shopping this holiday season a lot easier,” Cozens joked.

Cozens, a left-handed-hitting rightfielder, hit .276 with 40 home runs and 125 RBIs for the Double A Reading Fightin Phils. He was named Eastern League MVP. During his acceptance speech at Monday’s awards luncheon, Cozens thanked his Reading teammate, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, for pushing him to his power heights. Hoskins also had a huge season with the bat. He hit 38 homers and had 116 RBIs on his way to becoming the Eastern League’s Rookie of the Year. Night after night in Reading, Cozens and Hoskins staged a friendly power competition. At the end of the season, they shared the Paul Owens Award, given annually to the Phillies’ minor-league player of the year.

Cozens, 22, recently finished a 25-game hitch in the Dominican winter league. Despite hitting just .165 for the Aguilas club, he had four home runs — all against lefty pitching, which has been a nemesis.

Cozens, a 6-6, 250-pound behemoth, made some off-the-field news in the DR when he was involved in a pregame fight with teammate Boog Powell, a Seattle Mariners prospect. Cozens downplayed the incident.

“Just a little boys-being-boys type thing,” he said. “I feel like it was blown out of proportion like almost everything is these days. But, after it happened we became good friends. It was more the level of respect there and I’d say we’re still friends, so it’s good.”

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said the incident was in the past and would have no long-range ramifications for Cozens.

“There is no concern,” Klentak said. “Dylan is an intense kid and he plays the game really hard. That is a good thing. If you’ve watched that, you can see that in his at-bats and when he runs the bases and is running around in the outfield. That’s just his style of play. That aggressive nature at times can boil over. You hope that it doesn’t boil over into altercations with teammates. But we have no long-term concerns with that at all.”

Cozens was recently added to the 40-man roster and will be in big-league spring training camp. Though he projects to open the 2017 season at Triple A, he’s conceding nothing.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to get better, turn some heads and make people notice and hopefully get called up as soon as possible,” he said. 

Plate discipline and strike-zone management are the areas in which Cozens needs the most improvement. He struck out 186 times and walked 61 times in 134 games in 2016. Phillies officials would like to see the strikeouts come down.
 
“I’m learning how to take my walks more often, having better strike-zone judgment, maybe not chase after as many pitches,” Cozens said. “I want to be aggressive, but if they don’t want to pitch to me, just take a walk. I feel like I did not do a good job of that and it’s something I can improve on next year.”