Phillies officials look to cure walks epidemic

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Phillies officials look to cure walks epidemic

The Phillies had many flaws in 2013.

Not throwing enough strikes was one of them.

And it was an organization-wide problem.

The big-league club, after recording the fewest walks in the majors in 2012 (409) and 2011 (404), saw its walks total balloon to 506, the 12th most in the majors, in 2013. The team’s WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) was 1.37. Only four teams in the majors had a worse WHIP. Two years after having the best ERA in the majors (3.02), the Phils ranked 27th (4.32) in 2013.

The poor quality of pitching -- specifically the inability to throw enough strikes -- extended down to the minor leagues.

Actually, it was a huge problem.

“We did not have a good year overall as far as commanding the baseball,” Joe Jordan, the team’s director of player development, said during an interview last week at the team’s minor-league complex in Clearwater.

Matt Eddy of Baseball America ran the numbers and they are not pretty:

The pitching staffs of the Phillies’ full-season, minor-league clubs (Triple A Lehigh Valley, Double A Reading, Advanced Single A Clearwater and Single A Lakewood) walked 9.8 percent of the batters they faced in 2013. Only the Milwaukee Brewers (10.1) were worse.

The Phillies’ four full-season clubs posted a combined WHIP of 1.48 -- the worst of any system in baseball.

Phillies full-season pitchers struck out just 18.6 percent of batters faced in 2013. Only the Twins, Brewers and Tigers were worse.

Command is sometimes illustrated in strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Three Phillies clubs ranked among the 10 worst full-season clubs in baseball in that category: Reading (third-worst), Clearwater (ninth) and Lehigh Valley (10th).

All of this makes Jordan’s comment about pitchers not commanding the ball an understatement.

Desperate to cure the walks epidemic in their system and bring competent -- and tougher -- pitchers to the majors, Phillies officials have already begun to take remedial action.

Throwing strikes was stressed (over and over and over) to the young pitchers that attended the recently completed Florida Instructional League.

The importance of throwing strikes will be hammered home from Day 1 of spring training 2014 and it will continue into the season.

And it won’t just be hollow talk, Jordan said. Pitchers will have to meet certain requirements for throwing strikes, command their fastballs and pitching aggressively. If they don’t meet those standards, they will not move up the minor-league chain.

“Really, it’s just about putting a mentality on these guys that you’ve got to pitch aggressively,” Jordan said. “You’ve got to be able to command your fastball. We can’t move guys up the ladder if they can’t command their fastball. And so we’re going to put some expectations on them and they’re going to have to meet some requirements before they move.”

Jordan would not give specific thresholds that he and the player development staff will hold pitchers to, but he repeated: No strikes, no promotion.

“If they don’t meet expectations, we don’t move them,” Jordan said. “They’re going to have to reach a certain level of proficiency on commanding the fastball, on being able to throw a secondary pitch 0-0 for a strike, things like that.

“Nothing is black and white in this game, but there will be a criteria so we can hold them accountable to where they know, ‘If I get this, I can go from Clearwater to Reading.’

“You need to prove to us you can do this because if you can’t command your fastball ... it’s been a problem. It’s been a problem when guys go to the big leagues.”

The task of getting pitchers to throw more strikes and to be more aggressive will fall to minor-league pitching coordinator Carlos Arroyo and the pitching coaches from each affiliate, as well as whoever gets hired to be the big-league pitching coach. (Team officials are interviewing candidates for the job.) Arroyo, who has been a pitching instructor in the Phillies’ system since 1983, was recently promoted to pitching coordinator, replacing Gorman Heimueller.

In addition to developing pitchers that throw more strikes, Jordan wants to create a “tougher” pitcher.

“We've got some things we’re going to do and we’ve got some things we’re going to change,” Jordan said. “It’s already started. It’s going to be different for some guys. We’ve got to build a tougher guy. We’ve got to build a more complete pitcher. We’ve got to do some things to get better.”

Jordan mentioned the strides that power-armed relievers Jake Diekman and B.J. Rosenberg, both nice-guy products of the system, made in the majors late in 2013. Both pitched aggressively down the stretch. Both improved their strike-throwing. The improvement may have started in Triple A, where pitching coach Ray Burris was charged with toughening up some guys.

“For me, there are certain things you can do in the minor leagues to prepare a guy to stay and perform at major-league level,” Jordan said. “I also think there are things at the big-league level that you can do to make the young guys comfortable, to show them you believe in them.

“Organizationally, we’ve talked a lot internally about what we need to do. Obviously, there’s stuff going on at the minor-league level and the major-league level, but we’re all going to get on the same page.

“We’ve got a guy in Ray Burris at Triple A. He pitched 15 years in the big leagues. He knows what it takes to get there and stay there.

“One of my challenges to Ray was, ‘Challenge these guys. If you need to get in their face, get in their face.’ We’ve got plenty of guys loving on them.

“Honestly, it’s a tough league up there (in the majors) and you better be hardened and you better be ready because those guys are good. They’ll kick the [crap] out of you.”

Throw more strikes. Pitch more aggressively. Get tough.

Or don’t move up.

It sounds like a good plan. And, as the numbers show, the Phillies need to do something.

“It’s not easy,” Jordan acknowledged, “but we’re going to try to change some things to build a better product, if you will.”

Rob's Rants: Rhys Hoskins, Vinny Curry, solar eclipse and more

Rob's Rants: Rhys Hoskins, Vinny Curry, solar eclipse and more

Here's the latest edition of Rob's Rants in which CSNPhilly's Rob Ellis does just that about the hottest topics in Philly sports.

Why wait?
“It’s about damn time.” — LeBron James

Watching Rhys Hoskins hit five home runs in seven games on the Phillies’ recent West Coast trip left me torn. 

On one hand, it’s clear he has a very bright future. His power stroke’s looked every bit as good as it did the last two years in the minors, where he hit a combined 67 long balls. Not to mention, he’s also carried over his excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio in his short sampling of major-league pitching.

However, I’m also left asking the question of what took so long? Not only why it took until Aug. 10 for him to reach the big leagues, but also why wasn’t he used in left until his last week with the IronPigs? He’s a 24-year-old college player who had accomplished all he could in the minors. He should have been a Phillie sooner.

Tommy Joseph is in the midst of a freefall. Even before his slump, his numbers were just decent. Far from special. 

Hoskins’ promotion was abetted by Aaron Altherr’s injury. Still, prior to Altherr missing time, you could have gotten Hoskins enough starts between first and the outfield to make it worth having him up in the big leagues. 

Also, now that J.P. Crawford is playing some third at Lehigh Valley, it makes you wonder why he, Hoskins and Scott Kingery for that matter, didn’t get work at other positions much sooner.

Curry up, Vinny
Vinny Curry’s 2017 preseason thus far has mirrored his 2016 regular season. In other words, he’s been a ghost.  

Zero tackles, zero sacks, zero impact. 

The 29-year-old signed a five-year, $47 million deal, $23 million of which was guaranteed prior to the 2016 season. 

Curry had just 2½ sacks and 26 tackles last year. The previous season, he had 3½ sacks and 12 tackles. He played in all 32 games those seasons. 

Curry’s deal could go down as one of the worst — if not the worst — in team history. 

The excuse last year was he played hurt. In 2015, he was playing in a 3-4 scheme that did not fit his skill set as a rushing end. Interestingly, Curry played in the same Billy Davis-led defense in 2014 and totaled nine sacks.

Connor Barwin is now gone. Derek Barnett is a 21-year-old rookie. The job is Curry’s to lose and he’s doing his best to do so. 

Money should not be a factor in terms of playing time. Rookie or not, Barnett has far outplayed Curry and it should reflect in snaps if the veteran does not get his act together in the final two preseason games.         

In totality
If I never hear the word “totality” again, I will depart this Earth a happy man. 

If you watched or listened to any of the coverage leading up to Monday’s solar eclipse, you heard the word, ad nauseam. 

I’m guilty of existing too much in my own sports bubble and not appreciating things outside of those boundaries. So while it didn’t do much for me, I understand and appreciate the solar eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime or every-38-year thing.

However, an anchor on The Weather Channel took things to a different orbit when she was brought to tears discussing the eclipse. I wish I could have concealed my eyes and ears the way the moon obscured the sun at 2:44 p.m. when she began to get misty.     

G-O-A-T
Jack Regenye’s catch in the championship game of the Junior League World Series (ages 13-15) may be the greatest catch ever. Regenye, the centerfielder for the Kennett-Unionville squad, pulled off the rare combo of fearlessness, athleticism and timing in spectacular fashion. 

The fact that Kennett lost, 12-1, to Chinese Taipei will go down as simply a footnote. Regenye should never pay for a soda or chicken fingers again in the Kennett-Unionville area.   

Best of MLB: Indians get walk-off win over Red Sox on error

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Best of MLB: Indians get walk-off win over Red Sox on error

CLEVELAND -- Brandon Guyer scored when first baseman Brock Holt threw away Roberto Perez's bunt in the 10th inning, lifting the Cleveland Indians over the Boston Red Sox 5-4 on Monday night in a matchup of first-place teams.

After Guyer's leadoff double against Brandon Workman (0-1), Holt fielded the bunted ball and tried to throw out Guyer at third. Guyer slid into the bag as the throw skipped past third baseman Rafael Devers, then got to his feet and raced across home plate. Teammates ran onto the field and doused Perez with water and white powder.

Perez also had a three-run homer in the second inning.

Cody Allen (1-6) allowed Christian Vazquez's leadoff single in the 10th, but retired the next three hitters. The inning ended when shortstop Francisco Lindor ran down Mookie Betts' popup in center field with his back to home plate.

Cleveland relief ace Andrew Miller left in the seventh inning after aggravating the patellar tendinitis in his right knee. Miller recently returned after over two weeks on the disabled list with the knee injury (see full recap).  

Albers gives Mariners win over former team
ATLANTA -- Andrew Albers worked into the sixth inning for his second straight win since coming up from the minors, leading the Seattle Mariners to a 6-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.

Albers (2-0) also had the first hit and RBI of his career -- in his first big league at-bat.

The 31-year-old left-hander beat his former organization, having spent most of the season at the Braves' Triple-A club. He went 12-3 but never got a call to the big leagues.

Instead, Albers was dealt to the Mariners for cash on Aug. 11. He was called up by Seattle to make a start four days later, working six strong innings in a 3-1 win over Baltimore.

Now, after going just over four years between major league victories, Albers has two wins in less than a week.

Mike Foltynewicz (10-9) has lost four of his last five starts for Atlanta (see full recap).

Pollock’s 2-run blast lifts D-backs over Mets
NEW YORK -- A.J. Pollock hit a two-run homer in the 10th inning and the Arizona Diamondbacks snapped a three-game skid with a 3-2 victory over the New York Mets on Monday night.

J.D. Martinez had an RBI single and left fielder David Peralta threw out the potential go-ahead run at the plate for the Diamondbacks, who began the day with a 2 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee for the second NL wild card. They are 4-0 against the Mets this season and have won nine of 10 meetings over the last two years.

Pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco walked to start the 10th. One out later, Pollock sent a 94 mph fastball from Eric Goeddel (0-1) over the center-field fence to put the Diamondbacks back in front after they squandered a 1-0 lead in the seventh.

Fernando Rodney gave up a leadoff homer to Michael Conforto before getting three outs for his 28th save in 33 tries.

Jimmie Sherfy (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth for his first major league win (see full recap)