Phillies, on pace for 103 losses, glad to leave San Disaster after being swept by Padres

Phillies, on pace for 103 losses, glad to leave San Disaster after being swept by Padres

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SAN DIEGO — With its idyllic weather, aesthetically pleasing ballpark and tasty fish tacos, San Diego is one of the best stops in baseball.

And the Phillies couldn't wait to get the heck out of town early Wednesday night.

That's how bad their three-day stay was.

Though they are the worst team in the majors, the Phillies hoped for a good showing against a San Diego Padres team that has the worst offense in the majors. All the Phils ended up with was three more losses, capped by a 3-0 shutout Wednesday afternoon in which they made middling Padres lefty Clayton Richard look like Clayton Kershaw (see Instant Replay).

"A very disappointing series here," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We couldn't get the job done.

"We only got three hits today. I'm not happy about the stolen bases. It's embarrassing to me. We didn't execute [defensively] on a double-steal, which we should have. All in all, it was a bad series."

The Phillies were outscored 18-8 in the series. They went 1-5 on the season against the Padres. The Phils are 43-75 on the season and 19-44 on the road. They are on pace for 103 losses. They have not reached triple digits in losses since dropping 107 in 1961.

The silver lining to all this losing could present itself in the form of the top pick in the 2018 draft, a valuable commodity for a rebuilding team.

Pitcher Nick Pivetta has shown himself this season to be a potential building block in the team's starting rotation. On Wednesday, the 24-year-old right-hander provided a look at not only his huge upside, but also the shortcomings that make him a work in progress.

The 6-5 right-hander used a knee-buckling curveball to strike out eight of the first nine batters and a career-high 11 overall, the most by a Phils rookie since Cole Hamels punched out 11 Houston Astros on Sept. 16, 2006.

However, Pivetta walked three, committed a balk and was on the mound for five San Diego stolen bases. Wil Myers singled home the first run of the game with two outs in the fourth then stole second, third and home. Pivetta did a poor job of holding Myers on first and second.

"I wasn't mixing my holds, I guess, enough," Pivetta said. "Something I need to work on. Something I can learn from. For the most part, it was they ran a little bit extra today and that was the difference in the ballgame."

After the game, the Phillies optioned Pivetta to Triple A Lehigh Valley. At first, the move seemed jarring. Upon further review, it appeared to be a paper move (see story). The Phils would like to add a position player as they monitor Odubel Herrera's sore hamstring for a couple of more days. A player like Brock Stassi could come and take Pivetta's roster spot. The Phils can add a 26th man for Tuesday's doubleheader against Miami, and Pivetta could come back and be that man. So it's likely he will not even make a start at Triple A.

"It just kind of works," Mackanin said. "He pitched well today. I like what he did, other than the stolen bases. That's part of the game he needs to work at. Other than that, I thought he was really good."

Catcher Cameron Rupp was impressed.

"He made pitches," Rupp said.

Richard (6-12) entered the game carrying some ugly numbers — a 1.596 WHIP, 188 hits allowed (the most in the majors) and a .323 opponents' batting average (the highest in the majors).

Richard capitalized on a weak Phillies lineup — no Herrera, no Aaron Altherr — and held the Phillies to three hits and a walk in pitching his first shutout in five years.

"We had a bad series swinging the bats as a group," Mackanin said. "But he pitched well today. I give him credit. He mixed it up. He pitched inside, outside. He changed speeds. He did a good job."

Said Rupp: "We hit a lot of balls hard, but right at people. It's a tough part of the game, but you have to deal with it. We didn't get the big hit."

After fighting quitting fire, Adam Morgan one of Phillies' most reliable relievers

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AP Images

After fighting quitting fire, Adam Morgan one of Phillies' most reliable relievers

His team had lost the previous two nights to the Atlanta Braves. Now, it was trying to hold a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning and salvage at least one game in the series.

So Pete Mackanin went to arguably his most dependable reliever.

Back in the final days of spring training, Adam Morgan was nearly cut from the Phillies. The team needed 40-man roster space and he was on the short list of considerations for the waiver wire. Morgan survived, squeaked onto the opening day roster as a mop-up man, then, two weeks into the season, was called into the manager's office and sent to Triple A Lehigh Valley for the fifth time in two seasons.

That meeting in Mackanin's office shook Morgan. He said little. He walked out, sat in front of the locker he'd soon have to vacate and began a three-day reflection period in which he seriously considered retiring from the game at age 27 and moving on to pursue his second career choice of being a firefighter in the Atlanta area, where he was raised.

Morgan was back in Atlanta on Sunday, a different kind of fireman.

He was the guy that Mackanin called upon to hold off the Braves in the eighth inning and get the ball to Hector Neris. Neris bobbed and weaved his way to recording his 18th consecutive save since June 28. Before that, Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning to lower his ERA to 0.75 since August 2. In that span, he has pitched 24 innings in 18 games. He has given up just 14 hits and two runs while walking four and striking out 28.

Not too shabby.

"Morgan continued to pitch well, did a great job," Mackanin said after the 2-0 win. "And Neris is Neris. He makes you nervous but gets the job done."

Several months ago, it would have been difficult to imagine Mackanin calling on Morgan is such a tight situation. It also would have been difficult to imagine Morgan popping fastballs at 96.3 miles per hour, as he did Sunday, and setting up hitters with a tight, late-breaking slider. The combination has enhanced his changeup.

Morgan, a lefty, was a top starting pitching prospect with the Phillies, often compared to a young Cliff Lee, until a shoulder injury set him back in 2013 and 2014. He made it back from surgery in 2015, but his fastball never returned to form. He was moved to the bullpen last year and tried to reinvent himself as a finesse pitcher. The results were spotty. When he was sent to the minors after just two appearances back in April of this season, he was at an emotional crossroads. He told team officials that he was going to need all three days as allowed by baseball's labor agreement to report to Triple A.

"And maybe more," he said.

Morgan and his wife, Rachel, have spent the season living in hotels between Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley. On April 11, the night he was sent to the minors, he returned to his Philadelphia hotel and continued the reflection that started in front of his locker.

"I thought long and hard about what I was going to do, if I wanted to do the whole shuttle back and forth to Lehigh, or if I wanted to even play anymore," he said. "I'm such a simple guy that it's the little things that make me happy. Being with my family makes me happy, cutting the grass makes me happy. I'd think to myself, 'Why am I showing up to the field and I'm not happy?"

Morgan thought about returning to school and finishing the criminal justice degree he'd begun at the University of Alabama. And he thought about pursuing a lifelong calling.

"I'd always wanted to be a firefighter," he said. "They're bad dudes. They're awesome. I've always wanted to do it. I've always liked the brotherhood those guys have. It's a little like baseball, the camaraderie, the clubhouse. I thought maybe it was time."

Morgan is a Southern gentleman, an earnest, good-hearted man of faith. As he continued to contemplate his future, he prayed, read the Bible and talked with his wife, his buddies and his mom and dad back home in suburban Atlanta.

He decided to report to Lehigh Valley.

"My dad always taught me once you start something, finish it, don't quit," Morgan said. "So I decided I was going to finish the year regardless then re-evaluate. It was not right to quit in the middle of the year."

Morgan made it back to the majors in May and was soon sent back to Triple A. He could handle it. He was at peace. When the Phillies needed pitching in early June, he returned to the majors. He's been there ever since. And with each successful appearance, he's earned the trust of his manager. The guy who was almost cut in spring training is now a go-to guy for Mackanin.

"I think what we're seeing is the real deal," Mackanin said. "It's there. We’ve been counting on him to do the job and he's done it."

In the seasons immediately after surgery, Morgan's fastball hovered around 90 mph. He has hit 97 often over the last couple of months. Morgan believes the jump in velocity is a result of his becoming more accustomed to a reliever's routine. It allows him to do more long-tossing during workouts and that has improved his arm strength. He has also become more confident. That has resulted in him letting the ball go with more conviction instead of choking it as a pitcher afraid of making a mistake would. Hitters must be ready for that extra velocity or get beaten by it, so it has made the rest of Morgan's pitches better.

An improved slider has also played a huge role in Morgan's turnaround. He knew he needed to sharpen the pitch. He and pitching coach Bob McClure talked about a number of different grips and Morgan began to experiment. Finally, as he played catch in the outfield one day with fellow pitcher Luis Garcia, another reliever who has shown signs of finally putting it together, Morgan found a grip that worked.

"Louie was like, 'Wow,' " Morgan said.

Morgan continued to work on the new slider. It's tighter and breaks later than his old one. It has become a weapon.

"His fastball is better and he's throwing an invisible slider," Mackanin said.

There has been an intangible quality to Morgan's improvement, as well. Some of it is as simple as what McClure says: It often takes a pitcher two or three years before he truly believes he can succeed in the majors, two or three years to relax and let his natural abilities shine. It's part of the mental game of baseball and Morgan has clearly made strides there.

"Things started to turn when I started to enjoy the game," he said. "I stopped putting pressure on myself because I knew this could be my last year. I was like, 'If this is it, I'm going to enjoy it.' Even in Triple A. We had a good group of guys. I was going to cheer for them and let the chips fall where they may.

"I stopped putting my worth on my stat sheet. That's where I lost sight of how much I enjoyed the game. As a reliever, one bad outing can mess up your stats so I stopped looking at it.

"I focused on my strengths instead of the hitter's weakness. I think I was tired of everybody telling me what my strengths were, like telling me how to pitch to be successful. People were trying to help me, but I think I just got exhausted with being a people pleaser and not taking care of myself and doing what I see as the right thing. I never lost confidence in my fastball even after surgery when it was 88 or 90. I feel like I'm pitching to my strengths. I don’t have to throw a curveball to this guy because he's a crappy curveball hitter. I can get him out different ways."

Morgan has gone from a waiver consideration to "for me, a definite," as far as being in the Phillies' bullpen plans for next season, Mackanin said.

But Morgan is taking nothing for granted.

"I don't think this is a fluke," he said. "But I know I have to keep showing it. You have to prove it every day up here. I don't think you can ever get comfortable in the big leagues. You always have to have that edge.

"Even though the season is coming to a close, I don’t want it to end. I have to keep doing my routine, my shoulder work, my long-toss. I'm still working, trying to get better."

Funny how things work out. In April, Adam Morgan was thinking about the end. Along the way, he found a new beginning.

"Wow," he said, exhaling. "It's just emotional even thinking about quitting."

Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

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USA Today Images

Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

PHOENIX -- J.D. Martinez lined a two-out RBI single to deep left field with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Miami Marlins 3-2 on Sunday to clinch the top wild card in the National League.

The Diamondbacks, who won only 69 games a year ago but are 90-66 this season, were assured a playoff berth in the fourth inning after St. Louis and Milwaukee lost. The comeback victory ensured Arizona will host the NL wild-card game Oct. 4.

Fernando Rodney (5-4) pitched a perfect inning for the win.

A throwing error by Justin Nicolino (2-3) on Kristopher Negron's sacrifice bunt helped load the bases with no outs in the ninth (see full recap).

Cubs close in on NL Central title behind Quintana's 3-hit shoutout
MILWAUKEE -- Jose Quintana pitched a three-hitter for his second big league shutout, and the Chicago Cubs beat Milwaukee 5-0 Sunday to close in on a second straight NL Central title and damage the Brewers' playoff hopes.

Coming off its first World Series title since 1908, Chicago (87-68) won three of four in the weekend series and opened a 5-game lead over the second-place Brewers (82-73) with seven games remaining. Milwaukee began the day one game behind Colorado for the NL's second wild card.

Quintana (7-3 with Cubs, 11-11 overall) struck out 10 and walked one in his second complete game in 182 starts. He threw 116 pitches, his most since Sept. 7 last year.

He did not allow any extra-base hits and retired his final 11 batters after walking Domingo Santana in the sixth (see full recap).

Rockies beat Padres to open 2-game lead for last wild card
SAN DIEGO -- Gerardo Parra hit a tiebreaking single in a two-run third inning, Pat Valaika and Charlie Blackmon hit consecutive home runs in the ninth and the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres 8-4 Sunday to open a two-game lead over Milwaukee for the second NL wild card heading into the final week of the regular season.

St. Louis trails the Rockies by 2 games. Seeking its first postseason appearance since 2009, Colorado opens a six-game homestand Monday, playing Miami and then the Los Angeles Dodgers. At 41-40, the Rockies tied their record for road wins, set in 2009.

German Marquez (11-7) allowed two runs, five hits and three walks in five innings. He had been 0-2 in six starts since beating Milwaukee on Aug. 18. Colorado starters have a 2.52 ERA in their last nine games (see full recap).

Twins top Tigers for 4-game sweep, close on wild card
DETROIT -- Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar homered, and Minnesota beat the Detroit Tigers 10-4 on Sunday to complete a four-game sweep that moved the Twins closer to securing a wild-card berth in the playoffs.

Polanco hit a solo homer in the first off Buck Farmer (4-5), and Escobar welcomed Victor Alcantara with a three-run drive in the sixth.

Minnesota (82-74) began the day 4 games ahead of Kansas City, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels for the second AL wild card. The Twins outscored the Tigers 39-12 in the sweep.

Detroit has lost seven straight and 14 of 16. At 62-94, the Tigers will finish with their worst record since going 43-119 in 2003 (see full recap).