Phillies president Andy MacPhail talks pitching injuries, how they will impact future dealings

Phillies president Andy MacPhail talks pitching injuries, how they will impact future dealings

NEW YORK -- It wasn't difficult to understand the Phillies' strategy in trading for veteran pitchers Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz over the last two seasons.

The Phillies gave up little in the form of talent to get the three pitchers. All they had to do was be willing to take on sizable one-year contracts because the three pitchers were salary dumps for their previous clubs. For their money, the Phillies added some veteran fortification to a young starting staff while rolling the dice that said veteran might perform well enough to bring back some value on the July trade market.

The strategy was sound.

But it has not worked.

"We're batting .333," club president Andy MacPhail said on Tuesday night.

Buchholz exited his second start with the club last week with a flexor-pronator injury near his right elbow and on Tuesday had surgery that with a recovery time of four to six months will end his season (see story).

Morton made four starts last season before blowing out his hamstring so severely that it ripped off the bone.

Hellickson pitched well for the club last season and continues to this season, but the Phillies' hope of getting value for him during last July's trade season never materialized, nor did the club's hope of turning him into a first-round draft pick this June. That scenario was scuttled when the pitcher accepted the team's qualifying offer of $17.2 million for this season.

For the $22.5 million that the Phillies sunk into Morton and Buchholz, they got six starts, 24 2/3 innings and a 6.56 ERA.

"I don't think anybody likes it," MacPhail said of the lack of return that the team got on Morton and Buchholz. "How could you like it? Nobody likes to see a $14 million investment go before you get [to the third start]."

Buchholz, 32, pitched just 7 1/3 innings in two starts and was tagged for 16 hits and 10 runs. He also pitched poorly in spring training but did not complain of an injury until he exited last Tuesday night's start.

MacPhail said Buchholz's fastball velocity in spring training was down "two or three miles per hour" from where the pitcher was at the end of last season with Boston.

Buchholz's drop in velocity and subsequent injury raises questions of whether he was healthy when the Phillies acquired him. The Red Sox apparently believed he was. They picked up his $13.5 million option for 2017 on Nov. 3, weeks before sending him to Philadelphia for minor-league infielder Josh Tobias on Dec. 20, and the Phillies performed customary pre-trade medical vetting.

Buchholz did miss the second half of the 2015 season with an elbow strain, but he finished 2016 by going 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in seven starts from Aug. 18 until the end of the season.

The injuries to Buchholz and Morton, who also was 32 when the Phillies acquired him, illustrate the risks that teams take when they decide to acquire pitchers in their 30s.

"When these things happen, as an organization, we review everything that had us reach those decisions," MacPhail said. "It's just the nature of what you're dealing with. It goes to underscore the importance of having numbers [depth] and developing pitchers in your system.

"In Morton's case, he was injured trying to leg out a bunt. What you can do differently is not have to depend upon getting pitching from that area, really. I think there's a difference between reviewing your decision-making process and determining if there were any pieces of information that you should have considered that you didn't. I don't think that's the case. It's the nature of what you're dealing with. It's one of the reasons that you haven't seen us go beyond a year (in a contract). An organization can absorb an injury for a year. You just don't want one that's going to sink you."

MacPhail arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 2015 and from the beginning made it clear that developing pitching would be an organizational priority. One of his mantras, dating to earlier stops in Baltimore and Chicago, is: "Grow the pitchers, buy the bats." Based on this ideology, it's difficult to envision the Phillies being big players in coming free-agent pitching markets. On the other hand, they could go big for a bat or two.

"I'm very confident that we're going to have the resources and the kind of ballpark where position players are going to be a lot easier to come by than pitching," MacPhail said. "Pitching is hard. I don't think that belief needed reinforcement. I have articulated that point. It's not a surprise, unfortunately.

"I think you have to stay open to any opportunity if it makes sense. But I have made it no secret, personally, that free-agent pitching is fragile and expensive by the time it gets to you. That said, I don't think you ever should rule anything out. We'll make decisions based on the information we have at the time."

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

BOX SCORE

The loudest noise made by the Phillies' offense on Monday night was the thud — clearly audible above the small crowd — that Odubel Herrera created when he smashed his batting helmet on the dirt infield after grounding out to third base to end the seventh inning.

Herrera's frustration spoke for an entire team. The Phillies were hammered, 8-1, by the Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay). They were out-hit, 13-3. The loss was the Phils' 18th in the last 22 games and they have been outscored 126-89 over that span.

The loss left the Phils at 15-27 for the season, matching their worst 42-game start since 2000 when they finished 65-97 in front of tiny crowds at Veterans Stadium in Terry Francona's last season as skipper.

Over the last two games, both losses, the Phils have just six hits.

"Three hits today, three hits yesterday," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You're not going to win a lot of games getting three hits."

Aaron Altherr had two of the Phillies' hits, both doubles against Colorado rookie Jeff Hoffman, who was very impressive with seven walk-free innings and seven strikeouts.

Herrera went hitless in three at-bats and is hitting just .200 in the month of May and .232 overall — not what the front office expected when it signed him to a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension in the offseason.

"It's very frustrating because I feel like I am being selective and waiting for my pitch, but when I make contact things don't happen," Herrera said. "I feel like I'm swinging the bat well, but I'm just missing."

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff gave up nine hits, seven of which were singles, and four runs over six innings. Four of the hits that Eickhoff allowed came in the third inning when the Rockies scored three times. Two of the runs scored on a flare double and the other on a groundball through a drawn-in infield.

"I executed a lot of good pitches," Eickhoff said. "I got a lot of the contact I wanted. The ball just didn't land in the gloves."

Eickhoff did not walk a batter. He struck out four.

Despite being 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA in nine starts, the right-hander believes he has made strides his last two outings. He gave up three runs (two earned) over six innings in his previous outing at Texas. Prior to that start, he worked on fixing a mechanical flaw in his delivery.

"These past two have been night-and-day different," he said. "I felt great today and in Texas and I'm going to keep that positivity going."

Finding other things to be positive about with this team is becoming difficult.

This Phillies team was not expected to contend; it is still in a rebuild. But things weren't supposed to be this bad, either.

"I'll tell you what, I'm getting frustrated, too," general manager Matt Klentak said before the game. "This team is better … there is more talent on this team than we've shown in terms of our record.

"We'll pull out of it. We will. That's what talented players will do. I'm not going to tell the fans they shouldn't be frustrated. We've gone through a tough stretch.

"But I'm not ready to call it regression. I think there's been a lack of consistency on our team in general, with some players more than others. There's been a lack of consistency, but especially for young players, two months is a relatively small sample size to categorize it as regression."

At 29-17, the Rockies have the best record in the National League. They have 16 road wins, which is one more than the Phillies have overall. The Rockies are in town for three more days. This ugly start could get even uglier.

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

Best of MLB: Twins pound out 21 hits, storm back to beat Orioles

BALTIMORE -- Max Kepler homered and drove in four runs, Miguel Sano and Jorge Polanco each had a career-high four hits and the Minnesota Twins roared back to beat the Baltimore Orioles 14-7 Monday night.

Minnesota trailed 5-0 in the second inning and 6-2 entering the fifth before cranking up the offense against Ubaldo Jimenez and an ineffective Baltimore bullpen.

A two-run double by Kepler helped the Twins knot the score in the fifth, Minnesota sent 11 batters to the plate in a six-run sixth and Sano added a two-run homer in the ninth.

Joe Mauer had three hits, two RBIs and scored twice for the Twins, who reached season highs in runs and hits (21).

Adam Jones hit a three-run drive in the second inning off Kyle Gibson (1-4) for Baltimore (see full recap).

Peacock, Astros 1-hit Tigers
HOUSTON -- Brad Peacock and three relievers combined for a one-hitter and Jose Altuve provided the offense with an RBI double to lead the Houston Astros to 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.

Peacock was solid moving out of the bullpen to make a spot start for injured ace Dallas Keuchel. In his first start since September, Peacock allowed the lone hit and struck out eight in 4 1/3 innings. He was lifted after walking Tyler Collins with one out in the fifth inning.

Chris Devenski (3-2) took over and pitched 2 2/3 innings for the win before Will Harris pitched a scoreless eighth. Ken Giles struck out two in the ninth for his 12th save to allow the Astros to bounce back after being swept by the Indians over the weekend.

Detroit's only hit was a single by Mikie Mahtook with one out in the third on a night the Tigers tied a season high by striking out 14 times. The team's only baserunner after Collins was Victor Martinez, who was plunked with one out in the seventh. But Houston still faced the minimum in that inning when J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play to end the seventh.

The Astros struck early against Michael Fulmer (5-2) when George Springer drew a leadoff walk before scoring on the double by Altuve to make it 1-0 with one out in the first (see full recap).

Homers help Yankees top Royals
NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Chris Carter homered, and the New York Yankees once again downed Jason Vargas by beating the Kansas City Royals 4-2 Monday night.

A reversed umpire's call in the seventh inning kept the Yankees ahead and enabled Michael Pineda (5-2) to top Vargas for the second time in a week. The Royals, with the worst record in the AL, have lost five of seven.

Vargas (5-3) began the day with a 2.03 ERA, tied for second-best in the majors. But the lefty fell to 0-7 lifetime against the Yankees when he was tagged by Gardner and Gregorius, the only left-handed hitters in the New York lineup (see full recap).