Phillies show fight in comeback win over Rockies

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Phillies show fight in comeback win over Rockies

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DENVER -- How do you figure this one? The Phillies came into baseball’s ultimate hitter’s park with the third-worst bullpen ERA (4.51) in the majors Friday night. And, of course, that bullpen held the majors’ second-highest scoring team scoreless for 4 2/3 innings.

That’s almost as hard to believe as a team getting 16 hits and scoring just three runs.

After losing their fifth straight game earlier this week, the Phillies have put together a modest, and improbable, two-game winning streak. One night after the aforementioned 16-hit victory in Minneapolis, the Phils ventured into Coors Field on Friday night and rallied for an 8-7 win over the Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay).

Kyle Kendrick’s specialty since moving into the rotation last August has been keeping his team in ballgames, but he didn’t do that in this one. He was roughed up early and often and left the game trailing, 7-2, in the fifth inning. A sextet of relievers held the Rockies scoreless the rest of the way and the offense, led by Freddy Galvis’ four RBIs in two innings, surged for six runs to go on top.

Good work with the bats.

Good work out of the ‘pen.

There was one other thing the Phillies benefited from in this game.

Instead of rolling over and taking another loss, they showed some guts in pulling out a win.

“I hope we did,” manager Charlie Manuel said.

Manuel revealed that he had a little talk with his position players in the indoor batting cage before the game.

Was it more Bobby Knight or Knute Rockne?

“A little bit of both,” he said.

Manuel added, “I thought it was good. I wanted to talk to them about our base running, and leads and who we are and how we’ve been doing and what we have to do.

“We’re going to get better. And we have to.”

As poorly as the Phillies have played recently, they are just 6½ games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East. They are 3-5 on this road trip and, as bad as it has been, they still have a chance to go .500 on it if they win Saturday and Sunday. That would bring them right back to the .500 mark for the season.

There were a bunch of key moments in Friday night’s win.

Reliever Jeremy Horst entered a 7-2 game with runners on base in the fifth and got a big double play ball to keep the game in check. Mike Stutes followed with a scoreless inning in the sixth. The Phils took the lead in the top of the seventh against Wilton Lopez, the reliever they nearly traded for last winter before having health concerns, and Jake Diekman, just up from Triple A, and Justin De Fratus protected it.

Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon closed it out. Papelbon struck out dangerous Michael Cuddyer -- it was the Phils’ only K of the game -- with a runner on second for the second out and got Todd Helton on a ground ball to end the game.

Galvis had been 1 for 22 on the trip before belting a two-run triple to highlight a three-run sixth. He smacked another two-run triple -- past the aging Helton at first -- into the right-field corner to highlight another three-run inning in the seventh. Jimmy Rollins, who did not start because of a sore foot and hip, put the Phils ahead with a pinch-hit single. Of course, those two hits don’t happen if John Mayberry Jr. doesn’t work an eight-pitch walk with two outs.

“That was a good comeback for us,” Manuel said.

“A good team win,” Galvis said. “Everyone did their job. That’s good for us.”

Manuel was particularly pleased with his bullpen, especially how some of the youngsters responded.

“That’s how you grow and build confidence,” he said.

Despite his poor outing, Kendrick was all smiles after the game. It isn’t often a Phillies starting pitcher gets lit up then gets off the hook because his teammates exploded for a bunch of runs.

“Obviously, it wasn’t my night,” he said. “I couldn’t make a pitch. But the offense and the bullpen picked me up.”

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

Aaron Nola's best start of the season has Phillies confident he's locking in

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When Aaron Nola pitches like he did Thursday, there aren't too many teams capable of beating him.

Nola was locked in against the Cardinals in the Phillies' 5-1 win, allowing just one run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings with a season-high eight strikeouts (see Instant Replay). His first seven innings were scoreless and his pitch count was at just 89, so he had the chance for his first-ever complete game and the Phillies' first of the season.

But Paul DeJong greeted Nola in the eighth with a solo homer, and after a one-out walk to Matt Carpenter, Nola's day was done. He left to a loud ovation from Phillies fans who have been waiting a long time to see this guy again.

"Well that's the Nola we all have come to know and love," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He was outstanding today. ... He was painting on both sides of the plate. Real good curveball. Threw a lot of good changeups. I think he got tired in that eighth inning, but it was great to see him rebound from the struggles he's been going through."

Nola had elite command of his two-seam fastball and curveball on this day. Five of his eight strikeouts were looking as he continuously froze Cardinals hitters with two-seamers that started outside and darted back over the outside corner. Everything was low in the zone. The curveball was sharp and biting with late life, and St. Louis' hitters kept swinging over top of it.

This was the Nola worth drafting in the first round. This was the Nola who can legitimately be a top-of-the-rotation arm.

"I know what I'm capable of and I know what I can do and today was me," Nola said. "I felt confident in all my pitches today and commanding all my pitches when I wanted to. It was all good in those areas.

"I always try to visualize [success]. I know what I'm capable of doing and what pitches I can command. It's just those days where you feel really good about it and you're really confident about executing to both sides of the plate."

Last year during spring training, Mackanin compared Nola's skill set to that of a pitcher he managed in 1985 in the Class A Midwest League. That pitcher was Greg Maddux. 

"I'll just say this and I probably shouldn't, but I'm just gonna say it: Aaron Nola reminds me a bit of [Maddux]," Mackanin said last February.

"He shows no fear, he's very confident in his abilities and he has the uncanny ability to locate his fastball down in the zone on both sides of the plate. And he really believes in himself."

On Thursday, Nola fit every piece of that description. And just like Nick Pivetta built confidence with his nine-strikeout performance last week against the Red Sox that carried over into a 10-K night against the Cardinals (see story), this has a chance to be a real building block for Nola.

Throwing first-pitch strikes to 18 of 24 hitters will get you a long way.

"He got ahead of almost every hitter I guarantee you, he was strike one," catcher Cameron Rupp said.  

"And when you do that, that opens up so many doors with your pitch sequence, being able to pitch and get in on guys, maybe throw a purpose pitch for a ball, maybe they swing and you're 0-2 and that opens up the outer half even bigger. He threw strikes, he pounded the zone, and when you do that, you're going to have so much success. 

"That's what he did his first year-and-a-half up here. He got away from locating his pitches and the injuries, I'm sure, didn't help, but he attacked the zone and did a great job for us. ... When you do that, the sky is the limit, and he showed that today."

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Conflicting messages, real concern over usage restrictions for Pat Neshek

Phillies reliever Pat Neshek is having a tremendous, All-Star season, but the restrictions on his usage have become a real concern.

Neshek, who has a 0.63 ERA and 30 scoreless appearances out of 31, induced an inning-ending double play Thursday to get the Phillies to the ninth with a two-run lead. He threw just five pitches in the 5-1 win (see Instant Replay).

But even if the Phillies didn't tack on two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, Neshek was not going back out for a save situation in the ninth, Mackanin said.

"I asked him to go back out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He said he would rather not, he didn't feel like he had it. 

"I would have liked to have sent him back out, obviously, because he's been so effective. However, we've got a good thing going there and if he can only pitch one inning for us, I'll take it. 

"He's been that good and I don't want to disrupt that. That's one area that I don't have to worry about. So, I did ask if he could go back out, he just thought it was better that he didn't."

Moments later, Neshek said he was not asked to go back out for the ninth.

It's the second straight day there have been conflicting messages when it comes to Neshek's availability. Wednesday night, when the Phillies blew a five-run lead and allowed runs in both the eighth and ninth innings as Neshek stayed in the bullpen, Mackanin said that Neshek had told him earlier he was unavailable. But then Neshek said that he was the one told he'd have the day off.

Whichever order of operations has actually occurred the last two games, these restrictions on Neshek's usage are affecting the Phillies late in games and they're sure to have an impact on his trade value as well.

The trade value is the more important thing here long-term because the Phillies are 25 games under .500. Neshek and Howie Kendrick are their two best trade assets, but if you're a contending team, why give up anything of substance for a half-season of Neshek if you don't even know if you can send him out two games in a row?

"He gave me the off day when I showed up," Neshek said Thursday about the middle game of the series. "I don’t know. You guys (the media) are making a big deal out of it."

Did he feel better Thursday?

"Yeah," he said. "I went out there and got the double play.

"We’ve been used a lot this week. I was kind of hoping that I might get a day today. But I understand the state of the bullpen. You have to suck it up and go out there."

Neshek has been used five times in the last seven days, so he does have a point, he has been used a lot. That's the byproduct of being your team's most reliable reliever.

At this stage, Neshek is a safe bet to be the Phillies' All-Star representative, especially because he'd serve an actual purpose in the All-Star Game as a right-handed specialist capable of retiring the best of the best.

"It could happen," he said. "There’s a couple other guys. It’s going to come down to who Joe Maddon wants for his bench. Is it going to be an extra pitcher? Is it going to be an extra hitter? They usually don’t stick with middle relief guys. Yeah, I have the numbers. But the All-Star Game is kind of a hairy thing if you’re not the star guy, if you’re not the save guy. It’s going to come down to do we need a pitcher or do we need a hitter.

"It’s really tough to make it as a middle reliever. It’s hard to get excited about anything that hasn’t happened yet."