Phillies Stay or Go: John Mayberry Jr.

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Phillies Stay or Go: John Mayberry Jr.

The Phillies' first losing season since 2002 is sure to bring wholesale changes in the offseason. But who should stay and who should go? Over the next two weeks, we're asking that very question and putting players under the microscope.

Today we take a look at a long-time bench piece with a high ceiling that's never quite been reached:

John Mayberry, Jr.
Position: Outfielder
Status: First-year arbitration eligible; made $517K in 2013

Signature games of 2013
Mayberry had exactly one signature game in 2013, and it was a big one.

June 4 vs. Miami. Originally entering the game as a pinch-hitter for Laynce Nix, he struck out in the seventh but stayed in the game to play right field. In his second at-bat, with the Phillies down 3-2 in the 10th, Mayberry smacked a solo homer to left-center to tie the game. Up again with the bases loaded and two outs in the 11th, he launched a walk-off grand slam — his first career salami.

Not only was it the Phillies' first walk-off grand slam since 1991 (Dale Murphy), it was the first time in major-league history a player hit the tying and game-winning homers in extra innings.

Season as a whole
Unfortunately for Mayberry and the Phillies, his incredible extra-innings heroics were merely a drop in the bucket of a pretty lousy season. His third full year as a pro was also his worst, with career lows in batting average (.227), homers (11), RBIs (39), on-base percentage (.286) and slugging (.391).

Mayberry couldn't solve his futility against right-handed pitchers, batting .221 and slugging .364 against them. His platoon splits against left-handers weren't much better (.240/.296/.460). He struck out 90 times in 384 at-bats (or once every 4.3). We could bash you over the head with endless numbers showcasing Mayberry's ineffectiveness at the plate, but we'll spare you.

Stay or go?
Mayberry has been asked to do more for the Phillies than he's capable of. He's not an everyday player and probably shouldn't even be their first outfield bench option. His defense is adequate but nothing special. He has some speed but has stolen only 14 bases in his career.

But still, what does Mayberry bring to a club? His numbers have consistently declined as he's failed to adjust to major-league pitching, and he's proven that he can't even hit opposite-handed pitching on a consistent basis.

This is an easy one. Mayberry's time in Philly is up. It's pretty safe to say the former first-round pick, who will turn 30 in December, never lived up to his potential.

What they're saying ...
"That was definitely one to remember. It feels good. I'm not going to lie to you."
--John Mayberry, Jr. on his walk-off grand slam, June 4

"Sometimes with John, if you can get him with certain pitchers, that's when he becomes much better. Sometimes, when he comes off the bench — I wouldn't call him a great pinch-hitter — but when he goes into the game, and he gets some time in the game, the next at-bat he becomes much better. He kind of runs in spurts, and tonight, well, tonight he put some good swings on the ball."
--Then-manager Charlie Manuel on Mayberry's heroics, June 4

Nick Pivetta continues strong finish to season in Phillies' win over Braves

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Nick Pivetta continues strong finish to season in Phillies' win over Braves

ATLANTA -- The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory on Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things -- get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around base runners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in saves opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

Phillies-Braves observations: Maikel Franco homers, Nick Pivetta tosses gem in final road game

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Phillies rookie Nick Pivetta outpitched Atlanta Braves rookie Luiz Gohara Sunday afternoon as the Phils salvaged the final game of a three-game series with a 2-0 win at steamy SunTrust Park.
 
Maikel Franco smacked his 21st homer and Aaron Altherr had an RBI double for the Phillies' two runs.
 
Pivetta (7-10) pitched six shutout innings and the bullpen did the rest.
 
The Phillies ended up with a 13-6 record against Atlanta this season, their best against any team.
 
• Pivetta has mostly struggled in 25 starts in his rookie season, but he's also had some very nice outings where his potential has really shined. This was one of them. His last start, in which he gave up two runs in six innings against the Dodgers, was a good one, too. So the right-hander seems to be finishing on a high note. He will have one more start before the end of the season. In a perfect world, Pivetta would have gotten more time at Triple A this season, but there was a need in the majors. Ultimately, he should benefit from his baptism by fire.
 
• Atlanta lefty Gohara was very good in his fourth big-league start. The 21-year-old from Brazil gave up just five hits, walked two and struck out nine. The only run he gave up came on Franco's homer.
 
• Pivetta did a good job pitching around trouble. He got two outs in the second inning after an error by Franco put a runner on second. He also pitched around sloppy infield play in the fifth. In the sixth, Pivetta knocked down a ball back to the box but was unable to start a double play. He stayed calm and got two outs to get out of the inning.
 
• The Phillies took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by Franco in the top of the fifth. Franco turned on a first-pitch changeup from Gohara. The pitch was on the inside half of the plate — right in Franco's happy zone. Franco pulls off pitches away in the zone, but he kills mistakes inside. Franco will work on this flaw in winter ball this season (see story).
 
• Altherr doubled home an important insurance run for the Phillies in the eighth inning. Altherr has 61 RBIs on the season and 27 have come in the seventh inning or later.
 
• Good job by the Phillies' bullpen. Edubray Ramos and Adam Morgan pitched scoreless ball in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Morgan has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Hector Neris survived two hits in the ninth and picked up the save. He is perfect on is last 18 chances since June 28.

• The Phillies' first two hits of the game were singles to right field and both runners, Cesar Hernandez and Jorge Alfaro, were out trying to stretch at second base. Braves rightfielder Nick Markakis made two perfect throws. Hernandez needed to come out of the box quicker.
 
• The Phillies have a 35-40 record at home. They will play their final six games of the season at home beginning Monday night with the opener of a three-game series against the NL East champion Washington Nationals. Aaron Nola (12-10, 3.56) pitches against right-hander A.J. Cole (2-5, 4.43) on Monday night. Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14) opposes lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.69) and right-hander Tanner Roark (13-10, 4.41) close out the series Wednesday night. The Phillies need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses.