Phillies take down Noah Syndergaard for 'special' series win over Mets

Phillies take down Noah Syndergaard for 'special' series win over Mets

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NEW YORK -- Noah Syndergaard came out firing Thursday night. The right-hander with the electric arm and the power forward's body struck out the Phillies' first three hitters on 14 pitches to open the game. Thirteen of those pitches were strikes. Three of them reached triple digits on the radar gun and five of them came up just a mile per hour short at 99.

A penny for your thoughts at that point, Pete Mackanin.

"It looked like he might be having one of his best nights," the Phillies manager said.

Syndergaard actually had a pretty good night. But the Phillies, as a team, had a better night and they managed to escape Citi Field with a 6-4 victory and just their third winning series against the Mets in the last 18 (see Instant Replay). The Phils' last series win over the Mets came in early April of last season.

"It sure is nice to win a series here against the Mets," Mackanin said. "It's always nice to win a series. But against these guys, it was special, as much as they've beat us up over the last year."

Syndergaard pitched seven innings and did not walk a batter while striking out 10. For the season, he has 30 strikeouts and no walks in 26 innings over four starts.

But the Phils, with the help of the Mets' sloppy defense, managed to get some baserunners and some big hits against Syndergaard. He gave up five runs, two of which were unearned.

Aaron Nola struggled to protect an early 5-1 lead but never relinquished it, and the bullpen was outstanding in locking down the win.

Lefty Joely Rodriguez got six huge outs to protect a one-run lead and Mackanin surprised folks by using Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning and Hector Neris in the ninth to close it out. 

Last week, Mackanin installed Benoit as closer after Jeanmar Gomez lost the job. Mackanin used the qualifier "for now," when announcing that Benoit would close. The "now" did not last too long. Benoit blew a save in Washington over the weekend and now Neris is getting a look. He has the stuff -- a power fastball, a good splitter and more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings last season -- to do the job.

"I think [Benoit] looks more comfortable [in a setup role]," Mackanin said. "Over in Washington, I didn't see that good changeup. He spiked a couple of changeups and didn't have command of it. Tonight, he threw some great ones. So that was great to see. In general, we have two guys I feel comfortable with. I'll probably use Neris again. But it's nice to have somebody that when one guy's not available, the other guy is."

The Phillies' starting lineup included two guys -- Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph -- who entered the game hitting under .160. Syndergaard did not figure to be the best guy to get right against, but baseball is a funny game. Franco extended his career-long slump to 0 for 22 in the second inning but came back in the fourth with an RBI double -- a liner over the left fielder's head on a 97-mph fastball -- against Syndergaard in the third inning. In the eighth, Franco homered to left against Fernando Salas.

Meanwhile, Joseph had three hits, including an RBI double down the right-field line on a 100-mph heater in the second inning to score the Phillies' first run.

The Phils scored three in the second and two in the third against Syndergaard. In both innings, the Mets made costly errors. Andrew Knapp started at catcher in place of Cameron Rupp and had an RBI double in the second inning.

"It's a tough chore," Mackanin said of facing Syndergaard. "We made him work. We scored early on him. It was great to see. He's a bulldog. He was still throwing 98 in the seventh inning. We just took advantage of some mistakes he made. I give the guys a lot of credit for battling him and not being intimidated.

"You never know what to expect. That's what's so unique about baseball."

Nola was not crisp. He had a ton of trouble putting hitters away with two strikes. He walked Syndergaard with two outs in the second inning after being up in the count, 0-2, and that came back to haunt him when Rene Rivera delivered an RBI single. In the third inning, Nola gave up a three-run homer to Neil Walker on an 0-2 curveball. That made it a 5-4 game.

"I had terrible two-strike pitches, especially 0-2," Nola said.

Nola lasted just five innings. He gave up seven hits and walked four as he ran a high pitch count. He got the win thanks to his mates' timely hitting and good bullpen work.

For the season, Nola has made three starts and given up 20 hits and eight earned runs in 16 innings. He has walked six and struck out 15.

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

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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 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 baserunners 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 save 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

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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.