Phillies walk on wild side in sloppy loss to Nats

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Phillies walk on wild side in sloppy loss to Nats

BOX SCORE

With just 28,826 in the house Tuesday night, the Phillies had their lowest attendance since the first week of the 2008 season.

Back then the Phillies were in the infancy of a season that would end with a World Series title. Now, they are in the final stages of what will be their first losing season since 2002.

Back then a championship core was beginning to come to flower. Now, the last vestiges of that nucleus are getting nights off so some young players can gain experience and be evaluated to determine if they fit on future rosters.

Those who stayed away from Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night didn’t miss a whole lot.

On a night when their pitchers had a load of trouble throwing strikes, the Phillies suffered a 9-6 loss to the Washington Nationals (see Instant Replay).

“It was a frustrating game on the pitching side,” interim manager Ryne Sandberg said. “There were a lot of pitches and a lot of walks. The walks gave them baserunners and they answered with hits.”

Phillies pitchers walked nine batters and hit another.

They threw 180 pitches. Just 88 of them were strikes.

No wonder the game lasted three hours, 38 minutes. It was the longest nine-inning game of the season.

The Nationals didn’t exactly play clean ball, either. They made three errors, leading manager Davey Johnson to say, “That was an ugly game, one of the ugliest I’ve seen.”

With Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins getting a night off from the starting lineup (both pinch-hit late in the game), Sandberg -- and the folks up in the executive box -- went into full evaluation mode for this one.

They had to like what they saw from rookie third baseman Cody Asche, who had three hits, including a line-drive homer into the right-field seats. The young middle-infield tandem of Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez looked pretty good in the field, too. They turned a blink-of-the-eye double play in the seventh.

Sandberg and the big cheeses upstairs could not have liked what they saw from rookie starting pitcher Ethan Martin. The 24-year-old right-hander has a bazooka for an arm, but control is major issue. He lasted just 4 2/3 innings, walked five and hit a batter. He allowed a three-run homer to Wilson Ramos in the second inning. The homer was preceded by a hit batsman and a walk. Later in the game, Martin walked home a run on four pitches. He was one of two Phillies’ pitchers to do that.

In seven big-league starts, Martin is 2-4 with a 6.90 ERA. He has walked 21 in 30 innings.

“It’s frustrating because I have one or two good innings every start,” Martin said. “I just haven’t been able to keep it going.”

At this stage of the season, the Phillies are likely to keep running Martin out there as they try to determine whether he has a place on the 2014 pitching staff. Still to be determined is whether Martin’s future is as a starter or a reliever (see story). Either way, he needs to throw more strikes or he’ll be starting or relieving in the minors.

“I want to be a starter," Martin said, "but wherever they put me I’ll do the best I can.”

After Martin, the Phils used five relievers, all of which spent time in Triple A this season. The bullpen allowed seven hits and four walks.

There could be more of these nights as this month plays out. Sandberg has made it clear that he wants to look at some younger players. That’s why he started Galvis at shortstop on the day he arrived from Triple A and Hernandez at second.

“It’s all about getting a look and evaluating and seeing who is a fit for 2014,” Sandberg said. “The only way to do that is to get them out there. All of them will get a chance to show what they can do.”

Sandberg will keep trotting Asche and Darin Ruf out as regulars. Both could be just that next season. He will try to get Galvis and Hernandez as many reps as possible because both could be fits on the bench next season. If Sandberg gets the full-time manager’s job, he will use his bench. Charlie Manuel was known for riding his regulars.

“I believe with a long season, you need the best quality bench guys you can have,” he said.

A few strike-throwers would be nice, too.

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

Phillies option Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading

As expected, the Phillies on Saturday optioned prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro back to Double A Reading after a one game stint with the big club.

Alfaro was called up for Friday's series opener in New York against the Mets because newly acquired veteran backstop A.J. Ellis had yet to arrive with the team. Ellis was acquired Thursday from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the trade that sent Carlos Ruiz to L.A.

The 23-year-old Alfaro is expected to return to the Phillies once Reading's season is over and MLB rosters expand in September. The Fightin Phils, at 83-48, are the Eastern League's top team and very much could make it to the championship series.

Alfaro, acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last summer, has a .279 average with 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in 90 games with Reading this season. He did not get play Friday night against the Mets.

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Hellickson, Phils have chance to play spoilers

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Hellickson, Phils have chance to play spoilers

Phillies (59-69) at Mets (65-63)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

Both the Mets and Phillies go into the second game of the series with their best (healthy) starter on the mound. Noah Syndergaard, known by many as "Thor," takes the hill while trying to keep the Mets' playoff hopes alive, while Jeremy Hellickson makes the 26th start of his rebound season. 

Here are five things to know before Saturday night's matchup.

1. Playing spoilers
If the Mets want to make the playoffs in 2016 and reprise 2015's run to the World Series, they're gonna have to go through the Phillies. 

Not in the playoffs of course. But in the regular season.

After losing Friday night, the Phillies are six games back of the Mets and 10 games back of a playoff spot. They're not going to the postseason, barring a miracle.

But the Mets still have every intent to compete for a wild-card spot despite injuries all over the place (see point No. 2). They have the second-easiest schedule the rest of the way (Nationals have the easiest) and that is in large part thanks to games remaining against the Braves … and the Phillies.

Including Saturday night's game, the Mets and Phillies have nine games left against each other this season. That's more than enough to affect the Mets' postseason chances. The Mets are just 6-4 against the Phillies so far this year and will need to be much better in the final nine games to make a legitimate run.

But the Phillies can also spoil other teams' postseason chances. They have six games left against the Marlins and four games vs. the Pirates. This doesn't even mention the seven games with the Nationals, who are fighting for homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs while holding a comfy lead in the NL East. 

2. Laying down the hammer
Matt Harvey is out for the year. Steven Matz is having shoulder issues and is on the disabled list. Jonathon Niese, newly reaquired, was injured four batters into his Tuesday start. Zack Wheeler seems far away from returning from Tommy John surgery. And to top all of it, Jacob deGrom's next start will be skipped to work on mechanical issues.

So that leaves Friday's starter, Bartolo Colon, and Syndergaard as the Mets' only experienced starters still on turn in the rotation at the moment. Certainly not how the Mets drew it up.

While this shows the perils of building around pitching, there is still the one shining ray of hope: Syndergaard. The righty flamethrower had his bumps in the road, his non-ace like starts, but for the most part, he's been just as advertised. 

Here's a telling stat: Syndergaard has made 24 starts and only in three has he given up more than three runs. As electric as he was as a 22-year-old rookie last year (3.24 ERA with 166 strikeouts in 24 starts), he's been even more so this year. He's given up more hits in almost the same number of innings, but he's limited home runs and struck out more batters. 

Overall, he has an 11-7 record and a 2.61 ERA. His 5.53 strikeout-to-walk ratio is one of the best marks in baseball and so is his 0.5 home runs per nine innings this year. With a hit-or-miss offense and a struggling middle relief corps, Syndergaard continues to carry the Mets to some modicum of playoff contention.

3. Hellickson re-established
It's been said and written plenty of times, but Hellickson was a clear reclamation project when the Phillies acquired him in the offseason. 

He hadn't pitched to an ERA below 4.52 since 2012, his second full season in baseball. His velocity had fallen after a shoulder injury and the righty based mostly on command was beginning to give up way too many hits. The Tampa Bay Rays, the team that drafted him, dealt him and after one year, the Diamondbacks gave up on him, too.

But in five months with the Phillies, Hellickson has re-established himself as the pitcher he was before. His hits per nine innings have improved back to their 2012 numbers and he has lowered his walk rate while keeping his strikeouts at a career high rate. 

So for the first time in four years, Hellickson is an above-average MLB pitcher. Besides pushing back his last start, he's been consistently pitching every fifth game, one of the few constants for the Phillies' rotation. He's thrown 150 innings, his most since 2013 and he has a month left.

And he's now won four straight decisions. The Phils have won his last six starts and he's given up three or fewer runs in each one. While he is putting himself in line for a big payday in the offseason, the Phillies are certainly happy with the production they've gotten from the 29-year-old righty.

4. Battle of the bullpens
Based on ERA, the Phillies and Mets have had two of the five worst bullpens in baseball since the All-Star break. Yet it's been for very different reasons.

For the Phillies, it's simple: The rotation has been in disarray. Even the guys who've been healthy have simply failed to get far into games. Hellickson is the only starter to complete at least seven innings since the break and even he hasn't done it more than the one time. 

If the starters weren't giving length but were giving the bullpen leads on a consistent basis, Pete Mackanin could go to his top relievers like Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez, who have been pretty steady despite a recent hiccup by Gomez against the Cardinals. But they haven't been given many leads and that has meant mop-up relievers. 

So with the long reliever getting more of the innings, it's easy to see why the Phils' pen has the fifth-worst ERA (4.52) of any MLB bullpen since the break. 

But what's been the Mets' problem to cause a 4.74 ERA, second worst in the second half? It's a little more complicated. First, they've had some of the same issues as the Phillies. Starters either getting hurt (Niese) or struggling and having to exit early leads to same results as the Phillies. 

Yet it's also the back-end relievers struggling. Although he's had a good August, Jeurys Familia has blown three saves since the break after none before the break. Jerry Blevins has been slightly worse since the break. And Hansel Robles, a key cog in middle relief, has a 6.41 ERA in the second half. 

The mop-up relievers have done a lot of the damage, but the Mets' back end isn't as steady as it needs to be. 

5. This and that
• Syndergaard beat the Phillies in April at Citziens Bank Park. He held the Phils to just one run over seven innings and struck out eight batters. He gave up just five hits and two walks.

• Hellickson has made three starts against the Mets this year and is 1-1. He got a win at Citi Field on April 10 by allowing just two runs in 5⅔ innings. He got a no-decision after allowing 10 hits and four runs in 4⅓ 10 days later. Hellickson was beat up in his first start after the break, losing to the Mets in a six-inning start on July 15. He gave up four runs on seven hits and two home runs in that game.

• Ryan Howard is 2 for 7 against Syndergaard with a home run and two walks in nine plate appearances. Odubel Herrera is 1 for 9 with an RBI single. 

• Curtis Granderson has faced Hellickson more than any other Mets batter thanks to their time with the Yankees and Rays, respectively. In 29 plate appearances, he is 5 for 25 with a home run, two walks, seven strikeouts and two hit-by-pitches.

• Yoenis Cespedes is 5 for 12 against Hellickson with two home runs and a walk. 

Best of MLB: Bryant homers twice, Cubs spoil Ruiz's Dodgers debut

Best of MLB: Bryant homers twice, Cubs spoil Ruiz's Dodgers debut

LOS ANGELES -- Kris Bryant hit a tiebreaking two-run homer in the 10th inning to go with an earlier solo shot, lifting the Chicago Cubs over the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-4 on Friday night in the series opener between NL division leaders.

Bryant's 35th homer capped a comeback from an earlier two-run deficit and extended the Cubs' winning streak to four games. Chicago fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" as Bryant scored behind Dexter Fowler, who singled leading off.

Chicago improved to 19-4 in August while earning its major league-leading 82nd victory.

Travis Wood (4-0) got the victory with one inning of relief. Aroldis Chapman struck out two in the 10th to earn his 10th save.

Adam Liberatore (2-1) took the loss, allowing two runs and four hits in one inning (see full recap).

Mariners overcome Sale's 14 K's to beat White Sox
CHICAGO -- Chris Sale struck out 14 but got outpitched by Felix Hernandez and the Seattle bullpen, and the Mariners ended a three-game skid Friday night by beating the Chicago White Sox 3-1.

Hernandez (9-4) improved to 5-0 in eight starts since returning from the disabled list, throwing 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball.

Sale (15-7) gave up five hits and walked none in his fifth complete game of the season. He retired the final 16 batters, striking out 10 of them.

Sale struck out six straight in the sixth and seventh innings, one shy of Joe Cowley's team record.

Franklin Gutierrez hit a solo home run and Adam Lind added an RBI double off Sale.

Todd Frazier's 32nd home run in the seventh was one of eight hits off Hernandez until he left with the bases loaded (see full recap).

Gonzalez earns 100th win as Nationals top Rockies
WASHINGTON -- Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy hit solo homers and drove in two runs each, and Gio Gonzalez earned his 100th career victory as the Washington Nationals beat the Colorado Rockies 8-5 on Friday night.

Gonzalez (9-9) threw six innings and allowed two runs and four hits with one walk and five strikeouts.

Mark Melancon retired Christhian Adames for the final out. Melancon entered the game shortly after Nick Hundley hit a three-run homer off Shawn Kelley to pull the Rockies within three.

While Gonzalez hit the century mark, Rockies rookie Jeff Hoffman (0-2), remains in search of his first major league win (see full recap).