Phils dealt third straight loss by MLB-best Cards

slideshow-072313-phillies-brown-ap.jpg

Phils dealt third straight loss by MLB-best Cards

BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS — Opportunity keeps knocking for the Phillies. And they keep shooing it away like an unwelcome visitor.

The Phils blew another chance to pick up ground on NL East-leader Atlanta when they suffered a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay).

With the trade deadline a week away and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. trying to decide whether to keep the team together or sell off players, the Phils have lost three games in a row to fall to 49-51. They are seven games behind the Braves, who lost for the third time in four games on Tuesday night. The Braves lost two of three over the weekend to the White Sox. Alas, the Phillies also lost two of three over the weekend.

“We’re two games under .500 and the team ahead of us keeps losing and we can’t gain no ground,” manager Charlie Manuel lamented after Tuesday night’s loss. “That’s tough.”

Manuel was quite downcast after the game.

His flawed team has scored one run in its last two games and it still has two left against the Cardinals, whose 60-37 record is the best in baseball. It gets no easier later in the week when the Phils travel to Detroit for three against the AL Central-leading Tigers.

“Yeah, we’re playing a good team and we’re getting ready to play another good team,” Manuel said. “But we’ve got to play good enough to win some games. We didn’t play good enough tonight. The Cardinals outplayed us.”

It’s no secret in the clubhouse that the clock is ticking on this club. The players see the scoreboard. They know Atlanta has struggled. They know the door has been left ajar. They know they have not taken advantage and that might make things easy on management as it ponders whether to buy or sell.

“It would be nice every time [the Braves] lose that we throw some wins up there to cut the deficit down,” Delmon Young said. “But we’ve got two and a half months, and if we could just cut a game a week, we’d be in first place by the end of the year.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know as players in the clubhouse how much time we have together, so we’re trying to win as many games as possible right now. Guys are busting their butts. Guys are getting here early and getting extra work in. We’ve just got to find a way from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. to have all the hard work pay off.”

Nothing paid off Tuesday night.

Rookie Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller entered the game ranked 10th in the NL with a 2.92 ERA. He lowered that mark to 2.77 with six shutout innings. He allowed just three hits and a walk and struck out six. Miller would have gone deeper into the game had he not been bothered by a cramp in his calf.

Manuel was not happy with the approach of Phillies’ hitters against Miller. The Phillies’ hacking ways stood in stark contrast to the patient Cardinals, who racked up excellent at-bats with a lineup loaded with .300-plus hitters.

“He’s got a good arm,” Manuel said of Miller. “He’s got a big fastball. He gave us pitches to hit. He challenged us at times with his fastball.

“I think when we get against a guy like this we get a little anxious and we want to hit him so bad we chase balls out of the strike zone up and that gets us in trouble. If we make him bring the ball down and get a good ball to hit, that’s how you adjust to pitchers like that because they will give you some fastballs to hit. If you swing at the high ones and they have command, more than likely they’ll keep feeding them and walk you up the ladder.

“We just chased a lot of balls up.”

By contrast, the Cardinals’ hitters worked rookie Jonathan Pettibone for 10 baserunners in five innings.

The Cards scored a single run in the first inning and two in the fourth (on four hits) against Pettibone.

“They worked him,” Manuel said. “They had a lot of baserunners. He wiggled out of some trouble and hung in there. They made him pitch and were able to score three runs off him. He did a good job holding them to three runs, I thought. At the same time, we didn’t get him any runs.”

Phillies getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Phillies getting good reports on catching prospect Jorge Alfaro

Jorge Alfaro, one of the Phillies' most highly regarded prospects, is off to a big start at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
He entered Wednesday night's game hitting .377 (23 for 61) with a 1.003 OPS in his first 15 games. He had a double, two triples, three homers and 10 RBIs. Team officials would surely like to see the strikeouts (17) come down and the walks (1) go up, but no one is complaining about the production.
 
"I just looked at his numbers," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's doing very well — knocking the cover off the ball."
 
Alfaro, 23, is widely considered the Phillies' catcher of the future. He's an athletic talent with huge upside. Many scouts believe he could be an All-Star if he puts it all together.
 
Defense is the area where Alfaro needs the most work. Yes, he's got a "howitzer" for an arm, as Mackanin called it, so that doesn't need much work. But there's a lot more to catching than throwing. There's game-calling, receiving and blocking.
 
Alfaro made a cameo with the big club last September and did not impress club officials with his receiving or blocking. Instructors focused on improving those areas in spring training, and Mackanin reports that Alfaro has shown progress in the early season.
 
"We get a complete game report on what everyone does offensively and defensively," Mackanin said. "Apparently he looks very good defensively.
 
"He had some issues defensively. He wasn't getting down enough and he worked on that all spring. He's a big guy and it's a little more difficult for a big guy to get low.
 
"And we wanted him to just be a little more quiet behind the plate, less movement. He had a tendency to be moving while the pitcher was getting ready to pitch. We just want a guy sitting back there nice and quiet with a good target. That might seem pretty elementary, but if you're not concentrating on doing that you might not realize the importance of it.
 
"He's doing well blocking balls. He's doing everything well right now and hitting on top of it, so that's a nice sign."

Clay Buchholz optimistic he can still pitch in 2017 after surgery

Clay Buchholz optimistic he can still pitch in 2017 after surgery

Pitcher Clay Buchholz made his first appearance in the Phillies' clubhouse Wednesday since having surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm last week.  

Many initially believed Buchholz would be out for the remainder of the season -- and he still might be -- but he expressed optimism and believes he can return to the mound in September.

"My goal right now is to let this heal," Buchholz said. "Get it well and if this team keeps playing like they're playing right now, we'll be playing in September, October, so that's my goal."

Buchholz said he wasn't feeling 100 percent leading up to the April 11 game against the New York Mets when manager Pete Mackanin pulled him in the third inning. 

"I told [general manager Matt Klentak] that I was sorry, and the guys in here," Buchholz said. "I was brought here for a reason. I wanted to pitch, I wanted to be good. I guess it's a good thing we have a good farm system here because they've been able to step up and fill in."

Buchholz had a similar issue with the Boston Red Sox in July 2015 and missed the rest of the season. 

In his two starts with the Phillies, Buchholz allowed 10 runs and 19 baserunners over just 7 1/3 innings. 
 
Buchholz, 32, will become a free agent at the end of the season. Given his age and the possibility that he won't return this season, the injury could significantly affect his value heading into the offseason. He's the second-highest paid player on the Phillies' roster at $13.5 million

But Buchholz wants to build the strength in his forearm and continue to pitch in MLB following this season.

"There's a lot of guys that come back," Buchholz said. "I have a lot of buddies that played this game that have come back from major surgeries and played for eight or nine more years. It's all about once I do get healthy, being prepared and building a strong foundation around my muscles."