Phils fail to support Hamels again in loss to D-backs

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Phils fail to support Hamels again in loss to D-backs

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX – One step forward, two steps back. That’s life these days for the Phillies, who suffered their 20th loss of the season Thursday night, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks (see Instant Replay).

If you’d like to add the word infuriating before the final score, feel free. This one fit the description -- for a lot of reasons.

First was the starting pitching. While it’s true that Cole Hamels did not have his best command -- he continues to walk batters at a rate uncharacteristic of him -- he battled and got outs when he needed them. He allowed just two runs in six innings and gave his team a chance to win, but the offense, as it often is when Hamels pitches, was pitiful.

Only one of the Phils’ six hits was for extra bases.

They were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.

They made two baserunning mistakes that turned out to be super costly in a close game.

Hamels failed to turn a double play that might ultimately have helped prevent a run.

The D-backs weren’t a whole lot better. They were 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position, made a bad baserunning play of their own and scored both their runs on groundouts.

“The game was sitting right there for us,” said manager Charlie Manuel, whose team is 16-20. “We didn’t get it done.”

That’s a familiar refrain with Hamels on the mound. He is 1-5 and the Phillies are 1-7 in his eight starts. Hamels hasn’t pitched nearly as bad as that record. He has lost his last two starts by scores of 2-0 and 2-1. In April, he suffered a 2-0 loss and took a no-decision in a 2-1 loss. The Phils have scored just 17 runs while Hamels has been in the game this season.

Hamels has frequently said he’s gotten past the point of letting run-support issues frustrate him. He says he’s learned to focus on executing pitches and he’s not all that happy with that part of his game. He walked five batters (one intentionally) in this game to run his walks total to 22 in 51 1/3 innings.

“I’ve got to stop the walks,” Hamels said afterward.

Hamels did show some noticeable frustration in this game. In the fifth inning, he got mad at himself on the mound when he failed to start a double play on a comebacker to the mound with runners on first and second. The runners moved up when Hamels had to settle for one. The game was scoreless at that point with opposing pitcher Patrick Corbin coming up. The Phillies played the infield in for Corbin’s first swing -- a foul ball -- then moved it back. Corbin responded with a ground ball to shortstop Jimmy Rollins for a run. If Rollins had still been up, the run probably would not have scored.

“I pushed him back,” Manuel said. “I didn’t want them scoring two runs.”

Hamels showed frustration as that run scored.

“The frustration started with the ball hit to me and not catching it and getting a double play,” he said. “I ended up getting the ground ball I needed, but not the result.”

An inning later, Arizona eked out a run against Hamels on a heads-up drag bunt by Gerardo Parra.

Parra had a big game in right field. He gunned down Delmon Young trying to stretch a single into a double in the second inning and in the seventh turned a would-be RBI single by Kevin Frandsen into a fielder’s choice and a big out that stunted a potential Phillies’ rally.

With the Phils down, 2-0, Frandsen appeared to drop a soft liner into right field for an RBI single, but John Mayberry Jr., holding close to first in case the ball was caught by the second baseman, got a late jump to second and was forced out by Parra. One run scored on the fielder’s choice. In the end, it was a missed chance for the Phillies who would have had the bases loaded and one out with a run in if Mayberry hadn’t been nailed at second.

“It was a softly hit ball,” Mayberry said. “I was looking at the second baseman in pursuit of the ball. I thought he might have a play on it. When he lunged for it, I took a jab step back toward first because I didn’t want to get doubled off first. The jab step cost me.”

Manuel said, “In order for him to be safe he has to get a better read on the ball.”

Mayberry was hardly the only offensive culprit. Jimmy Rollins was 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position. He is 5 for 33 in those situations this season. Ryan Howard was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against the lefty Corbin, who is now 5-0. Howard is 6 for 34 (.176) with 16 Ks against lefties this season.

As a team, the Phils are 3-5 against lefty starters this season.

One step forward, two steps back. Which way will the Phillies go Friday night?

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”