Phils' lack of starting arms on display in defeat

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Phils' lack of starting arms on display in defeat

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ATLANTA -- Thursday night’s loss to the Atlanta Braves was a sad commentary on the state of starting pitching in the Phillies' system and the entire organization -- from the front office that assembled this group to the scouting and player-development staffs that haven’t procured and produced enough talent -- can share in the embarrassment.

It’s not Tyler Cloyd’s fault that the Phillies were hammered, 7-1, by the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). Frankly, his previous three starts were so bad that he should have been replaced in the rotation. But the Phillies have no one better. They have run out of viable pitchers as the team’s first losing season since 2002, a dispiriting campaign that claimed Charlie Manuel, limps to a close.

Earlier in the week, Manuel’s replacement, Ryne Sandberg, talked about the need to upgrade and deepen the starting rotation before next season.

He had the opportunity to do it again after his team’s seventh loss in the last eight games.

“Depth, even starting pitching depth,” he said. “To have backups at Triple A, let alone the rotation, yeah, that’s very evident right now.”

Pitching hasn’t been the only problem recently. The Phils have produced just five runs in the last four games. They have gone eight straight games without a home run, their longest drought since 1996, when they were the worst team in the NL.

“We’ve hit some balls hard the last few days,” Sandberg said. “We just need to battle through it.”

The Phils did have nine hits in this game, but were hitless in 12 chances with a runner in scoring position. Atlanta rookie David Hale picked up his first win in his second big-league start. He held the Phils to one run over six walk-free innings.

As for Cloyd, well, he described his night this way: “It was just bad. I wasn’t executing pitches and they hit balls hard from the beginning.”

Jason Heyward had five hits, including a homer and three doubles, for NL East champs. He hit Cloyd’s first pitch of the night for a home run and the rout was on. The Braves scored five times against Cloyd in the first and twice more in the second. Lefty Mauricio Robles stopped the bleeding with three scoreless innings out of the bullpen.

Cloyd faced 13 batters; 10 reached base. Five of the eight hits he allowed were for extra bases. The right-hander has an ERA of 15.43 this month. He has pitched 14 innings in four September starts. Over that span, he has allowed 33 hits and 24 runs.

“He had a tough time with first-pitch strikes and with two strikes,” Sandberg said. “They were able to barrel up some balls pretty good. Before you knew it, it was 7-0.”

Since the All-Star break, Phillies starting pitchers have a 5.33 ERA, worst in the majors. And that’s with Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee combining for a 2.97 ERA over that span.

Cloyd’s path to the current rotation went like this: He replaced Ethan Martin, who pitched himself out of the rotation. Martin replaced rookie Jonathan Pettibone, who was shut down with a sore shoulder in July. Pettibone came up in April when No. 5 starter John Lannan went down and he stayed when Roy Halladay went down. Halladay is down again now, which explains why the Phillies will use their bullpen to get through Saturday night’s game. Zach Miner will make his third start filling in for Kyle Kendrick in Sunday’s season finale.

Take heart, Lee pitches on Friday night.

“We can look forward to that,” Sandberg said.

Frustration mounts — in manager's office and in clubhouse — over Odubel Herrera's antics

Frustration mounts — in manager's office and in clubhouse — over Odubel Herrera's antics

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Phillies manager Pete Mackanin favors using honey over vinegar when trying to teach enigmatic Odubel Herrera the right way to play the game.

But even Patient Pete has his limits.

So when Herrera did not run out a dropped third strike in the sixth inning of Tuesday night's 5-0 loss to the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), Mackanin yanked him from the game as part of a double switch, a remarkable move considering Herrera has been the club's best hitter, batting .331 (58 for 175) since June 1.

"It had something to do with it," Mackanin admitted. "I'm going to talk to him tomorrow."

Herrera knows well the way to Mackanin's office. He's been called in front of the principal a number of times this season for transgressions that range from looking completely disinterested during some at-bats, to boneheaded base-running plays, to general lack of hustle. On one occasion, Mackanin fined Herrera for completely ignoring an order not to steal a base. Herrera decided to go anyway and was thrown out in a close game.

Herrera's antics have been noticed in the other dugout and in his own clubhouse. He lined a ball to the wall in the first inning Tuesday night and Astros centerfielder Derek Fisher made a nice running catch. Herrera had clearly assumed the ball would hit off the wall because he flipped his bat and did not run hard out of the box. After Fisher made the catch, players in the Houston dugout mocked Herrera's gaudy bat flip and later in the game Astros pitcher Charlie Morton threw one up and in on Herrera. Coincidence? Who knows?

Herrera was the Phillies' best offensive player during his first two seasons in the majors, hitting .291 with a .773 OPS in 2015-2016. Last winter, management rewarded the 25-year-old centerfielder with a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The move identified Herrera as a building block as he is the only player on the roster with a long-term deal.

Herrera was aware that his being pulled from the game was a topic of discussion in Mackanin's postgame news conference, but he did not stick around to speak with reporters.

Catcher Cameron Rupp did speak with reporters and he admitted that Herrera's misdeeds have been noticed in the clubhouse.

"It’s not a secret. It’s talked about," Rupp said. "If you guys are seeing it, we are seeing it. It is what it is. We can say it to him, Pete has said it to him. It’s no secret and when you don’t do it, you put Pete in that position to do what he did.

"Pete is the manager and what he asks us to do, we’re supposed to do. It’s a team thing and one guy can’t just not follow the rules. It’s not the first time. It has happened before and that’s something we don’t want to see. We want him in the game. He’s a good player. Pete doesn’t ask a whole lot of us. He asks us to play the game hard and play the game the right way. Guys are going to make physical mistakes. Mental mistakes are something you can control.

"Yeah, it’s frustrating. There is no doubt about it. But it’s something he asks us to do and we have to do it."

Rupp mentioned that some teammates, including Freddy Galvis, have spoken to Herrera about his flaws. Galvis, like Herrera, hails from Venezuela.

"At the end of the day, it is him that has to do it, not anybody else," Rupp said. "It's hard for us. He’s a grown man. He has to learn on his own. We can only say so much. Guys have said things. I know Freddy has talked to him. Juan Samuel has. The language barrier is there, but you have the Latin guys who can tell him. He understands enough English. But it’s something only he can control. We can only do so much."

The Phillies have lost two nights in a row to Houston, a team with a powerhouse offense and the second-best record in the majors at 67-33. On Tuesday night, the right-hander Morton held the Phils to three hits over seven shutout innings. He struck out nine. Why can't the Phillies get pitchers like that?

Rookie right-hander Nick Pivetta pitched well against a tough lineup for five innings, but he gave up five hits and four runs in the sixth inning as the game got away from him.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the latest meeting between Mackanin and Herrera on Wednesday afternoon. Will Mackanin continue to employ a nurturing touch as he tries to coax the behavior he's looking for from Herrera? Will Herrera be benched for the series finale Wednesday night?

"I have to keep having conversations with him, that's all," Mackanin said. "He's a different kind of guy. I just have to keep him pointed in the right direction.

"Odubel does a lot for us. He's just a different character. We have to deal with him in a certain way. I'll have a nice talk with him tomorrow. He's going to be fine. He's been doing very well in that regard for the last month or so. But he just needs a reminder. He's in a development stage, as well."

Best of MLB: Todd Frazier hits into rare run-scoring triple play in Yankees' win

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Best of MLB: Todd Frazier hits into rare run-scoring triple play in Yankees' win

NEW YORK -- Todd Frazier had an unforgettable first at-bat in his home debut at Yankee Stadium, grounding into a rare run-scoring triple play as New York beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-2 Tuesday night.

Rookie Jordan Montgomery took a no-hit try into the sixth inning, and Didi Gregorius homered to boost the AL East contenders, his third in two games.

Last-place Cincinnati lost for the 10th time in 12 games. Billy Hamilton's bid for a tying extra-base hit in the eighth was thwarted when pinch-runner Zack Cozart, out of the starting lineup to rest his tender quadriceps, hobbled into third.

Back in the Bronx for the first time since the All-Star break, the Yankees brought along Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, all acquired last week in a trade with the Chicago White Sox (see full recap).

Contreras, Cubs stay hot with win over White Sox
CHICAGO -- Willson Contreras drove in four runs and Carl Edwards Jr. provided some timely relief, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Chicago White Sox 7-2 on Tuesday.

Ben Zobrist reached four times from the leadoff spot as the Cubs won for the ninth time in 11 games since the All-Star break. John Lackey (7-9) became the first major leaguer to hit four batters in two years, but managed to get into the sixth inning for his second straight victory.

The last-place White Sox were unable to overcome a strange performance by Carlos Rodon (1-4) in their 10th loss in 11 games. The left-hander matched a career high with 11 strikeouts and smacked a two-run double for his first career hit, but lasted just four innings in his third straight loss (see full recap).

Rays hold off Orioles to snap 5-game skid
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tim Beckham's three-run homer capped a five-run inning for Tampa Bay and rookie Jake Faria pitched into the eighth inning Tuesday night to help the Rays snap a five-game losing streak with a 5-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Faria (5-1) posted his eighth quality start in nine starts, giving up three runs and seven hits while striking out five in 7 1/3 innings.

Alex Colome pitched the ninth for his 29th save after the Orioles got the potential tying run in scoring position in each of the last two innings.

Beckham's 12th home run was the fifth hit of the second inning off Wade Miley (4-9). Steven Souza Jr., Brad Miller, Adeiny Hechavarria and Mallex Smith all singled and scored in the Rays' big inning.

Trey Mancini homered for the Orioles (see full recap).