Relievers' pivotal eighth inning ensures Phillies' win

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Relievers' pivotal eighth inning ensures Phillies' win

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Carlos Ruiz pumped his fist once toward pitcher Jeremy Horst, and dashed back to the dugout as if he was part of a big prank and that he couldn’t believe he got away with it.

Perhaps as a result of the Phillies’ 6-2 victory over the hard-hitting Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), maybe they did get away with something.

Horst fired just four pitches — all fastballs — to escape a first-and-third jam in the eighth inning with a strikeout against the Indians. As a result, Horst was the unlikely setup man in manager Charlie Manuel’s patchwork maneuvering of the bullpen. With regular setup man Mike Adams unavailable because of back spasms for the second straight game, Manuel needed three pitchers to get the three outs in the inning.

It came together brilliantly.

Antonio Bastardo faced the first three batters in the eighth, allowing a leadoff triple to Asdrubal Cabrera and a walk to Carlos Santana sandwiched around a strikeout against cleanup hitter Nick Swisher.

With runners at the corners and one out, Manuel turned to righty Justin De Fratus in his second outing of the season after throwing six pitches for the win in his debut last Sunday in Arizona. On Tuesday against slugger Mark Reynolds, De Fratus threw two fastballs. One was a strike and the other was a broken-bat pop out for the second out.

De Fratus gave way to Horst and four pitches later, Ruiz was grinning and running away from the batting circle after an inning-ending strikeout. In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies added a pair of runs to ensure that rookie Jonathan Pettibone picked up his third straight win in five starts.

Pettibone is the first Phillies starting pitcher to begin his career 3-0 since Randy Wolf went 5-0 before his first loss in 1999.

Regardless, Pettibone doesn’t get that third win if it wasn’t for the work in the eighth inning from the bullpen. Better yet, in a big spot of the game, the much-maligned Phils' relievers stepped into a crucial spot and came through.

“Those are the spots you want to pitch in as a reliever,” De Fratus said. “You just go out there and attack the zone and hope for the best.”

For a relief corps that entered the game with a 4.00 ERA, an opponents’ batting average that ranked 12th in the National League and the worst success rate with inherited runners, the eighth inning was a true confidence builder.

So with Adams unavailable, Manuel said he leaned on the matchups when deciding which pitcher to use in the eighth. Considering De Fratus has faced only one player on the Indians in the big leagues and Horst retired Brantley two weeks ago in Cleveland, those were Manuel’s best options.

Though the sample size was miniscule, the amount of confidence gained was immeasurable.

“We got the guys some experience and if they do the job, we build their confidence, too,” Manuel said. “That’s not bad.”

That was especially the case for De Fratus, who was making just his 20th big-league appearance and just his second appearance in a game that wasn’t played in September or October. To step in a situation with runners on first and third to face the hitter leading the American League in homers was no small feat.

That is if De Fratus was even thinking about whom he was facing when he reared back and gave Reynolds heat.

“The plan there knowing we never faced each other is to go out there and give him a good heater and see if he sees me,” De Fratus said. “Then I’d throw pitches off of that. So based on the first pitch I felt confident enough to come back with the heater.”

De Fratus needed just two of them to splinter Reynolds’ bat.

“The goal is to go out there and get outs and preserve the lead,” De Fratus said. “But it’s definitely a cool feeling to go out there in the eighth inning in a tight situation against a big-time hitter. It’s a lot of fun and I hope to get the chance to do it again.”

Depending on when Adams is next available, De Fratus could find himself back in another tight spot soon. In two appearances, the right-hander has thrown eight pitches for two outs and already has a win and a hold.

Talk about efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Phillies showed a bit of offense in holding off the Indians. Kevin Frandsen opened the game with a homer in the first inning and the Phillies tacked on two more to take the lead they would never relinquish with John Mayberry’s two-run double in the fourth.

Domonic Brown slugged a solo homer (his seventh) in the sixth before Mayberry singled home an insurance run in the eighth and came around to score on Freddy Galvis’ two-out single just three batters later.

The Phillies go for the sweep of the mini-series on Wednesday afternoon when Cole Hamels (1-5, 4.18) faces righty Cory Kluber (2-2, 5.64).

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

Top Phillies prospect Mickey Moniak adds muscle, looks for big season 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The difference was striking.
 
When Mickey Moniak arrived in Philadelphia to sign his first professional contract six months ago, he was rail-thin and 170 pounds.
 
On Tuesday night, Moniak made a quick visit to the winter meetings to be honored as Baseball America’s high school player of the year for 2016. 
 
He’d added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame.
 
“It’s all muscle,” Moniak said proudly.
 
The Phillies selected Moniak with the first pick in the June draft and signed him for $6.1 million. Just a few months of professional baseball convinced the 18-year-old centerfielder that he needed to get stronger. He recently capped off his first year of pro ball with a three-week stint at the Phillies’ strength and conditioning camp in Clearwater.
 
“It’s something the Phillies wanted me to do and I knew I definitely needed it, too,” Moniak said. “I really enjoyed my first year. I got a taste of what it was like to play baseball for a job and it was a good time.
 
“There were a lot of positives that came out of the first year. I felt like I jumped in there and really competed. I hit well in July. In August, I started to fatigue and I wasn’t prepared for that, being my first season. But it was a good learning experience. I needed to get stronger.”
 
Moniak hit .284 with a .340 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, four triples, a homer and 28 RBIs in 46 games for the Phillies’ prospect-stacked Gulf Coast League team. That club, loaded with young Latin players and first-year talent from the 2016 draft, went 41-17 and advanced to the finals of the league playoffs before losing to the Cardinals.
 
After the playoffs, many of the players from that club participated in the Florida instructional league. Moniak played sparingly, however, after dealing with some soreness in his right hip. He was checked out by doctors in Philadelphia and there are no more concerns.
 
“It was just tightness,” Moniak said. “Everything is good. I’m 100 percent. They said it was either a growing pain or just tightness. I just have to stretch more.”
 
Moniak is an athletic centerfielder with speed and a good left-side bat. He has been compared favorably to former All-Star Steve Finley.
 
"Collectively, we believe Mickey was the best player available in the draft," Johnny Almaraz, the Phillies head of amateur scouting, said on draft night in June. "He's a true centerfielder with incredible offensive ability and the potential to be a perennial All-Star."

Moniak hit .476 with seven homers, 12 triples and four doubles at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California, during his senior season. He impressed a rival scout who saw him play five times during the season.

“The bat is good,” the scout said. “He’s going to hit and hit for average. He’s a good centerfielder. He can run. The question is how many home runs will he hit? If he ends up getting stronger, he could be a corner bat that’s unbelievable. There’s no negative here. It’s a good pick.”
 
Now, Moniak is stronger. He looked sturdy in a dress shirt and tie at the winter meetings Tuesday night. He is eager to see how it all translates on the field in 2017.
 
“I’m excited for the season,” he said. “I’m just going to go to spring training and compete and hopefully end up in (Single A) Lakewood, stay healthy and hopefully have a winning season and win a championship. That’s the ultimate goal and if personal stats come with that, too, that’s great.”

Pete Mackanin talks Phillies' need for more offense, contract status

Pete Mackanin talks Phillies' need for more offense, contract status

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As the 2016 season was winding down, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin surveyed his low-scoring club and made public an offseason wish list that included “two professional hitters.”

So far this winter, he’s gotten one — Howie Kendrick.

Is that going to be enough to satisfy the skipper?

“You know what, I'm happy that we acquired Kendrick because we needed a solid, professional hitter,” Mackanin said at the winter meetings Tuesday. “Howie Kendrick is one of those guys. He knows how to give you good at-bats, grind out at-bats.

“We have guys like (Maikel) Franco and Freddy (Galvis), to name a few, who really need a better plan at the plate. I think Howie is going to help them out just by watching him take at-bats and go about his business. I think that's going to help a lot of our guys improve.

“I would like to get another guy. You can always use more hitting, more pitching, better players. But I'm pretty happy with Howie.”

There’s no doubt that Mackanin would like to add another hitter to an offense that ranked last in the majors in runs scored (610) and second to last in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385).

“Yeah, it would be nice,” Mackanin conceded. “We have to improve offensively.”

General manager Matt Klentak has spoken often this winter about the quandary he’s facing. He would like to add another bat in a corner outfield spot, but not necessarily at the cost of taking away an opportunity from a young player such as Roman Quinn or blocking the ultimate ascension of Dylan Cozens or Nick Williams. This is the tightrope that the GM of a rebuilding club must walk.

There are several corner outfield bats (J.D. Martinez, Jay Bruce, Andre Ethier) available in potential trades and others (such as Michael Saunders) on the free-agent market.

“It’s about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time,” Klentak said.

Mackanin understands all this. But he’d still love to have another bat.

Does he think he’ll eventually get one?

“That's hard to say,” he said. “Obviously I would like to have a solid hitter for the team, for the fans, for everybody. We would like to win more games. I think it would be very important, obviously, to improve our offense. … I think we owe it to the pitchers to create more offense so that they are in more games. Everything is still up in the air. It's early. Deals may be made in January or in spring training when things happen. So one move might create an opening in another. If we trade a pitcher, we get a position player. A lot of things can change, so it is a little too soon to think too much about that.”

Contract talk
Mackanin is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2017. He has a club option for 2018.

Will the Phillies pick up Mackanin’s option before spring training to prevent a lame-duck situation?

Klentak was noncommittal on the subject Tuesday.

“We have time to do that,” he said. “Obviously last year we talked about his status in spring training and I’m sure the time will come when we’ll sit down and talk about it again.”

In March, the Phillies gave Mackanin a two-year contract with a club option for 2018.

“I hope they pick it up but that's not up to me,” Mackanin said. “That's up to them. I feel that when it's time for them to let me know, they let me know.

“But in the meantime, I'm not consumed by it. Hopefully it will happen, but it doesn't help me thinking about it.”