Ryan Howard gives Phillies win over Astros in 15

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Ryan Howard gives Phillies win over Astros in 15

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For Ryan Howard, manager Ryne Sandberg knew it was just a matter of time.

Little did Sandberg realize that Howard was going to hit his way out of a slump and then back into one before delivering the winning hit all in the same game.

Given the Phillies’ penchant for playing extra-inning games -- specifically games that last at least 14 innings -- the ebbs and flows of Howard’s season at the plate were on display during the 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros in 15 innings on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning (see Instant Replay).

“He was swinging the bat well,” Sandberg said. “I think it was just a matter of time.”

Howard homered to lead off the second inning for what appeared to be the game-winner for starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick. After retiring the first 10 he faced and recording 13 outs on ground balls, Kendrick finally allowed a run in the seventh inning.

By that point, though, the Phillies and Astros weren’t even halfway finished. The Phils’ bullpen held the Astros scoreless for eight innings while the team waited for Howard to come through again, barely squeaking a single through the infield shift to send the winning run home from second base with two outs.

Actually, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

Howard grounded into a rally-killing double play in the sixth inning before an encore performance in the eighth when the Phils had two on and one out. He was hit by a pitch in the 11th inning and was called out on strikes with the winning run on base in the 13th.

But in the 15th inning, with Grady Sizemore on first and two outs, Astros reliever Jake Buchanan was ordered to intentionally walk Chase Utley to bring up Howard. Even though Howard drove in the Phillies’ lone run in 35 innings to that point, and hit his 17th homer of the season, the Astros saw an escape route through the cleanup hitter.

Not this time.

“You want to go up there with a little chip on your shoulder,” Howard said about the Astros’ decision to walk Utley in order to face him. “I thought the at-bat before was a little up. Two strikes, probably have to go after it a little bit. I was just trying to stay with my approach. So when they walked Chase, I wanted to get it done. I wanted to go out there and get it done.”

Though he went into the game with one hit in his previous 25 at-bats and was batting just .215, Sandberg hasn’t moved Howard out of the cleanup spot. In fact, only one other player in baseball (Casey McGehee) has more plate appearances in the cleanup spot than Howard this season. In other words, the Phillies’ offense is going to live or die with Howard in the heart of the order this season.

Actually, that fact is alright with Howard, too. He even pointed out his track record at the plate, excluding the parts when he has fought debilitating injuries the last two seasons.

“You know, I think you guys forget what I’ve done. You guys look at what’s going on right now. People forget what I’ve done,” said the one-time NL MVP, NLCS MVP, Rookie of the Year and three-time All-Star. “[Sandberg] has played the game. He knows. He knows the ups and downs of the game and he knows you’re going to have good days and bad days.

“For me, I’m just going to go out there and grind it out. I’m going to hit balls that are unfortunately going to go into the shift and balls back up the middle that guys are going to make plays on. All you can try to do is hit it hard and hopefully hit it where they’re not.”

Certainly Howard hit the ball hard against the Astros, but only his solo homer in the second landed where they were not. Regardless, there is still time for Howard to make his stat line look presentable. He’s notorious for getting hot in the final months of the season.

“He was hitting the ball hard,” Sandberg said of his cleanup hitter. “And driving in the winning run, that's a big confidence booster.”

Howard agrees.

“It feels good,” he said. “I’ve hit balls hard, over stretches. I don’t make any excuses. I come in every day and try to be positive and all you can do is hit the ball hard. What happens after it leaves the bat, it’s out of your control.”

As an extra bonus, it is actually hitting the bat for a change, too.

Next, right-hander David Buchanan (5-5, 4.40) will join the Phillies from Triple A Lehigh Valley to take Cliff Lee’s spot in the rotation on Wednesday night. To make room for Buchanan on the roster, the Phillies sent Hector Neris back to Triple A.

Neris made his major-league debut with a scoreless 15th inning on Tuesday night and earned the win thanks to Howard’s single.

The Astros will send righty Brad Peacock (3-7, 4.93) to the mound to face the Phillies.

Patience being tested after Phillies' embarrassing 10-run loss to Marlins

Patience being tested after Phillies' embarrassing 10-run loss to Marlins

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MIAMI — Wednesday was a miserable day for the Phillies, but there was one winner among the group.

Bench coach Larry Bowa was ejected from the game in the fourth inning, sparing him from having to watch a full dose of the carnage that befell the team in an embarrassing 11-1 loss to the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Manager Pete Mackanin wasn’t as fortunate as Bowa. He had to stick around for all nine innings as Zach Eflin struggled through a poor start and the weak-hitting Phillies came within an out of being shut out for the second straight game.

“He was mad at the umpire,” Mackanin said of Bowa. “He couldn't control himself. He had to let it out.

“In this game, when you win, you get giddy. When you lose, you want to hang yourself. You have to stay even keeled. You have to stay consistent. At least I have to. I have to try to stay consistent emotionally. 

“I used to be more emotional when I was younger. Over time, I just learned that it doesn't do you any good. My fate is left in the hands of the players.”

The players have not performed all that well since coming back from the All-Star break. Wednesday’s loss dropped the club to 4-9 since the break, dropping it to 11 games under .500. The Phils are averaging just 2.6 runs per game over that span and the pitching has been spotty. The baserunning, particularly by Cesar Hernandez, has been poor, as well.

“This game is all about consistency,” Mackanin said. “Repeating your delivery. Showing plate discipline. Not getting yourself out. Making the plays. Doing the little things on a consistent basis. Over the course of 162 games, the teams that do these things the best are the best teams.”

Wednesday’s loss dropped the Phillies to 2-4 on the first two legs of this 10-game trip. But all is not lost. The Phils play the Braves in Atlanta the next four days. The Braves have the worst record in the majors.

“We're going to Atlanta,” said Mackanin, not realizing he was about to damn his club with faint praise. “I think we have a good chance to compete against Atlanta to end the month on a positive note.”

The Phils came up short offensively and on the mound Wednesday. Actually, they had 10 hits, but only one was for extra bases, and they left 10 men on base while getting just one hit in eight chances with a runner in scoring position. (The Phils were 2 for 21 in those situations in the series.) Marlins lefty Adam Conley pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings and pitched out of bases-loaded trouble twice.

Eflin was hit hard early. The Marlins scored three runs in the first inning, two on a scorching two-run homer to left by Giancarlo Stanton. The bruising line drive left Stanton’s bat at 112 mph.

In all, Eflin was tagged for nine hits, including the homer and a pair of triples, and seven runs in five innings. Mackanin said Eflin “was not the same guy” that pitched a three-hit shutout in his previous start at Pittsburgh.

“I didn't like the mix of pitches he used,” Mackanin said. “We were hoping he'd use his curveball a little bit more. I thought he made some good pitches that the umpire missed. But that wasn't the reason. He just wasn't the same guy. We stranded 10 runners — had some chances to get something going but couldn't capitalize.”

Eflin was grazed on his pitching hand by a pitch during batting practice Tuesday, but said that did not affect him at all.

“I was just up with everything,” he said. “I wasn't executing. That's what it came down to. I was leaving all my pitches up in the zone and didn't give my team the best chance to win the ballgame. I didn't do my job. I've got to work on being consistent and staying down in the zone.”

Eflin is just 22. He had a 1.80 ERA in four previous starts in the month of July. He will be right back out there when his turn in the rotation comes up again next week.

But Mackanin seems to be losing patience with others. He laughed when a reporter asked him if it was time for a lineup shakeup.

“What do you think?” Mackanin said with some exasperation. “We've faced some tough pitching lately. It's an up-and-down season. That's the type of team we have. We don't have consistency in the lineup. Let's put it that way. That doesn't bode that well.”

Riding out a rebuild means Mackanin doesn’t have a whole lot of options at his disposal. He probably will have a new face to put in the lineup Thursday night in Atlanta, though. It appears as if Peter Bourjos will go on the disabled list and Aaron Altherr will be activated (see story). Altherr was projected to start in the outfield until blowing out his wrist in spring training. He is healthy now (see story). Maybe he can bring a spark to a lineup that has been mostly lifeless since the All-Star break.

Instant Replay: Marlins 11, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Marlins 11, Phillies 1

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MIAMI — The Phillies came within one out of being shut out for the second time in as many games in an embarrassing 11-1 loss to the Miami Marlins on Wednesday afternoon.

The Marlins roughed up Zach Eflin, who fell to 3-4 on the season.

The Marlins beat the Phils, 5-0, Tuesday night. A garbage-time RBI double by Cesar Hernandez with two outs in the ninth prevented the Phils from being shut out in consecutive games for the first time since July 8-9, 2015, when Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke got the wins at Dodger Stadium.

The Phillies are 4-9 in 13 games since the All-Star break. They are averaging just 2.6 runs in those games.

The Marlins are 55-46. They entered the day in second place in the NL East, four games behind Washington.

Starting pitching report
Eflin had pitched brilliantly in the month of July — he entered with a 1.80 ERA in four starts this month — but his success ended as the Marlins tagged him for nine hits, including a homer and two triples, and seven runs in five-plus innings.

Eflin had pitched a three-hit shutout at Pittsburgh in his previous start.

Lefty Adam Conley pitched 6⅔ shutout innings, scattered eight hits, walked three and struck out six. He pitched out of bases-loaded trouble twice.

Bullpen report
Andrew Bailey struggled. He faced three batters and gave up two hits, a walk and a run before Brett Oberholtzer cleaned up the sixth inning.

The Marlins eventually got to Oberholtzer for three runs in the eighth. The lefty picked up three innings to protect the bullpen.

At the plate
The Phillies did have 10 hits in the game, but they left the bases loaded twice and stranded 11 runners in all.

The Phils went 2 for 21 with runners in scoring position in the three-game series.

The Marlins got to Eflin early. They scored three runs in the first inning. The rally was highlighted by Giancarlo Stanton’s 22nd homer, a two-run laser beam to left that exited the bat at 112 miles per hour.

Don Kelly had a pair of triples against Eflin and scored two runs. One of the triples drove in two runs.

The Marlins had 16 hits.

Ejected
Bench coach Larry Bowa got the boot for arguing a called third strike on Cameron Rupp in the fourth inning.

Health check
Peter Bourjos' injured right shoulder could send him to the disabled list Thursday as the Phillies make room for Aaron Altherr.

Up next
The Phillies open a four-game series in Atlanta on Thursday night. Here are the pitching matchups:

Thursday night — RHP Aaron Nola (5-9, 4.75) vs. RHP Matt Wisler (4-10, 4.92)

Friday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) vs. RHP Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17)

Saturday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (7-7, 3.65) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71)

Sunday afternoon — RHP Jerad Eickhoff (6-12, 3.83) vs. RHP Lucas Harrell (2-2, 3.38)

MLB Notes: Nationals place Stephen Drew on DL

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MLB Notes: Nationals place Stephen Drew on DL

CLEVELAND -- Unable to figure out what's making Stephen Drew dizzy, the Washington Nationals placed the veteran infielder on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.

Drew has played just once in the past week, delivering a walk-off triple to give Washington a win over San Diego on Saturday. Manager Dusty Baker said the 33-year-old Drew has been experiencing vertigo-like symptoms and the team is sending him back to Washington for more medical tests.

"He wasn't getting any better," Baker said before the Nationals concluded their two-game interleague series with the Indians. "He was dizzy. He was kind of worried and didn't know what it was because he's had two concussions, but he hadn't had anything that would have caused another concussion. Whenever you feel woozy and dizzy and don't get any better, that's a pretty good indication that something's wrong."

Drew sat out several days last week because he was feeling ill. He's in his first season with the Nationals, who signed him as a free agent in January (see full story).

Padres: Solarte placed on family leave list
TORONTO -- The San Diego Padres made a few roster moves before Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays, recalling utilityman Alexi Amarista and left-hander Buddy Baumann from Triple-A El Paso.

The newcomers replace outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., who was traded to Toronto on Tuesday, and third baseman Yangervis Solarte, who was placed on the family leave list and will miss from three to seven days.

Solarte is batting .290 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs.

This is Amarista's fourth stint with the Padres this season. The six-year veteran is batting .239 with no homers and seven RBIs in 45 games.

Baumann joins the Padres for the second time. He made his major league debut with 1-3 of an inning against San Francisco on July 16, retiring Brandon Crawford on one pitch.