Strong outings from Hamels, Giles end Phils' skid

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Strong outings from Hamels, Giles end Phils' skid

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MILWAUKEE -- There will come a time in the coming weeks and months when the Phillies will reach an inevitable transition stage. Personnel changes will be made as the Phils try to reverse their losing ways and become a contender again.

No matter what changes are made, it seems likely that Cole Hamels will stick around. Sure, the Phils will listen to offers for the 30-year-old lefty -- and if they’re blown away, well, you never know -- but at this moment it seems more likely that Hamels will be the nucleus that they build around.

Reliever Ken Giles is one of the players the Phils will use to build around Hamels.

So, in some ways, Monday night offered a little glimpse of the future. Hamels pitched 6 2/3 strong innings and the power-armed Giles got four big outs in crunch time to preserve a one-run lead as the Phillies beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 3-2, at Miller Park (see Instant Replay)

Hamels’ goal is always to pitch a complete game, but he had no qualms handing the ball to the 23-year-old Giles with two outs in the seventh and two men on base.

“He’s very impressive,” Hamels said. “Any time you know he’s coming in the ballgame you can definitely sit back and watch and know that you’re in good hands because he’s got amazing stuff.

“You can kind of tell with his presence out there he really wants to get the job done and he’s confident with what he’s got. He doesn’t have that fear, that uncertainty. He’s good. He’s going to be somebody that’s going to be in the back of that bullpen for a really long time for the Phillies and he’s going to put up some good numbers.”

Giles already has put up good numbers in his month in the majors. In 11 2/3 innings, he has allowed four hits and one run. (That run came in his first inning.) He has registered 17 strikeouts and walked just three.

Monday night’s assignment was Giles’ toughest yet in the majors. Milwaukee’s lineup was stacked with right-handed bats, so manager Ryne Sandberg used Giles in the tight situation instead of lefty Jake Diekman.

The Brewers are an aggressive, fastball-hitting team, so Giles featured his slider early in the eighth inning. He had trouble throwing it for strikes early in the inning and paid for it by falling behind in the count and giving up a double to Ryan Braun to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Eventually, Giles got the handle on his slider and located his fastball well enough to get out of the inning. It also helped that Brewers pinch-runner Logan Schafer made a costly baserunning error in a one-run game.

“In a 3-2 game, it was probably his biggest moment yet, facing the heart of the order in that situation,” Sandberg said of Giles.

Giles remains unfazed by his early success. He does not appear to be a guy who thinks too much and sometimes that can be a good thing.

“That’s what I’ve been prepared to do the whole time I’ve been here,” he said. “All I’ve tried to do is get outs. I don’t try to do too much.

“I don’t think it’s easy. I just prepare for each game. I study the hitters and try to carry out what I’m trying to do.”

The Phillies had entered the game with one win in the previous six games on this trip. They were hitting .170 in those six games. That led an unhappy GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to threaten changes before Monday night’s game (see story).

Amaro’s words may have resonated -- at least for a while -- in the Phillies’ clubhouse because Chase Utley staked the Phillies to a 2-0 lead with a home run in the first inning and Ryan Howard made it a 3-0 lead with an RBI single in the third. It was the first time the Phils led by three runs since June 24, a span of 14 games.

It was just Utley’s second extra-base hit in the last 23 games.

For Howard, it was just his second RBI in the last 18 games.

The Phillies’ offense went into shutdown mode after the third inning, but the pitching was able to make the lead stand up for just the team’s second win in the last 11 games.

Hamels, long a victim of poor run support, was thrilled to get the early two-run homer from Utley.

“OK, I have something to work with,” he said. “But I still have to put up zeroes.

“My job is to go out there, pitch deep into the game, prevent runs and keep the lead. It was good to be able to do that.”

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies (70-86) at Braves (63-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After losing by three possessions on Sunday and getting an off day Monday to think about it, the Phillies are back in action Tuesday night to begin their final road series of 2016.

Let's take a look:

1. The finish line nears
Forty-nine down, two to go. The Phillies have just two series left this season, a three-gamer in Atlanta and then a set with the Mets at home to close it out. 

The Phils have a series record of 18-25-6. They have just six series wins in 21 tries since the All-Star break (6-12-3). 

The Phillies and Braves have played seven times in the second half and the Phils are 2-5 — they split a four-game series July 28-31 in Atlanta and were swept at home Sept. 2-4.

With 70 wins, the Phillies have already beaten their over-under by four victories. If they manage to split these final six games, they'll finish 10 games better than they did in 2015.

The Braves, meanwhile, will avoid 100 losses. That didn't look possible when they were 33-66 and on pace for 109 losses. But Atlanta has been much better the last six weeks, especially offensively.

2. Freeman's monstrous year
Whether it was the addition of Matt Kemp or just regression to his true talent level, Freddie Freeman has been a force of nature this summer.

Freeman started slowly. Through June 12, he was hitting .242 with a .750 OPS in 61 games. Since then? He's hit .347/.445/.673 with 33 doubles, five triples, 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 91 games. The Braves are just three games under .500 over that span at 44-47.

It's pretty amazing that Freeman has had an MVP-caliber season in a lineup that offers so little protection. This has been the best year of his seven-year career. In 669 plate appearances, he's hit .305/.402/.570 with 43 doubles, six triples, 32 homers and 87 RBIs. He's also walked 86 times. 

Freeman's best work this year has come against the Phillies. In 16 games, he's gone 22 for 60 (.367) with a .449 OBP, five doubles, five homers and 10 RBIs.

3. The push toward 200
Jerad Eickhoff makes his 32nd start of the season tonight and will likely have one more on the final day. He enters tonight's game with 187⅓ innings pitched, 12⅔ shy of the 200-inning benchmark every pitcher seeks.

Eickhoff said early in the summer that 200 innings would be meaningful to him and acknowledged it just sounds different than 195. It's taken health, stamina and consistency for Eickhoff to get to this point at age 26 in his first full big-league season.

Eickhoff (11-14, 3.75 ERA) has made six consecutive quality starts. He's steadied the Phillies' rotation for four months now. Since May 22, Eickhoff is 10-8 with a 3.52 ERA, but if you remove the one dreadful outing at hitter-friendly Coors Field, his ERA over that span is 3.13. He very well could be the opening day starter in 2017.

Eickhoff has faced the Braves five times in his career and gone 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. 

Freeman is 5 for 14 against him with a double and a homer, but all other active Braves have hit a combined .209 with no extra-base hits in more than 75 plate appearances.

Eickhoff won't have to deal with Kemp, who has been hot lately but is out of Tuesday's lineup.

4. Last look at Teheran
The Phillies take on talented Braves right-hander Julio Teheran for the third time this season and 15th time in his six-year career.

Could it be their last time seeing him in an Atlanta uniform? That's always a possibility for the rebuilding Braves with Teheran, who has long been an intriguing trade candidate. A 25-year-old with a 3.37 career ERA and one of the more team-friendly contracts in baseball, Teheran figures to have immense trade value this offseason. He's due $31 million over the next three seasons in a sport where pitchers half as talented now earn similar average annual salaries.

If Teheran is eventually dealt for a package of prospects, the Phillies won't be sad to see him go. He's 7-4 with a 2.31 ERA and has allowed just five home runs to them in 89⅔ career innings. His starts against the Phillies the last three years have been even better: 6-2, 1.39 ERA, 56 strikeouts, 13 walks, one homer allowed in 71 innings.

His last time out, Teheran allowed just one run over seven innings to the Mets but struck out only one batter. He hasn't missed many bats lately, generating just three swings-and-misses in his last start and six two outings before that.

Teheran has five pitches but mostly uses a four-seam fastball/slider combination. When he last faced the Phillies on Sept. 4, 90 of his 119 pitches were four-seamers or sliders.

Current Phillies have hit .219 collectively against Teheran in 169 at-bats. Freddy Galvis has seen him the best, going 7 for 18 (all singles) with three walks. Ryan Howard has two doubles and two solo homers off Teheran in 26 ABs.

5. This and that
• File this one under stats nobody would have predicted: The Braves have the highest on-base percentage in the majors since the All-Star break at .346. The Phillies are fifth-worst at .306.

• In 50 games with Atlanta, Kemp has hit .287/.341/.508 with 13 doubles, 10 homers and 35 RBIs. He had 16 walks in 100 games with the Padres and has 18 in half as many games with the Braves. His poor defense has still made him a net negative player this season (if you believe in WAR), but the Braves are 26-24 since acquiring him.

• If the season ended today, the Phillies would have the ninth pick in next June's draft. Based on the records of the teams around them, they are a near lock to pick either 8th, 9th or 10th.

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