Phillies Need to Reverse First-Timers Curse vs. Cleveland Tonight

Phillies Need to Reverse First-Timers Curse vs. Cleveland Tonight

Guest post by Matt Hammond

Cleveland starter Zach McAllister has been perfectly average so far.

He’s is 1-3 with a 3.52 ERA in four starts. His record’s a product of
his shoddy run support: he’s surrendered no more than two runs in any
of his starts, but the Indians have plated three or fewer for him
in each. (Before you feel sorry for him: McAllister’s 3.50 RS/9 would be
the second-most on the Phillies, ahead of Roy Halladay (3.40), Cliff
Lee (3.20) and John Lannan (3.00), and behind Kyle Kendrick’s 4.40.)
Though his ERA, which ranks 57 of 109 qualifying starters, is mostly on him.

But tonight against the Phillies, McAllister enters with a distinct
edge if you consider the way the Phillies have fared in such situations
so far: he’s never seen them before.

Four times have the Phillies faced a starter who’d never before seen
them in their careers. They’ve worked a composite 2.05 ERA and .195
opponent batting average. In other words: never seeing the Phillies
before apparently makes you Adam Wainwright.

The Phillies are 1-3 in such games.

First-timer’s advantage isn’t only a Phillies problem.

Minor leaguers flooding the majors after September callups, for
instance, thrive off the fact that there’s (a) so many of them and (b)
so little film on them. Same goes for the beginnings of most seasons,
with many fresh off spring training victories for starting rotation
spots. Same for this one, too, the first of expanded interleague play.

The problem for the Phillies is that they should’ve shelled nearly all of these guys.

Wade Davis is basically a glorified reliever, having cracked the
rotation only after leaving Tampa for Kansas City via trade and posting a
4.22 ERA as a starter between 2009-11, which ranked 77th of 126
qualifying starters over the span.

To their credit, the Phillies touched him up for four runs in as many innings.

But he was the only one of the four they got to.

The rest? KC’s Luis Mendoza, Miami’s Jose Fernandez and Pittsburgh’s
Jeff Locke, who’ve allowed a whole one run in 18 combined innings, for a
0.50 ERA. This, despite the fact that they’ve had a combined 3.91 ERA
this year with two individuals north of 4.50.

Two of them, by the way, were righties. The only lefty, Locke,
entered with a .389/.450/.500 line against lefties, for the sixth-worst
lefty batting average in baseball. (Not surprisingly, Locke was behind
five righties in this category.) And yet Locke still tossed six
scoreless innings to effectively outduel Cole Hamels in a 2-0 loss on
Apr. 23.

On the year, Locke has a 4.50 ERA.

McAllister doesn’t seem like a push-over. He has a decent K% (19.8)
and doesn’t walk too many batters (7.9%) and throws five pitches with a
mildly quick 91.5 m.p.h. fastball.

He’s just got no business gassing the Phillies — as his first-timer peers have so far.

Howie Kendrick (oblique) finally ready to begin rehab assignment tonight

Howie Kendrick (oblique) finally ready to begin rehab assignment tonight

Phillies corner outfielder/infielder Howie Kendrick is finally nearing a return. He'll begin a rehab assignment tonight with Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Kendrick has been out since April 15 with an oblique strain. He did defensive work during the Phillies' road trip and has been taking outdoor batting practice at home this week.

Kendrick was off to a hot start when the oblique injury sent him to the DL. In 10 games, he went 13 for 39 (.333) with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs. He batted second all 10 games.

The Phillies are in a bad offensive funk and could use Kendrick's bat over Michael Saunders' right now. The Phils' 1-2 hitters were among the most productive in the majors in April, hitting close to .350 for the month. They're down to .282 on the season as Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera have slumped in May.

With Clay Buchholz likely out for the season and Saunders providing little offense so far, the Phillies' trio of offseason veteran additions has not panned out through two months.

Supplement-free Lane Johnson heaviest he's ever been, feels he has much to prove

Supplement-free Lane Johnson heaviest he's ever been, feels he has much to prove

It's only natural to have some reservations about Lane Johnson after he was suspended for 10 games last season for his second violation of the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy. One more positive test and the Eagles will lose their starting right tackle for two full years.

Fortunately, Johnson seems determined to avoid any future run-ins with the league. The 27-year-old changed his entire approach this offseason, cutting out negative influences or any other voices at all while preparing for the 2017 season.

"I just trained by myself back in Oklahoma," Johnson said after the Eagles' first full-team practice of OTAs on Tuesday. "Trained by myself and everything went good. I came back, my body weight is about 325, so I'm heavier than I've ever been. I feel in good shape, and I have a lot to prove, so it's a big year for me.

"I did everything by myself. There wasn't going to be any mishaps."

Two suspensions totaling 14 games later, Johnson has gained a healthy fear of being unknowingly steered toward an illegal supplement.

Johnson tested positive for PEDs before the season last year after taking a banned substance known as peptides and was eventually slapped with the full 10-game penalty after a lengthy appeal process. The fifth-year veteran always maintained peptides were not listed on the label of the offending supplement.

Johnson filed a lawsuit against the NFL and the players' association in November after the suspension was upheld. Its status is ongoing.

Johnson also served a four-game suspension in 2014.

When he's not in trouble with the league office, Johnson is a vital cog in the Eagles' offense. They went 5-1 with him and 2-8 without him last season.

"I feel like whenever I'm playing, I try to be the best right tackle in the NFL," Johnson said. "My deal is to just stay on the field, play a complete season, and I think it will be a big year for me."

Johnson isn't concerned about losing a competitive edge, physically or mentally, after dropping supplements altogether.

"I've always been the athlete that I am," Johnson said. "That's what I'll continue to prove. I'm gonna go play and show people what I can do."

Signed in January 2016 to a five-year contract extension worth $56 million, Johnson has plenty to prove. He was working out in place of 35-year-old left tackle Jason Peters, who wasn't at the start of OTAs, on Tuesday and is expected to one day replace the nine-time Pro Bowl selection permanently.

Despite his checkered past, it sounds like Johnson knows exactly what's on the line, which is why he chose to go it alone this offseason. The only person you can trust is yourself.

Then again, Johnson still has his vices, which might raise some eyebrows with the news he's up to 325 pounds — eight more than his listed weight.

"My big deal is cutting out the ice cream, the Ben & Jerry's late at night — the stuff you want to indulge in," Johnson said. "If you get me on an ice cream binge, it's not good."

The Eagles can probably deal with a little extra ice cream, just as long as Johnson remains committed to keeping dodgy supplements out of his body.