Amaro: Phils could be July sellers at this rate

556034.jpg

Amaro: Phils could be July sellers at this rate

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. witnessed the verbal spanking that Charlie Manuel gave his sleep-walking team after it fell victim to an ugly sweep at the hands of the New York Mets on Wednesday night.

Was it needed?

Most undoubtedly, Amaro said Thursday. It was deserved.

Was it overdue?

Maybe, Amaro said.

Did Amaro feel compelled to jump in and say anything to his stumbling team?

I didnt have to, he said. Charlie handled it very well.

As GM, Amaro charts the teams course with his handling of personnel matters, and, as he pointed out Thursday, Sometimes change is good. But for now, Amaro said he was not planning any wholesale changes. A bullpen tweak -- the promotion of lefty Jake Diekman -- appears on the way, but the bulk of the responsibility of turning around this downbound train lies with the players.

And if things dont turn around, Amaro said, it could be another busy July for him. Only this time, instead of adding talent -- as he did with Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence -- he could be looking to sell it off.

The way were playing is unacceptable, Amaro said. Were always looking to improve the club, but we have to start by doing it in-house. Guys have to play better. There are players with talent here. Sometimes players need to take it upon themselves to perform better.

Phillies officials knew things would be challenging as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard recovered from injuries during the first couple of months of the season. The goal was to tread water until the team was healthy, and in some ways that has happened -- the Phils are 14-18, five games back in the NL East and theyve climbed out of bigger holes at much later stages of the season in winning five straight division titles.

But none of this has made the Phils performance any easier to take. The bullpen has given away leads like Halloween candy. The offense, though better lately, has still been maddeningly inconsistent. The defense in the Mets series was wretched.

I dont like the type of baseball were playing, Amaro said. Were playing fundamentally unsound baseball, missing cutoffs and making mental mistakes. Were better than what were showing. How much better? I dont know. But were better than this. Regardless of who is in or out of the lineup we should be better.

With the exception of our starting pitching, all phases of the game have been shoddy.

Five weeks into the season, Phillies starting pitchers have a combined 3.06 ERA, third-best in the NL.

But the bullpen has a 5.47 ERA -- worst in the NL -- and it has blown six saves, third-most in the league. The bullpen has allowed opponents a batting average of .286, the second-highest in the league. Phils relievers have struck out just 57, fewest in the league. Thats why its necessary to add a strikeout arm like Diekman.

With the exception of one outing, closer Jonathan Papelbon, Amaros big off-season addition, has pitched well. But getting a lead to Papelbon has been a problem lately. Chad Qualls handled the job well early, but has struggled in recent outings. Antonio Bastardo has been an up-and-down adventure since September. Jose Contreras, age 40 and coming off elbow surgery, doesnt have the thunder or command he used to. Mike Stutes is on the disabled list. Kyle Kendrick let a lead get away Wednesday night.

Did Amaro have too much faith in this bullpen?

I dont know if I had too much faith, he said. I had faith that theyd do well. Qualls has thrown the ball well at times. Contreras, Stutes and Bastardo -- you had to put a little faith in their past performance. Obviously, Stutes is hurt and Bastardo has not performed quite as well as in the past.

But I dont think you can pinpoint this on the pen. Like I said, with the exception of our starting pitching, weve been shoddy in all phases of the game.

Amaro pointed the finger at himself and Manuel, saying, We all need to do a better job. We win and lose together.

He added that he believed the team was prepared coming out of spring training.

Right now it looks like guys are trying to do too much, he said.

During difficult times, a team needs the guidance of a clubhouse leader. With Utley and Howard out of action, leadership is thin. Still, someone has to step up and step out front. That was one of the messages of Manuels meeting Wednesday night.

The veterans have to take ownership and play to the level we expect them to play, Amaro said. Otherwise were going to be in trouble. All of us.

The Phils entered the season with a 174 million payroll, second-highest in the majors, and just shy of the 178 million luxury-tax threshold. Phillies officials have said publicly that theyd like to avoid paying the tax. That could make it difficult, though not impossible, for Amaro to improve the team during the July trade season.

We can be buyers, he said. It just depends on how creative I can be.

But he added, if things dont turn around, he could look to subtract talent, not add.

July is so far ahead, Amaro said. We just have to get on track. But if July comes and were playing like this, well be sellers. How we play now will determine whether well be buyers or sellers in July.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

ap_841901862648.jpg

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Simmering issue: Pete Mackanin says he will continue to trim Ryan Howard's playing time

ap_841901862648.jpg

Simmering issue: Pete Mackanin says he will continue to trim Ryan Howard's playing time

CHICAGO – The Ryan Howard drama continues to simmer.
 
Howard’s dwindling production has led to dwindling playing time. He did not start against a right-handed pitcher for the second time in eight days on Sunday (see game recap).
 
After the game, manager Pete Mackanin addressed the uncomfortable situation and said he would continue to trim Howard’s playing time against right-handers because he wants to look at Tommy Joseph, who has 10 hits, including three homers and a double, in his first 35 big-league at-bats.
 
“We brought Joseph up here for a reason, to get a look at him,” Mackanin said. “I can’t let him stagnate on the bench like (Darin) Ruf ended up doing, so he’s going to face some right-handed pitchers to keep his timing. I don’t know when the next time we’re going to face a left-handed pitcher is, but I’m going to use (Joseph) a little bit more often than I did Ruf.”
 
Since the end of last July, Howard has gone from being a full-time player to a platoon guy, facing just righties. Now, he’s migrating toward more of a reserve role.
 
Taking away playing time from a club icon – Howard is a former NL MVP and World Series champion -- is not easy, but Mackanin has little choice. Howard is hitting .154 with eight homers and 18 RBIs in 136 at-bats over 44 games. He has struck out in 33 percent of his plate appearances. Howard’s average for the month of May is .097 (6 for 62) and he has 25 strikeouts. He recently used the word “brutal” to describe how the month of May has been going.
 
Mackanin was asked about Howard’s mindset in relation to losing playing time.
 
“I don’t know how he feels,” Mackanin said. “I’m sure we’ll talk to him and we’ll go from there. The important thing is that we brought Joseph up here to get a look at him, and as I said, if he sits on the bench for a week or 10 days and we don’t get a look at him, what’s the point of bringing him up?”
 
Howard started Saturday against Cubs’ righty Kyle Hendricks and went hitless.
 
After Sunday's game, Howard was asked if he was surprised to see he was not in the lineup.
 
“I guess, yeah,” he said. “But I don’t make the lineup. The manager makes the lineup. I just show up. If I’m in there, I’m in there, if I’m not, I’m not."
 
Howard said he was unaware of Mackanin’s intention to sit him more against righties.
 
“I haven’t heard anything about sitting more against righties,” he said. “I haven’t been called into the office and talked to about it, so you guys apparently have breaking news before I do.”
 
Howard's status in the lineup and with the team has been an issue for almost two years. Before the 2015 season, former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted it would be best if Howard moved on. The Phillies tried to trade him last year, but there was no interest. 

Howard is in the final year of a five-year, $125 million contract that did not kick in until after he suffered a devastating Achilles tendon rupture on his final swing of the 2011 season.
 
He is still owed more that $26 million in salary for 2016 and an option year buyout for 2017.

Howard isn't walking away from that kind of money.

Would the team release him to solve this uncomfortable situation? Or will it ride out the final four months of the season and the contract with Howard as a part-time player?

Time will tell.

Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs

052916-velasquez-pic-11.jpg

Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs

CHICAGO – The Phillies are rebuilding.

The Chicago Cubs are focused on winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

And they have a team that can do it.

So the events of the last three days at Wrigley Field were not that surprising.

The Phillies suffered a three-game sweep, capped off by Sunday afternoon’s 7-2 loss.

When the Phillies departed Citizens Bank Park last week, they had a 25-19 record and were one of the surprise teams in the majors.

But the trip to Detroit and Chicago figured to be a stiff test. The Tigers pound the baseball. The Cubs do everything.

In the end, the Phillies won just one of the six games on the trip. They limp home at 26-24 for a matchup Monday night with the Washington Nationals.

Is the Phillies’ unexpected, early-season magic fading?

“That’s up for debate, I guess,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “Every team goes through a hot streak and a cold streak. How you come out those streaks, especially now with a cold streak, determines how good of a team you are. I choose to believe we’re at the bottom of the roller coaster and on our way up.”

The Phils were outscored 17-5 by the Cubs in this weekend’s series. The Cubs’ starting pitchers – Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey – combined to allow just three earned runs in 22⅓ innings. And Jake Arrieta, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, did not appear in the series.

After Sunday’s game, Mackanin was asked what he learned about his club on the trip.

“I didn’t learn anything about my team,” he said. “I learned first-hand that the Cubs have a lot going for them. They’re a good team, probably the best team in baseball right now and they beat us fair and square.”

They do have the best record in the majors at 34-14.

It was not surprising to hear that Mackanin didn’t learn anything about his club during the trip. He knows the Phillies are rebuilding and have glaring holes. He knows the pitching has kept them in games and allowed them to win a bunch by one run. He also knows it’s difficult to sustain that with a team that averages just 3.22 runs per game, second-lowest in the majors. Sunday marked the 19th time the Phillies have scored two or fewer runs.

Looking for more offense, Mackanin sent Ryan Howard to the bench Sunday against a right-handed pitcher and used Tommy Joseph. Joseph hit a homer in the ninth inning. After the game, Mackanin said he would continue to get Joseph playing time against right-handers.

Power-armed right-hander Vince Velasquez had a difficult trip. Against two of the toughest lineups in baseball, he pitched 8⅔ innings over two starts. He gave up 18 hits, five of which were homers, and 10 earned runs. The Cubs got him for nine hits and seven runs in 4⅔ innings. He gave up two homers, a solo shot in the second and a three-run blow in the third.

The three-run homer, by Ben Zobrist, gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead and ignited the daily Happy Hour in the stands.

Two batters before Zobrist homered, Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis failed to make a play on a hard-hit one-hopper by Kris Bryant. Galvis backed up and gloved the hot smash, but threw quickly, off-balance and wildly to first. It was ruled a hit. Had Galvis made the play, it would have ended the inning. Instead, Velasquez issued a two-out walk to extend the inning further and Zobrist hit the two-out homer.

“I don’t know why Freddy got rid of the ball so quick,” Mackanin said. “I thought he could have planted and thrown it over there. But I’m not going to be critical of Freddy Galvis. He’s been unbelievable, just outstanding.”

Zobrist’s homer was one of six the Cubs hit in the three games. Two of them were three-run shots. The Phillies had just two homers in the series. Both came Sunday after the club was down 7-0.

“We didn’t string hits together,” Mackanin said.