Gonzo: Wall-of-Famer Kruk understands Philly

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Gonzo: Wall-of-Famer Kruk understands Philly

The memories, by turns amusing and touching, came one after the other in quick succession. There was John Kruk, lashing a hit at the Vet. There was John Kruk, smiling and smirking and mugging for the cameras. There was John Kruk, rounding third base and lumbering slowly toward the plate in a too-snug uniform -- tufts of bourbon-colored mullet hair trailing behind and flapping out from under the back of his helmet.

Kruk, flanked by a handful of other Phillies greats, stood on the field on Friday night and watched the video montage with 45,762 of his closest friends. This is your life, John Kruk -- played large on the giant HD screen that looms above Harry the Ks in left field.

When it was over -- his eyes tearing a touch at the corners -- Kruk addressed the crowd as the 33rd member of the Phillies Wall of Fame. It wasnt easy, and he got choked up at times.

This is the greatest place Ive ever been, Kruk said. You got the sense, as you generally do with him, that it wasnt a put-on, that he wanted to share yet another honest moment with the fans that double as family.

Everything in my life, except for being born in West Virginia, happened right here. I met my wife here, had my children here, was diagnosed and cured of cancer right here.

The crowd cheered and clapped -- for those sentiments and lots of others. Kruk thanked the organization for taking a chance on a guy that was hitting .180, and I stunk." He targeted every athlete who ever complained about playing in Philly, calling them out for not having the guts to succeed here. And, naturally, he reminisced about an era that remains special for him and countless others.

We killed a lot of brain cells, Kruk said about his Macho Row teammates, but you all were right there with us. You all killed a bunch, too.

The assembly roared and nodded its approval, and a bond that has lasted decades was strengthened once more. It was then, though not for the first time, that so many of us were reminded why the love affair between Kruk and this town has endured: Kruk -- more than any other athlete of my lifetime, with the notable exception of Brian Dawkins -- understands Philly.

He gets us.

A few days ago, in advance of the ceremony, a former New York Times writer who now works for an online sports outlet tweeted a rather ridiculous question: Was John Kruk a good baseball player or just a fat one?

Kruk -- who hit .300 for his career and made three All-Star games -- was both of those things during his playing days, but that was never the point. Not around here, anyway. The reach of that 93 club extended beyond statistics, beyond memorable wins and even heartbreaking, life-changing losses. It defined an era.

Kruk, perhaps more than Mitch Williams or Darren Daulton or Lenny Dykstra or anyone else, best represented what that club and that time was about. On a team many Philadelphians deeply identified with, Kruk was arguably the most significant symbol -- a sort of flesh and blood reflection of our long-held collective local image: The everyman. The underdog. More guts than flash, with a look far more South Philly than South Beach. He had abilities, no doubt, but Kruks true talents were grit and charm and candor (served in a grease-covered Pats steak wrapper). The union between Kruk and Philly was right -- right from the beginning.

When I played in San Diego, it wasnt a good fit, Kruk said. I loved the city. Its a beautiful city. An incredible city. But I wasnt going to be quiet. I wasnt going to be a choirboy, so to speak. I didnt have that in me. And when I came here, it just fit. I could be who I wanted to beI remember when I got traded from San Diego. Larry Bowa told me Youre gonna love it here, and theyre gonna love you here.

And so it went. And so it continues to go.

When I walked into the park on Friday, I saw several fans wearing Kruk jerseys -- some white with red pinstripes, others of the throwback gray-and-maroon variety. I stopped one guy -- middle-aged, plump around the middle, with a hairline making the slow, painful march toward the crown of his head -- and asked why he chose to honor that particular player by draping his name across the shoulders. The man looked at me for a second, as though the answer was obvious or ought to be.

Hes John Kruk, he said. Hes one of us.

That was all he said. That was all he needed to say.

E-mail John Gonzalez at jgonzalez@comcastsportsnet.com

Pete Mackanin sends Cesar Hernandez a message

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The Associated Press

Pete Mackanin sends Cesar Hernandez a message

Pete Mackanin dropped second baseman Cesar Hernandez to eighth in the batting order for Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Nationals.

“If you want to call it a message you can call it a message,” Mackanin said.

Hernandez entered the game hitting .255 with a .616 OPS. Last year, he hit .272 with and .687 OPS.

“I expect more out of him,” Mackanin said. “I think he's a better hitter than he's shown. I think he's a .280 hitter and I think he's at .250. I want to see improvement. We need him to get back up to .280, where I think he belongs. He’s got to make adjustments. We need offense.”

Mackanin pointed to Hernandez’ double-play partner, shortstop Freddy Galvis, as an example of a player who has made improvements.

Galvis entered Tuesday night hitting .257 with a .696 OPS. But in the month of May, he was hitting .277 with a .708 OPS.

“Freddy is starting to come on,” Mackanin said. “He’s starting to make adjustments.”

Galvis has also played excellent defense.

The Phillies are a rebuilding club with a number of potential big-league contributors rounding out their development in the minors. The team’s top prospect is a shortstop – J.P. Crawford – and he’s in Triple A now. It’s not out of the question that he will be the team’s opening day shortstop next season.

Crawford’s eventual ascension impacts both Galvis and Hernandez. Galvis can also play second base. Whether Hernandez or Galvis becomes the second baseman when Crawford arrives could be determined by who hits. This is the time to make impressions.

“That's basically what it boils down to,” Mackanin said. “I've even talked to them about that — 'It's an important year for both of you because there are people who want to be in the big leagues that are in the minor leagues and want to take your job.' You have to approach it that way. You can't let down. You have to stay focused and work hard.”

While all signs point to Crawford taking over at shortstop in the future, Mackanin said Galvis’ defense should not be taken for granted.

“As well as Freddy is playing shortstop, you'd hate to move a guy like that out of that position,” Mackanin said. “It's a defensive position and he's been so good at it.”

Galvis entered Tuesday night with just two errors in 50 games. His .990 fielding percentage trailed only San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford and Detroit’s Jose Iglesias, both .995.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

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Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals' lineup Tuesday night after being hit in the knee by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch on Memorial Day.

Big break for the Phils considering Harper has hit .346 against them with three doubles, 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 walks in his last 104 plate appearances against them.

It's an equally big break for Aaron Nola, against whom Harper is 6 for 10 with two homers (see game notes).

For the Phillies, Ryan Howard gets the start at first base against another right-hander, Washington's Joe Ross. Phillies fans are clamoring for more playing time for Tommy Joseph, but starting Howard against Ross does make some sense given how much better lefties have been against him (.295 BA) than righties (.209). Ross throws a ton of sinkers and sliders, which make it tough on same-handed hitters.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Cameron Rupp, C
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. David Lough, RF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

And for the Nationals:

1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Clint Robinson, LF
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Danny Espinosa, SS
9. Joe Ross, P

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Calling on Aaron Nola to stop 4-game skid

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Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Calling on Aaron Nola to stop 4-game skid

Phillies (26-25) vs. Nationals (31-21)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies are in a rut, an expected rut given their recent schedule.

On Tuesday, they'll try to get back on track behind the young right-hander who's emerging as their stopper.

Let's take a look at the second of their 10-game homestand:

1. Not measuring up
The Phillies have lost six of their last seven games and are riding their first four-game losing streak since they started the year 0-4. Prior to last week, they'd done a decent job this season of avoiding lengthy skids, but this is definitely the toughest stretch they've faced in 2016.

Over these seven games, the Phils have been outscored 34-21 by the Tigers, Cubs and Nationals, three veteran teams filled with power. Two of the games have been decided by one run and the Phillies lost both after holding late leads. 

At 14-5, the Phils still have far and away the majors' best record in one-run games, but this is what regression looks like. Hector Neris wasn't going to go through a full season without a hiccup. And the best example of how unsustainably productive he's been was that even after allowing three runs in just two-thirds of an inning, Neris' ERA is still 2.20. It's difficult for a reliever to get hit around and still have that low an ERA, especially this early in the season.

If the Phillies lose again tonight, they'll be right at .500 for the first time since they were 10-10. They've spent the last 33 days of the season with a winning record.

2. Nola gets the nod
Jeremy Hellickson turned in his second straight excellent outing against the Nationals on Memorial Day and Aaron Nola looks to do the same.

Nola, like Hellickson, struggled the first time he faced Washington this season, allowing seven earned runs in five innings.

Nola, like Hellickson, rebounded the next time he faced the Nats — both allowed two hits over seven shutout innings in their second start against Washington.

Now Nola looks to build upon that success the way Hellickson did Monday night, when he lowered his own ERA to 3.68 by allowing a run on three hits over seven innings.

Nola is 4-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 10 starts this season. He's struck out 70, walked 12 and allowed five home runs in 66 innings. His opponents have hit .200.

Nola has missed more bats and struck out more batters at the major-league level than anyone expected. His control has been as advertised — he's walked just 31 batters in 143⅔ career innings. This season, he's cut his home run rate in half. He allowed 11 in 77⅔ innings as a rookie.

Nola continues to lead the National League with 242 called strikes, 17 more than Tanner Roark, who is second. That number speaks to the effectiveness of Nola's knee-buckling curveball, which has generated 65 swings-and-misses, second-most in the majors to Jose Fernandez's 77. (Jerad Eickhoff is third in the NL with 33.)

Current Nationals are 19 for 65 (.292) against Nola with two doubles, a triple, two homers and 18 strikeouts. Bryce Harper, who left Monday's game in the seventh inning after being hit by a pitch on the knee, is 6 for 10 with two of those home runs. Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon have also taken Nola deep.

3. Harper out?
Harper left the game in the seventh with what was diagnosed a right knee contusion. It would obviously be a huge relief for the Phillies if he's out of the lineup Tuesday, especially considering how he's hit lately at Citizens Bank Park.

Harper brought into Monday's game a streak of six straight games with a home run at Citizens Bank Park, tying the longest home run streak in MLB history for any player at a visiting stadium. 

Harper, who hit .330 last season, won an MVP and led the NL in practically every meaningful offensive category, has been in a lengthy slump. Over his last 32 games, he's hit .183 with just five extra-base hits in 133 plate appearances. Teams have stopped pitching to him. Harper has 35 walks over that span, nine intentional.

But Harper is obviously a threat any time he comes to the plate, and he's hit pretty much any pitcher the Phillies have thrown at him the last two years. In 104 plate appearances against them since the start of 2015, Harper has hit .346 with three doubles, 11 homers, 23 RBIs, 21 walks and 23 strikeouts.

4. Another crack at Ross
Nationals right-hander Joe Ross (4-4, 2.52) makes his 10th start of the season tonight against the Phils. He shut them down on April 15 in his second start, pitching 7⅔ shutout innings in his best outing of the year.

Ross has allowed one run or fewer in five of nine starts and two earned runs or fewer in seven of nine. He's given up more than three earned runs just once all season, on May 10 against the Tigers.

The younger brother of Padres opening-day starter Tyson Ross, Joe is mostly a three-pitch pitcher who throws a lot of sinkers and sliders. When he faced the Phillies earlier this season he threw 55 sinkers, 38 sliders and 14 changeups. 

Like his brother, Joe Ross loves the slider with two strikes, throwing it 73 percent of the time this season with two strikes on a right-handed hitter. His opponents this year are 16 for 92 (.174) against the slider with four home runs and 37 strikeouts.

Lefties (.295 BA, .757 OPS) have hit him much better than righties (.209, .598). Might that mean another start for Ryan Howard?

5. This and that
• Carlos Ruiz is 0 for 21 over his last six starts and is down to .222 on the season.

• Daniel Murphy had three more hits and drove in three runs against the Phillies last night. He's a .313/.363/.487 career hitter against them in 457 plate appearances. Playing in the NL East the last eight seasons, Murphy has hit lower than .293 just once vs. the Phils.

• Freddy Galvis, who homered off Roark on Monday, has hit well at home this season with a .284 batting average and .779 OPS in 85 plate appearances. Galvis is 12 for 33 (.364) over his last eight games overall with four doubles, a triple and a homer.

• Jonathan Papelbon has faced the Phillies six times since they traded him to the Nationals last summer. In those six games, he's allowed nine runs (six earned) and put 13 men on base. The Phils have seven hits (five doubles) against him in 2⅔ innings this season.