Phillies blow another lead in loss to Pirates

726980.jpg

Phillies blow another lead in loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- Framed by the Allegheny River and the Pittsburgh skyline, PNC Park is one of the most beautiful in baseball.

But for the Phillies it has become a house of horrors. They havent won a series in the home of the Pirates since 2008, and they have no one to blame but themselves for their latest series loss.

The Phils wrapped up their opening series of the new season with an ugly 5-4 loss Sunday afternoon (see Instant Replay). It dropped them to 1-2.

Phillies starting pitchers allowed just two runs in 20 innings in the series, but the offense could muster only six runs. That type of weak offense will lose you a lot of ballgames.

Its really not surprising that the Phils have scuffled for runs. Their offense took a step backward last season and the lineup has been weakened by injuries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. With fewer offensive weapons, the Phils must play clean baseball in all other areas. That didnt happen Sunday. The defense was sloppy and the bullpen could not protect a late three-run lead as the Pirates rallied for four two-out runs in the final three innings.

Ultimately, the Phils lost it when Andrew McCutchen lined a full-count pitch from David Herndon off the centerfield wall with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. McCutchens blast scored Josh Harrison from third base.

As the Pirates danced on the field, manager Charlie Manuels decision to pitch to the Pirates best player was questioned from New Jersey to California. Manuel said he thought about walking McCutchen. He also said he thought about walking the bases full. Ultimately, he said he decided against walking McCutchen because the next batter was left-handed-hitting Neil Walker and lefties lit up Herndon to the tune of .354 last season. Manuel was also mindful that Phillies killer Rod Barajas, who won Saturday nights game for the Pirates, was on the bench.

I thought about walking McCutchen and then walking Walker to load the bases and they had Barajas left, Manuel said. I didnt want to load the bases and I didnt want him to pitch against a lefty.

Manuel was working with a weakened bullpen (see story). Chad Qualls, who on paper is the Phils top setup man, was unavailable because of a sore heel.

Hunter Pence (first-inning double, fourth-inning homer) drove in the Phillies first two runs. The Phils parlayed some sloppy Pittsburgh defense into a 4-1 lead when Juan Pierre roped a two-run single to right in the seventh.

Playing sloppy defense themselves, the Phils began to let the lead slip away in the seventh. Ty Wigginton, who moved from third base to first for defensive reasons in the inning, dropped a throw from catcher Brian Schneider on a strikeout. Two batters later, Casey McGehee doubled in a run to make it 4-2. Alex Presley followed with a single to make it 4-3.

Still, the Phils had a one-run lead in the eighth. Alas, Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo could not hold it. Matt Hague tied the game with a two-out RBI single, his first big-league hit.

McGehee preceded McCutchens game-winning hit with a leadoff double in the ninth.

The play that hurt the most might have been Wiggintons drop at first in the seventh. If he hangs onto Schneiders throw which was wide of the bag there would have been two outs and nobody on base and McGehee may not have batted in the inning.

I reached for the ball and it hit the top of my glove as I was trying to hold the bag, Wigginton said.

A team that is hurting for runs cant make errors.

Unfortunately we held a lead and gave it up, Shane Victorino said. Yeah, we have to minimize errors and not give teams chances and outs and unfortunately we did that.

The Phils hit .204 (20 for 98) in the series. The Pirates hit just .196 (19 for 97), but won two games.

I cant say weve played good, Manuel said. The starting pitching was outstanding. But weve got to play better. Were definitely lacking the power we had in the past. We definitely have to play right.

I believe we will hit. Its just a matter of getting a couple guys hot. It comes down to our hitters hitting better. Weve got guys capable of hitting singles and doubles. Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco. Weve got to string them together. A lineup has to complement each other.

The Phils play their home opener Monday. They have a losing record for the first time since April 2009.

Its three games, Victorino said. Theres no reason to sit here and panic.

E-mail Jim Salisbury jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com

Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

may2316-howard2-slide.jpg

Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

DETROIT — Back when they were racking up National League East titles and filling Citizens Bank Park night after night, the Phillies could slug with anyone.
 
Those days are gone.
 
So even on a night when they got some power from two young up-and-comers in their lineup, the Phillies still couldn’t get enough to match up with the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.
 
“We don’t have enough pop to go blow for blow with them,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
The Tigers belted four home runs, three against starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, in beating the Phillies, 5-4, at Comerica Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph both homered for the Phillies, but Ryan Howard, no longer even close to the player he was during those aforementioned title years, slipped deeper into the May quicksand. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May.
 
“Man, it’s been brutal,” Howard said after the game. “I’m not going to lie. I need some breaks, man. It’s been tough. I’ve hit some balls hard, but they’re not finding any real estate out there.
 
“I have to keep grinding and swinging. Luckily, it’s still early to get it turned around.”
 
Yes, it’s early for some guys.
 
But it might not be that early for Howard. He’s 36 and in the final year of his contract. His slump has coincided with Joseph’s ascension from the minors. Joseph played first base Monday night and looked good at the position. In addition to hitting a game-tying homer in the sixth, he had a double. Half of his six hits in his first seven games in the majors have been for extra bases.
 
Joseph will continue to play first base while Howard serves as the designated hitter in the final two games of the interleague series in Detroit. After that, Joseph is expected to start against lefty Jon Lester in Chicago on Friday. If he keeps hitting — and Howard keeps struggling — the situation could be ripe for Mackanin to continue to play Joseph, even against the right-handers Howard usually sees.
 
“I'm going to look at it a week at a time,” Mackanin said. “We'll see. At some point it might come to that, but I can't say it's imminent.”
 
If Howard starts spending more time on the bench, it will be part of a downhill progression that started in the second half of last season when he became a platoon player. Will a progression to the bench ultimately lead to his being released in the coming weeks? Well, if Joseph keeps hitting and continues to earn playing time, management may have to seriously ponder the move.
 
Even with Franco and Joseph hitting home runs, the Phillies didn’t have enough to match the Tigers’ thunder.
 
Miguel Cabrera belted two home runs and in the seventh inning clubbed his 500th career double. He then came around to score the go-ahead run on a single by Victor Martinez.
 
Entering the game, the Tigers were among the top teams in the American League in batting average (.265), runs per game (4.60), homers (56) and OPS (.758).
 
Meanwhile, the Phillies couldn’t get much lower in offense. They ranked near the bottom in the National League in batting average (.233), runs per game (3.23), homers (32) and OPS (.651).
 
“You look up and down their lineup on the scoreboard and it looks like everybody is hitting .300 with eight or 10 home runs,” Mackanin said. “It can be daunting.
 
“The middle of their lineup hurt us with the long ball. We knew they were swinging the bats well lately. They weren’t earlier. Now they’re swinging well and we couldn’t contain them.
 
“We got 12 hits of our own. But they’ve got a lot of power on that team.”
 
The Phillies are at the start of a challenging trip — three in Detroit followed by three against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have the majors’ best record. The Phillies, a surprising four games over .500, will be tested on this trip.
 
They did not pass the first test. Velasquez had trouble commanding his pitches and for the second straight start ran a high pitch count. He took a 3-1 lead to the mound in the fifth, but it evaporated quickly under the weight of homers by J.D. Martinez and Cabrera. Reliever Colton Murray also gave up a homer in the inning. He also allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh as Mackanin held David Hernandez back in case the Phils got a lead.
 
“Velasquez didn’t have any command of his secondary pitches, pretty basic stuff, and he left some fastballs over the plate,” Mackanin said. “You have to throw quality pitches to a lineup like this. If you make mistakes against them, they don’t miss. If you don’t command your secondary pitches against good hitters, they become like sharks and smell blood and hit the fastball.”
 
Velasquez said he should have gotten the loss, not Murray.
 
“You can’t shy away from hitters and I did that,” he said. “You’ve got to pitch inside. I pitched around them.
 
“I’ve got to do something about this. I’ve got to challenge hitters.”

With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle

052316_greene_on_herrara_webrefframe_1.jpg

With game on the line, Pete Mackanin benches his best player for lack of hustle

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — Phillies manager Pete Mackanin made a strong statement Monday night when he benched his best hitter in the seventh inning of a tie game.
 
With Odubel Herrera on the bench for the final innings, the Phillies went on to lose, 5-4, to the Detroit Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Mackanin did not regret his decision to yank Herrera and his team-high .335 batting average from the game.
 
“It’s important to me to set that tone,” Mackanin said. “When you don’t hustle, I’ve got a problem.”
 
Herrera had singled in each of his first three at-bats. He drove in the Phillies’ first run with a hit in the third inning.
 
But when he bounced back to the pitcher and took his time getting to first base in the seventh, Mackanin abruptly pulled him. Even Ryan Howard said something to Herrera in the dugout.
 
“He didn’t run,” Mackanin said. “One of the ingredients to our success to this point is the fact that guys play with energy and they play hard. We’re training them to play the game the right way and not running is not the right way.”
 
Herrera said he did not run because he was “frustrated” and “angry” with the at-bat. He said Tigers reliever Justin Wilson “got in his head” by varying his delivery times. Herrera even mentioned that Wilson quick-pitched him.
 
“The pitcher was playing with me,” he said. “I have to learn from it. I didn’t think [Mackanin] was going to bench me, but I understand why. I can’t argue. I was frustrated. I respect the decision. I know that I did wrong. I have to learn from my mistakes and it won’t happen again.”
 
Mackanin is a huge fan of Herrera. He has predicted the 24-year-old Venezuelan will someday win a batting title.
 
But Mackanin indicated after Monday night’s game that Herrera might be developing some bad habits — at least when it comes to the hustle that Mackanin values. The front office values it, too. Playing with “energy” is something the front office frequently says it wants to see, and the ability to get his players to play with energy is one of Mackanin’s strengths.
 
“I’ve seen it in the past and it’s been trickling in,” Mackanin said of Herrera’s occasional lapses in hustle. “I didn’t like it and I made the decision. He knows he should have run.”
 
Jonathan Papelbon put a chokehold on Bryce Harper’s neck last year in Washington for a similar transgression.
 
In the Phillies’ dugout Monday night, Herrera got a little talking-to from Howard.
 
“That was great to see,” Mackanin said.
 
Said Howard: “Doobie's got a lot of promise. He’s going to be around this game for a long time. He makes things happen. He brings energy to the game.
 
“The pitcher lost the grip and had to double-pump. If you’re running hard, maybe he makes a bad throw and you’re on base.
 
“I just told him, ‘You’ve got to keep going. I know it’s not the at-bat you wanted, but look at me, bro, I’m still out there grinding.’ If he’s running there, the pitcher could throw it away and he could be on second and we could squeeze a run out.”
 
Howard went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May (see story).
 
Mackanin said his message to Herrera was complete. Herrera will be back in the starting lineup on Tuesday night.

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Cubs on Randal Grichuck's walk-off HR

052316_greene_on_herrara_webrefframe_1.jpg

Best of MLB: Cardinals top Cubs on Randal Grichuck's walk-off HR

ST. LOUIS -- Randal Grichuck hit a tiebreaking solo homer in the ninth to lift the St. Louis Cardinals a 4-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Monday night.

Matt Adams tied the score with a two-run homer off in the seventh for St. Louis' major league-leading ninth pinch-hit homer of the season. It also ended a streak of 13 innings of one-run pitching by Chicago starter John Lackey against his former team.

Grichuk drove a 2-2 pitch off of Adam Warren (3-1) for the win.

Trevor Rosenthal (2-1) pitched a scoreless ninth.

The Cubs' Ben Zobrist had three singles and a walk, extending his streak to 29 starts with reaching safely. He is hitting .387 during that span (see full recap).

Mets ride power surge to win over Nationals
WASHINGTON -- David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker homered on the day Mets slugger Lucas Duda went on the disabled list, leading New York past the Washington Nationals 7-1 Monday night.

Pitching on the eve of his 43rd birthday, Bartolo Colon (4-3) allowed one run and five hits in seven efficient innings. Baseball's oldest player struck out two and walked two.

With Duda out at least four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his lower back, Mets manager Terry Collins acknowledged it will take a committee approach to replace his power. Point taken, as Wright hit a three-run shot off Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez (3-2) during a five-run third inning, and Cespedes and Walker went back-to-back in the fifth.

Asdrubal Cabrera also drove in a run with the Mets' fifth consecutive hit in the third, and fill-in first baseman Eric Campbell produced another with a sacrifice fly (see full recap).

Vogelsong carted off in Pirates' victory
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Pirates starter Ryan Vogelsong was carted off the field after getting struck in the head by a pitch in the second inning of a 6-3 win over the Colorado Rockies on Monday.

With the bases loaded and Pittsburgh leading 1-0, Rockies starter Jordan Lyles (1-2) hit Vogelsong in the left cheek with a 92 mph fastball. Vogelson was making his second start of the season, filling in because of a rainout Sunday.

The Pirates later said he was admitted to the hospital for injuries to his left eye. Vogelsong was replaced by Wilfredo Boscan (1-0), who got the win in relief.

The Pirates took an early lead on Lyles and never looked back. Besides hitting Vogelsong, the right-hander walked three, allowed two stolen bases, threw a wild pitch and gave up six runs over 2 1/3 innings (see full recap).