Commentary: Jack McInerney is gone but fellow Union original Amobi Okugo shouldn't have to follow

Commentary: Jack McInerney is gone but fellow Union original Amobi Okugo shouldn't have to follow

You might have heard that the Union traded Jack McInerney last week and you might have read Steve Moore’s analysis of the surprising deal on this site.

While I’m not here to argue with Steve’s point that the trade shouldn’t cause Union fans to panic (SERIOUSLY, DON'T PANIC!!!), and while I agree there are a couple of valid reasons why the deal was a made, I would like to take a different position here.

That position is that, in the wake of this trade, the Union should do everything they can to lock up Amobi Okugo – who, like McInerney, was an original member of the franchise’s first draft class – to a long-term deal.

But let’s backtrack for a minute first.

McInerney, for all of his faults and streaky play, was a young forward that had been with the Union since the first day of the franchise’s first season. He scored his first professional goal against the mighty Galaxy in Los Angeles when he was 17. He started in the playoffs the following season. He earned a permanent place in the starting lineup in 2012. And he became the “next big thing” in American soccer in 2013 before he even turned 21, riding a goal-scoring surge to the MLS All-Star Game and his first U.S. national team call-up.

Basically, as the Philadelphia Union grew up, so did McInerney. And while nostalgia and loyalty is not a reason to keep a player, the Union have – fairly or unfairly – developed somewhat of a reputation as a club that jettisons players that are fan favorites who have been here from the beginning. (Part of the reason former manager Peter Nowak was fired was partly due to how he handled the trades that sent away franchise originals Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Califf and Danny Mwanga.)

But McInerney is gone. The Union didn’t think he was a natural fit in their 4-3-3 system, they didn’t like how he stopped scoring following his U.S. national team call-up, they didn’t like his rising pricetag, and they didn’t think they’d be able to re-sign him to a new contract at an appropriate price. (You can read more of John Hackworth’s rationale behind the trade here).

But just a quick look at the latest MLS salary info, which was released yesterday, will tell you that the Union are willing to open up their wallets. Designated Player Maurice Edu, for instance, is making $650,000 this season – more than any other Union player ever. Yes, Edu is a World Cup veteran who has brought some much-needed stability to the Union midfield. But if the Union are willing to pay that much for him, they should be just as willing to give hefty raises to players that are being groomed to perhaps one day follow Edu to the U.S. national team.

Players like Amobi Okugo.

The only holdover who’s played for the franchise continuously since the start of its inaugural season, Okugo is an extremely talented player with a good head on his shoulders and a very likeable personality (if you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be). At 23, he’s already emerged as one of the league’s most promising young center backs, he has extensive experience in the U.S. youth national team system, and he has the unique skill set to star as both a defender (where he’s played with the Union) and as a holding midfielder (where he’s played most of his career). (You can read my brilliantly crafted profile of him from last year here.)

Yes, Okugo has said he hopes to one day play in Europe. Many Americans feel this way because the salaries are higher and the stage is grander. But MLS salaries are on the rise and many of the best U.S. players are opting to cash in and play here (some, like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, are returning from Europe; others, like Omar Gonzalez, are passing up the chance to play in other leagues to stay in MLS). As Okugo has eloquently stated, there’s also the idea that players like him want to eventually go overseas because they grew up watching the Premier League and not MLS, a league that was still in its infancy back then. But that, too, could be changing.

Basically, it all comes down to this: if the Union want Okugo to stay in Philly, they can certainly try to keep him here. They can make him a Designated Player. They can have him replace the aging Brian Carroll as the team’s captain (and, perhaps, holding midfielder). They can scoff at any trade offers from around the league that doesn’t include big-time returns. They can build the team around him. And if he develops into a true MLS star, they can then listen to offers from Europe.

It doesn’t happen often – especially in soccer – but there’s something romantic about a player spending his entire career with one team. It’s even more romantic when a rookie and an expansion team grow up together.

It won’t happen for McInerney in Philly. But it can still happen for Okugo. And it probably should.

Jake Thompson left searching for answers after latest rough start

Jake Thompson left searching for answers after latest rough start

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — On the whole, the Phillies have made steady progress in their rebuild this season.

Cameron Rupp has improved. Maikel Franco has had a nice year. Odubel Herrera, even with his recent inconsistency, has had more ups than downs. Cesar Hernandez has been on a good roll. Freddy Galvis has 36 extra-base hits, and Tommy Joseph has opened eyes with his power. In the bullpen, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos have shown that they just might be future studs.
 
For a good chunk of the season, the young starting pitching has shown promise, as well.
 
But lately, that corner of the team has taken some hits. Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin were both ruled out for the remainder of the season last week with elbow and knee injuries, respectively, and hard-throwing Vince Velasquez has been tagged for 19 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings over his last three starts.
 
Jake Thompson’s first four major-league starts haven’t exactly inspired confidence, either. The 22-year-old right-hander was hit hard in a 9-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). He gave up eight hits, including five for extra bases, and seven runs as his ERA swelled to 9.78. Only Mike Maddux (9.98) in 1986 had a higher ERA for the Phillies in his first four big-league starts.
 
“I’m not used to this,” Thompson said after the defeat. “I feel certain that I’m a lot better than my performance has indicated.”
 
Few pitchers come to the big leagues and dazzle right away. There is a learning curve and occasionally growing pains. But no one expected Thompson to have this much trouble out of the chute, not after what he did in his final 11 starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
Thompson went 8-0 in those 11 starts and recorded a 1.21 ERA while allowing just 10 earned runs in 74 1/3 innings. He gave up just 52 hits and 18 walks over that span while striking out 42.
 
In four starts with the big club, he has given up 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He has walked 13 and struck out 13.
 
He was advertised as a control and command pitcher. He has yet to show that in the majors.
 
“A lot of it has to do with his age and, I think, the fact he’s in the big leagues for the first time trying to make a good impression,” manager Peter Mackanin said. “He probably feels like he needs to make perfect pitches every time. All he’s got to do is keep the ball down. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He relies on command and control and he hasn’t shown that. I attribute a lot of that to his youth and inexperience.”
 
So does Rupp, the catcher.
 
“How many guys do you see come to the big leagues at 22 years old and just flat out dominate every time they go out?” Rupp said. “Not very many. He's young. It was his first time in Triple A this year and he pitched really well and now he's got a chance in the big leagues. I'm sure he feels like there's pressure. When you come up and you pitch so well all year and then you finally get your opportunity, you want to impress. It puts a lot on you. And as a kid, you've got to be able to control it and it's tough. It's hard.

“Nobody wants to see anybody fail. It's hard to go through. It's something that's going to make him better when he does finally figure it out."
 
Two of the walks Thompson gave up Tuesday night became runs. He gave up back-to-back homers to Jose Abreu and Justin Morneau in the fifth inning as the White Sox turned it into a rout.
 
“Just too many pitches up in the strike zone,” Mackanin said. “Everything he threw was thigh high, waist high. He couldn’t get the ball down. It’s as simple as that.”
 
Thompson concurred with his manager.
 
“The issue is pretty evident,” he said. “I'm not throwing strikes and when I am throwing strikes, they're not good strikes. It’s a frustrating thing because it's a relatively easy thing to do. I don't really have the answer right now to fix it.”
 
The game moves fast at the big-league level and confidence can become bruised quickly. Thompson said his confidence was unshaken. Still, Phillies officials have to be careful that this difficult baptism to the majors does not snowball and become something that adversely impacts Thompson's growth.
 
“It’s something that you’re concerned about and I’m concerned about,” Mackanin said.
 
Concerned enough that Thompson might not make his next start?
 
Mackanin said he expected Thompson to stay in the rotation, but added that he would speak with general manager Matt Klentak on the topic.
 
“I don’t want to see him keep getting beat up and keep struggling like this,” Mackanin said. “We’ll talk about it and see what Matt wants to do.”

Best of MLB: Royals shut out Marlins for 9th straight win

Best of MLB: Royals shut out Marlins for 9th straight win

MIAMI -- Yordano Ventura escaped two threats while pitching six innings, and the Kansas City Royals extended their winning streak to nine games by beating the Miami Marlins 1-0 on Tuesday night.

Ventura (9-9), who reached 101 mph on the scoreboard radar gun, allowed six hits and one walk while striking out six. Royals starters have an ERA of 1.69 during the winning streak, Kansas City's longest since June 2014.

Three relievers closed out the win and extended the bullpen's streak of 32 consecutive shutout innings since Aug. 10. Kelvin Herrera pitched a perfect ninth for his eighth save.

The Marlins had won three straight but were shut out despite totaling seven hits. They went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position (see full recap).

Nova, Pirates beat Astros to snap 4-game skid
PITTSBURGH -- Ivan Nova took a shutout into the ninth inning and finished with a six-hitter while Gregory Polanco hit two home runs to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 7-1 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

Nova (10-6) struck out six, walked one and threw 69 of his 98 pitches for strikes while improving to 3-0 in four starts since being acquired from the New York Yankees in an Aug. 1 trade.

It was the fourth complete game of the right-hander's seven-year career with the others coming in 2013.

His bid for his third career shutout ended when Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve led off the ninth with consecutive doubles.

After the Pirates scored four runs in the first inning, Polanco hit solo shots in the third and fifth off Joe Musgrove and Tony Sipp to extend the lead to 6-0 and raise his season total to a team-high 19 homers (see full recap).

Gausman, Jones help Orioles roll over Nationals
BALTIMORE -- Kevin Gausman scattered six hits over six shutout innings, Adam Jones went 4 for 5 and the Baltimore Orioles breezed past the Washington Nationals 8-1 on Tuesday night.

Chris Davis hit his 30th home run for the Orioles, who won two straight over Washington to conclude a 3-5 homestand.

Baltimore is 34-24 against the Nationals in a rivalry that began in 2006. The series shifts 38 miles south to Nationals Park on Wednesday for the first of two games.

Gausman (5-10) walked two, struck out two and permitted only one runner past second base. He's 5-1 at home and 0-9 on the road.

The 25-year-old Gausman outpitched Nationals rookie Reynaldo Lopez, a 22-year-old making his fifth major league start. Lopez (2-2) yielded six runs, four earned, and seven hits in 2 2/3 rocky innings (see full recap).

Instant Replay: White Sox 9, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: White Sox 9, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — Jake Thompson’s difficult big-league baptism continued in the Phillies’ 9-1 interleague loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night.
 
The rookie right-hander was tagged for seven runs in five innings. He allowed eight hits and walked four as his ERA in four starts since coming up from Triple A swelled to 9.78. Only Mike Maddux (9.98) in 1986 had a higher ERA for the Phillies in his first four big-league starts.
 
Offensively, the Phillies did little against White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon. They had just five hits for the game.
 
The Phillies have lost five of their last seven and are 58-68 on the season. They have been outscored 18-1 in their last two games.
 
Starting pitching report
Thompson, 22, has been a much different pitcher since coming to the majors than he was in his last 11 starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He went 8-0 in those 11 starts and recorded a 1.21 ERA while allowing just 10 earned runs in 74 1/3 innings. He gave up just 52 hits and 18 walks over that span while striking out 42.
 
In four starts with the big club, he has given up 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He has walked 13 and struck out 13.
 
Two of the four walks that Thompson gave up in this game became runs.
 
Five of the eight hits he allowed were for extra bases, including a pair of homers.
 
Rodon, 23, was the third pick in the 2014 draft, four ahead of Aaron Nola. The lefty held the Phillies to three hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. He walked one.
 
Bullpen report
David Hernandez was tagged for two runs.
 
At the plate
Freddy Galvis broke up the White Sox’s shutout bid with a solo homer off reliever Chris Beck in the seventh. Galvis has 13 homers.
 
Jose Abreu and Justin Morneau hit back-to-back homers against Thompson in the fifth inning to help the Sox pull away.
 
Abreu has homered in three straight games.
 
Minor matters
Pitcher Alec Asher, who serving an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a PED, has begun a minor-league rehabilitation assignment with the Phillies’ Gulf Coast League team. Asher is expected to be activated by the big club during the second week of September and he could make several starts down the stretch as the club watches the workload of several pitchers.
 
Up next
The two-game series concludes on Wednesday night. Jerad Eickhoff (8-12, 3.91) opposes right-hander James Shields (5-15, 5.98).