Start 3: Sink or Swim Time For Jonathan Pettibone

Start 3: Sink or Swim Time For Jonathan Pettibone

By Matt Hammond

Two starts in, all was well for Tyler Cloyd. He’d punched back-to-back quality starts in his debut appearances with the Phillies in 2012, for a more-than-reputable 1-1 mark and 2.77 ERA. He’d struck out 14 and walked only 2. By all appearances, Cloyd was, at the very least, serviceable.

Then came start No. 3, what 2013 rookie Jonathan Pettibone will face tonight.

Cloyd was unloaded on by the 98-loss Colorado Rockies for four runs in four innings, taking all his damage in the third. He surrendered four straight hits with two outs. He lasted only 76 pitches.

For the rest of the way, Cloyd’s first-two-start luster was gone. He lasted only three innings his next time out, against the 107-loss Houston Astros, serving as many runs as he tossed frames in that one, too. After seeming bounce-back start against the Mets, Cloyd again buckled, for six runs in five innings to the Washington Nationals. Just like that, Cloyd’s ERA flirted with 5.00.

The same befell then-rookie starter Antonio Bastardo in 2009. Two starts in, he had a 2.45 ERA and struck out nine to two walks. His next time out, the Boston Red Sox smashed him for five runs (four earned) in one inning. After essentially the same unfolded in Tampa two starts later – Bastardo was mauled for six runs in 3 2/3 innings – he was optioned to Triple-A to begin polishing his relief game.

The sample is hardly enough for conclusions. But the fact is, of the four starters to debut for the Phillies since 2007 before Pettibone, two stumbled in their third start after being viable through their first two. The others, Vance Worley and J.A. Happ, were already relegated to the ‘pen by then.

Did they hit a wall? Get figured out? Tough to say.

But Pettibone has hardly fared like they did. His 4.35 ERA ranks 11th of 17 rookie starters this year. His opp BA (.317) is second-worst. Though his BABIP, .379, is also highest, it’s partly because he can’t miss a bat; opponents have the best contact rate on Pettibone (88.9%) than they do any other rookie starter. He’s gotten all but a hardly sustainable 4.5% of his strikes on swings, the lowest among rooks. His first-pitch strike percentage? Worst of the lot. He’s also served the third-most HR/9.

Pettibone’s yet to last more than 5 1/3, despite getting 13 more pitches of leash in start No. 2. The Phillies have won both his starts. Pettibone has also averaged 6.35 runs of support in them. 

Pettibone does get Miami tonight, which has plated three or more runs in only 12 of 29 games so far. But his next scheduled starts are vs. the World Champion Giants and 20 runs in two games Indians.

This is less about circumstantial anecdotes than the fact that, while Pettibone’s been OK, he’s yet to be great. And even early “goodness” can fade fast. So if Pettibone begins to slack tonight, or in 5 or 10 days, and if the alternatives’ arms have been stretched, the organization might be best served turning to Adam Morgan or Ethan Martin – or one and then the other – until John Lannan’s return.

Because as well and nice as it’s been, Pettibone in the rotation could get ugly fast.

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

After an 0-for-5 day at the plate, Odubel Herrera isn't heading to the bench a day later.

He's leading off. 

Pete Mackanin chose to move the slumping centerfielder atop the lineup card for Friday's series opener against the Reds despite Herrera's striking out in all five plate appearances Thursday.

"I think he's a .290-plus hitter as a leadoff man and I'm not going to sit him," Mackanin said pregame. "He needs to battle his way out. You figure you're the leadoff hitter once a game. After that, it's wide open."

While he hasn't batted leadoff this season, Herrera spent the majority of his time in that spot last season. In 76 games there, he batted .285 with a .359 OBP and .417 slugging percentage. 

The leadoff hitter this season has been Cesar Hernandez, who has a day off with a groin pull he's dealt with the last 10 days. Herrera primarily has been the No. 3 hitter this season and his average is down to .226 with 49 strikeouts to just 11 walks. 

Mackanin hopes the leadoff role can help change Herrera's approach at the plate.

"He was drawing a lot of walks at leadoff, so whether he has that mindset or not, I'm not sure," the manager said. "I just want to get him as many at-bats as possible. We need to get him going. We need him and [Maikel] Franco to get going."

May specifically has been tough on Herrera. He has four hits in his last 36 at-bats and has seven strikeouts in his last two games. He has just seven hits in 22 games this month. 

"I think he's at the point where he's grinding and sometimes when you grind, sometimes there's that feeling where you get lost," Mackanin said. "I've been in situations as a hitter where I've gone up to the plate saying, 'I don't care where it is. I'm going up there and just hacking.' Because you start thinking and that's not working.

"And you look for a pitch and then all of a sudden you say I'm going to take a pitch to get a look at and it's strike one. Then he throws you a nasty slider and that's strike two and your plan is out the window. So I've gone up to the plate myself saying, 'I'm just looking down the middle and swinging. I'm not thinking.'"

When asked, Mackanin said the team had not discussed demoting Herrera or Franco to the minors to take pressure off the duo.

While Herrera tries to hit his way back into a groove, Howie Kendrick is in the midst of working his way back to the majors. He was hit by pitch twice in a rehab appearance Thursday but is back in the lineup Friday in left field. 

Mackanin said Kendrick needed four days minimum in his rehab assignment and will therefore play Friday and Saturday before the team sees how he feels.

The manager also said the team would give more playing time to backup catcher Andrew Knapp. He started consecutive games for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"I'm going to try and see him as much as possible and keep him as sharp as possible instead of once a week," Mackanin said. "That's tough to hit, once a week. It's tough to hit twice a week if you don't hit back-to-back. There's no ulterior motive."

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

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Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is in Australia this week, where he has accused longtime friend and former Australian men's national team assistant coach Shane Heal of defrauding him of $750,000, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Brown invested $250,000 into each of three companies for which Heal was the sole director. Brown wasn't given a legal title regarding the companies and didn't know the specifics of how the money would be used.

"I assumed that the money was going to be used for what Shane told me it was going to be used for," Brown said. "Because it was a friend that I had for 25 years."

Heal was charged last year by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission following an investigation relating to alleged misconduct in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the AAP.

The sides return to court in Brisbane on July 20.

Heal played in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996-97 and was with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.