Ben Lively solid again, but Phillies' bats can't solve knuckleball in loss

Ben Lively solid again, but Phillies' bats can't solve knuckleball in loss

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ATLANTA — Looking to add innings to their rotation as they go through their own rebuild, the Atlanta Braves signed two fortysomething pitchers during the offseason.

The Phillies, also rebuilding, beat up one of them — Bartolo Colon — on Monday night, but could not follow suit against R.A. Dickey on Thursday night.

The 42-year-old knuckleballer pitched his best game of the season in leading his team to a 3-1 win over the Phillies (see Instant Replay).

And so a four-game series that started with so much promise for the Phillies — wins of 11-4 and 3-1 in the first two games — ended with back-to-back losses and a split.

Given the way things have gone for them this season, the Phils will take that as they head to St. Louis with baseball's worst record, 21-37.

The Phils will also take this:

Desperate for some quality starting pitching, they've gotten two nice outings from rookie Ben Lively in his first two big-league starts.

Lively followed up his seven-inning, one-run performance against San Francisco in his debut with seven more innings Thursday night.

This time, however, he took the loss, paying the price for a leadoff walk and two doubles in the first inning. Lively gave up two runs in that inning and three in all. The Phils did not have enough steam in their bats to overcome that. Dickey allowed just three hits and a run over seven walk-free innings. He struck out eight.

"It's always tough because it's different," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said of facing Dickey. "You have a submariner-baller and half of it is deception. A knuckleballer, you never see it. It's tough, especially if he's got it working. (Braves catcher Tyler) Flowers missed at least half a dozen pitches, so you know it was dancing. You have to give him credit for having a good knuckleball tonight. We just couldn't get anything going."

The Phillies, who were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position, got their only run in the seventh inning when Maikel Franco singled home Odubel Herrera with two outs.
 
The Phillies had just four hits. Herrera had the only extra-base hit — his nightly double.

Over the last six games, Herrera has 10 doubles. He also has two homers over that span, giving him 12 straight extra-base hits. Herrera had 21 doubles all of last season. This season, he leads the National League with 22. His 12 extra-base hits in June are the most in the majors.

Looks like he's out of that May slump. He hit just .183 in that month.

"Odubel," Mackanin said. "What a series he had. I think he had eight or nine extra-base hits. He has 12 straight extra-base hits, which is outstanding. That's just what the doctor ordered for him to get him jump-started."

Herrera is still human, however.

He badly misplayed a ball in center field and that cost the Phillies a run in a close game.

He also lined out softly to third with runners on the corners to end the top of the eighth inning. A hit there would have made things interesting.

Only 13 times this season have the Phillies gotten more than six innings from a starting pitcher. Lively has done it in both of his starts. Aaron Nola became the first Phillies' starter to go more than seven innings this season when he delivered eight strong on Tuesday night.

"It's good now if we can get six, seven, eight innings here and there," Mackanin said. "That makes our bullpen better. We've got (reliever Joaquin) Benoit coming back probably on Sunday to shore that up. Little by little we have to keep inching forward."

Lively blamed his first-inning problems — a walk and two doubles — on being "a little too pumped up."

Mackanin didn't think the right-hander had good pop on his fastball in the first inning.

"That was probably just me trying to feel out my pitches when the game started," Lively said. "Once they started clicking, I started rolling."

Lively pitches to contact. He allowed 12 baserunners in seven innings, but managed to limit damage.

"If I stay on that track and keep being that bulldog, hopefully I'll keep having games like this," he said.

The Phillies will take that anytime. And if they score some runs, they'll get some Ws on the nights when Lively pitches like that.

"He battles you," Mackanin said. "That's the thing I'm impressed with. That's two in a row now, seven innings. That's what we needed."

The worst might be over as Phillies pound Braves for 3rd straight win

The worst might be over as Phillies pound Braves for 3rd straight win

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ATLANTA — What was that unusual sound in the Phillies' clubhouse late Monday night?

Ah. Laughter.

Haven't heard it in a while. No reason to laugh when you go 6-22 in May.

But so far in June, the Phillies are a different team. They won their third straight game Monday night, hammering the Atlanta Braves, 11-4, on the strength of three home runs, another big game from resurgent Odubel Herrera and Nick Pivetta's first major-league pitching victory (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies have won three games in a row for the first time since April 20-27 when they won six straight. After that, they went on to lose 26 of their next 32 games before this current win streak.

So, is the worst over?

"Yes," Tommy Joseph said.

"It feels great. Any time you get the chance to win three games in a row is good. Everyone has been playing their part, doing well and we're looking forward to continuing to build on it."

Joseph, Herrera and Aaron Altherr, the Phillies' Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters, all had three hits and a homer.

Herrera had two doubles to go with his homer. He has two doubles and a homer in two straight games and eight extra-base hits the last three days — all wins. He became the first Phillies player in the modern era (since 1900) with multiple doubles in three straight games, per Elias Sports Bureau. In the month of May, he had eight total extra-base hits and hit just .183.

"It's been pretty awesome to watch," Joseph said of Herrera's hot spell. "Any time he swings the stick, it's a barrel. Good for him. Get him going, a guy at the top of the order that can do so much offensively is a good weapon to have. It's good when he gets going like this."

The Phils averaged just 3.54 runs per game in May — 28th in the majors — and were shut out in the first game of June. In the last three games, however, they have scored a total of 25 runs.

They had 13 hits, seven for extra bases, in this game, their first in SunTrust Park, the Braves' new home park. Seven of their runs came against Braves starter Bartolo Colon. The 44-year-old righty is 2-7 with a 7.78 ERA and could be pitching his way out of Atlanta's rotation.

"I really like the ballpark at first sight, beautiful ballpark, and I think our hitters like the ballpark, too," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Especially Odubel, Altherr and Joseph. We swung the bats well. We've been swinging them well for three days and that's great to see.

"Hitting is contagious. When guys start hitting as a group, it continues. That's what I'm hoping for."

Missing from the fun was Maikel Franco, the only Phillies' starting position player without a hit. He went 0 for 5 and is hitting .218.

"We need to get Franco going," Mackanin said. "If we get Franco going in the near future, we're going to be a much better team.

"Odubel looks like the guy we know he can be and it's great to see. I'm anxious for Franco to get back to where he's supposed to be. He'll get there. He's going to hit 25 home runs and drive in 90 runs and get back where he's supposed to be."

Joseph staked the Phillies to a 3-0 lead with a two-run homer in the first inning against Colon.

That was a nice welcome-back present for Pivetta, who made his last two starts in Triple A after four shaky ones his first time around in the majors.

"The guys played phenomenal behind me," Pivetta said. "They got a quick lead for me out there. It kind of felt like I could relax and really focus on the game."

The 24-year-old right-hander went just five innings and allowed nine baserunners, but he limited the Braves to three runs for his first big-league win.

Jeanmar Gomez, Edubray Ramos and Luis Garcia combined on four innings of one-run ball to close it out.

Pivetta got all the customary souvenirs after the win — a game ball, etc. He also got a ride in a laundry cart and a good dousing of shaving cream, powder and other toiletries as his happy teammates celebrated his win.

"Phenomenal," Pivetta said. "Something like that, it's what you dream of. Just getting that win, having those guys treat you that way. It's fun. Just winning a baseball game. It's always the fun stuff that goes along with it."

"We had a good time with that," Joseph said of the little postgame tribute to Pivetta.

Can the good times keep rolling for a fourth straight game?

We'll see Tuesday night.

The Phillies still have the worst record in the majors and will for a while. But they're playing better. The worst, indeed, might be over.

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Herrera, Franco heating up just in time to face their nemesis

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Herrera, Franco heating up just in time to face their nemesis

Phillies (19-35) at Braves (24-30)
7:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies carry their first winning streak since April 26-27 into a nine-game road trip starting Monday night in Atlanta.

The Phils have played just one series so far with the Braves (April 21-23) and swept them.

The teams have gone in opposite directions since, with the Phillies falling to the bottom of the majors and the Braves going 13-10 since their low-point.

Let's take a look at the opener of the four-game series:

1. Phils' bats heating up
In the wins over the Giants on Saturday and Sunday, the Phillies combined for 14 runs on 21 hits and 12 extra-base hits.

Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco are finally trending up (see story). Herrera this weekend went 5 for 8 with four doubles, a homer and six RBIs. Franco, who had the game-winning homer Sunday, is 6 for 16 with a double and a homer over his last four games.

For weeks, we've heard that the Phillies "are a better team than they've shown." But in truth, there hasn't been a ton to back that up. 

Perhaps now they're finally in the opening stages of breaking out of a teamwide offensive funk. They'll certainly see some hittable pitchers this week in Atlanta: Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia, Mike Foltynewicz and R.A. Dickey.

2. Pivetta returns
Nick Pivetta is back up to make a start in place of the injured Vince Velasquez. 

Pivetta went 0-2 with a 5.12 ERA in four starts from April 30 to May 18 before being optioned back to Triple A. Once back with the IronPigs, Pivetta made two strong starts, allowing three runs in 13 innings with 13 strikeouts and no walks.

The Phillies are hoping Pivetta's control can translate this time. He allowed 18 hits and four home runs in his first two major-league starts, then walked eight batters over his next two. He's shown mid-90s, swing-and-miss stuff, but he needs to get ahead in more counts and do a better job of hitting the corners.

In his four starts up here last month, Pivetta threw first-pitch strikes to just 41.1 percent of hitters. The MLB average is 60.1 percent.

3. Galvis' power
Freddy Galvis' on-base percentage is way too low, we all know that. He's hitting .236 with a .287 OBP this season after placing last in the majors in 2016 with a .274 OBP.

But he has a penchant for big hits and timely home runs. On Sunday, he had the first multi-homer game of his career and went deep from both sides of the plate for the first time in his life.

He became the first Phillie since Jimmy Rollins in July 2011 to homer from both sides in a game.

Galvis has six homers and 28 RBIs this season after posting 20 and 67 last season. He's on pace for 18 homers and 84 RBIs, numbers you'll take from a shortstop all day long. 

Even with the low OBP, Galvis is a valuable player if he's driving in runs at that clip because he's also a defensive whiz. He was a Gold Glove finalist last year and has stood out again in 2017. In the half-inning before his second homer Sunday, Galvis fell down and snagged a Hunter Pence rocket with his backhand to start a double play. It was just as impressive as either home run.

Whatever you think of RBIs, Galvis has more of them than star shortstops Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts. 

4. Colon slowing down
For years, we've wondered when Bartolo Colon's effectiveness would run out. How long could he consistently get outs throwing a 90 mph fastball/sinker combo 85 percent of the time?

It appears the magic is leaving him at age 44. Colon is 2-6 with a 6.99 ERA this season. His .325 opponents' batting average is the highest in the majors.

This is Colon's first season in Atlanta after three in New York. With the Mets, he posted a 3.90 ERA in 98 games and his opponents hit more than 50 points lower at .274.

You know things are going bad for Colon when even the Phillies hit him. From 2014-16, he went 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA against the Phils. When he faced them April 21 at Citizens Bank Park, he allowed four runs on 11 hits over seven innings in a loss.

Colon has been Franco's nemesis, holding him to 1 for 19. Herrera has been almost as bad, going 6 for 31 with 10 strikeouts. Howie Kendrick, who did not face Colon in late April, is 2 for 25. 

The only Phillies you could say have had some degree of success vs. the portly Dominican are Cesar Hernandez (9 for 26, two doubles), Cameron Rupp (7 for 22, double) and Aaron Altherr (4 for 16, two doubles).

Current Phillies have 209 at-bats against Colon and a grand total of one home run, which belongs to Galvis.

5. This and that
• Most of the Phillies' offseason additions — Clay Buchholz, Michael Saunders, Joaquin Benoit — have not worked out, but the Pat Neshek trade has. Neshek has allowed two earned runs and 17 baserunners in 21⅓ innings for a 0.84 ERA and 0.80 WHIP. He's been by far the Phillies' best reliever.

• The Braves have held their own since Freddie Freeman broke his wrist, going 8-9. Freeman will likely return just after the All-Star break.

• A major reason the Braves' offense has stayed afloat is Matt Kemp. Finally healthy and comfortable in his surroundings, Kemp is hitting .335 with a .949 OPS, 16 doubles, 10 homers and 30 RBIs this season. 

The Braves acquired him last summer in a salary dump from the Padres and are probably wondering why San Diego gave him away. In exactly 100 games with the Braves, Kemp has hit .306/.351/.547 with 31 doubles, 22 homers and 69 RBIs.

• Watch out this week for former Phillies Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte. He had the game of his life Sunday, going 5 for 5 with a homer and five RBIs. It was his second 5-for-5 game in the last two weeks. Inciarte, who leads off for the Braves, has hit .380 with a .420 on-base percentage over his last 100 plate appearances.