Larry Bowa

Former Phillies setup man Ryan Madson plays key role in Nationals' win

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Former Phillies setup man Ryan Madson plays key role in Nationals' win

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WASHINGTON — It was a sight we'd seen before, Ryan Madson mowing down hitters in the eighth inning with a big fastball and a baffling changeup for one of the best teams in baseball.

Only this wasn't 2008 and Madson wasn't wearing a Phillies uniform.

Nine seasons after he helped the Phillies win the World Series as the bridge to Lidge, Madson, now 37, is back in the National League East pitching for the playoff-bound Washington Nationals. He got three big outs — two via strikeouts — in a one-run game in the eighth inning to help the Nats beat the Phillies, 4-3, on Thursday night (see observations).

The Nationals' magic number for clinching a fourth straight NL East title is down to four.

Madson joined the Nats in a July trade deadline deal with Oakland. Lefty closer Sean Doolittle also came over in that deal. The duo has been sensational. Doolittle racked up his 16th save in as many chances for the Nats on Thursday night. Madson has collected 12 scoreless innings for his new club. He has allowed six hits and a walk while registering 17 strikeouts. And he's still hitting 97 mph on the radar gun, just like he did in 2008 when he was the setup man for Brad Lidge.

"It's a big gift, a huge gift, coming over here," Madson said after the game. "I just feel very fortunate to have been pitching well enough to be invited over here."

Madson is a survivor. He left the Phillies as a free agent when the Phils signed Jonathan Papelbon to be their closer in November 2011. Shortly after that, Madson was beset by elbow problems and did not pitch in the majors for three seasons. He spent the 2014 season at home before signing with Kansas City in 2015 and helping the Royals win the World Series.

He will get a chance to win a third ring next month.

"My career could have been done very easily," he said. "Thankfully, I found some trainers that got me healthy and got me strong."

Madson said this Nationals team, which also features 2008 Phillies Jayson Werth and Joe Blanton, reminds him of that championship Phillies club.

"And the 2015 Royals," he said. "Any good team is going to have that vibe."

Madson was drafted by the Phillies in 1998. Nineteen years later, he finally pitched against them.

"Pretty crazy," he said. "Somebody just texted me and said that was the last team I hadn't pitched against. Now I've pitched against them all. I didn't even know it."

While he was on the mound, Madson felt no special sentiment pitching against his former team. But after the game ...

"I think it's been so long there was nothing really crazy about it, but after the game I did think about Larry Bowa being over there and I want to say hi to him tomorrow and give him a big hug," Madson said. "He had faith in me and brought me up from Triple A when I was a starter and made me a reliever. So him and Matt Stairs, of course. I need to say hi to them."

Bowa, now the Phillies' bench coach, was the team's manager when Madson came up in 2003. Stairs, now the Phils' hitting coach, was a teammate in 2008. He hit a pretty big home run in the NLCS, if you recall.

Madson worked with a one-run lead Thursday night after Phillies starter Aaron Nola and reliever Adam Morgan could not hold a two-run lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. Nola went 5 1/3 innings and gave up seven hits and three runs, one of which was unearned.

"It wasn't the best we've seen Nola," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He pitched well enough to win. We just didn't score enough."

Two weeks after saying he wanted to keep catcher Cameron Rupp with Nola, Mackanin used rookie Jorge Alfaro behind the plate.

"I just changed my mind," Mackanin said. "I want to see more of Alfaro and let these guys pitch to a different catcher."

Alfaro belted a home run in the third inning. Mackanin believes Alfaro has made strides defensively, though he was charged with a passed ball in the Nationals' three-run sixth.

Alfaro is out of minor-league options and could be the Phillies' primary catcher next season. He needs reps with Nola, the team's most dependable pitcher and a building block for the future.

"He's making a great impression," Mackanin said. "As I always say, everybody is auditioning all the time and he's having a very good audition."

As for Ryan Madson, he is long past the audition stage of his career. But nine years after helping the Phillies win the World Series, he's still going strong and has a chance to win another one in Washington.

Phillies head home, where their offense was historically bad in 2016

Phillies head home, where their offense was historically bad in 2016

CINCINNATI -- First-year Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs oozes positivity when he talks about approach and game plan with his hitters.

But on Friday, before the Phillies play their home opener against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park, Stairs will mention a couple of negatives.

Like the team's home batting average of .230 last season.

And the team's home on-base percentage of .291 last season.

Not only were both marks the worst in the majors last year, they were the worst in franchise history since official record keeping began in 1913.

"I'll remind them, absolutely," Stairs said. "I'll pull up the numbers. Numbers don't lie.

"That's the only negative thing I'll bring up, though. This is a new year."

The Phillies scored a majors-low 610 runs last season and finished 29th out of 30 clubs in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301), so it stands to reason they would not have been very good at home.

But there was a serious discrepancy in their home and road splits. On the road, they hit .250, which ranked 21st in the majors, and had a .310 on-base percentage, 23rd in the majors. They scored 52 more runs on the road than they did at home.

So what gives?

Stairs, who spent the last three seasons in the broadcast booth, thinks the reason was actually rather simple.

"Smaller park," he said, referring to the cozy dimensions at Citizens Bank Park. "Guys over-swing trying to hit the ball out. That's what it looked like to me watching from the booth. On the road they used the whole field more."

Bench coach Larry Bowa saw the same thing.

"Small ballpark," he said. "Swings get long and loopy.

"We're basically a line-drive hitting team. We're not going to win, 9-8. We're going to win, 4-3, 3-2. Good pitching, catch the ball, runner on third with less than two outs, get him home. That's how we'll win. If you hit a good line drive, it will go out.

"Also, in fairness, we have a lot of good pitching in our division. It's not like we're facing patsies."

He's right about that.

The Phillies face reigning NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer on Friday. He is 7-1 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 career starts against the Phillies and 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA in five starts at Citizens Bank Park.

Cameron Rupp's home-road splits did not match the team's last season. He hit .266 with a .776 OPS at home as opposed to .239/.725 on the road.

"If you stay with your approach and your plan, you'll have success anywhere," he said. "When you get off it, you give away at-bats. That's what Stairsy has been preaching: have quality at-bats. In a hitters park sometimes you try to do too much. We can't do that. We have to stay with our approach."

That's what Stairs will tell his hitters as they head home to face Scherzer on Friday.

"Stay gap to gap," he said.

Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel reflect on special bond with Dallas Green

Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel reflect on special bond with Dallas Green

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- An impromptu homage to Dallas Green broke out on the field at the Phillies' spring training home Thursday morning.

Larry Bowa, who played for Green on the 1980 World Series championship team, was there.

So was Charlie Manuel, the only other manager other than Green to lead a Phillies team to a World Series title.

They told tales of Green's tough exterior and warm heart.

Bowa even shed a tear.

A couple of hours later, there were a few more tears in the stands as the team honored Green with a moment of silence the day after he died at 82.

Green's old jersey, No. 46, hung in the dugout for the Phillies-Twins game.

"It was tough last night," Bowa said. "I just couldn't believe it. This guy meant the world to us. We don't win a World Series without Dallas. It doesn't matter if we've got 10 Pete Roses, we don't win a World Series without Dallas. 

"He taught me a lot about being mentally tough and giving everything you have, every pitch, nine innings. Never quit. He was a guy that told our team, 'Look in the mirror. You're not as good as you think you are.' He said, 'Anybody can win divisions, go win a World Series. Put a ring on somebody's finger.'"

The Phillies had great talent in the late 1970s but always came one step short of the World Series. Green came in late in the 1979 season and was a stun gun to a complacent team. A year later, they were World Series champions.

"He said, 'I don't care what you did yesterday. What can you do today to help the Phillies win?' He got everybody's attention," Bowa said. "Yeah, we had a lot of give and take, screaming. I think everybody respected him. That's the bottom line. Eventually, when you get done playing, you realize how important he was to the Phillies in 1980."

Bowa was a critic of Green's in the lead up to the World Series. He recalled the give and take with the manager, which wasn't always sugar and spice and everything nice.

After one particularly poor game, Green left his office door open as he spoke with reporters. During the interview session, Green loudly questioned the team's desire and said the group was not as good as it thought it was. The players in the clubhouse heard it all because Green wanted them to -- and, of course, because his voice naturally boomed.

After Green's session with the media that night, a reporter approached Bowa and asked if he'd heard Green's loud commentary.

Of course, Bowa had heard it.

And he was fired up.

"Go ask Dallas how many games he won in the big leagues," Bowa told the writer, poking at Green's modest 20-22 record as a big-league pitcher.

When the writer informed Green of Bowa's barb, Green responded with a loud, "Touche, Bo. Touche."

"He wanted you to hear things," Bowa said.

That was one of his ways of challenging people. And he really liked to challenge players. It was his way of inspiring and separating the weak from the strong.

Manuel compared that to one of his former managers, Billy Martin.

"He was like a Billy Martin kind of guy," Manuel said. "He'll tell you what he expects out of you, but at the same time, he'll tell you that you can't do something. That's a big challenge to you. When you show him that you can do it, that's when he's on your side and he thinks the world of you. That's the time you become his guy."

Manuel became Green's guy after the two had a public spat in 2006. In a radio interview, Green, then a member of the team's front office, had criticized the way Manuel's Phillies were playing. In particular, he said the team lacked fundamentals. Manuel was furious that a member of the front office would criticize him publicly. A month or so later, as the Phillies rallied themselves into wild-card contention, Manuel and Green came face to face on the field before a game at Citizens Bank Park.

Manuel unloaded on Green.

And Green took his medicine.

From that confrontation, respect and understanding grew. Manuel and Green became great friends and frequent dinner partners. A few years later, Green admitted to a reporter that he was wrong for scuffing Manuel and he thanked Manuel for showing him that there are other ways to run a team than just the way he did it.

"I showed him," Manuel said. "When I look back, maybe he was testing me. But I understood him and I think at the end he felt he understood me."

On the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, Manuel and Green, members of an elite, two-man club, sat in Manuel's office and reflected.

"He was very happy," Manuel said. "Him and I had a few drinks of VO. I think I outdrank him, really. But, of course, when he won back in 1980 he would have outdrank me.

"Everything about it was good. He was just as happy as I was and I can't tell you how happy I was.

"He was always around and he definitely pulled for the Phillies day in and day out.

"Baseball's going to miss Dallas Green.

"I'm going to miss him."